Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Top 5: Pitching Rotations

These are heady days for baseball fans.  Every team is undefeated, and hope springs eternal.  With the first games of Spring Training set for Friday, it seemed like it was time to start blogging about baseball again.

A question that seems to be on every baseball fan’s mind is  – who has the best starting pitching staff in baseball?  Below is my humble attempt at answering that question.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.

The Phillies boast a rotation that would make any team jealous. (photo from the4aces.net)

1. Philadelphia Phillies – While this might seem like a homer call, the Phillies have to be considered the best collection of starting pitching in the league.  After pulling off one of the major surprises of the off-season by signing Cliff Lee, the Phillies have four legit #1 starters.  The Phillies (on paper) have the best pitching rotation since the Braves of the early 1990s (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery).  This is my initial reaction to the pitching staff – taken from my post Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!:

Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:

I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.

It doesn’t matter who takes the fifth starter spot (though I think it will be Joe Blanton), the Phillies have the most formidable starting rotation in baseball.

Tim Lincecum anchors the rotation for the defending World Series champions.

2. San Francisco Giants – As seen in last year’s NLCS, the Giants’ pitching staff can hang with the Phillies.  Tim Lincecum, who struggled at times last season, found his form in the playoffs. Matt Cain made the Phillies’ offense look pedestrian. Jonathan Sanchez looks like he is ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite lefty. Madison Bumgarner developed over the course of the season and looks set for a big year.  The only question mark is Barry Zito as the fifth starter, but if he even has an average year (10-14, 4.45 ERA in his time with the Giants) he will be a pretty decent 5th starter.

If Beckett and Lackey can bounce back, the Sox will be tough. (Image from CBS local/Credit: Dan Roche/CBS)

3. Boston Red Sox – Some might question the Red Sox being ranked this highly, especially after the poor performance last season of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and the enigma that is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but I believe that at least one of the aforementioned pitchers will rebound this year.  If more than one can return to the form all have previously exhibited, the Red Sox will have a formidable rotation.  Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA), two guys I thought deserved more Cy Young consideration last season, anchor the rotation.  Even if Beckett and Lackey turn in career average years – 15-10, 3.96 ERA for Becket & 15-10, 3.89 ERA for Lackey – the rotation should be good enough to win the AL East.  Any positive contribution Dice-K can give will be an added bonus.

Trevor Cahill and the Athletics could unseat the Rangers in the AL West. The A's certainly have the pitching.

4. Oakland Athletics – This selection might surprise some, as the Athletics toil in obscurity in Oakland, but the A’s have a legit rotation.  I think this excerpt from a post on pitching rotations sums up the A’s:

Check out these stats and compare them with any pitching staff in MLB: Brett Anderson 7-6 2.80 ERA  75 K’s, Trevor Cahill 18-8  2.97 ERA  118 K’s, Gio Gonzalez 15-9 3.23 ERA  171 K’s, Dallas Braden 11-14  3.50 ERA 113 K’s and a perfect game. Average age…25!!  Oakland led the AL with a 3.56 era, 17 shutouts and held opponents to a .245 batting average.  Question mark is 5th starter but they have many young guys to choose from in the minors and they also signed Rich Harden. If they can get any hitting they could be a team no one would like to play come October.

Clayton Kershaw is my early dark horse for the NL Cy Young. This kid is for real.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers – Four of the Dodgers’ starters finished last season with ERAs under 3.60.  Not too shabby.  Clayton Kershaw led the way with a 13-10 record and an ERA of 2.91 and will be just 23 at the start of the season.  Forming the rest of the rotation behind Kershaw are Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.39 ERA), Chad Billingsley (12-11, 3.57 ERA), Ted Lilly (7-4, 3.52 ERA w/ the Dodgers), and Jon Garland (14-12, 3.47 ERA w/ the San Diego Padres).

