Friday, October 29, 2004

2005 Payroll

Over the next several days, I would like to take time to assess the 2005 outlook of the Cardinals. Before we can begin breaking down areas that the team needs to address, however, we need to understand what the Cardinals have to work with from a financial standpoint. Almost all of the financial information you will see in this post was taken from DugoutDollars. I also used ESPN salary information.

There are some discrepancies between these sources in some instances, which is to be expected. Reports with specifics on salaries are released, but all of the details are never fully disclosed. That leaves others attempting to fill in the blanks as well as they can. So with those disclaimers, let's take a stab at the 2005 financial situation.

Off the Books

Mike DeJean - $200K
Jeff Fassero - $250K
Sterling Hitchcock - $1M
Tino Martinez - $6.5M
Fernando Vina - $1M
(note - K=1,000, M=1,000,000)

I think most fans knew that the Cardinals were paying Tino $6.5 million this year to not play for the team. I think many, however, would be surprised to learn that the Cardinals were still paying guys like Hitchcock and DeJean this season, even though they were only with the team for 2 months last year. And Fassero? Please.

Heading into 2005, the Cardinals still owe Tino another $1 million. Other than that, though, the Cardinals are in the clear for past debt. A team that had to play $8.95 million to players on other teams in 2004 will only be on the hook for $1 million in 2005, good for a savings of just under $8 million.

Options

Chris Carpenter - $2 M plus $555K incentives
Woody Williams - $8 M

According to DugoutDollars, those are the only two players with options for next year. (Actually, they show Edgar Renteria with a $6.5 million option for 2005. Does this mean their information is bad? Maybe not 100% accurate, but not bad.)

I think both of these are no brainers. $2 million for Carpenter? Yes please. $8 million for Woody? No thanks. I think Williams is very likely to retire, unless he really wants another crack at the World Series, and a chance for his last MLB start to not be his Game 1 disaster. If he comes back, though, it needs to be for a reduced rate.

Carpenter's salary will be a raise of approximately $2 million over 2004. Woody's is harder to gauge. DugoutDollars claims Woody was making $4.75 million in 2004, ESPN says $6.6 million. What's more, DugoutDollars says the Cardinals owe Woody $1.4 million in 2005, along with $500,000 per year from 2006 through 2017. I have a feeling that they are correct, putting the Cardinals saving approximately $3.3 million with the departure of Williams. Net savings from these two players is approximately $1.3 million. Note, of course, that I am making assumptions on both Carpenter and Woody in regard to their options being exercised or not. However, I think they are good estimates.

Raises

Jim Edmonds - $8.6M to $9.8M
Jason Isringhausen - $7.25M to $9.25M
Albert Pujols - $7.05M to $11M
Scott Rolen - $6.18M to $9.75M
Reggie Sanders - $2M to $4M
Jeff Suppan - $1M to $4M
Julian Tavarez - $1.6M to $2.6M
Larry Walker - $4.2M to $5M

All eight of those guys were key parts of the 2004 team, including 3 MVP candidates and the winning pitcher for the clinching games in both the NLDS and NLCS. For them to have only combined to make $37.9 million last year is pretty impressive. Next year, they'll be making a combined salary of $55.4 million as the bills come due. This will increase the Cardinal payroll by $17.5 million.

Note that Larry Walker is a bit of an assumption on my part. Reports I found via google claim that the Rockies will pay $7.5 million of the $12.5 million owed to him in 2005, leaving the Cardinals with a $5 million right fielder. However, I cannot find any evidence that the Rockies paid Walker any of his remaining salary in 2004. For that reason, I'm assuming that the Cardinals paid Walker 1/3 of his salary this year, or roughly $4.2 million. If the Rockies actually paid the Cardinals some cash in the 2004 season, then the increase in salary will actually be more than I'm listing.

Free Agents

Marlon Anderson - $600K
Cal Eldred - $900K
Ray King - $1M
Steve Kline - $1.7M
Mike Lincoln - $1M
Mike Matheny - $2.75M
Matt Morris - $12.5M
Edgar Renteria - $7.55M
So Taguchi - $1.2M
Tony Womack - $300K

That's an interesting group of players. King and Kline made the bullpen deep and versatile. Some could argue that the lack of Kline made the NLCS harder than it should have been. Renteria has been the best shortstop in the NL for the past several years, not counting 2004. Matheny is a great bench coach who can't hit. And Morris stunk, plain and simple.

All said and told the above players made $29.5 million in the 2004 season. We will go into the details of which players should and shouldn't be replaced over the coming days. For now, however, all we can do is look at their positions as open, with the money they were making available to spend.

Total Cash Available

"Off the Books" $7.95 million
Options $1.3 million (estimate)
Raises -$17.5 million
Free Agents Departing $29.5 million

Total Cash $21.25 million

That number, of course, assumes that the Cardinals keep the same level of spending as they had in 2004. Most likely, they will kick up their spending ever so slightly. Think $3 to $4 million. Of course, the other thing not factored in is raises to arbitration eligible players such as Jason Marquis, Dan Haren, and Rick Ankiel. For the purposes of my analysis, I am going to assume that arbitration raises and increased spending will cancel each other out.

So, there you have it folks. Using my rude and crude methods, the Cardinals have roughly $21 million to re-sign Edgar Renteria, as well as address any other needs for the 2005 squad. Over the next week I will address what I see as needs, and possible solutions for filling those needs. Additionally, as the Cardinals make roster decisions and as more information becomes available on payroll I will update the financial situation estimates.

Overall, it appears as if the Cardinals are in a great situation heading into next year. They don't have many holes to fill, where some of the holes appear they have prospects ready to step in, and for the positions in which they don't have prospects ready, they have quite a bit of cash. It should be a fun off-season, as the defending NL champions look to take it a step further.








Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Bad Time for a Slump

Well, that completely sucked.

The Cards picked a horrible time to get cold. Obviously. The Cardinals finished the 2004 season by losing 7 of their last 9 games between Houston and Boston. The Cardinal offense only managed to score 3 runs over the last 3 games of the World Series. And worst of all, the Cardinals never had a lead in any of the 4 games. Heck, the Sox scored 1 or more runs in the 1st inning of every game!

Much was made, both on the broadcasts and in print, about the number of pitches the Red Sox batters swung on and missed. While those numbers sounded bad - well, were they? We don't have that kind of information made available to us, so for all I know 9 swinging strikes per game is similar to what the Cardinals did all season long. What I do know is that the Cardinals only gave up 7 runs total over the last 2 games, which should have been plenty to win those two.

As far as the Red Sox go - if they had been playing anyone else in the World Series right now, I would be happy for them and their fans. It's nice to see a fan base that has waited for so, so long to get a title. And I personally get a kick out of a team that had the guts to hire a guy last year in Theo Epstein who was 29 years old to be their GM. Many of the "experts" out there thought he would be a failure. After all, he didn't have baseball experience, used crazy stats like "OBP" and "OPS", and even hired the ultimate heretic, Bill James, to work as an advisor to the team.

I mean, think about it. This is a team full of guys that don't field well and don't run the bases well. They do, however, wait for their pitch. If they don't get it, they take the walk. If they do get it, they kill it. As a team, they don't steal, they don't sacrifice. You know - they don't manufacture runs, or do the so-called "little things."

Theo grabbed David Ortiz off of the scrap heap when no one else would. Kevin Millar is another great example. Millar was given up on by the Marlins and traded to a team in Japan. However, he had to clear MLB waivers first, and in the majors there had been a gentleman's agreement to not claim players in this situation. Young Theo, however, bucked the trend and claimed him anyway. And tonight, Millar is celebrating with the rest of the World Champions.

I'm not going to sit here and ignore their payroll, mind you. The guys spent roughly $50 million more than the Cardinals this season. And baseball purists don't have to completely go crazy over this. After all, they can still cling to their "pitching wins championships" blanket. But still - Theo Epstein is evidence of what can happen when you combine "Moneyball" with actual money. So, my hat is off to them. They out-played the Cardinals in just about every aspect of the game.

I hate it that the Cardinals didn't show up, and I'll still remember this season with a fondness for many reasons. I just wish that AL fans could have seen the real Cardinal team.

It also helps that the Cardinals should be just as good, if not better, next season. I'll be posting more in the coming weeks, but here is a quick preview.

Offense

Still should be among the best in the NL next year. Renteria didn't contribute much this year, so if he's gone it shouldn't change much. Edmonds and Rolen will likely be a bit worse, but I think Pujols will be as good or better. And the Cards will have a full year of Larry Walker, 38 years old or not.

Defense

Still likely the best in baseball. I'd like to see Renteria back, so we'll have to see about that position. Matheny may or may not be back, but even if he isn't Molina is likely to be just as good.

Bullpen

Still top notch. Remove Kline and Eldred, who will be free agents, and replace them with Flores and Reyes, who will be cheap.

Rotation

The most uncertainty is here. Of course that's fitting. If there was a weak link on this team, it was the starting five. This was especially a problem during the playoffs. Only 5 quality starts in 15 playoff games, for example, made life tougher during the entire month of October.

Morris and Woody are probably gone, with Haren and Ankiel likely to replace them. And personally, between the Cardinals having some money to spend and some good free agent pitchers out there, I'm hoping the Cards make a splash in the rotation, even if it's only a small one.

So, to wrap things up for 2004 - it was a fun ride. This was easily the best Cardinal team since the 1980's, and even though it's hard to imagine right now, they may even have been the best since the 1960's. Thanks to the few of you that check in on my blog from time to time. Stay tuned during the off-season for some reflections on 2004, with lots of focus on 2005.


Hiding Under a Rock

I don't have much time to post right now, but did want to put something out there just to show that I'm not quite ready to give up. I'm not expecting much at this point, mind you, but I'm not ashamed, either.

Yes, I was at the game last night. I have to say, it was most likely the worst Cardinal game I've ever been to. The Cardinals were out-pitched, out-hit, out-hustled, and maybe even out-defensed. To top it off, the weather wasn't all that great, and I had the prospect of traveling to Chicago this morning to look forward to. Quite the contrast to Game 7 of the NLCS, just 6 days previous.

When the Cards had the bases loaded and one out in the 1st and hit into a double play, the crowd died. When they had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs and hit into that freakish double play, the crowd was completely gone, and never fully recovered.

