August 2010

Note of the night/Stat of the day, August 30

Hello from Houston. I’ll be kind of free-floating this series, working on a couple of longer-term features plus a column (maybe more than one) and some other stuff. Meanwhile, Richard Dean has your main Cards coverage.

Still, I’m at the park, so I’ve got some things to offer. The weather upon arriving in Houston was… striking. Nasty, nasty storms. It’s moving toward fall in some parts of the country, but down here it’s still summer. Anyway, on with the entry:
Note of the night: Jake Westbrook is 1-3 as a Cardinal, and the team is 1-5 in his starts. 
Little hint: that doesn’t tell you anything about how Westbrook has pitched. He’s averaged 6 1/3 innings per start and has gone at least six every time. In five of his six starts, he’s pitched a quality start, and his worst outing was four runs in six innings.
There’s no reason the Cardinals couldn’t be 5-1 with Westbrook on the hill, rather than 1-5.
In fact, look deeper, and he’s pitched even better than the runs allowed would indicate. He’s amassed 34 strikeouts against six walks. He’s got an absurd ground out/fly out ratio of nearly 5:1. 
Everything that Westbrook can control, he’s controlled well. Everything else… hasn’t gone so well.
“He’s probably not happy here,” TLR quipped.
Westbrook didn’t say that. And in fact, he’s not thrilled with the way he’s thrown the ball. But he also knows things could look a lot different for him.
“I’m fairly consistent,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m capable of pitching better. I’m trying to get deep into the ballgames and give us a chance to win, and I feel like I’ve done that for the  most part. Could I have done better? Of course. And it’s my job to figre out how to do that.”
As for that 1-5 team record…
“That’s what I worry about, and that’s not very good,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with me not being as good as I can be, and I need to figure out a way to be better.”
Stat of the day: The Cardinals have five players currently on their roster who have at least 350 plate appearances this year and an OPS below 700. That’s the most of any National League team and tied with the A’s for the most in baseball. Aside from the Cards, in the National League, only the Padres even have more than two such players.

I’ve harped on it all year, but this is just another example. The biggest problem with this team between the lines is lineup depth. The core of the lineup is excellent. It just hasn’t gotten anywhere near enough help from the other guys.
Fun with double situational splits: With runners in scoring position in August, Albert Pujols is 10-for-20 with five extra base hits, eight walks and NO strikeouts, good for a .500/.643/1.050 line.

 And, finally, the playlist:
This one is dedicated to my beloved bride back at home, whom I’m eager to see in a couple of days. 
The Hold Steady, “Chips Ahoy”
Drive-By Truckers, “The Wig He Made Her Wear”
R.E.M., “These Days”
Mike Doughty, “Navigating by the Stars at Night”
Gorillaz, “Superfast Jellyfish”
-M.

Saturday lineups

Cardinals

1. Schumaker RF
2. Lopez 2B
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Jay CF
6. Feliz 3B
7. Anderson C
8. Ryan SS
9. Lohse P
Nationals
1. Kennedy 2B
2. Desmond SS
3. Bernadina LF
4. Zimmerman 3B
5. Dunn 1B
6. Morse RF
7. Rodriguez C
8. Morgan CF
9. Hernandez P
-M.

Molina sits with sore knee

Yadier Molina was held out of Friday night’s starting lineup at Nationals Park due to soreness in his right knee. Molina hurt his knee legging out a single in the 12th inning of Thursday’s 11-10 loss to the Nationals. He stepped awkwardly on first base.
Molina said that he felt fine when he left the park on Thursday feeling all right, but that on Friday the knee felt worse. As a result, he was kept out of the lineup, with Bryan Anderson starting in his place. It marked the first time all season that someone other than Molina caught one of the Cards’ top three starters (Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia).
“After I ran the base, I felt it a little bit, but I kept playing,” he said. “After the game I didn’t feel anything. But this morning I felt it a little bit.”
Molina and manager Tony La Russa both hope he will be available as soon as Saturday.

Friday lineups

Lineups from DC:

Cardinals
1. Craig RF
2. Jay CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Lopez 2B
6. Feliz 3B
7. Anderson C
8. Ryan SS
9. Garcia LHP
Nationals
1. Gonzalez 2B
2. Desmond SS
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Dunn 1B
5. Morse RF
6. Bernadina LF
7. Rodriguez C
8. Maxwell CF
9. Olsen LHP
-M.