In making this list, several teams just missed the number 5 spot (I feel like the top 4 are pretty set).  The St. Louis Cardinals would likely have made the top 5, but with concerns about the health of Adam Wainwright‘s elbow, the rotation is weakened.  Some have been touting the Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke joining Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park.  I think the Brewers have the beginnings of a very good rotation, but it remains to be seen how Greinke will adjust to the NL and whether Marcum is for real.  A third team that many have in their top 5 are the Padres.  Mat Latos and Clayton Richard are two studs at the top of the rotation but after the top 2 there are more questions than answers.  Also, could Latos be in for a sophomore slump? Lastly, the Atlanta Braves are in the discussion as well, especially if Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens can rebound from subpar 2010 seasons.  Looks like I could have found one more team and written a top 10.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Missed Opportunities

The Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park hasn't rung much in the past 9 games. If the Phillies want to make the playoffs it needs to ring a lot more often.

What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday (8/17), I was in attendance for the game where the Phillies took the Wild Card lead from the San Francisco Giants.  Since that game, the Phillies are 3-6.  They have ceded the Wild Card lead to back to the Giants, and the offense has looked anemic.  This 9 game slump is reminiscent to the offensive struggles the team experienced during June and July.  Since the game I attended, the Phillies have scored 25 runs, an average of just 2.78 runs per game.  It’s amazing they have won three games!  Somehow they managed to score 8 runs against the Giants on the 18th and 6 against the Nationals on the 22nd (both wins).  The other win came in a 1-0 win over the Nationals, where Roy Halladay was his usual dominant self.  During this stretch, the Phillies have lost games where their starters have given up 1 (Joe Blanton on 8/23 against the Astros), 2 (Cole Hamels on 8/24, the 16 inning game), and 3 (Halladay on 8/25, the revenge of J.A. Happ).  These are games the Phillies should win.  The offense, which a year ago was so potent but this year has been streaky, should score more than 2.78 runs per game.

The craziest statistics I came across while researching for this post showed just how under supported Halladay and Hamels have been this season.  In Hamels’ 27 starts. the Phillies have scored fewer than three runs 14 times (follow the link and scroll to the bottom to see the breakdown).  Of those games, the Phillies have been shutout in 4 of them!  With Halladay it is even worse.  While the Phillies have been shutout just once with Doc on the mound, they have scored fewer than three runs 16 times.  Of those 16 games, they have scored one run in 6 of them.  When your two best pitchers have ERAs of 2.22 (Halladay) and 3.40 (Hamels, who has been excellent in the 2nd half with an ERA of 2.83) the team should win more games.  Period!

Thankfully for the Phillies, the Braves have lost three straight and are 5-5 in their last 10 games.  While the Braves have been swooning, the Phillies have missed opportunities to pick up games.  During the last 9 games, the Phillies have lost 5 games to teams they should have beaten (1 to the Nationals and 4 to the Astros).  Given that the Phillies won 2 out of 3 against the Nats, I can’t complain too much about that loss.  What is incomprehensible is the sweep by the Astros.  The team is 11 games under .500 and came into the series 15 games under .500.  While the Astros have played better over the last couple months – they are 26-21 (.553) during July and August – they aren’t a contender.  During that same period, the Phillies are 29-21 (.580).  Most of their starters, with the exception of Hunter Pence (and he might not), wouldn’t start for the Phillies. Their pitching staff consists of a bunch of former Phillies (Brett Myers, Nelson Figueroa, and the aforementioned Happ), Wandy Rodriguez and a guy best known for ESPN comparing him to Chuck Norris after his first start (Bud Norris).  Not exactly a staff that strikes fear into many teams, and one the Phillies certainly should have handled.

Given the Phillies previous dominance at home and the Astros weakness on the road, the sweep is even more difficult to understand.  Going into the series, the Phillies were 42-22 (.656) at Citizens Bank Park.  On the flip side, the Astros were only 22-36 ).379) on the road.  Combine these stats and most would have predicted a Phillies series win, if not a potential sweep for the Phils.