I realize Jeff Suppan looked like a complete idiot on his base running play. But don't forget - he was actually on base in the first place, having 1/3 of all hits given up by Pedro on the night. And for the series, Suppan has the same number of hits as Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Reggie Sanders....COMBINED!

The most frustrating thing of all is that the Cardinals are not showing their true colors on the big stage. We all know they are better than this. Yes, their starting pitching is worn down and not a true representation. However, they should be better than this with the bats, on the bases, and out of the bullpen.

I still like the Cards chances to win tonight and tomorrow night, I honestly do. And I told a friend of mine heading into this series that I would be shocked if they didn't win at least 2 games. Now I'm praying that they can win one. Not only does one win avoid a complete disaster in the World Series, but it helps the Cards financially. When the Cardinals picked up Larry Walker, part of the justification from a financial standpoint used by the Cardinals was that every home playoff game would bring the Cardinals an additional $1 to $1.5 million of profits. The Cardinals were already virtually guaranteed to be in the playoffs at that point, and Walker would help them go even deeper. That extra bit of cash generated in a Game 5 could be the difference between the Cardinals landing a decent starter this off-season and....well, not.

At this point, it looks horrible. But losing 4-1 to Pedro at home pales in comparison to what the Red Sox were looking at when they went down 3 games to 0 to the Yankees, as they lost their Game 3 19-8 at home. It's not over. It's just not pretty.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Pedro's Paternity Test

He says the Yankees are his daddy, but let's take a look and see if there are advantages to be had off of Pedro other than by wearing pinstripes.

First, I looked at the typical left/right splits. No difference. (700 OPS allowed vs. left, 696 vs. right.) Next, I looked at his breakdown on inning by inning and pitch count breaks. Similar to Roy Oswalt, Pedro is most vulnerable during his first 15 pitches of a start.

Pitches 1 through 15 - .333/.360/.657, 1017 OPS
Pitches 16 and up - .223/.294/.361, 655 OPS

In fact, Pedro only gave up 17 home runs during the regular season. Nine of those, or 53%, came during the first 15 pitches of his starts!

Another noticeable split is his home and away numbers.

Home - .219/.275/.366, 645 OPS
Road - .257/.323/.432, 755 OPS

I don't tend to put much emphasis on home/road splits, since a single season can be misleading. For example, take a look at what Pedro did at home and on the road from 2002 through 2004.

Home - 3.03 ERA, .221 average allowed, 279 innings
Road - 2.67 ERA, .215 average allowed, 324 innings

Is 2004 a fluke? Did he tend to face tougher teams at home? Was the weather unusual in Boston this season, thus shifting his stats? I don't know. We simply have to hope that the trend continues in Game 3.

There are some other indications that Martinez might be hittable during this series.

Pre All-Star - 9-3, 3.67 ERA, .232 average allowed
Post All-Star - 7-6, 4.17 ERA, .244 average allowed

In the 2nd half, his walk rate increased. Of course, so did his strikeout rate, but nonetheless - a 4.17 ERA over half of a season is an indicator of someone that might be worn down.

Finally, from an anecdotal standpoint, we hear that Pedro is worse in the cold as opposed to warmer temperatures. Is that true? It may be, but the stats I have access to don't bear it out.

2002 through 2004

April - 3.30 ERA, .199 average allowed
May - 3.36, .240
June - 3.21, .228
July - 2.41, .202
August - 2.24, .225
September - 2.92, .219
Playoffs - 3.71 ERA (average information not available)

Wouldn't you expect a guy that has trouble in the colder weather to have much worse numbers in April and September? Even his playoff ERA is skewed by this season, in which he has a 5.40 ERA due to the Yankees spanking him around. Prior to this year, he had a career 3.07 ERA in October against playoff caliber teams. If that's having problems in cold weather...well, I'd like to see Jason Marquis have those kinds of problems should he get another start this year.

Overall, Pedro is still tough. He does appear to be wearing down this year, but he is still striking out a lot of batters and doesn't give up many extra base hits. He appears to be worse on the road this year, and very susceptible to getting hit hard very, very early in his starts. If the Cardinals are going to beat this guy, they are probably going to need to score off of him early, and get another awesome start out of Suppan.

Ugly Weekend

I started to put something together last night, but decided it would be smarter for me to sleep on it. I wasn't exactly in the best mood last night, you see. And even this morning, I don't exactly have warm fuzzy feelings about the Cardinals chances this year. But they are still a team that has won 112 games, so I'm not quite ready to give up just yet. First, a couple of things from the weekend.

Game 1

If you had told me before the game that the Cards would score 9 runs with Woody on the hill, I would have chalked up a victory. Unfortunately, the BoSox had other things in mind. Overall, this game was frustrating from a bullpen point of view. But with that being said, to have been trailing 7-2 on the road in the 3rd inning and come back to tie the game - twice - not to mention have the tying runs on base in the 9th inning? We need to keep that in the back of our minds as we face the rest of this series. That was a game that really should have been over early, yet it wasn't.

Scoring 9 runs with no help from Pujols and Rolen was something else as well. To have both of those guys hit into double plays, as well as Rolen and Edmonds standing the bases loaded late in the game? Just missed it. This game also proved that yes, Keith Foulke is good but no, he's not Brad Lidge. Unlike the NLCS, these games aren't over as soon as the closer is summoned to pitch the last 2 or 3 innings of the game.

Game 2

Entering this game, I didn't feel good about Morris on 3 days' rest. I sort of understood it, mind you, but I didn't like it. With Schilling put together with duct tape, though, I thought the Cards should be able to outlast them. Well, I was wrong. While Schilling wasn't great, he was good enough. And while Morris wasn't completely horrible, he wasn't anywhere near good enough. He really should have been out of that 1st inning, with a pair of 2 out walks after having Manny and Ortiz set up 0-2. But, Morris just can't blow anyone away anymore.

In the fifth inning, Mike Matheny gets a leadoff single in a 4-1 game. Marlon Anderson, a guy who hit around .200 in the 2nd half, is up with the top of the lineup behind him. Schilling's ankle is bleeding, Mueller has already committed 2 of his 3 errors on the night. Why not bunt there and make one of those two guys - hopefully Schilling - make a play? That completely drove me nuts.

Speaking of taking advantage - to have the other team commit 4 errors and only score 2 runs is horrible.

Jason Marquis pitching in the 8th inning? I haven't seen anything anywhere, but that leads me to think that Dan Haren may be starting Game 4. While I like Haren in Game 4, here is my complaint. If they don't mind Haren starting Game 4, why didn't they start him in Game 2 in the first place, putting the Cards in a better position to win? Morris could have started Game 4, and Haren would have been available to start Game 6. As is, the Cardinals will have to start Morris again this series if they are going to win it. Of course, the Haren start is pure speculation on my part right now.

Remainder of the Series

As ugly as the weekend was, the series isn't quite over yet. (It's only mostly dead - call Miracle Max.) In my mind, Game 3 is huge, big, gargantuan. If the Cards can beat Pedro Martinez, the series changes, even if it's ever so slightly. After Pedro, the Red Sox will start Derek Lowe, and then back to Tim Wakefield. I personally trust Woody to turn things back around for Game 5 more than I do Wakefield. And the Sox will not have the benefit of the DH in the next 3 games, hurting their offense slightly, as well as hurting their defense slightly. (Although, with the range Millar had at 1st, I'm not sure how Ortiz can be any worse.)

From my perspective, I completely expect the Cardinals to win Games 4 and 5 in St. Louis, especially if Haren does start Game 4. That's why I think Game 3 is so important. I would much rather see the Cardinals head back to Boston needing to take 1 out of 2, instead of needing to win both.

If the series does switch back to Boston? According to reports on KFNS in St. Louis this morning, Boston radio is saying that Schilling is doubtful to start Game 6. If that is true - and believe me, it's way too early to believe that - then the Red Sox will have to be careful with their bullpen in Game 5.

There is still a lot of baseball left to be played. This weekend was so frustrating, as the Cardinals just didn't look like the same fundamental team that had so methodically won game after game this year. But as dark as it seems this morning, one little win on Tuesday night would dramatically shift the look of this series in my eyes, if nothing else.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Wakefield Split Stats

The Game 1 starter, as you know, is knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Are there any advantages to be had?

vs. Left .225/.295/.360, 656 OPS
vs. Right - .298/.364/.514, 878 OPS

For the first time in the 2004 playoffs, the Cardinals are facing a pitcher with an obvious tendency to having problems with right handed hitting. Obviously, this is great news for the likes of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. But is he likely to hold down the Cardinals left handed hitters?

Career vs. Wakefield

Jim Edmonds - .459/.474/.622, 1095 OPS, 38 plate appearances
Larry Walker - .286/.375/.714, 1089 OPS, 8 plate appearances

Looks as if those two have seen him pretty well in the past. The other regular that hits left handed, Tony Womack, as only faced Wakefield once, striking out. Considering the pain he appeared to be in last night, the Cards could consider starting Hector Luna at 2nd. That would give Womack an extra day to rest his back, and at the same time give the Cards a good split in the lineup. Renteria was fine leading off last night, let him take another shot at it in Boston.

From a DH standpoint, John Mabry could be an option. He's got 1 double and 1 walk off of Wakefield in 6 career trips to the plate. Or, to further take advantage of Wakefield's righty problems, Taguchi could start in left, with Sanders serving as the DH. Let So tackle the Green Monster - he is Japanese, after all.

OK, more splits. First, Wakefield on a month-by-month basis.

April - 2.14 ERA
May - 4.32
June - 5.70
July - 3.75
August - 5.03
September - 8.20

His July ERA appears to be a fluke, as batters hit a season high .307 average off of him that month. And in the playoffs, he's not getting any better. He's pitched in 3 games, no starts, and has a 8.59 ERA, 1.64 WHIP over 7.1 innings. He does, however, have 1 win in the 2004 post-season.

When you break things down by pitch count, there is no discernable trend. I would personally expect this from a knuckle ball pitcher, since the arm doesn't experience as much wear. However, if you break his splits down into blocks of innings pitched, there is an obvious trend.

