May 2010

Thursday chess match: Having it both ways

The situation: Runners on first and second, no outs, bottom of the eighth inning. Cardinals trail, 4-1, with the No. 9 spot in the order coming up.

The decision: Jon Jay pinch-hits for Chris Carpenter, and Jay puts down a bunt.

The outcome: Jay sacrifices the runners over to second and third. However, the next batter, Skip Schumaker, hits into a 3-2 double play, and the inning is over with no runs.

The analysis: TLR said after the game that this actually wasn’t a sacrifice attempt. Instead, it was a try at a bunt for a base hit. But he also said, essentially, that the fallback is a sacrifice — i.e., if it goes for a hit, great, but if not, it’s a sacrifice.

The idea is, if Jay gets a hit, fantastic. Bases loaded, top of the order, chance to break the inning open. If he doesn’t, you’ve moved the runners over to where a single brings in two runs. Also, and TLR said this, one advantage of a sacrifice is that it all but assures that at least one of the Cards’ thumpers will hit. The problem is that the double play eliminated that possibility.
It still seems a lot like a question of playing for one or two runs versus playing for the big inning, though.
The comment: That was a base-hit bunt. I thought it was there. Hopefully it would have ensured that one of our big boppers comes to bat with the tying run, at least. Didn’t work out that way.” — TLR
My verdict: I still don’t like it. The fact that it was an attempt at a hit dilutes some of my irritation at the play, but not all of it. Because even if it’s nominally an attempt at a hit, when you admit up front that at worstit plays as a sacrifice, you’re thinking sacrifice to some extent. With Jay hitting well, and some other candidates on the bench who might come up with a big hit, it’s clear that you’re not playing for the big inning.

And with a three-run deficit and six outs remaining, you have to play for the big inning. You have to take your chance now, to get all three of those runs in one shot. You don’t get big innings by giving away outs.
It’s a bit like the hit-and-run, which is also not one of my favorite plays — it’s an attempt to have it both ways. In this case, you want a base hit, commit to trying to get a base hit. Let Jay swing away, or call on Stavinoha or Mather. If you want a hit, try to get a hit — and leave yourself the possibility of extra bases, or the run scoring on a hit. 
If you want to sacrifice, then sacrifice. By all means, I am vehemently opposed to sacrificing there, but if that’s the goal, then do it.


Stats of the day, May 13

No note of the night, so I’m fleshing out stat of the day a little bit.

Stat of the day, 1: Chris Carpenter has four starts this year in which he has issued three walks. He had three such starts all last year, with the first coming Aug. 22.
Put another way: Dating back to last year, Carpenter has issued three walks six times in his last 16 starts. That’s as many times as he did it in the previous 48 starts, dating back to 2006.
Stat of the day, 2: Nine of David Freese’s last 17 hits have gone for extra bases (in 52 at-bats). Of Freese’s first 61 at-bats and 18 hits, only two went for extra bases.
Put another way: Freese was slugging .422 on the morning of April 29. Since then, he’s slugging .615.
Stat of the day, 3: Matt Holliday has a .431 on-base percentage since April 29.
Fun with double situational splits: If you’re looking for a “pick to click” on Friday, look at Yadier Molina. For the year, Molina is 18-for-43 in night road games. That’s a .419 batting average, along with a .479 on-base percentage and a .512 slugging percentage. Molina also has a .390/.435/.585 line against right-handers in road games this year.
And, finally, the playlist:
(submitted entirely by my Twitter followers — thanks!)
American Aquarium, “Nothing To Lose”
Band of Horses, “Compliments”
Mumford and Sons, “Little Lion Man”
Dr. Dog, “Where’d All the Time Go”
Catherine Wheel, “Texture”

Lucky Seven, Oh-No-A-Losing-Streak Edition

1. Keeping in mind actual baseball and personal realities, what’s the best course of action regarding Kyle Lohse? Try to skip him once or twice as off days allow? Send him to the ‘pen? DL him with a phantom injury? Stay the course? And, again, understand that you are talking about a veteran with pull in the clubhouse and $30 million or so left on his contract. And if you replace him, you have to replace him WITH someone.