Notes of the night/Stat of the day, Aug. 26

Note of the Night, 1: Yes, Felipe Lopez was removed in the fifth inning on Thursday night. No injury was announced, so I theorized that it was simply a move for defense.


And, in a way, it was. Here’s TLR’s explanation for the move:

“It looked to me like Felipe’s arm was bothering him, so I made the change.”
I wasn’t able to talk to Lopez in the clubhouse postgame, so I will follow up tomorrow. 
Note of the Night, 2: This could have been a chess match, but I don’t think it really calls for one. I asked TLR about whether Bryan Anderson was an option in either of the situations where a pitcher batted.
He paused. Took a while. Sized it up. And decided to give an answer, thankfully.
Essentially, he argued that the first time, with a runner on first and two outs, it wasn’t enough of a potential scoring situation to burn his last position player. The second time, of course, there was a man in scoring position. But he said he added up the combination of Anderson being the last man on the bench AND the unlikelihood of his coming through against Doug Slaten, who has been a lefty-killer this year (9-for-60, 0 XBH, 5 BB, 21 K), and determined that it didn’t make sense.
The quote:
“I don’t think that was the move to make, going down to the last player. Catcher goes out… We had a way to go. If it had been an RBI situation… Lohse didn’t hit with a guy in scoring position. And then the last time up, it’s Slaten, and do you see what Slaten does to left-handers? I don’t think that was a good at-bat to give our last player a chance. Now if we had some protection, because I think Anderson would hang in there. but if he’s the last guy, against Slaten, a guy who’s wiping left-handers out, no, I didn’t think that was the way to go.”
In short, he seems to be arguing that if it had been a different pitcher, he’d have used Anderson, even as his last player. And if Anderson weren’t his last player, he might have used him, even against Slaten. But the combination ruled it out.
Note of the night, 3: At the end of the night tonight, Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch and I had a chat with Albert Pujols about his participation in this weekend’s Restoring Honor rally at the Mall in Washington. I have a story up on the topic on the site, but wanted to flesh it out a little bit more here. Basically, Pujols made it very clear that he wants no part of anything political, and that like TLR, he was assured that when he participates, it will not be political.
That’s not to say it won’t turn out that way. And it’s not to take sides regarding the politics of the organizers. But I came away from the conversation with no doubt in my mind that Pujols wants no part of a political event. Just for what that’s worth.
Stat of the day: The Cardinals have played 89 ninth innings this year, and scored in 30 of them, or 33.7 percent of the time. That’s their highest percentage in any inning except the 19th, where they’re 1-for-1. They’re averaging .72 runs per ninth inning, which is also their highest in any inning except the 19th. Their next most productive innings are the fifth and the first.

Fun with double situational splits: Against lefties, with runners in scoring position, Randy Winn had been 1-for-12 on the year before tonight.

And, finally, the playlist:
More Stones, sorry, but I’m on a kick lately. Five favorite live Stones tracks:
“Gimme Shelter,” Brussels 1973 (or ANY 72-73 show)
“Satisfaction/Uptight” from the 1972 US Tour, w/Stevie Wonder
“Some Girls” from the 99 No Security Tour
“Stray Cat Blues” from Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out
“It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll,” Aragon in Chicago, 2002 (w/Bono. I was there. It was amazing)
-M.
 

Wednesday lineups

Cardinals

1. Schumaker 2B
2. Winn RF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Jay CF
6. Lopez SS
7. Feliz 3B
8. Anderson C
9. Westbrook P
Pirates
1. A. McCutchen CF
2. Tabata LF
3. Walker 2B
4. Jones 1B
5. Alvarez 3B
6. Doumit RF
7. Cedeno SS
8. Snyder C
9. D. McCutchen P
-M.

Chess Match: Pittsburgh hold-him?