Innings 1 through 3 - .261/.297/.438, 735 OPS Allowed
Innings 4 through 6 - .269/.361/.456, 817
Innings 7 through 9 - .254/.376/.437, 813

I think the above can most likely be attributed to hitters having more success off of him after they've seen him a time or two during a game. And that OBP allowed has to be especially troubling to Bean town fans. If he's allowing 1/3 of all batters to reach base from the 4th inning on, the Cardinals are going to put some runs on the board.

Finally, the Cardinals faced Wakefield just last season, in Boston. You probably remember the game - to me, it was a game that exemplifies last season to a tee, as the Cardinal offense kept doing what they needed to do to win, while the bullpen kept doing what they needed to do to lose, even though they pulled out the W. What game am I talking about? This one. Don't look if you would rather not be reminded of last year. Wakefield in that game went 6 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4.

In general, knuckle ball pitchers usually make me nervous. When they're on, they are next to impossible to hit, regardless of how they've pitched as of late. But between the way right handed hitters have hit Wakefield this year, the numbers Edmonds and Walker have against him over their careers, and Wakefield's bad 2nd half and playoff numbers? The Cardinals should be able to handle him tomorrow.

And, of course, the Cardinals do have Cody McKay to throw them batting practice.


Cardinals vs. Red Sox

Here is it - my preview of the World Series. As in the previous two series, I'll be using Win Shares Above Average, or WSAA, from the regular season to compare players. Why this measure? For starters, Win Shares takes both offense and defense into consideration for position players, and both pitching and hitting into consideration for pitchers. What's more, it also factors in park effects.

Furthermore, WSAA helps to take playing time out of the equation. A horrible 1st baseman that plays 100 games is going to have more Win Shares than an awesome shortstop that only plays in 20. WSAA takes the player and compares the number of Win Shares he has to what an average player would have in the same amount of playing time at the same position. So, if a player has 10 WSAA then he created 10 more Win Shares than an average player over the same amount of playing time. One more note - this metric works really well for players that are near average. However, a player that is above average but had limited playing time (see Larry Walker) does not have as much time to compile more WSAA than he might have garnered over more games.

Confused? Good, that makes two of us. For more information on WSAA, go here. All of the stats used in this article were obtained using The Hardball Times. If you don't visit that site often, you're missing out.

Now, on with the show.

Catcher
Mike Matheny -2
Jason Varitek, 4

Matheny is all glove, no hit. Varitek is all hit, no glove. (No glove is probably a bit harsh, but you get the idea.)

1st Base
Albert Pujols 21
David Ortiz 11
Kevin Millar 2

I list Ortiz here, since he's going to have to play 1st at least 2 games this series. Kevin Millar has been getting the starts in the field during the playoffs, with Doug Mientkiewicz being used as a defensive replacement. Ortiz has been mashing the ball in the post-season, hitting .429/.529/.810, 1339 OPS, 4 HR, and 15 RBI. Which helps put what Pujols has been doing into context, as he's hitting .442/520/.907, 1427 OPS, 6 HR, and 14 RBI. And he can catch the ball to boot.

2nd Base
Tony Womack 2
Mark Bellhorn 6

Womack's efforts last night with an obviously hurting back have really upped his reputation in St. Louis. He'll have to continue to battle this series in order to help make up some of the difference between himself and Bellhorn, who's had a solid year. If nothing else, they cancel each other out via the ex-Cub factor.

3rd Base
Scott Rolen 21
Bill Mueller 0

While I expected Rolen to win this comparison hands down, I fully expected to see Mueller be an above average third baseman rather than simply average.

Shortstop
Edgar Renteria -1
Orlando Cabrera -1

Even up, as Renteria wasn't quite himself with the bat. You have to like Edgar's chances in this series, however, as he's returning to the World Series, whereas it's all new for Cabrera.

Left Field
Reggie Sanders 2
Manny Ramirez 12

This one surprised me as well. I fully expected Manny to be well above Sanders, but his WSAA is quite low overall. And you just know that his defense is going to come into play this series.

Center Field
Jim Edmonds 19
Johnny Damon 9

Edmonds is better looking, too. I already know that between Fox and ESPN, everyone will say this is a close race. Forget it. It's not.

Right Field
Larry Walker 3
Trot Nixon 0

Nixon has struggled this year, including in the playoffs. This race would be even more of a blowout if Walker had played more this season.

Bench/DH
John Mabry 1
So Taguchi 1
Roger Cedeno 0

Kevin Millar 2
Doug Mirabelli 2
Kevin Youkilis 1

This is kind of convoluted, as Millar will be on the bench in the NL park, starting in the AL. Bench wise, the Red Sox are slightly deeper. DH wise, if you do the following:

1B Pujols 21
DH Mabry 1

DH Ortiz 11
1B Millar 2

You can see that the Cardinals aren't likely to get much production out of their DH, but the Red Sox likely won't get much out of their 1st baseman in the AL park, either. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Sanders DH, with Taguchi starting in the outfield to give the Cards some defensive help.

Rotation
Woody Williams -1
Jason Marquis 5
Jeff Suppan -2
Matt Morris -3

Tim Wakefield -2
Curt Schilling 9
Pedro Martinez 4
Derek Lowe -5

Several notes on the rotation. One, I have no idea if Jason Marquis will start, or even be on the playoff roster. He's been brutal for a month, including 2 playoff starts. Two, if they do plan on starting him, you'd think they'd start him in Game 4, holding him to one start and allowing him to swing the bat. Dan Haren had -1 WSAA on the regular season, and he is the guy that will likely start if Marquis doesn't.

Curt Schilling, as we know, will be pitching with his leg literally sewn together. And of course, even though Lowe appears to be the worse starter of the bunch, he had a brilliant Game 7 in the ALCS on just 2 day's rest. Anything can happen.

Closer
Isringhausen 4
Foulke 7

Much like the last series, the other team has the better closer. Thankfully, Foulke is a changeup artist rather than a guy that can strikeout 2 out of every 3 guys he faces (inning after inning after inning....)

Bullpen
Tavarez 3
King 3
Carpenter 2
Calero 2

Timlin 1
Mendoza 1
Lescanic 1
Arroyo 0

I left Kline off of this list despite 3 WSAA. Personally, I think the Cardinals would be crazy to leave him on the World Series roster, being the question mark that he is. I mean - he didn't pitch after Game 2. With Ortiz in the lineup (1082 OPS vs. right, 784 OPS vs. left regular season), the Cards could use a 2nd lefty in the pen, whether it's Flores or Ankiel. And I'm simply speculating that Carpenter will be in the pen and ready to go this series in short stints. Other relievers to remember are Al Reyes and the afore mentioned Randy Flores, each of who had 1 WSAA during the regular season in limited work.

Conclusion

So, what does it look like? The Red Sox are better at Catcher, 2nd Base, and Left Field in their regular lineup. What's more, they have a better closer, and a slightly better bench. However, the Cardinals are better at 1st, 3rd, Centerfield, and Right Field. Additionally, they have a deeper and better bullpen. (And even though I said the same thing about the bullpens last series, I'm confident that the last 10 innings of relief - giving up 1 earned run - is more indicative of the Cards' pen.)

The starting rotations? Well, it's really hard to call. By name recognition alone, how could you not go with Schiling, Pedro, Lowe, and Wakefield? But with Schilling banged up, Lowe and Wakefield not being great this year, and the starts that Williams and Suppan have been putting up? Who knows which rotation will step up the biggest?

Ultimately, I think this series will be similar to the one the Cardinals just won. Lots of offense, lots of bullpen action required. And if that is the case, I honestly think the Cardinals have to be favored. Their lineup, especially the middle, is a little better and a little deeper. And their bullpen is quite a bit better and quite a bit deeper.

Cardinals in Six

Report from the Game

No article from me yesterday. I found out at 7:30 a.m. that I had won the drawing at work for 2 tickets to the game! Of course, that brought about an interesting dilemma, since I was on a business trip in Chicago, which I had driven to, and I had a morning's worth of work to take care of.

I worked until 12:30 and jumped in my car to get back to St. Louis. Thankfully, we had recently bought XM satellite radio - which I highly recommend - so I was able to listen to 4 and a half hours of analysis on ESPN and ESPNews. (Of course, Boston and New York actually got more airtime, but I digress.) I pulled into my driveway at the same time my Father-in-law was arriving to go to the game with me. A change of clothes and we were off to our first playoff game!

Now, I didn't take notes at the game - I was there to enjoy myself, after all. But I can give you a flavor of what it felt like, for those of you that have never been to a playoff game or a Game 7.

When Craig Biggio hit that home run to lead off the game, a couple of things happened around me. One, a lot of people kind of got this weird look in their eyes like "please don't let this be a blow out." Two, I found out that about 12 feet behind me there were 4 Astro's fans, and they weren't afraid to stand up and yell for their team. One of them even had on a Red Shirt that said "Cardinals Suck." More on them later...

The crowd was somewhat out of the game until Edmonds robbed Ausmus in the 2nd inning. I don't know if you could tell on TV or not, but that was when the crowd started getting into the game a little, as if they were reminded that the Cardinals really are a good team.

A note on the general game atmosphere yesterday - I had been to 6 games at Busch this year, and always had fun. But during the regular season you've got tons of Jumbotron animations with games, various contests going on, and generally lots of non-game related stuff every half inning. Not so in the playoffs. Other than Fredbird and the "Cardinal Girls" (whatever they're called) throwing out T-shirts about every 3rd inning, it was all business.

During the early innings, Pujols and Rolen were obviously seeing the ball well. Every time they came to bat, they were driving the ball a little bit farther, and it just seemed like a matter of time until they hit Clemens hard. When the Cardinals finally broke through in the 6th inning? It was the loudest I've ever heard a stadium in a game. Everyone around me was jumping up and down, waving towels, screaming. It was awesome. Two of our Astro friends sitting behind us, "Cardinals Suck" and his girlfriend, mysteriously left the stands about the time Rolen crossed home plate. The other two, both wearing Astros jerseys, managed to put on jackets.

And to be completely honest, that moment was the first time it had dawned on me that the Cardinals could actually go to the World Series. It just didn't seem real until that point. But with Busch stadium rocking, the Cardinals leading, and fans screaming "9 more outs", it just seemed as if nothing was going to keep it from happening at that point.