2. Keeping in mind actual baseball and personal realities, what’s the best course of action at shortstop? Keep playing Ryan till he gets sorted out? Play Greene regularly till Lopez comes back? Spot Greene here and there? Just make do until Lopez returns and then play Lopez semi-regularly? 
3. Who should lead off for the Cardinals against left-handed pitchers?
4. What’s the best single pitch on the Cardinals’ staff? Penny’s fastball? Wainwright’s curve? Franklin’s knuckler? (just checking if you’re paying attention) Something else entirely?
5. Which team is the biggest surprise, whether it be positive or negative, in the National League thus far?
6. Preakness: who ya got?
7. It’s been a really amazing year for music already. What’s your favorite album of the year to date?

Thursday lineups


1. Schumaker 2B
2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Rasmus CF
7. Molina C
8. Greene SS
9. Carpenter P
1. Bourn CF
2. Keppinger SS
3. Berkman 1B
4. Lee LF
5. Pence RF
6. Feliz 3B
7. Matsui 2B
8. Quintero C
9. Norris P

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 12

Note of the night: If not for Wednesday night’s blowout, or at least the appearance of a blowout for most of the game, Jason LaRue probably would have gotten a start on Thursday afternoon. It would have marked the first time this year that someone other than Yadier Molina caught Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright or Jaime Garcia.

However, the big early margin changed TLR’s plans a bit. He saw an opportunity to give Molina a half-game off, and he took it. Molina was removed in favor of LaRue in the fifth inning. Now, even with the early afternoon start on Thursday after a night game on Wednesday, Molina will play. There was no injury at the root of the decision to take Molina out.
“He can catch tomorrow afternoon,” La Russa said. “Otherwise, he wasn’t going to catch tomorrow afternoon.”
Molina has started 30 of the Cardinals’ 34 games this year. The other four games have all featured either Kyle Lohse or Brad Penny on the mound. While La Russa is emphatic that he does not believe in “personal catchers,” that is almost certainly not a coincidence. The manager wants his Gold Glover catching his two aces as well as the rookie Garcia.
Stat of the day: Since returning from the disabled list last July, Kyle Lohse has made 19 starts. In those starts, he’s 2-9 with a 5.58 ERA, 57 strikeouts, 34 walks and 12 home runs allowed in 98 1/3 innings (5.18 innings per start).
Fun with double situational splits: Look out, Bud Norris. In day games against right-handed pitchers this year, Albert Pujols is 15-for-33 with eight extra-base hits, 10 walks and six strikeouts. That adds up to a slash line of a .455 batting average, a .581 on-base percentage and an .879 slugging percentage.

And, finally, the playlist…
The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
The Dead Weather, “Jawbreaker”
Cold War Kids, “Audience”
The National, “Afraid of Everyone”
The Hold Steady, “The Weekenders” (my favorite song on this album, SO FAR)

Wednesday lineups


1. Schumaker 2B
2. Ludwick CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Molina C
7. Stavinoha RF
8. Ryan SS
9. Lohse RHP
1. Bourn CF
2. Keppinger 2B
3. Berkman 1B
4. Lee LF
5. Pence RF
6. Feliz 3B
7. Quintero C
8. Manzella SS
9. Rodriguez LHP

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 11

Howdy, all. I’m back on the beat after missing the last road trip, and it’s been a full day today to say the least.

Note of the night: Albert Pujols suffered a mild injury to his left knee when he beat out an infield single in the third inning. Pujols stretched to reach the bag, landed on his heel and stretched his knee in an odd way. 
He stayed in the game, though he appeared to be a bit compromised in his running. Afterward, he played down the severity of the issue.
“I kind of landed funny and [stretched] my knee,” he said. “My knee kind of hurts a little bit, and a little bit in my hamstring.”
Asked if he thought he would be removed from the game, Pujols said he figured he’d keep playing.
“I felt good,” he said. “If it would have been something worse, something real bad, I would have either come out or it would have gotten worse during the game. But I was fine after that. Just a little sore, but nothing to worry about.”
It appears likely that Pujols will be in the lineup on Wednesday.
Stat of the night: In his Major League career, Skip Schumaker has 588 plate appearances leading off an inning. In those plate appearances, he’s batted .311 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .419 slugging percentage. That’s in comparison to his overall career line of .293/.352/.390. 