The situation: Cardinals and Pirates are tied, 2-2, in the bottom of the seventh. Neil Walker is at the plate. Runners on first and third.
The decision: The Cardinals choose not to hold Jose Tabata at first base.
The outcome: Tabata practically walked to second base. He was credited with a steal, but in a blowout it would have been called defensive indifference. Walker followed with a bouncing single up the middle that scored both runs, and the second run turned out to be the decisive tally in a 4-3 Pirates win.
The analysis: It is, at heart, a straightforward decision. Are you more worried about giving up the base to Tabata? Or are you more worried about the likelihood of Walker poking a single through the hole where Pujols would be if he weren’t holding the runner on base?
The second part, though, is this: Guarding the hole is a move to avoid the FIRST run, the run that breaks the tie and puts you behind. Holding the runner is a move to avoid the SECOND run, the run that extends the deficit. Regardless of anything else, the first run is more important than the second.
TLR decided that he was more inclined to guard against the hit than against the steal, or rather he decided he was more worried about the go-ahead run than the second run.
Some factors to consider:
1, Tabata clearly likes to run, and he’s good at it. He had 25 steals in 31 tries in 53 games at Triple-A this year, was 106-for-140 in 484 career Minor League games, and was 13-for-20 in 65 games in the Majors this year. There’s no doubt he’s a threat to run, especially with two outs and a singles hitter at the plate. If you give him the base, he’s going to take it.
2, TLR definitely had his hitting chart read correctly. Walker’s singles and groundballs rarely go up the middle, and often go to the right side. However, he’s not really a groundball hitter, and you can always adjust how you pitch a guy to account for things like that.
An aside, while we’re at it. I asked Adam Wainwright, who was on the mound at the time, about the decision. And he gave a non-answer. I don’t want to put words in Wainwright’s mouth, so you can take this answer however you wish. But I thought it was telling.
“Well, we had Albert playing back for defensive purposes,” he said. “You’d have to ask the coaches on that. That’s their call.”
The comment: “It’s straightforward. You hold the guy on, the groundball, one run. I felt like if we were going to get him out, I wanted to get him out without him hitting the ball in the hole. He has pulled the ball against us. So he hits a two-run single and we lose by one run. If it’s a bad move, I made the move that I thought gave us the best chance in that inning and to win the game. I have no problem with anybody that had a different opinion.”
My verdict: I’ve turned it over a lot in the past few hours, because TLR was vehement in his defense of the decision and he’s made a lot more tactical calls than I have over the years. But I still can’t get past this: if you give Tabata the base, he’s GOING to take it. He likes to run, and the Pirates let him run. 
On the flipside, you don’t know that Walker’s going to hit a groundball through the right side. And even if he does, Pujols has a lot of range. Maybe he gets to it anyway. Maybe Felipe Lopez gets to it.
I understand where TLR was coming from. I absolutely respect and share the strategy of preventing the first run before you worry about the second. That’s by far the most compelling argument, in my opinion. And maybe my assessment is clouded by the results, a second-guess only. 
But I still think I would have made some attempt to hold the runner.
-M.

Stats of the day, August 24

As you might expect, the clubhouse wasn’t too chatty tonight, so no Note of the Night for you. Instead, hopefully the stats are tasty enough to tide you over. And as you might expect, I’ll be following this entry with a Chess Match.

Stat of the Day, 1: Adam Wainwright has a 5.51 ERA for his career at PNC Park. Yet Tuesday was the first time he had lost here in 10 games, eight of them starts. He had been 5-0 in Pittsburgh. He still has allowed only one homer at PNC in 50 2/3 innings.
Stat of the Day, 2: The Cardinals are tied with the Brewers for the second-best team OBP in the National League. They’re also now fifth in runs per game.
Stat of the Day, 3: Albert Pujols’ next double will be his 30th of the season. That will make him, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the third player in Major League history with at least 10 seasons of 30-plus home runs and 30-plus doubles. Not the third with 10 consecutive. The third to do it 10 times ever in his career. Admittedly, this says something about the era, since the other two players to do it are Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado. But even so, Pujols will be 10-for-10, while no one else in the history of the game has done it more than 10 times in total.
Stat of the Day, 4: Pujols’ OPS for August is 1.353. If he were to finish the month with that high a mark, it would be the second-highest for any month in his career, behind only April of 2006 (346/509/914, for a 1.423 OPS).

Fun with double situational splits: This Pujols fellow, he’s pretty good. In night games in August this year, he’s 28-for-56 (.500) with 11 extra-base hits for a .946 slugging percentage, and five walks for a .541 on-base percentage.

And, finally, the playlist:
I’ve been listening to a lot of Rolling Stones today, but stuff from outside the “canon.” So here are five favorites from less-heralded Stones albums.
“Connection” (from Between the Buttons)
“She’s So Cold” (from Emotional Rescue)
“Crazy Mama” (from Black and Blue)
“Too Tight” (from Bridges to Babylon)
“Almost Hear You Sigh” (from Steel Wheels)
-M.