Sometime after that - 7th or 8th inning, I'm not sure - a foul ball landed in the section next to mine, and was caught by a middle aged African-American gentlemen with a Pedro haircut, wearing a Red Sox jacket. It was the funniest moment of the night near me, as he went nuts. He was lifting up the ball, pointing at his jacket, pointing at his hair. He was getting high fives from Cardinal fans, everyone was laughing. It was a riot.

In the 8th inning, everyone was counting down the outs, holding up the numbers on their fingers and chanting it. And with every pitch, the crowd got just a little louder and a little more excited. "Cardinals Suck" and his girlfriend were back by now, so I have to give them credit for sticking around. I saw one of the jersey guys turn to his buddy and say "This place is LOUD."

When the game ended, the place went nuts. People were high fiving and hugging complete strangers. The party continued for a long time inside the stadium, and outside as well. As everyone walked back to their cars after the game, the walking traffic was really causing problems for motor traffic, including one unfortunate truck driver who was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. But people started walking by his truck, jumping up on his running board, and giving him high fives. He decided that since he was here, he might as well enjoy it. His air horn joined in with the other horns being blown, per St. Louis tradition, as everyone savored the moment.

What else can I say? It was a blast. Game 7's don't happen all that often, so to be able to attend one and see my team come out on top is something that I'll remember to my dying day. It was fun to share it with my Father in Law, who had never been to a playoff game, either. And it was great to experience history, even though as I head to work this morning my ears are still ringing and my voice is shot.

Oh, and did I mention that I have tickets to Game 3 of the World Series?


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What a Blast!

Not only the one Edmonds hit, but the game as a whole. While I was frustrated that the Cardinals couldn't score more runs in the first nine innings despite piling up 14 hits, it was still a great game with an ending that will rank among the all-time best in Cardinal history. After some quick looking through old box scores on Baseball-reference.com, that was in fact the first walk-off post-season home run for the Cardinals since Ozzie in the 1985 NLCS. It was also the first playoff extra inning win for the Cardinals since they beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series.

And how evenly matched are these teams? Through 6 games, both teams have scored 29 runs and have a .249 batting average. Both teams currently feature three regulars with an OPS of 1000 or higher in the NLCS, with the Astros having a higher team OPS, 821 to 755.

Isringhausen/Lidge

I had no problem with La Russa bringing in Izzy to pitch the 8th. Berkman, Kent, and Lamb were coming up. If Izzy could get those 3 out, the 9th inning should - should - have been easy by comparison. And, as far as I'm concerned, the closer should always be used in what appears to be the game-deciding situation. Why, for example, use a lesser pitcher in the 8th to face the heart of the lineup, thus saving Izzy for the bottom of the order in the 9th? If anything, one could argue that someone fresh could have been brought in to pitch the 9th, but thankfully that didn't cost them the game.

Lidge is a stud. His command seemed shaky tonight, but he still retired 9 in a row. I keep expecting him to wear down, but so far it's not even close. And considering he only threw 32 pitches tonight, I'm sure he could go another inning or two tomorrow if it comes down to it.

All things considered, if both closers are unavailable tomorrow, it's an advantage for the Cardinals, not the Astros.

MVP

It's going to be hard to keep the MVP trophy out of the hands of Carlos Beltran, even if the Cards win the series. (Think Jeffrey Leonard in 1987). From a batting standpoint, he and Pujols are running a tight race.

Beltran - .476/.607/1.095, 1702 OPS, 4 HR, 10 R, 5 RBI
Pujols - .500/.571/1.042, 1613 OPS, 4 HR, 9 R, 8 RBI

Both have played great defense, but Beltran is doing so at a much more challenging position. Factor in the 3 stolen bases that Beltran has as well, and you have to give him the edge. Of course, there is one game left...

Keys To Success

In a post yesterday, I mentioned some things the Cardinals needed to do to win this series. Thankfully, three of them happened today.

1. Womack was getting on base

Hopefully, he can play tomorrow and keep it at the same level. To have him go 2 for 2 and score a run in just 2 innings was a great boost.

2. Bottom of the lineup contributing

Having Renteria and Sanders combine to go 6 for 9 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI was great. If they can keep hitting the ball well tomorrow, the Cardinals should put some runs on the board again, Clemens or not.

3. Bullpen

Even though Izzy gave up the tying run in the 9th, they got the job done as a whole. 7 innings, 1 earned run, 5 hits, and 1 walk. I'm sure that Izzy and Tavarez will be limited tomorrow, but that really doesn't matter. I'd rather have a short bullpen tomorrow than no game. Hopefully Haren, King, and Calero are all that will be required to get the W.

So, it's Game 7 in St. Louis for the first time since 1987, when the Cardinals came back from a 3-2 deficit against the San Francisco Giants to advance to the World Series. And if I might borrow a line from a hero of mine -

"Go Crazy Folks! Go Crazy!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Cardinals Post-Season Stats

With the day off, let's take a look at the Cardinal team to see who's getting it done and who isn't.

Offense

Unreal

Albert Pujols - .412/.500/.853, 1353 OPS, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 10 R
Larry Walker - .324/.425/.794, 1219 OPS, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 12 R

Having these two guys back to back in the lineup has carried this team a long way during the post-season. The thought of facing them both in the 1st inning can't give starting pitchers a great feeling, even if they are named Jose Lima or Bandon Backe.

Acceptable

Jim Edmonds - .267/.343/.533, 876 OPS, 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Scott Rolen - .194/.359/.419, 778 OPS, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R

Edmonds isn't playing at the level we need him to be, but he's been doing ok. The most telling stat? He's only scored 2 runs in 9 games - and both times he drove himself in via the home run.

Rolen, the leading RBI guy on the team from the regular season, needs to improve his rate of 4 over 9 games for the Cardinals to keep things going. He is, of course, hitting much better in the NLCS (.316/.381/.684, 1065 OPS), which is why I list him as acceptable at this point despite a 778 playoff OPS.

Unacceptable

Edgar Renteria - .214/.353/.286, 639 OPS, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 5 R
Mike Matheny - .231/.231/.346, 577 OPS, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Reggie Sanders - .179/.233/.286, 519 OPS, 1 HR, 4 R

Edgar's OBP is respectable, but that likely has a lot to do with the performance of the other guys on this list hitting behind him in the lineup. Matheny and Sanders have combined for 1 walk in the playoffs. ONE! And Sanders has only driven in 1 run on a solo shot. We expect this kind of production out of Matheny, but Renteria and Sanders need to provide some offense lower in the lineup, much like they did in the NLDS.

Miserable

Tony Womack - .150/.171/.200, 371 OPS, 1 3B, 3 SB, 5 R

The leadoff hitter has been on base 7 times in 9 games, only once by a walk. He does continue to make the pitchers work, but not as much as he could if he were making them nervous by standing on first, threatening to steal. La Russa keeps playing him for his playoff experience. But is it hard to imagine Hector Luna doing any worse at this point? If nothing else - for the love of Pete, please attempt to bunt for a hit at least once this series.

The bench could also be placed on the miserable list. Mabry, Cedeno, and Molina all have 1 hit each, while Marlon Anderson has 1 walk and 1 HBP. Mabry and Cedeno have each driven in a run. And that's all of the offense provided from the non-regulars. Overall line? .143/.217/.143, 360 OPS over 21 at-bats from the bench. Yuck.

Starting Pitching

Getting it Done

Woody Williams - 2-0, 2.84 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 19 innings, 11 K's, 4 BB's
Jeff Suppan - 1-1, 3.46 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 13 innings, 5 BB's

You can't say enough about these two - especially Woody after last night's start. Jeff Suppan hasn't been as dominant, but he has still been by far the 2nd best pitcher for the Cards this post-season. Not bad for a guy who might not have made the NLDS rotation with a healthy Carpenter available.

Not So Much

Matt Morris - 0-1, 5.35 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 12 innings, 10 K's, 7 BB's
Jason Marquis - 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 7.1 innings, 2 K's, 6 BB's

Morris turned down a 3 year deal prior to this season. Walt offered him $8 million a year, and Morris felt like it was lower than he could get on the market. Talk about a bad decision. Of course, one good start in Game 6 of the NLCS could change a lot of perceptions about Mr. Morris.

Marquis was good this year. Personally, I think he's just worn out. If the Cards find a way to advance to the World Series, you have to wonder if he'll be on the roster or not at this point.

Bullpen

Dodging Bullets

Cal Eldred - 0.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP, 3 games, 1 inning, 0 K's, 3 BB's
Steve Kline - 0.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 3 games, 1.1 innings, 0 K's, 0 BB's
Julian Tavarez - 1-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5 games, 5.1 innings, 4 K's, 2 BB's

Kline hasn't pitched since Game 2 of the NLCS due to a torn tendon in his left index finger. Tony has avoided Cal Eldred like the plague in both series', having not pitched since Game 3 of the NLCS. And Tavarez has actually been ok, other than his brilliant move to break his non-pitching hand. Would La Russa have pitched Izzy in the 8th last night with Tavarez available? Probably. But you have to wonder.

Dodging Line Drives

Kiko Calero - 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4 games, 5.2 innings, 8 K's, 1 BB
Danny Haren - 1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3 games, 3.2 innings, 5 K's, 1 BB
Ray King - 1 Hold, 5.40 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 6 games, 3.1 innings, 2 K's, 0 BB

These guys haven't been as solid as the Cards needed, but they haven't been horrible. Calero has actually been pretty tough, but has had trouble in his 2nd inning of work. King has only given up 2 hits in the playoffs. Unfortunately, both were home runs to Lance Berkman.

Not Dodging Enough

Jason Isringhausen - 0-1, 2 Saves, 6.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6 games, 5.2 innings, 3 K's, 5 BB's

Izzy being at the bottom of this list is slightly misleading. After all, he had a 1.70 ERA when the 9th inning started last night. A 3 run home run over a span of less than 6 innings will inflate an ERA greatly. But nonetheless, you can't have your closer walking almost a batter an inning.

OPS Allowed

Since ERA is in fact misleading over small numbers of innings, here are the Card's pitchers ranked by OPS allowed in the playoffs.

