Game 2 to Texas

If you like your baseball with a healthy side order of tension, this World Series is for you.

Today’s main stream media storyline is how well Colby Lewis pitched – ‘dominated’ is the word being thrown about.  And yes, he did pitch well – one run allowed in 6+ innings is a great performance.  Let us not forget that Jamie Garcia pitched just a little better.  Texas had 3 hits going into the ninth inning.  Garcia threw 7 shutout frames against the best offense in the American League.

I’ll have a post up today at I-70 Baseball discussing the top half of the ninth inning, so I won’t go into details here.  Several factors combined adding up to the 2-run inning.  The bottom of the ninth was tough to watch, for Neftali Feliz was his typically wild self and the Cardinals failed to take advantage of his generosity (at least, after the Molina walk).

I should also mention I found it amusing Gerald Laird came in to pinch-run for Molina.  You could probably time a 40-yard sprint between those two with a sun-dial.

Now the series shifts to Texas.  The Cardinals are certainly not out of it, but the road is a lot tougher now.  It is possible St Louis can win 3 straight in Texas and not return to Busch, but frankly not likely.  It is possible Texas will close out the series in the Dallas suburbs, but I don’t think that’s likely either.  Game Three sizes up to be an interesting contrast in styles, between the hard-throwing Matt Harrison and the change-up artist Kyle Lohse. 

I will admit some trepidation at Lohse’s prospects in Arlington.  He has made 5 career starts in The Ballpark, but none there since 2006.  Minnesota was 3-2 in his starts; twice he gave up 1 run; the other 3 times he gave up at least 5.  On the other side, Harrison has been wild this post-season (6 walks and a wild pitch in his two starts).  He has struck out 12 as well, a testament, I think, to how good his stuff is.

Game 4 is advertised to be Derek Holland vs Edwin Jackson, but I have a sneaking suspicion Jake Westbrook will get the start, especially after LaRussa stated Jackson was available in relief during Game 2. 

No one said it would be easy.  This is the World Series – it’s not supposed to be easy.  I’m looking forward to Saturday Night.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Cardinals recap, Post Season

Game 1 to St Louis

Most of the post-game discussion centers around managerial decisions in the sixth and seventh inning.  I’ll get to that.  First, some disconnected thoughts.

– Hat Tip to Elvis Andrus for not spiking Chris Carpenter at the bag in the first inning.  It was not clear to me if Carpenter broke late, or Albert Pujols just made a bad throw to first.  Whatever.  Carp made a real athletic play to reach that ball, and Andrus did a great job avoiding Carp’s prone, exposed body while Elvis ran up the line.

– David Freese had a tough first two innings on defense, no?  After looking over the replay a few dozen times, it appeared Adrian Beltre’s ball hit the infield lip and bounced higher than Freese expected.  Ian Kinsler’s shot was just too hot to handle.

– Lance Berkman’s 2-RBI single started off foul but was fair when it passed the first base bag.  Umps made the correct call there.

– Didn’t see Mike Napoli’s 2-run HR live.  Also didn’t realize he has that much power the other way.  Considering how hard the wind was blowing – and that it knocked down potential HRs to center off the bats of Freese and Rafael Furcal  – that’s a mammoth shot.

– Allen Craig’s at bat against Alexi Ogando was the big sequence of the night for the Cardinals, and not just because he hit a dying quail juuuuust out of the reach of Nelson Cruz.  No, that at bat did a couple of things.  First, it sent Craig’s confidence through the roof because LaRussa stuck with him against a very tough reliever.  Second, and perhaps most important, Craig’s at bat dented the Aura of Invincibility that’s been built around Ogando.  Ogando has been unhittable this post-season, and had only allowed one run ever in the post season (yeah I know he’s only been in 2, but still pretty impressive).

– Speaking of Cruz, some folks on Twitter are questioning why he didn’t head-first dive for Craig’s ball.  Based on the trajectory off Craig’s bat it certainly looked like it would hang up long enough for Cruz to run under it.  I guess the wind (or whatever) blew it closer to the line than Cruz expected.  He probably thought he could run onto it and catch it on his feet.  By the time he realized he might not catch it he’s already committed to the slide.  Besides, who wants to dive head first into foul territory with the stands right there?  And, the ball missed his glove by what – 2 inches?

No one should fault Nelson Cruz for how he approached that ball.