Reyes to DL, Salas back. Again.

The Cardinals placed left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, retroactive to Aug. 16, with a left elbow strain. The club called up right-hander Fernando Salas from Triple-A Memphis to take Reyes’ roster spot.
The move is not necessarily an indication of any worsening in Reyes’ condition. The veteran played catch again on Tuesday, just as he did Monday, and reported that it went well. But it had become clear that even if Reyes continued to progress, he wouldn’t be able to pitch in a game for at least a few more days. Given that he will be eligible to be activated in one week, on Aug. 31, it made sense to call up the extra reliever to cover his spot for those next seven days.
Reyes, 33, has a 3.94 ERA in 50 appearances for St. Louis this year. He has struck out 24 against 18 walks in 32 innings.
This marks Salas’ sixth stint with the Cardinals this season. He’s pitched 14 1/3 innings at the Major League level, posting a 2.51 ERA with 13 strikeouts and five walks.

Notes of the night/Stats of the day, Aug. 23

Hello, all…

Back from a great mini-vacation in the Smoky Mountains, and coming to you live from Pittsburgh. I’ve been far too negligent about writing on the blog lately, so hopefully this serves as a nice, meaty return.
Note of the Night, 1: Monday night marked TLR’s 1300th win as the manager of the Cardinals, extending his own franchise record. For some perspective, there are only 27 other managers in the history of the game who won 1300 games total. Of those 27, 18 are in the Hall of Fame. La Russa reached that number after already establishing himself as one of the game’s top managers in two other stops.
La Russa became the 12th manager in history to win 1300 games with one team. And, typically, he brushed it off when it was brought up.
First, he sincerely didn’t know. As he was holding his postgame news conference, he received a text message congratulating him on the milestone. He asked me and Rick Hummel if the stat was true. Told that it was, here’s what he had to say:
“It’s a real nice number. It’s called longevity. That’s the reason for the number. Our fans are not happy with that number because we’re not in first place.”
Note of the Night, 2: TLR reached a round number on Monday, while Albert Pujols got closer to one. He’s one homer away from 400. But he insisted it’s not something he has to work to keep out of his mind.
“You don’t play for numbers,” he said. “It’s a great milestone, but I’m not thinking about it. I hope it will come with a great win with our ballclub. That’s what I play for. I thank God that I was able to hit it today in the first inning, to give a little bit of cushion for Kyle.
“It’s something that, yes, it’s a big milestone, but you get 400, you want to get 400 more I guess. I play one day at a time, one year at a time.”
There’s a pretty decent chance he reaches it this week, and even in the next two games. He’s torrid, and he crushes the ball in Pittsburgh.
Note of the Night, 3: Allen Craig had no warning he was going in to play second base on Monday night. He could do the math and figure out he might be the choice, but it wasn’t like he was given a heads up.
He didn’t mind.
“I was hoping I’d get [a play],” Craig said.
TLR said he had no hesitation to give Craig a look there.
“He’s an infielder,” the manager said. “I played second base, how tough can it be?”
Stat of the Day, 1: Yadier Molina is batting .348 since the All-Star break with a .395 on-base percentage.

Stat of the Day, 2: Matt Holliday has 206 doubles since the start of the 2006 season, the most in the Major Leagues.
Stat of the Day, 3: According to the amazing and invaluable Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com, and my hand-calculations based on that resource, Monday marked the 14th game in ujols’ career in which he’s come to the plate needing a triple for the cycle.
He’s had a single, double, and homer in the same game I believe 26 times, but it’s the 14th game that he’s done it and then come to bat with a chance to finish the deal. Three of those times, he’s homered.
Fun with Double Situational Splits: Since the All-Star break, Brendan Ryan is batting .368 with a .400 OBP and a .447 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers.

And, finally, the playlist:
How about a road special for the beginning of a long road trip? And while we’re at it, let’s go 10 songs for a 10-game trip.
Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again”
Black Crowes, “Wiser Time”
Bob Seger, “Turn the Page”
Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”
The Who, “Going Mobile”
Metallica, “Wherever I May Roam”
Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line”
Chuck Berry, “You Can’t Catch Me”
Pearl Jam, “Rearviewmirror” (single greatest driving song ever, IMO)
Johnny Cash, “I’ve Been Everywhere”
-M.
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