April 2010

Friday lineups: Jay gets first start

Cardinals

1. Schumaker 2B
2. Jay RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Rasmus CF
6. Molina C
7. Freese 3B
8. Penny RHP
9. Ryan SS
Reds
1. Stubbs CF
2. Phillips 2B
3. Votto 1B
4. Rolen 3B
5. Bruce RF
6. Cabrera SS
7. Gomes LF
8. Hernandez C
9. Cueto RHP
-M.

Stat of the day and note of the night, April 29

Note of the night: David Freese was hearing it from his teammates, since he’s known as a power hitter. The pitchers had been teasing him about the fact that he had two extra-base hits all year until Thursday. But he had another motivation as well.

Prior to Thursday’s game, a young fan named Madison got an autograph from Freese. Jim Hayes of FOX Sports Midwest told the young lady that Freese would hit a home run for Madison, who has a broken collarbone. Freese certainly couldn’t say no, so he nodded, smiled, and said something along the lines of, “Um, sure.”
Then he did it. In his first at-bat. Off the foul pole.
“I was definitely thinking about her” as he rounded the bases, Freese said.
Stat of the day: Colby Rasmus’ on-base percentage has climbed from .366 to .487 since April 18, and his batting average is up from .188 to .344 in that same span. He’s 15-for-29 with eight walks over that time span, giving him a ridiculous .517 batting average and .622 on-base percentage. He’s been on base 23 times in those nine games.
Fun with double situational splits: David Freese is 7-for-12 (.583) with two walks for a .643 OBP in day games at home this year.
Annnnd, finally, the playlist:
This is taken directly, song-for-song, from what was playing in the clubhouse after this afternoon’s win.
Spacehog, “In the Meantime”
Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day”
Notorious B.I.G., “Mo Money Mo Problems”
Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy”
Sublime, “Santeria”
-M.
(Chess Match will return tomorrow)

Lucky Seven, back-to-blogging edition

Chess Match will return tomorrow, so check back then. But in the meantime, let’s get back to another, formerly regularly-scheduled, old feature. Here’s a Lucky Seven for your conversational enjoyment.

1. Risking TLR’s wrath, how many home runs will Colby Rasmus hit this year? How about David Freese?
2. What’s one thing about the 2010 Cardinals through 22 games that has been different from what you expected?
3. What’s one aspect of the team you still think needs to be upgraded?
4. Who’s the best player in the National League not named Albert Pujols?
5. Who’s the best pitcher in the National League?
6. What’s your favorite dish at any restaurant in StL? (Or in your town, if you’re not in StL)
7. Who you got in the Derby?
-M.

Thursday lineups

Cardinals:

1. Schumaker 2B
2. Ludwick RF
3. Holliday LF
4. Rasmus CF
5. Freese 3B
6. Molina C
7. Mather 1B
8. Wainwright RHP
9. Greene SS
Braves:
1. Cabrera LF
2. Escobar SS
3. Prado 2B
4. McCann C
5. Hinske 1B
6. Infante 3B
7. Heyward RF
8. McLouth CF
9. Jurrjens RHP
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, April 28

Note of the night: Colby Rasmus leads the National League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while playing one of the most demanding positions on the field and playing it well. Up until Wednesday, the only mark against him was an 0-for against left-handed pitching, and now he has erased that. Both of Rasmus’ hits on Wednesday came against lefties.

What may stand out most about Rasmus in the early going, though, is that he’s hitting .322. For all his broad-based skill set — power, plate discipline, speed, defense — he’s never really been a high-average hitter. Aside from three games on a rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League, he hit over .300 exactly once in the Minors: .310 in 78 games at low Class A Quad Cities.
Batting average tends to be a bit of a fluky number, subject to a lot of wild swings, and of course it’s also overrated as a measure of player ability. But it’s still something of a skill, and it’s a skill that is magnified when a hitter has other skills. Hit .250 with power and patience and you’re a valuable player. Hit .310 with power and patience and you’re a major star, especially if you’re a plus defender in CF.
I asked TLR about it tonight, and he said he definitely thinks that Rasmus can be a high-average hitter.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Last year, remember, he got sick. He had a decent year going — a good year going — and he just got weak and he had to get through that. Now he’s stronger. The bases on balls are a good indication. He’s seeing the ball better. He’s got a lot of hunger, that hitter-ish hungry feeling when he goes to the plate, wants to keep having at-bats. Yeah, he’s definitely a high-average hitter.”
Stat of the day: Cardinals starters have not allowed a home run since April 11. That’s a span of 15 starts covering 103 innings.
Fun with double situational splits: When Rasmus leads off an inning against a right-handed pitcher this year, he’s 7-for-18 with five walks and six extra-base hits. That’s good for a .389 average, a .556 on-base percentage and a 1.056 slugging percentage.
And, finally, the playlist:
The Heavy, “How You Like Me Now”
Lucero, “Sixes and Sevens”
Cage the Elephant, “Back Against the Wall”
Crash Kings, “Mountain Man”
Them Crooked Vultures, “New Fang”

-M.

Wednesday Chess Match: How long for Jaime?

Tonight’s game, from the Cardinals’ side, was pretty straightforward tactically. However, I got a few tweets (@MatthewHLeach) and some comments on the game story about removing Jaime Garcia, so that’s what we’re going with.