Fun with double situational splits: In games at Busch Stadium this year, left-handed hitters are batting .214 with a .233 on-base percentage against Kyle Lohse.
And, finally, the playlist:
I caught three terrific concerts during my time away from the club, but the best was easily the Drive-By Truckers’ amazing set in Columbia, Mo. So tonight’s playlist is five highlights from that great band and that great show:
“Get Downtown”
“Birthday Boy”
“Three Dimes Down”
“Let There Be Rock”
“Shut Up And Get On The Plane”

Tuesday lineups


1. Rasmus CF
2. Ludwick RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Freese 3B
6. Molina C
7. Schumaker 2B
8. Ryan SS
9. Penny RHP
1. Bourn CF
2. Matsui 2B
3. Berkman 1B
4. Lee LF
5. Pence RF
6. Blum 3B
7. Manzella SS
8. Cash C
9. Myers RHP

Saturday Chess Match: Gone in 90 pitches (and a bonus)

The situation: End of the seventh inning. Cardinals lead, 3-1. 9-1-2 spots in Reds order coming to the plate.
The decision: TLR and Duncan elect to remove Kyle Lohse after 90 pitches and seven strong innings, going with Blake Hawksworth to start the eighth.
The outcome: It’s an adventurous eighth for the Cardinals, as they go through three pitchers and allow the Reds to tie the game. They rally in the bottom of the eighth to take the win, but what might have been a two-reliever game becomes a bit more complicated. Dennys Reyes pitched on a game when he might not have, and Ryan Franklin gets four outs (though on only 16 pitches).
The analysis: The coaching staff felt that Lohse was fading and wanted to get him out before he could get in trouble. Kyle McClellan was, ideally, not available, which complicated things a bit. Ideally that would have been a McClellan inning, and he could even have stayed in to face the lefties rather than Reyes being needed.
The Cardinals are in a stretch of 2 1/2 weeks without a day off, which means that none of the starters will get extra days’ rest any time soon, and they’ve made it clear they intend to avoid pushing the starters too hard. So it’s in line with recent thinking to err on the side of pulling Lohse early, rather than later.
The comment: “It’s a tough call when one of us disagrees. But Dave and I really felt like with a couple breaking balls he had lost a little bit of pop. He’d done a really good job. We had decided before the runs scored [in the bottom of the seventh].” — TLR
My verdict: As I mentioned, it’s consistent, which certainly increases the defensibility of the decision. The thought process is sound.
With that said, it was a close game, and to my eye, Lohse still looked strong. He struck out the last two batters of the seventh, and at least the first couple of batters of the eighth shouldn’t have been too taxing for him. The fact that McClellan was unavailable also argued against going to the ‘pen.
I think I would have stayed with Lohse, who was only at 90 pitches. But there’s a philosophy at play here, and it makes a lot of sense. This team will go as far, in the regular season and October, as the rotation takes it. So while I probably would have asked for another inning out of the starter, I definitely see the opposing argument and I definitely don’t think it was a slam dunk.
Bonus chess match:
Some of you also asked about the decision to leave Dennys Reyes in to face Scott Rolen in the 8th. I theorized that the matchup was a factor, with Rolen being 6-for-10 against Ryan Franklin. But TLR said that the plan all along was for Reyes to face three batters: lefty Joey Votto, right-hander Rolen and lefty Jay Bruce. Reyes was supposed to pitch Rolen “tough,” meaning hope he chases a bad pitch. Not quite the unintentional-intentional walk, but in that neighborhood.
Then Franklin was going to come on for Cabrera. It wasn’t a matter of the batter-vs-pitcher matchup.
The quote: “When Scott’s swinging good like he’s swinging, righty-lefty doesn’t make any difference. Then you have Bruce on deck. So [Reyes] was going to pitch Scott tough.” — TLR

Note of the night/Stat of the day, May 1

Note of the night: Brendan Ryan admitted when he was hitting eighth that it wasn’t his favorite thing. He made a point that he wasn’t taking issue with the manager’s decision, and that he was certainly happier to be in the lineup than out of it. But even before Ryan was moved to the No. 9 spot, he acknowledged that he likes hitting there.

Now that he’s there, he’s making the most of it.
In four games batting ninth, Ryan is 4-for-13 with two walks, good for a .400 on-base percentage. He started the winning rally in Wednesday’s game.
Stat of the day: Cardinals starters have pitched the most innings in the National League, with 158 2/3 in 24 games, but they’ve allowed the fewest home runs, with six. 

Fun with double situational splits: In day games against right-handed pitchers, Yadier Molina is 6-for-18 (.333) with two homers and a double. His slash line in those at-bats is .333/.409/.722 (batting average/OBP/SLG).