As with the Braves, the Phillies’ main contenders for the Wild Card have been playing poorly over the last 10 games.  The Cardinals are 3-7, while the Giants are 4-6.  The Phillies should give thanks that these teams decided to play poorly at the same time they were slumping.  Entering tonight’s games, the Phillies found themselves. 5 games behind Giants, and were even on losses. The Cards have 3 games in hand (but are playing tonight) and have 1 fewer loss.  Right now, all Phillies fans should cheer for the Nats who take on the Cards tonight.  It could be a tough game for the Nats, as Chris Carpenter is on the hill.

Looking forward, the Phillies need to find their offense and kick it into high gear.  Of the teams they are now battling with, the Phillies have the toughest schedule remaining.  With a West Coast trip – including stops in San Diego, LA and 1 game in Colorado coming up – the Phillies face tough competition over the next week and a half.  The Phillies play just one team the rest of the way who are currently under .500 (the Nationals, for 6 games).  According to the latest Hunt for October on ESPN, the Phillies remaining strength of schedule (SoS) is .505.  By comparison, the Braves have a SoS of .485, the Cards .467, and the Giants .485.

To make things even more difficult for the Phillies, they have 22 road games and just 13 home games remaining. This does not bode well for a team that is 28-31 (.475) on the road.  If the Phillies win 47.5% of those 22 games, that would give them 10 (maybe 11) wins.  If they win at home at their current pace, the would give the Phillies 8 (maybe 9) more wins.  I’m not sure that between 88-90 wins is enough for the Phillies to win the division, and it will be just as tough to win the Wild Card with that number of wins. What all Phillies fans have to hope for is one of their now patented September runs.  If all goes well, the season ending series against the Braves in Atlanta could decide the division and may decide which team is golfing come Columbus Day.

The Phillies clearly have the toughest road ahead and need to take advantage of any missteps the Braves, Cards or Giants make. They haven’t done that over the last few days and might look back at these past 9 games and wonder what might have been.

Wild Night = Wild Card Lead

Citizens Bank Park - My 2nd baseball stadium in less than a week.

Last night, I completed the finally leg of my baseball-centric road trip – taking in the Phillies-Giants game at Citizens Bank Park.  It was a fun game and a special occasion for me, as my family and I celebrated my father’s birthday and my birthday.  The Phillies certainly delivered a great present for both my and my father, winning what became a wild game.  In addition, Chase Utley returned from the DL, which afforded me the opportunity to see my favorite Phillie in action.

Domonic Brown and Jim Jackson doing an interview for Phillies radio prior to the game.

Walking through the stadium to our seats, we were treated to seeing rookie Domonic Brown being interviewed by radio personality, Jim Jackson.  It was pretty cool to see Brown up close and listen to his interview with the former voice of the Flyers, now the voice of Phillies radio.

When I heard the pitching matchups announced for the series, I was happy that Roy Oswalt vs. Barry Zito was the contest for the game I would be attending.  I had seen Zito pitch earlier in the year when I went to a Giants-Cardinals game in San Francisco, so I would have liked to have seen another Giant pitcher (maybe Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum) but I can’t complain too much.  I was exciting to see Oswalt toe the rubber for the Phillies.

Roy Oswalt pitching to Andres Torres

The game did not disappoint, right from the start.  Pat Burrell made his triumphant return to Citizens Bank Park and received a hearty ovation both during lineup announcements and prior to his first at-bat.  He promptly thanked Phillies fans by smashing a home run into the left-field stands to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.  Matt Gelb, Phillies beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tweeted after the home run “So that’s twice this year when Phillies fans have cheered an opponent (Thome, Burrell) only to have them homer. Stick to booing, obviously.”  Funny, how Phillies fans defy all the stereotypes that sports people want to assign them and are then rewarded with home runs that hurt their team. I suppose people might say that karma is a bitch.  Following a rocky first inning, Oswalt settled down and looked dominant until surrendering a home run to Jose Guillen in the 7th.