The situation: Cardinals lead, 6-0, with two outs and a runner on first base in the bottom of the seventh inning. Jaime Garcia has thrown 102 pitches and is coming off two breezy innings.
The decision: Tony La Russa decides to lift Garcia after seven innings, pinch-hitting for him with Nick Stavinoha and bringing in Kyle McClellan to pitch the eighth.
The outcome: Stavinoha popped up, but it wasn’t really about the pinch-hitter. Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs each pitched a shutout inning as the Cardinals finished off the 6-0 win.
The analysis: It’s April, and Garcia is still 23 and only a year and a half removed from elbow surgery. The club has said all along that it wants to be cautious with him. McClellan and Boggs were both fresh, and the lead was safely in hand.
The counterargument seems to have to do with giving Garcia a chance to finish the game, but it’s April, and even if he’d been extremely efficient, you’re talking close to 120 pitches to finish it off.
The comment: “What’s the point [of leaving him in]? You know now that he comes out of the game and five days from now he’s going to feel great against Philadelphia. That’s a good thing to feel.”
My verdict: 100 percent with the skipper. As I suggested at the top, I was sincerely surprised with the number of people who viewed this as even an issue. After Garcia’s 26-pitch fifth, I believe that he needed an efficient sixth even to come out for the seventh. They’re protecting this guy, and for good reason.
This one, for me, was a very easy call.
-M.

Wednesday lineups

Cardinals:

1. Schumaker 2B
2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Rasmus CF
6. Molina C
7. Freese 3B
8. Garcia LHP
9. Ryan SS
Braves:
1. Escobar SS
2. Prado 2B
3. Jones 3B
4. Glaus 1B
5. Diaz LF
6. Cabrera RF
7. Ross C
8. McLouth CF
9. Kawakami RHP
-M.

Note of the night/Stat of the day, April 27

Note of the night: One of the goals for the Cardinals in Spring Training was to identify a backup closer, someone who could fill in on nights when Ryan Franklin wasn’t available. It may change from week to week, but on Tuesday that pitcher was Jason Motte.

And Motte didn’t disappoint. He got in some trouble in his second inning, but got out some dangerous hitters at the heart of a dangerous order to record his second career big league save.
I asked one Cardinal veteran about Motte’s performance, and he was impressed but noted that Motte needs to “breathe” out there. Then, when Motte was asked about the difference between closing a game now and closing last April, he said exactly the same thing.
“I’m just trying to breathe, I guess, a little bit more. just trying to relax, go out there and do my mything. I’m always kind of high-wire, energetic. But I’ve got to try to breathe a little bit more, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do all year.”
As for why Kyle McClellan wasn’t the guy, part of it was the possibility of extra innings. Motte was the fifth reliever to pitch in the game, and Ryan Franklin was off-limits except in an emergency situation. So if the game had gone extra innings, McClellan might have been called on to pitch a few innings.
Stat of the day: Brendan Ryan loves hitting in the No. 9 spot, and it’s a challenge for him to hit in front of the pitcher. Yet perception and reality don’t exactly mesh. Ryan’s best spot in the batting order has been 8th.
For his career, Ryan has hit .282 with a .363 on-base percentage and a .420 slugging percentage in the No. 8 spot in the order. That’s a nice step up from his overall career line of .271/.328/.362 entering Tuesday night.
Fun with double situational splits: When Ryan Ludwick faces a right-handed pitcher at home this year, he’s been absolutely unstoppable. In 28 such plate appearances, Ludwick is 10-for-22 (.455) with two homers, two doubles and a triple (.909 slugging percentage), and a .556 on-base percentage.
Playlist:
Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
Titus Andronicus, “A More Perfect Union”
Broken Bells, “October”
LCD Soundsystem, “All I Want”
Gorillaz, “Stylo”
(yeah, I’ve been listening to SiriusXMU)
-M.

Chess Match, Tuesday April 27

The situation: Bottom of the sixth inning, Cardinals leading, 5-2. Two outs, runners on the corners. Pitchers spot in the order.

The decision: The Cardinals remove Chris Carpenter in favor of pinch-hitter Jon Jay
The outcomes: Jay grounds out to end the inning. Reliever Blake Hawksworth gets in trouble in the top of the seventh, and the Cardinals go through four relievers before their out of the inning.
The analysis: Once again, the argument in favor is pretty simple and direct. If Jay gets a hit, the game is broken open. It becomes a four-run lead and the lineup turns over.
The argument against is that Carpenter was only at 89 pitches, and appeared to be getting stronger. Of the last six hitters to face him, four grounded out, one struck out and one reached on an infield single. 
The Cardinals went in knowing they didn’t want to use Ryan Franklin to close out the game, meaning they were down one man. However, it would have been hard to envision that being as big an issue as it turned out to be. Six relievers should be more than enough, and if Hawksworth had just gotten a little luck, it wouldn’t have taken four pitchers to finish the seventh.
The comment: “We were not feeling great about sending him out there [for the seventh]. We felt like he had really worked hard, so he was going to go out there [if his spot in the order hadn't come up] — but go out there with a very short leash.”

My verdict: I’d have stayed with Carpenter, given the low pitch count and the fact that he seemed to be gaining steam. The strongest argument is the break-the-game-open argument, but that’s more of a factor if the pinch-hitter is a power hitter, someone who could deliver two or three runs on one swing. Jay is not that kind of hitter.

Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being protective of your starter, especially a starter like Carpenter who will be key to any hopes in October. Like last night’s move, I probably would have done it the other way but I can certainly see the argument for what was done.

-M. 

Tuesday lineups

Cardinals

1. Schumaker 2B

2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Rasmus CF
6. Molina C
7. Freese 3B
8. Carpenter P
9. Ryan SS
Braves
1. Escobar SS
2. Prado 2B
3. Jones 3B
4. McCann C
5. Glaus 3B
6. Heyward RF
7. Cabrera LF
8. McLouth CF
9. Lowe P
-M.
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