Suppan - 558
Williams - 577
Kline - 667
Isringhausen - 770
Eldred - 821
King - 833
Haren - 846
Calero - 939
Tavarez - 948
Morris - 948
Marquis - 1083

That says a lot, doesn't it? Just 4 guys holding hitters to an OPS under 800, with 4 other guys being hit to the tune of 939 and higher - including our Game 6 starter at 948. The starters aren't much of a surprise, but the Cardinals should have been receiving better relief than this. What should have given the Cardinals an edge has cost the Cardinals at least 1 game in this series.

Conclusion

All things told, the Cardinals need a few things to happen in the next two games if they're going to advance.

  1. Womack needs to make things happen at the top of the lineup
  2. Renteria, Sanders, and Matheny need to stop being automatic outs
  3. We need a "Good Matt" start rather than a "Bad Matt"
  4. Suppan needs to keep it up
  5. The bullpen needs to revert to pre-NLCS form
All of those things don't have to happen - asking for that would be greedy. But if the Cards can get 3 out of 5 of them, I'll take their chances of playing on Saturday.










Not Quite

So much for my pitch count theory. (Now you know why I write a blog for fun rather than a living, I suppose.)

I actually enjoyed last night's game, up until the point that Kent smoked that pitch. I didn't even let the ball land before clicking off my TV - it was a bit too painful. For a great review of the game, check out Brian's latest at Redbird Nation. Great stuff as usual.

Just a few thoughts from me.

Brandon Backe

Brandon Backe was awesome last night, plain and simple. To go through this lineup for 8 innings, just giving up 1 hit? Unreal. Yes, I realize that the Cardinals should have made him work more, but you've got to give the guy credit. He was on. Will he be any good next year? Who knows? He might be the next Jaret Wright, who had a great World Series in 1997, posting an ERA of 2.92. Since then, he has a career ERA of 5.09, and just posted his first season under 4.00 this year. But the future doesn't matter for Backe right now. He just pitched a total gem, at home, for his favorite team growing up. What a dream come true.

St. Louis Fans

While listening to sports radio this morning in St. Louis, I was pleasantly surprised by the people calling in. No bashing of Tony La Russa, or the gloom and doom that I was expecting. Instead, nothing but praise for Backe and Williams, credit to the Astros for getting it done, and cautious optimism about the Cardinals still having a shot, as small as it might be. There was more panic on the airwaves when the Astros won their series last week to make the NLCS than there was today, interestingly enough.

I can only assume this is due to a couple of factors. One, for the first time since 1987, the Cardinals are coming home to play Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cards had that 3 games to 1 lead over the Braves in 1996, but choked it in Atlanta. And in both 2000 and 2002, the Cards dropped both Games 1 and 2 at home before heading off to play on the road. In both of thoses seasons, the sliver of hope was to win 2 out of 3 on the road, thus giving the Cards an outside shot at home to win the series. This year, the Cards can take their shot at home.

Two - and maybe I'm wrong about this - but I think your average Cardinal fan doesn't have anything against the Astros. Their players, for the most part, are a bunch of hard working, gritty ballplayers who are genuinely likeable. I mean, seriously - how can Cardinal fans not like a team that hates the Cubs? These guys were buddies of Darryl Kile, and were just as upset by his passing as many of the Cardinal players. I think the potential of losing to the Astros doesn't sting quite as much as it could against many other teams. These two teams have been the class of the NL Central since it's inception. It's only right that one of them will be the first from this relatively new division to play in the World Series. (I just hope that it's the guys with Birds on their shirts, that's all.)

Game 6

It looks like the Cardinals get to face Pete Munro in Game 6. Personally, I agree with Garner's decision, even though you know that if the Cards win this series, he's going to catch flak over it. But Clemens on full rest in Game 7, if needed, will be very tough, setting up a great final game that I'm hoping we all get to see. And as far as I'm concerned, if the Cardinals can't beat Pete Munro, at home, with elimination on the line? Well, they don't deserve to play for the World Championship anyway, plain and simple.

So, don't lose hope. I'm not going to turn into Yogi Berra and spew a bunch of wisdom your way. But I will say that if the Cards force a Game 7 in St. Louis? Well, anything can happen.




Monday, October 18, 2004

Pitch Counts

In my mind, pitch count is where it's at tonight. It's obvious that, more than ever, it's on everyone's mind. The broadcasters give updates on it every other inning or so. During in game interviews with the Houston pitching coach, he cites the pitch count, sometimes broken down on an inning-by-inning basis. At some point in the not too distant future, I won't be surprised if they start listing it with all of the other information on the screen. (As an aside, how did we ever watch games without the extra information?)

So, how does that affect tonight's game? Simply put, the Cardinals need to chase Backe out of the game early enough to avoid Brad Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Dan Wheeler. After all, the Cardinals have only been outscored by 4 runs over the last 2 games. Houston's middle relief core could have made up that difference easily if called upon to work.

Brandon Backe now has 11 starts on the season, counting the playoffs. In those games, he's averaged 5.03 innings per start, throwing 83.8 pitches per game. That's one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is the Cardinals offense. Over 8 playoff games, the Cardinals hitters have made the Dodgers and Astros throw an average of 16.8 pitches per inning. With that average, Backe should hit 84 pitches thrown after 5.01 innings pitched. In his last start, he threw 93 pitches. If he were to throw that many tonight, the it would take him 5.6 innings at the Cardinals average pitch per inning rate.

To add more background information, Backe has only pitched 7 innings twice all season, and has only thrown 6 or more innings 4 times all year, which includes his one NLDS start against Atlanta. Pitch count wise, his high on the year is 101, with him exceeding 90 pitches 5 times.

So - what does that mean for tonight? I think it's highly likely that Backe's ceiling for innings pitched tonight is 6. Furthermore, I would be surprised if Wheeler and Lidge could go more than an inning each, with Lidge's effectiveness coming into question after throwing 68 pitches over the last 2 days. The Cardinals should be able to dip into the middle relievers for a minimum of an inning tonight, with 2 or 3 innings not being out of the question. Considering they have a playoff ERA of 11.71, that should bode well for the road team.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Woulda Coulda Shoulda

What a frustrating loss.

The game was a good one, I have to admit that much. But a 2 run lead with 5 innings to go should have been a Cardinals W. However, the Cardinals bullpen, which is supposed to be a strength, didn't get the job done. Meanwhile, the Astros bullpen, which is supposed to be a weakness, managed to pitch 3 shutout innings, including 1 inning from someone not named Lidge. A couple of comments.

Jason Marquis

He was upset before the series started because he was only going to get one start. And as Tony was coming out to pull him in the 5th inning tonight, Marquis said "un-freaking believable." Of course, he didn't say freaking, but I would like to keep our site rated G. I don't know if he was upset with himself, or upset with the lack of confidence Tony was showing in him during that situation. Whatever the case, I don't think La Russa was wrong to give him the hook at that point, based upon his other post-season start, along with his last 4 during the regular season.

Marquis was easily the Cardinals 2nd best starter this season. However, he threw 201.1 innings, despite never throwing more than 140 innings previously as a professional. I do think that Marquis is fatigued, and likely won't be very effective the rest of the post-season should the Cards advance to the World Series. Not only that, but I read a report recently that claimed that pitcher's throwing 40 innings more than the season before are prime for injuries during the next season. And to top it all off, we know that Marquis did not get along with Leo Mazzone and Bobby Cox in Atlanta. After this week, will he no longer get along with Duncan and La Russa, either? The potential for injuries and displeasure with management next year could play into the Cardinals planning for the 2005 campaign.

With all that being said - if the Cards advance to the World Series, is it time to put Haren in the rotation, taking Marquis out?

Astros Pitching

Hats off to them - they got the job done. I don't know how Oswalt kept it going, as he obviously didn't have his stuff tonight. But he got through 6 innings giving up 5 runs, which was just enough to keep the Astros in a position to win. With that being said - the Astros pitching situation still is not in great shape for the new 3 game series.

Game 5 - Brandon Backe gets the start. He was actually pretty tough in Game 1, and this time around he should be able to go deeper. But is Lidge going to be available for a third consecutive 2-inning outing? It's unlikely.

Game 6 - Roger Clemens on 3 days' rest, after pitching 7 innings and 116 pitches in Game 3. There is an outside chance, however, that the Astros might actually go with Munro in this start. Why? This is complete speculation on my part, but if the Astros were to win Game 5, Game 6 would not be a must win for them. Munro starting would allow them to follow with Clemens in Game 7 on regular rest, with Oswalt ready in the pen.

Game 7 - Roy Oswalt on 3 days' rest, after having an unimpressive outing tonight. If this does in fact happen, you would have to love the Cardinals chances.

I said it last night, and I'll say it again. I still think the Cardinals are in the drivers seat, even with the series even. I will say, however, that I would really, really like to see the Cardinals win tomorrow. While I would trust them to win 2 in a row in St. Louis, I'd rather not see it come to that. And as you all know, absolutely anything can happen in one game, as we saw tonight.

I originally picked the Cardinals to win the series in 6 games. I'm standing by it, but I must admit - I would feel better this evening with the Cardinals up 3-1 rather than even at 2 games apiece.


Game Four Prep

I know that some people feel slighted with the Yankees and Red Sox getting the prime time starts, but I have to say - I like the Cards getting the 3:00 game yesterday and today. It's hard enough to wait for 3:00, let alone 6:30.

Just a quick stroll through the split stats of Roy Oswalt before today's game. As expected, the guy doesn't have a lot of chinks in his armor. Although, compared to Roger Clemens this guy is a walk in the park.

vs. Left - .257/.319/.370, 688 OPS
vs. Right - .264/.303/.402, 706 OPS

A slight reverse split for the right-handed pitcher, although it's not by much. What's more, since OBP is more important than SLG you could call it even between lefties and righties. Which is why today will be the day that La Russa actually gives Sanders a day off for Mabry. One could argue that it might be a nice day to allow Luna to start for Womack, although I don't expect it. Tony has been very faithful and consistent to his regulars during the playoffs. (His lack of a consistant lineup in years past has caused some to become annoyed by him, but it never bothered me personally.)

OK, back to Oswalt. Looking at his numbers on an inning-by-inning breakdown, there is not obvious trend. Looking at pitch counts, the Cardinals had better jump on him very, very early.

Pitches 1 to 15 - .330/.379/.495, 874 OPS
Pitches 16 and up - .251/.305/.364, 669 OPS

That is a big difference. Looks to me as if the Cards need to score on him in the 1st inning, then hope Marquis is on.