– Esteban German as the pinch hitter with two on and two out?  Wow.  Yorvit Torrealba had faced Rzepczynski only one time in his career – it was this season, back in April, and he singled on a 2-0 pitch.  German had never faced Rzepczynski before last night.  Here’s some more data they’re not telling you:  it’s not that German hadn’t hit in a game since September 25.  It’s that he had 13 major league plate appearances all season (all in September).  He had 16 the year before, and 50 the year before that.  He’s a 33-year old career minor leaguer at this point.

You’re telling me he was a better option than Torrealba with World Series Game 1 on the line?  Sorry Ron Washington – bad choice.

*****

Game 1 was important to the Cardinals, because they had their ace on the mound and the drop-off after him in their rotation has become quite serious.  I will argue, however, that Game 2 is key.  If the Cardinals can go up 2-0 they guarantee a return trip to Busch no matter how the games in Arlington play out.  The Rangers are good, but winning 4 of 5 this time of year is a tall order.  Colby Lewis is a stud, and in many ways the best playoff starter Texas has.  He threw a 1-hitter over six innings vs Tampa Bay in the ALDS.

Tonight’s game will be just as tense as last night’s.  Expect La Russa to have a short leash for Jamie Garcia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cardinals recap, LaRussa decision making, Post Season

Your Least Informative World Series Preview

This will be all the data you don’t need to know in order to determine who will win the 2011 Fall Classic.

Cy Young and MVP Awards

Current roster only.  Chris Carpenter owns the lone Cy Young Award, which he won in 2005 (as you know).  Did you know that, for as good a pitcher he was Nolan Ryan never won the Award?  It’s true.  Closest he got was 1973, when he finished second to Jim Palmer.

Albert Pujols has three MVP awards by himself.  Texas has the reigning MVP Award winner in Josh Hamilton.  Adrian Beltre did not win the MVP in 2004; he was runner-up to Barry ‘Big Head’ Bonds.

Advantage:  Cardinals

Books about the team that I’ve read

The number of books on Cardinal history is long and distinguished – from Three Nights in August by Bissinger to the Stan Musial’s Stance-recommended Spirit of St Louis by Peter Golenbock.  Texas?  I’m limited to Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire.  It’s funny, but not as funny as the excerpt of the book which appeared in Sports Illustrated was.  Good read though.

Advantage:  Cardinals

Managers

No, enough ink will be spilled talking about LaRussa and Washington.  Did you know they both worked for the Oakland A’s?  Wow!  Not at the same time though.  Nope – this is about who has managed the team throughout their history.

St Louis has had multiple great managers, as befits a team with 10 World Titles.  Four of them are in the Hall of Fame.  Texas doesn’t have anyone that esteemed as a tactician; the club has employed characters (Whitey Herzog got his start there; Billy Martin and Bobby Valentine also did stints), and also-rans.  They do, however, have Ted Williams in their managerial history.  For this analysis, that’s a trump card.

Advantage – Senators/Rangers

Fan Hardiness

Cardinal fans pride themselves on being called ‘Baseball’s Best Fans’.  They also pride themselves on their beer.  St Louis has a proud tradition of brewing, starting with Anheuser Busch and rolling through Schafly, Falstaff, Griesedieck Brothers, and on and on.  Texas has Lone Star Beer.  The difference here is, rarely have Cardinal fans needed beer in order to enjoy watching their baseball team.  For most of their history, at least through the mid-90s, Rangers fans needed ENORMOUS quantities of beer in order to sit through a game in Arlington.  The hot Texas summers made sitting outdoors to watch baseball a test of strength and endurance.  Oh, it gets hot and humid in St Louis, but nothing like Texas.  They had, what, 90+ days in a row of 100 degree heat this summer?

Advantage – Rangers

Team Defense

Being serious for a moment, the big difference between these two teams is defense.  The St  Louis and Texas teams stack up fairly evenly.  Both have a pretty good rotation with a stud at the top.  Both can pulverize a baseball.  Both have decent options off the bench, and both have hard throwing, shut-down bullpens.  Defensively Texas is better.  By Bill James’ Team Runs Saved metric, Texas was the third-best defensive team in the American League in 2011.  By the same metric, St Louis was the sixth-worst team in the NL.  Put another way, Texas was the fourth-best defensive team in baseball; St Louis was 20th. 