Looking at individual numbers against Oswalt, only 4 Cardinal hitters have had success off of him, and 2 of those guys have done it over limited playing time.

Marlon Anderson - 1250 OPS, 4 at-bats
Edgar Renteria - 997 OPS, 25 at-bats
Albert Pujols - 917 OPS, 32 at-bats
John Mabry - 800 OPS, 5 at-bats

Everyone else has an OPS of 600 or lower against Oswalt over their careers. Not pretty.

This could end up being a long day in Houston, as Oswalt is tough (which should be of no surprise to anyone, of course.) Barring a meltdown, the Cardinals are unlikely to score many runs off of him today. Their best chance to win, as has been the norm in this series, will be for the Redbirds to run up his pitch count and get into the middle relief core. I suspect that Lidge will only be available for an inning today, so if they can get his Oswalt's pitch count high by the 6th inning, they should be in great shape. Assuming, of course, that Marquis can keep St. Louis to within 3 or 4 runs of Houston by that time.

This should be a fun game, much like Game 3. Hopefully, the outcome is different today.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Game Three Thoughts

Not a bad game, all things considered. I would have rather seen the Redbirds win, of course, but plenty can be taken from this game.

Jeff Suppan

Back to back quality starts in the playoffs. This bodes well for either Game 6 of this series, or his first career World Series start. He would be even better if he could get off to a good start, having given up all 3 of his runs tonight in the 1st inning.

Cards Bullpen

Only having to use Haren, King, and Eldred tonight should help out the Cards tomorrow. I do have a couple of requests, though. One, please don't allow King to face Berkman again. Two, feel free to allow King to face Bagwell, based on his numbers against lefties this year combined with the way King made him look tonight..

Astros Bullpen

Lidge got the job done, but you know what? He wasn't "lights out" today, allowing 3 base runners over 2 innings. Nobody exactly killed the ball, of course, but the tying run did come up in the 9th. And, as the announcers mentioned, he ended up throwing 42 pitches. That could come into play in tomorrow's game, should the Astros need him to pitch 2 innings again. While the guy is awesome, he is also human.

Cards Bench

Why is Marlon Anderson continually the first lefty off of the bench? From the All-Star break on, he hit .204/.210/.320, giving him a 530 OPS. It has continued in the playoffs as he's now 0 for 4 with one hit by pitch and one walk - which is amazing in and of itself, since he only drew 1 walk in the 2nd half.

Meanwhile, John Mabry has only gotten 2 plate appearances, even though he was the best player off of the bench all season. Which brings me to...

Reggie Sanders

He hasn't looked great in the playoffs, other than Game 2 of the NLDS. In every game before todays, I had suggested that the Cardinals might want to consider starting Mabry over Sanders in a game in order to keep Mabry sharp, give Sanders rest, and give the Cardinals advantages against the opposing starting pitcher. Now that Sanders has 1 hit in the first 3 games of the NLCS, it's looking like it really wouldn't be a bad idea at all.

Carlos Beltran

If you read this, I would for you to fire Scott Boras and hire me to represent you. I'll just take a measly 1% commission on your future salary.

NLCS

Amazingly enough, tonight's loss isn't bothering me as much as usual. I think it helps that the Cardinals have only lost 2 of their last 7 games. It also helps that tonight's game was well played by both teams and could have gone either way.

I'll hopefully have time to look over Oswalt's splits tomorrow and provide a brief game preview. But overall, I like the Cardinals chances to get the win tomorrow, even though Oswalt was a 20 game winner. Clemens and Lidge didn't blow the Cards away, which I think is a good sign for tomorrow's game.

Momentum

Eric Karros explained how the momentum had shifted to the Astros tonight, but I just don't buy it. The Astros need a win tomorrow, which isn't hard to imagine. Should they get it, though, they would still have to take 2 out of 3 from the Cards. In those 3 games, if the series were to go that long, the Astros would feature a start from Backe, followed by Clemens and Owsalt on 3 days' rest, in St. Louis. I still think it's a stretch to see this series go more than 6 games, with the Cardinals getting the job done.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Kline's Bout with Gout

Steve Kline didn't travel to Houston with the team, as he was having his aching finger checked out by a specialist. The end result? Well, according to the report I saw on TV, Kline is out for the remainder of the playoffs with gout.

How does this affect the Cards? Well, for one thing, they can't replace Kline on the roster unless the Cards advance to the World Series. This shouldn't cause any problems, though, as the Cardinals still have 6 other bullpen pitchers, which is what they used all season. Additionally, should the series go 7 games Jason Marquis could be used in relief as well.

What may be even scarier for some is the fact that the Cards go from 2 lefties to just 1 in the NLCS. Will that matter? I'd say it's unlikely. For one thing, Kline had only pitched 1.1 innings in the playoffs to this point, including last night when he gave up 2 hits to the only 2 batters he faced. In other words, he had pitched only 2.4% of the innings in the playoffs to this point, having a .333 batting average allowed.

Before the playoffs started, Kline pitched a total of 2 innings after coming back from his injury. In that time he allowed no hits and no runs, and never pitched more than 0.2 innings in any of the 4 games in which he pitched. And to be honest, I had reservations about having Kline pitch in the playoffs with what was described as a 70% torn tendon in the first place.

What does having just 1 lefty in the pen mean in the Houston series? I looked up the stats for all Houston hitters vs. both left and right handed pitching. To keep it simple, I compared their OPS' vs. each and looked to see who has more trouble with lefties than righties. Basically, there are 5 hitters that fall into this category.

Jeff Bagwell - 589 vs. left, 897 vs. right
Lance Berkman - 836 vs. left, 1069 vs. right
Raul Chavez - 351 vs. left, 562 vs. right
Orlando Palmeiro - 536 vs. left, 705 vs. right
Jose Vizcaino - 582 vs. left, 709 vs. right

The guy at the top of this list shocked me completely. I would have never guess that Bagwell was so poor against left-handed pitchers this year. Berkman isn't much of a surprise, as he's always been much better against righties. The Cardinals would have a huge edge against Palmeiro and Vizcaino as well. Chavez doesn't hit anyone, so I don't care.

So, losing Kline might have an effect on this series. Most likely, however, King can be used to face Berkman late in a game. Additionally, if La Russa chooses to use a lefty against Bagwell, he hits in front of Berkman in the lineup, making that choice even easier. And while Palmeiro and Vizcaino do hit righties better, it's not by a large margin. Add to that the fact that Calero and Izzy are both tough on lefties, and this shouldn't cause any large problems during this series.

Looking down the road, the Cardinals would be well served to replace Kline on the roster with another lefty should they advance. The options would be Rick Ankiel and Randy Flores, both of who were impressive during the regular season. According to the local St. Louis CBS news, the Cardinals are leaning towards using Flores, since he's more accustomed to being used in relief. On the season, Flores had a 1.93 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 14 innings of work. And usually, a pitcher with little major league experience in the majors have a tendency to cause problems for opposing teams, since very little scouting information is available.

So, the Cardinals will miss Kline. However, this shouldn't cause much more than a hiccup for their post-season chances.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Great Win

That was an important game for the Cardinals tonight. By winning, the Cardinals now only have to win 2 of the next 5 games to advance to the World Series. For the Astros to win, they will have to take at least 2 out of 3 in Houston. Additionally, they will have to win at least one game in St. Louis, where the Cards are now 4-0 in the playoffs, and will have to get at least one win this series in a game featuring a starter on 3 days' rest. And to update the stat, teams over the last 6 years in the playoffs are now 13-31 using a starter on short rest, while the Astros during this year's playoffs are 1-2.

Matt Morris wasn't great tonight, but he was good enough. For him to go 5 innings and only give up 3 earned runs is actually awesome, considering that he gave up 6 hits and 5 walks. And, true to 2004 Matt Morris form, he gave up 2 home runs. We should be due for a "Good Matt" start next time around.

I said before the series started that the bullpens would give the Cardinals a big edge. I didn't think, however, that base running and defense would be a big difference so early. Tonight, the Astros ran into 3 outs on the base paths, having 2 men thrown out stealing, along with Vizcaino getting thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. When a team gives away 11% of their outs, the end result usually isn't good. Additionally, the Astros couldn't advance runners from 1st and 2nd with no outs in the 6th, thanks in part to bad bunting by Bruntlett, partly to great Cardinal defense by Pujols.

And how good did it feel to see Rolen get not one, but two home runs? I had been concerned about his health. Not so much right now. With Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds really getting locked in, along with Walker? Well, there aren't many pitchers who will be able to shut them down. (Jose Lima is playing golf these days, after all.)

This series isn't over yet, of course. The next two games are going to be tough. In my opinion, even if the Cards drop those 2 games, they are still in the driver's seat in the NLCS. But if they can split the next 2 games, look for them to finish off the Astros in Houston on Monday.


Pete Munro and other Random Thoughts

Considering the late hour, many of you won't see this until after the game. But, since I'm stuck in a hotel room in Chicago, I'm going to pass some time writing down some musings.

Pete Munro

Munro actually pitched more than Backe this season, having 99.2 innings and 19 starts compared to 67 and 9. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

In his 19 starts, Munro averaged less than 5 innings each time out. As a matter of fact, looking through his starts I see 4 games in which he pitched 6 or more innings, with his longest outing being 7. His last 6-inning start was August 25th, when he allowed 4 earned runs to the Phillies. Not good news for the Astros and their less than deep bullpen.

Splits wise, the trend the Cardinals have faced this post-season continues.

vs. Left - .337/.389/.587, 976 OPS
vs Right - .272/.315/.404, 719 OPS

Looking at those splits, maybe La Russa should consider starting Jo....oh, never mind.

Home - .279/.341/.437, 777 OPS
Away - .325/.359/.540, 899 OPS

Quite a difference there as well. Let's see - he stinks on the road, lefties kill him, and he rarely goes more than 5 innings. Not exactly a recipe for success for the road team this evening.

Weather

I just got off the phone with Mrs. Robb. She said it's been raining all day in St. Louis, although not hard. And according to weather.com, there is a 60% chance of rain during gametime hours. We have to hope this game gets in tonight. A postponed game to tomorrow gives the Astros a huge break, as it would allow Clemens and Oswalt to pitch games 2 and 3, as well as 6 and 7 - on regular rest. Not that I think the Cards still couldn't win the series, but every edge at this point is important. Not to mention - If I don't have a game to watch tonight, it's going to drive me crazy.