Here’s how they compare by that metric, position-by-position:

Now, a caveat – the lousy St Louis defense is mostly driven by their play at short.  Note that their numbers combine all the defense played by the men who’ve manned shortstop for the Cardinals this year, which has mostly been Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal.  Theriot was -12 in runs saved at short; Furcal was -4 (with two teams; Bill James does not break it out individual stats by team). 

Texas was strong across the board, their weakest position being first base.  They will throw Michael Young at first during the games played at Busch; he has played some first this season, but was below average putting up a -3 in runs saved.  Not a surprise considering he’s played the majority of his ML time at short and third.

For a series that is as evenly matched as this one appears to be, defense is the free radical.  If both teams play to their regular season form Texas will win.

Series Prediction:  A team wearing Red will win.

All kidding aside, I had a good feeling about the Cardinals prospects to beat Philadelphia and a REAL good feeling about them being able to beat Milwaukee.  Sadly I don’t have that same feeling for the World Series.  I won’t pick St Louis in a fit of bravado but I’m unable to bring myself to pick Texas.

Let’s just say a worthy Champion will be crowned over the next 9 days and leave it at that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cardinals Preview, Post Season

Why Jake Westbrook?

@BJRains is reporting Jake Westbrook says he’s on the roster.  After the success the 12 men selected for the NLCS had, why would Westbrook be activated?

Let’s look at two areas:

Success against the Rangers roster

Michael Young has fantastic numbers against him.  Everyone else is hitting under .300.  That’s interesting.  Maybe that’s why.

Success in Arlington

Don’t forget, Westbrook spent most of his career in the American League.  Here’s how he fared at The Ballpark in Arlington.

That’s pretty good success, but he hasn’t pitched in that ballpark in over 5 years.  Activating him now, after a 3 week layoff, to start a game down there makes no sense.

The lone remaining elephant in the room is injury.  We’ve heard and held our breaths about Chris Carpenter’s elbow soreness, but I don’t think wild horses could keep Carp away from his date with destiny in Game 1.

I have not heard about any of the bullpen arms suddenly coming up lame, although there is also a report Kyle McClellan is off the roster.  Maybe that’s why.  McClellan only appeared in one game during the NLCS.

Leave a comment

Filed under Post Season

Eighteen

I don’t know what to say.  It’s been over 12 hours since Jason Motte blew away Mark Kotsay, and I don’t know what to say.

Six years ago, the Cardinals staggered into the post-season with no expectations of going deep into it, and won the franchise’s 10th World Championship.  That season was different; the club was coming off back-to-back 100 win seasons, returned most of its nucleus, and sat in first place from May 12 on.  Only the way they finished made the title improbable.

This year?  Ridiculous.  They fell out of first on July 26th, and were left for dead after an ugly sweep by the Dodgers in St Louis in late August.  Atlanta had to lose their last five games in a row in order for the Cardinals to win the Wild Card.  And the Cardinals have kept winning; like a hockey team riding the hot goalie in the playoffs, St Louis has ridden the ‘every game might be our last game’ outlook straight into the World Series.

If you count only pennants since the advent of the World Series, St Louis trails the New York/San Francisco Giants by one for the most in National League history.  They’ve tied the Dodgers with eighteen, again, since 1903.

All these years I’ve been bemoaning the addition of baseball’s Wild Card round.  Guess I’ll have to shut up now.

A hearty congratulations to the St Louis Cardinals team for this memorable two month run, and to the Cardinals front office for being brave enough to remake the roster at the trade deadline.  I was not a fan of the Rasmus trade, and I continue to harbor doubt it will pay off in the long run.  However, viewed through the prism of this season it has been an unqualified success, and I was wrong to pooh-pooh it in July.  Just another reason why I don’t work in a baseball front office.

David Freese is a worthy NLCS MVP, especially when he starts appearing in the same sentence as Lou Gehrig in terms of single-series production. In my humble opinion, however, the MVP of this series was the Cardinal bullpen.  They suffocated the Brewers offense at every turn after Game 1.  No way the Cardinals advance without the yeoman’s work everybody down there turned in.

I’ll work up a series preview for Wednesday, but my initial impression is these teams are more evenly matched than most think, from a starting pitching/lineup/bullpen/bench perspective.  Allen Craig will likely DH, and that will make the Cardinal lineup MORE imposing, as Craig has been hot as well for the last month.  This series may well boil down to defense.  Texas has the third-best defense in the AL by Team Runs Saved; St Louis the sixth-worst in the NL by the same metric.  Also trying to draw any conclusions because the Cardinals took 2 of 3 from Texas some years ago is fraught with danger.  First it that series happened in 2004; second, of the players currently on both teams rosters only Michael Young, Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, and Yadier Molina appeared in that series.  We might as well use a spring training series to prognosticate how this series will go.

It will be fun.  Can’t wait.

Leave a comment

Filed under Post Season

‘Don’t Give Him Anything Good To Hit.’

With less than 3 hours remaining to Game 6, I’m going to steal a page from my friend Bob Netherton‘s book and spin a short tale.

The impending Game 6 reminds me of another Game 6, played 26 years ago TODAY.  In 1985 I was already a Cardinal fan in diaspora; a fact made doubly interesting because I lived in the city of their NLCS foe.  After the Cardinals were soundly beaten and, frankly, somewhat embarrassed during Games 1 and 2 of that series, the locals yukked it up a bit.  Sweep was often heard from fans, acquaintances, and the LA sports writers.  We know how it went down.  Instead, those Cardinals took 3 straight from the Dodgers, and returned to Chavez Ravine with a chance to win the NL Pennant.

The game pitted Joaquin Andujar against Orel Hershiser in a rematch of Game 2.  Six days before Andujar didn’t survive the fifth, surrendering six earned runs, while Hershiser went the route, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and striking out four.  The game started out as a reprise of the 10 October game – Mariano Duncan doubled leading off the game, and three batters later Bill Madlock knocked him in, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.  In the second, Hershiser helped himself by delivering a single on a 0-1 pitch with two out, extending the inning for Duncan, who also singled to knock in Greg Brock, and Los Angeles led 2-0.  Whoo boy, here we go.

I should note, this game was played under the Southern California sun; it started at 2:05 pm.  I smuggled a transistor radio into school so I could listen to it during class.  You read that right, too:  a teenager in the mid-80s was listening to a baseball game during the school day.  I sometimes wonder why MLB doesn’t play lots of day games anymore during the playoffs.

Anyway back to the game.  Andujar was a lot of things, but he was also tough and emotional; they didn’t call him ‘one tough Dominican’ for nothing.  Properly seethed, he doubled off Hershiser to start the third, and came around on Tommy Herr’s base hit.  2-1 Dodgers.  It stayed that way into the fifth.

In the fifth the wheels appeared to come off the Cardinal train.  Andujar muffed a Duncan roller to the mound for an error.  Duncan stole second, moved to third on Ken Landreaux’s ground out, and scored on Pedro Guerrero’s sac fly.  Madlock followed that with a HR, and suddenly the Dodgers led 4-1.  Orel was cruising, having allowed just 3 singles and a walk to the Cardinals since the run-scoring knock by Herr. Not looking good.  By this time, class is out and I’m trying to listen to the game on the bus.  Not easy.

In the seventh the Cardinals struck.  Darrell Porter and Tito Landrum led off with singles.  Steve Braun, pinch-hitting for Andujar, moved them up with a 3-1 groundout.  With that play Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda summoned Tom Niedenfuer, to snuff out the Cardinal rally.  He didn’t.  Willie McGee greeted the Dodger closer with a single that scored both.  Three pitches later Ozzie Smith followed with a triple to score McGee, and suddenly the game was tied at 4.  A hush gathered over Dodger Stadium.  Niedenfuer wriggled off the hook by striking out Jack Clark and Andy Van Slyke to end the inning.

Todd Worrell came on in relief of Andujar, and that pest Duncan welcomed him to the game with his third hit, a triple.  Worrell, summoning all the magic he had, retired Landreaux on a pop fly, intentionally walked Guerrero (that noted Cardinal killer) and then retired Madlock on a 6-4-3 twin killing.  Still tied at 4.  Sadly it would only stay that way until the next Dodger at-bat, when Mike Marshall hit the first pitch of the bottom of the eighth out of the ballpark to give the lead back to Los Angeles, 5-4.

I’m still listening to the game on the radio (it was an hour bus ride just to get into my section of town), so I’m tenuously aware the Dodgers have the lead.  However, I get to listen to the game in the car the rest of the way home.