Bob Brenly

How can a former major league manager, with a World Series ring no less, make a comment like the one he uttered in the 1st inning yesterday? It happened after Pujols hit the 2 run home run in the bottom of the 1st to tie the game. I don't have the quote exactly, but basically he said "usually, when you put two points on the board in the 1st you are in good shape." Points? This is a guy who was ticked off when Ben Davis broke up a Curt Schilling no-hitter in the 8th inning with a bunt single, saying it wasn't the way things are done. Well, neither is calling a run a point.

Walker's Cycle Bid

I was hoping to see Walker hit for the cycle last night (as was Walker, based on his post-game interview.) But wouldn't that have been the "weakest" cycle ever, playoffs or not? His triple was a misplayed ball by Berkman, his double a broken bat hit that just fell in, and his single was a hit that probably should have been a double play ball if not for a bad play by Jeff Kent.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Brandon Backe

Tonight's starter has had some success against the Cardinals this year, going 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. (2 starts, 4 relief appearances). Let's look a little deeper for an edge.

Left/Right

vs Left - .347/.426/.535, 961 OPS
vs Right - .253/.303/.437, 740 OPS

I called for Mabry to start against Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver, and even Lima to an extent. Those guys were studs against lefties compared to Backe. If lefties hit .347 off of him on the season, what will they do when he's going on short rest, in the playoffs, on the road?

Both of his starts against the Cardinals came in September this year, when the Cards were no longer playing with winning as their #1 goal (at least not regular season winning.) In the first game, Womack, Edmonds, and Mabry started, with Walker getting the day off. In the 2nd game, Edmonds and Walker both got the start with the other two sitting out. And neither game saw Backe go deeper than 5 innings pitched, even though Houston won both. My point being - the Cardinals didn't throw their top lefties at him either start, and yet he was still couldn't go deep.

Home/Road

Normally, I don't put much stock in home/road splits. I think a single season has too much variation to pin a pitcher into being better at home or away. This is especially true of a guy like Backe, who only threw 67 innings in 2004. However, his splits are pretty extreme.

Home - 4-1, 2.61 ERA, .237 average allowed
Road - 1-2, 6.52 ERA, .347 average allowed

You can look at the last 3 years in order to get a better sample size, but it still only takes his number of innings pitched to 124.2.

Home - 4-2, 3.92 ERA, .231 average allowed
Road - 2-2, 6.03 ERA, .313 average allowed

Over that time span, he's been worse at home and better on the road compared to this season, as you would expect to see as the sample size gets larger. However, you're still looking at a pretty large difference there.

Endurance

Look at the splits for Backe in his first 45 pitches vs. the rest of the game.

Pitches 1 to 45 - .278/.345/.455, 800 OPS
Pitches 46 and up - .313/.387/.518, 905 OPS

He allows a lot of base runners regardless of if it's early or late in a game. The problem is, he starts getting hit harder the farther he goes. Look for the Cards to take advantage of this, along with his lack of rest, by taking a lot of pitches early tonight. If they can get him up into the 40's pitch count wise by the 3rd or 4th inning, it may end up being a very short night for him.

Overall

Does anyone see any way the Cardinals shouldn't win tonight? The Cardinals have faced him, which eliminates some of the mystery. Lefties kill him. He's much worse on the road. And he's pitching on 3 days' rest. Granted, you never know where the next Brit Reames will pop up in the post-season, but I'm just not seeing it.




Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Cardinals vs Astros

Well, I wanted the Cards to face the Astros in the NLCS, and now I guess I'll be forced to live with my wish, one way or another. I like the way the Astros rotation is set up for this series. I like the chance the Cards have to "get even" with the only team to have a winning record against them this season. And, believe it or not, I like the match-ups. Here is a comparison of each team, position by position, using Win Shares Above Average, or WSAA. For more information on WSAA, see my previous post.

Catcher
Matheny -2
Ausmus -7

We all know that these two guys are among the best in the business defensively speaking, and that neither of them tend to hit. This year, however, Matheny has hurt his team less than Ausmus. Raul Chavez has gotten a start or two for the Astros at catcher so far in the playoffs, but he's not much better than Ausmus at -4.

1st Base
Pujols 21
Bagwell 5

Bagwell is near the end of a great career. While he's not what he used to be, he can still hurt a team.

2nd Base
Womack 2
Kent 8

This is one position in which the Cards don't match up well with the Astros. Kent, much like Bagwell, isn't quite what he used to be. But anytime you can get an 880 OPS out of 2nd base, along with 27 home runs (hitter's park or not), it's a good thing.

3rd Base
Rolen 21
Lamb 4

Even with Rolen hurt, the Cards should have an advantage at this position.

Left Field
Sanders 2
Biggio -1

Biggio's numbers still aren't bad - for a middle infielder. Unfortunately, he's a corner outfielder, where he's supposed to provide more run production.

Center Field
Edmonds 19
Beltran 7

This is a position at which I am not sure if WSAA is a good measure or not. As cardsfanboy pointed out to me on a message board, it may not be the greatest measure when considering players that have switched leagues (Beltran) or players that have been injured for portions of the season (Walker.) While WSAA does take playing time into consideration, someone with 600 plate appearances can have more WSAA than an equal player with only 100 PA's.

So, if you simply add the Win Shares that Beltran had at KC and Houston together, you probably get a better comparison. Beltran had 31 (25.5 with the bat, 6.1 with the glove) while Edmonds had 36 (29.5 with the bat, 6.5 with the glove.) Edmonds has a slight edge, but it's close.

Right Field
Walker 3
Berkman 13

Walker had 307 plate appearances this season, Berkman 671. If we adjust Walker's WSAA total to match Berkman's, Walker ends up with between 6 and 7 WSAA. Berkman is still more valuable using this metric, and by a sizeable margin.

Bench
Mabry 1
Taguchi 1
Cedeno 0

Lane 1
Palmeiro 0
Chavez -4

There are some other guys I could have plugged in on either bench, but the bottom line is that the Astro's bench is pretty shallow, while the Cardinals bench is unspectacular, but somewhat deep.

Rotation
Williams -1
Morris -3
Marquis 5
Suppan -2

Munro -3
Backe 2
Clemens 10
Oswalt 7

This is an area where the Astros have a great top of the rotation, with a less impressive back end. Of course, using WSAA, the Cardinals look much worse rotation wise. With that being said, I as a Cardinal fan will take Munro and Backe starting the first 2 games for the Astros. And it doesn't get better for the Astros if the series goes 6 or 7, as Clemens and Oswalt would be going on short rest in both games if it comes to that.

Closer
Isringhausen 4
Lidge 9

Once again, a no brainer. Izzy has been ok, while Lidge is among the best in the majors.

Bullpen
Tavarez 3
King 3
Kline 3
Calero 2

Miceli 2
Qualls 1
Springer 0
Gallo -1

I think the bullpen is going to be the difference in this series. Other than Lidge, the Astros only had 2 above average relievers in Miceli and Qualls. Miceli, the best set-up guy for Houston, would be the 5th best guy in the Cards bullpen.

What's more, even though they feature 4 right handed starters in their rotation, they have only 1 left handed reliever in Gallo. How is Gallo against lefties? Well....better than he is against righties.

vs Left - .286/.367/.518, 885 OPS
vs Right - .280/.358/.598, 955 OPS

Conclusion

The Cards and Astros match up pretty well from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The Cardinals have a large advantage at 1st and 3rd, although it's hard to know how much that edge at 3rd base is actually going to be considering Rolen's health. The Astros seem to have decent advantages at 2nd Base and Right Field.

The Rotation? Well, of course the Astros have the edge. Sort of. If the rotation holds as advertised this minute, it evens things up considerably.

Game 1 - Munro
Game 2 - Backe
Game 3 - Clemens
Game 4 - Oswalt
Game 5 - Backe (short rest) or Munro
Game 6 - Clemens (short rest)
Game 7 - Oswalt (short rest)

And, as mentioned yesterday and updated from last night, teams are 13-29 over the last 6 years in the playoffs using a starter on short rest. Bullpen wise, the Astros are similar to their rotation. A stud along with a bunch of also-rans.

Overall, the Astros are tough, and as we all know, anything can happen. I personally don't have anything against the Astros, and think it will be a fun series. They're the kind of team that, should the Cardinals lose, I wouldn't mind seeing going all the way. Their problem is that Clemens, Oswalt, and Lidge can't pitch every inning of every game.

I'm tempted to pick the Cardinals to win in 5 games, but that is probably a bit too optimistic. Therefore, I'll tone it down a bit and pick the Redbirds in 6.


Monday, October 11, 2004

Scott Rolen

Rolen has now had 10 games played since coming back from his injury - 6 in the regular season, 4 in the playoffs. I'm sure you noticed that he didn't have a single hit in the NLDS. But the fact is, he really hasn't been hitting since the injury.

Over 30 at-bats (40 plate appearances) he's hitting .100 with a .325 OBP, .233 SLG. Over those 10 games he scored 3, driven in 3, and struck out 7 times. Only two bright spots have taken place in those games - 10 walks drawn, giving him marginal value, and a home run off of Roger Clemens.

Rolen seems to have gotten some good hacks here and there during the playoffs, so there is still hope that he's just not quite dialed in yet. Of course, even if he does get dialed in, he is not as quick running the bases as we are used to. While I don't think Rolen needs to sit in favor of Mabry - that's a tad bit nuts - I am starting to wonder if Rolen should be moved a little lower in the lineup for the rest of the year.

NLCS!

I am pumped that the Cardinals are going to the NLCS for the 3rd time in 5 years! Even though I'm going to have to watch Games 1 and 2 from a hotel room in California, it's going to be great. And to completely buck the trend, I'm pulling for the Houston Astros to advance tonight.

Why, do you ask? For one simple reason - the Astros have painted themselves into a corner, and it's going to be tricky for them to get out of it. I realize that many people think the Astros can go to the World Series this season on the backs of Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt. In fact, of 17 ESPN experts making picks before the playoffs started, 7 picked the Astros to win the pennant. (8 picked the Cards, for what it's worth.) But then, Phil Garner decided to make things interesting.