Worrell gets out of the rest of the eighth without incident.  Niedenfuer, who has already worked an inning and two-thirds, stays on for the ninth.  Cesar Cedeno pinch hits for Worrell and strikes out.  McGee singles and steals second.  The Wizard walks.  Herr grounds out to first, moving everyone up 90 feet.  Lasorda walks to the mound.  Will he take Niedenfuer out?  Will he intentionally walk Clark and pitch to Van Slyke, a lefty who was oh-for-four and hitting just barely .100 in the series?

Neither.  He famously talked to Niedenfuer, then said ‘Don’t give him anything good to hit.’

I run into my living room and turn on the TV just as Lasorda is leaving the mound.  Jack Clark hit the next pitch halfway up the LF bleachers for a 3-run HR.  It is impossible for me to describe the absolute feeling of jubilation that coursed through my fifteen year-old body at that moment; I almost jumped through the ceiling.  I swore I saw Guerrero throw his glove down in disgust as that ball flew over him and became a souvenir.  Twenty years later I saw a replay of that entire ninth inning and sure enough, he did.

I remember the Cardinals cleared a LARGE space around home plate so there would be no doubt he touched home.  This was in response to a controversy two days earlier, when Ozzie jumped into the arms of euphoric Cardinal players at the plate after his walk-off HR decided Game 5; some thought he never touched home.

The Dodgers were broken.  Ken Dayley came on and retired the side in order, and St Louis went on to the World Series.

Twenty-six years ago today.  Here’s hoping the 2011 Cardinals win tonight to advance to the World Series.

Thanks for reading, and Go Cardinals!

1 Comment

Filed under General Baseball

Cherry-Picking Statistics

During the ninth inning of NLCS Game 1, TBS posted a graphic which said (in essence, may not be an exact quote):

Winner of Game 1 has won the NLCS in 16 of the last 18 seasons.

The clear implication there was Milwaukee, who did win Game 1 9-6, would represent the National League in the World Series.  That they had taken a step forward was beyond doubt.  That it is easier to win 3 of 6 games vice 4 of six games is also obvious.  To intimate the series was over after one game?  I found that irritating.

Turns out, the last team to lose Game 1 of the NLCS and win the NL was the 2006 Cardinals.  That was six years ago, but since 4 leaders of this year’s Cardinal team (Carpenter, Molina, Pujols, Wainwright) were also on the 2006 team it becomes relevant (not to mention the manager). 

There have been accusations on Twitter that the TBS coverage is overly biased in favor of the Milwaukee Brewers, fed in part because the primary play-by-play voice – Brian Anderson – is the lead broadcaster for Milwaukee’s TV coverage.  I have not noticed any undue bias.  That said, one would think the TBS stats checker could have included the 2006 Cardinals exception in that Game 1 graphic, seeing as the Cardinals are playing in the 2011 NLCS.

It’s a cherry-picked statistic.

Odd they didn’t do a similar graphic based on Game 2 winners.  But that’s why this blog exists, dear reader – to tilt at windmills and bring you amusing information.

SO – looking at the past 18 NLCS, how has the winner of Game 2 fared in terms of winning the National League?

  • Winner of Game 2 has advanced to the World Series 11 of 18 times. That’s pretty good news for St Louis, amIrite?
  • Nine times the winner of Game 2 has taken a 2-0 series lead.  They’ve won the NLCS every time. This is why yesterday’s game was so critical; teams can recover from losing Game 1, but it is extremely difficult to go down 2-0 and come back to win the series.
  • Teams winning Game 2 to make the series 1-1 lost 7 of 9 NLCS.  That’s not so good news for St Louis, and supports the Game 1 graphic.  HOWEVAH,
  • Road teams won Game 2 in 10 of the 18 series reviewed, and went on to win 7 of those NLCS.  Whaddya know – 70% success rate!  That’s a good prognosis.  It also jives with conventional wisdom – that the road team wresting away home field advantage raises their odds of success significantly.

Does the fact St Louis won Game 2 mean they will win the NLCS?  No.  They have turned a best-of-seven into a best-of-five with 3 games at Busch, but that advantage will only last as long as they keep winning.  It does mean the pressure is squarely on Milwaukee.  Kyle Lohse is pitching significantly better than Randy Wolf is at this point; the Brewers almost have to win tomorrow night or face entering Game 5 down three games to one.

Stats quoted above were cherry-picked from Baseball Reference.

1 Comment

Filed under General Baseball, Post Season, St Louis Cardinals