As I wrote in yesterday's article, Roger Clemens went yesterday on 3 days' rest. Jayson Stark wrote an article on ESPN.com yesterday, which you can find here. In this article, he points out a few things that really should come as no surprise.

Over the last 6 years in the playoffs, there have been 40 starts on short rest. In those games, the teams with that starter are 11-29 in those games, with the starting pitchers having a 7-20 record and an ERA over 7.00. Average number of innings in each start is 5 innings. Considering that Clemens was still recovering from the flu and that the Astros bullpen is essentially a one trick pony, the outcome of yesterday's game really shouldn't shock anyone.

Here is where it really gets interesting. Since they lost yesterday, the Astros now have to go with Roy Oswalt on short rest today. He's only done that once before in his career, and in that start he went 6 innings and gave up 3 earned runs. And let's add something else to that. As I wrote last month, Oswalt isn't exactly healthy right now. But the Astros don't have much of a choice. It's either start Oswalt on 3 day's rest, or give Pete Munro a start. You know - the guy who was 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA during the regular season?

Somehow, some way the Astros need to win tonight. Why? Because, my friends, the Astros have spent many of their bullets just trying to get into the NLCS.

Game 1

Neither Clemens nor Oswalt will be availible to pitch Game 1. Brandon Backe could, but on 3 days' rest, which doesn't appear to be a great idea. The afore mentioned Munro in Game 1? I'll take it.

Game 2

Clemens could pitch Game 2, but would have to do so on 3 day's rest. After yesterday's start, Clemens is now 1-4 on 3 days' rest with 2 no-decisions (regardless of what I said in yesterday's article, which was apparently false.) Even though he'd have to do it in back to back starts, can the Astros afford not to start him in Game 2? Backe would be the other option, as he would have his regular amount of rest.

Game 3

Clemens would be fully rested by now (Saturday.) So would Oswalt. I suspect that Clemens would have pitched Game 2, allowing Oswalt to go here.

Game 4

Brandon Backe would most likely start here.

Game 5

This game is on Monday. Guess what? The Astros are forced to either start Clemens on 3 days' rest for the third straight game, or go back to Munro. Either option isn't a good one.

Game 6

This game would be on Wednesday, October 20th. Oswalt could only pitch this game on - you guessed it - 3 days' rest. Backe on even less. This start would have to be taken by either Munro or Clemens, whichever one didn't start in Game 5.

Game 7

Roy Oswalt could go on regular rest.

The above scenario is only one of many that could take place. But no matter how you break things up, Clemens and Oswalt will not be able to start more than 2 games each in the NLCS, with a minimum of 1 of those 4 starts being on 3 days' rest. That leaves 3 starts for Backe and Munro. And to thicken the plot even more, the only way to give Backe 2 starts on regular rest is to allow him to start Game 2 after Munro in Game 1...

So - all of you people wringing your hands and worried about the 1-2 punch of Clemens and Oswalt? I say - bring them on! Let's make it to the NLCS by knocking off the team that people say we are supposed to be afraid of. Not to mention - wouldn't it be fun to sweep the Astros to further the conspiracy theories of a certain other fan base North of St. Louis?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Sunday Thoughts

Just a few random, hit and miss comments from me this morning.

There were probably more positives in last night's games than negatives. Matt Morris really looked great. His fastball was hitting 94, and other than a couple of Shawn Green home runs, he kept things under control. I just hope the Cardinals didn't waste his "every other start." If he can pitch that well for the rest of the month, the Cards should advance far.

The offense wasn't exactly clicking last night, but you have to give credit to Jose Lima. He was really on. His antics tend to annoy me, but I honestly don't think he does that to get under the other team's skin - I think he's just excitable. Which is probably why he's so much better at home. I doubt road crowds give him much positive feedback....

Anyway, last night's game showed a couple of things. One, even the Cards offense can be shut down on a given night. Two, any pitcher can get hot and shut down another team. Three, anything can happen. Between Johan Santana and Jose Lima, which one would you have predicted to have had a complete game shutout last night?

For the record, 4 of the 5 hits the Cardinals had yesterday were provided by left handed batters.

Since I predicted the Cards would win the series in 4 games, I shouldn't be upset by yesterday's loss. With that being said - I always feel bad after a loss. Especially when the Cards could have had 3 day's off before the NLCS.

The Astros are going with Clemens today on 3 day's rest. Over his career, he is 6-4 when working on short down time. I have to say - if the Astros make it to the NLCS and only plan to use Clemens, Oswalt, and Backe in the rotation, it should play into the Cardinals favor.

Let's hope the Braves win today. If that happens, the Astros will either have to pitch Oswalt on 3 day's rest on Monday, or use a 4th starter in Game 1, which they don't seem to think they have. Either way, if Houston manages to advance having to play on Monday, they would either have to go with Backe on 3 day's rest, or someone else (Pedro Munro?) Up 2 games to 1, I don't agree with them going with Clemens on short rest today. It doesn't seem to put them in a good situation for the next round, should they make it.

All in all, I still think the Cardinals will win today. It's just amazing how much better the following day goes when you win 8-3 rather than losing 4-0.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Count of Monte Carlo

Ever wonder what would happen if a computer simulated the rest of the playoffs one million times? No? Then read no further.

If you would, however, like to follow what a computer thinks about the Cardinals chances as the post-season progresses, just use this link.

For the record, today HAL thinks the Redbirds have a 90% chance of winning the NLDS, a 55.5% chance of going to the World Series, and a 30.7% chance of winning it all.

Friday Notes

Game 2

Last night's game was interesting. For a game in which the Cardinals won 8 to 3, it just seemed closer than that didn't it? For me, it was that 4th inning when Marquis gave up two bombs - especially that one to Milton Bradley - followed by Eldred walking the bases loaded. Finley having a 3-0 count should have led to at least one more run there, if not more. But Eldred got the out, and the series is much different today because of it.

You have to give credit to Tony La Russa for his use of the bullpen last night. He wasn't afraid to give Marquis the hook early in the game, and used the pen very wisely, in my opinion. Historically, Tony has been blamed for poor pitching moves in the playoffs. With a bullpen this deep, however, La Russa has much more flexibility to pull starters early, or set up the lefty/righty matchups during a game. As long as the Cardinals can get a 6 or 7 inning start thrown in here and there during the playoffs, they should advance far.

13 out of 16 runs have been scored with 2 outs? That's impressive.

For two straight games, I've called for John Mabry to get the start over Sanders in left field. For two straight games, the Cardinals have scored 8 runs without doing so. Last night it was especially obvious that my suggestion wasn't needed in the least, as Sanders went 3 for 3 with some great base-running.

Game 3

Just like in the first two games, I looked up Jose Lima's split stats. Rather than list all of them, let me just put down some basics.

vs. Left - .277/.329/.495, 824 OPS
vs. Right - .263/.278/.462, 740 OPS

Innings 1 to 3 - 820 OPS
Innings 4 to 6 - 740 OPS
Innings 7 to 9 - 858 OPS

Lima has only walked 9 right handed batters this season over 336 plate appearances. In fact, he doesn't walk many left handed batters, either. His downfall has been giving up home runs. 33 to be specific.

I would suggest that the Cardinals start John Mabry over Reggie Sanders. It would give the Cards a slight edge at the position over Lima, would serve to help keep Mabry sharp, and give Sanders a day off. But considering how well Sanders is hitting in the first 2 games, the fact that Saturday will only be the 3rd Cardinal game over a 6-day span, and that I've been wrong about the "need" for Mabry the last 2 games? Well, I'll leave it alone.

The Rest of the Series

If the Dodgers somehow manage to win the next two games in Los Angeles, they plan on starting Jeff Weaver on 3 day's rest in St. Louis. I have to say - if I were a fan of the Dodgers, I probably wouldn't be very optimistic this morning.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Looking Ahead - Way Ahead

Rather than looking towards tonight's game, let's brief side tour today and look at the Cards beyond 2004.

While I am no expert on baseball prospects, I do follow them to a certain extent. After all, I am the General Manager for the Cardinals.....in a simulation league. Since I have to take part in an amateur draft each year, it is important for me to at least be familiar with talent in the minor leagues. One great source of information that I use is this site. Think of it as a one-stop shopping location for daily baseball prospect news.

The reason I bring this up is that in today's update, the website includes a list of prospect rankings - the first one I've seen since the conclusion of the 2004 minor league season. This list, created by Bob Reed, was made with the following in mind:

"The list simply represents expected major league career value (as opposed to players' perceived "ceilings", or fantasy league viability, or proximity to the Show, etc.). In short, this is the order in which I'd draft them if I were starting an expansion team from scratch."

So, keeping that in mind - who do we see at the top of the list? None other than Daric Barton, catcher for the Cards in A ball last year.

For those of you not familiar with Mr. Barton, he hit .313/.445/.511 for Peoria, hitting 23 doubles, 13 home runs, and driving in 77 over 90 games, 313 at-bats. Not bad numbers for a left handed hitting catcher, huh?

To give you some more information on Daric, Baseball America rated him the 2nd best prospect in the Midwest League in their season wrap-up a couple of weeks ago. Here is what they had to say about him.

Though he was 18 for most of the season, Barton had the best plate discipline in the MWL. He walked 69 times and fanned just 44, leading the league in on-base percentage (.445). Far from passive, he excelled at getting ahead in the count and then taking advantage of pitchers.

Barton showed no weakness at the plate. He has a short stroke, uses the whole field and shows 25-30 homer potential. He has no trouble with offspeed stuff and hits lefties and righthanders equally well. A National League scout said Barton and Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart were the two purest hitters he saw all season.

"I love his approach," an American League scout said. "It's what you try to teach kids."

Barton's defense is problematic. Few observers think he has a chance to catch regularly in the big leagues because his arm is below average and his receiving and blocking skills are just passable. He's not athletic or quick enough to play third base, and at 6 feet he'd be short for a first baseman.

In a nutshell - the kid can rake. If he doesn't pick up catching, the Cards will probably be forced to make a left fielder out of him. Not that that would be the end of the world, of course - Yadier Molina is great with the glove, and still could turn into an average hitter. And 1st base probably won't be open any time soon.

So, keep your eyes on this guy. He's really starting to generate some buzz in the lower parts of the Cardinal system.