For the Giants, Zito pitched well through the first 4+ innings, but then the Phillies strung together a mini-rally in the 5th to tie the game and another in the 6th to take the lead.  Of course, I missed the rally to take the lead, as I was in line to get Crab Fries from the Chickie’s and Pete’s stand.  The line to get the fries was incredibly long, rivaling those at Disney World.  Crazy!  Philly sure does love those Crab Fries.  During the 6th, Jayson Werth finally did something with runners on base (though Placido Polanco wasn’t in scoring position).  Werth has been terrible with runners in scoring position all season, but maybe his double while Polanco was on base will jump-start his season.

Chase Utley, safe at 2nd after a throwing error by Mike Fontenot in the 8th.

The game took a comical turn in the 8th, as the Giants handed the Phillies insurance runs on a balk by Ramon Ramirez and a throwing error by Mike Fontenot.  By the time the Giants committed these errors, the Phillies had already taken a 7-3 lead, but a couple of free run to pad the lead certainly were welcomed.  As for the Phillies pitching, Ryan Madson (he pitched the 8th) and Chad Durbin (pitched the 9th) both looked good.  Madson continued his scoreless innings streak, it’s now 10 1/3 inning over 10 appearances.  Not too shabby.

Placido Polanco standing on first base after one of his 4 hits.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Placido Polanco’s awesome night.  All he did was go 4-5, to take the lead in the NL batting race from Joey Votto.  Polanco ended the night batting .325 to Votto’s .324.  It should be fun to watch Poly make a run at the batting crown.  Hopefully, he has many more 4-5 nights before the season is over.  The Phillies need those types of performances to make the playoffs, and it would be great to see a Phillie win the batting title.  If Poly can hang onto the lead, he would be the first Phillie since Richie Ashburn in 1958 to win the crown!

The Phanatic was happy with the outcome of the game, and is excited the Phillies are now in the lead for the Wild Card.

With the win last night, the Phillies took the lead in the Wild Card race.  They are 19-5 in their last 24 games, and now have a 1 game lead on the Giants and a 1.5 game lead on the Cardinals.  Following the game, Baseball Prospectus puts the Phillies’ chances of making the playoffs at 52%, up 5% with the win.  If the Phillies can win one of the next two games against the Giants, they should end this week in possession of the Wild Card lead.

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The First Annual Rally Cap First Half Awards

Biggest SurpriseSan Diego Padres. At the halfway point of the season, the San Diego Padres have to be considered the biggest surprise in baseball. Over the winter there was speculation the Padres would trade hometown hero, Adrian Gonzalez in an effort to start yet another rebuilding phase. The Padres hung on to Gonzalez and are glad they did, as he leads the team in nearly every major offensive category. Led by pitching staff that ranks first in the majors in ERA and second in shutouts. The staff is, surprisingly, led by 22-year old Mat Latos. Latos has been a revelation in his first full season in the majors. Latos has posted a 2.45 ERA, is averaging 3.54 strikeouts per walk, and has compiled a 10-4 record. In addition to Latos, the Padres are getting solid seasons form Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc. Combine the great starting pitching with a pitcher-friendly park and a lights out bullpen (2.91 ERA and 25 saves) and you have the Padres going into the Break with the 2nd best record in the National League. Runner-up: Cincinnati Reds. The Red have not had a winning season since 2000 and find themselves 1 game up on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.

Biggest Disappointment - Seattle Mariners. On the opposite end of the spectrum (and West Coast) from the Padres are the Seattle Mariners.  Seattle, finished 85-77 last season, and made moves to bolster their team over the offseason.  They signed Chone Figgins to a 4 year, $36 million contract in an effort to get better defensively at second base, but also in an effort to add more speed to the top of their order.  For their investment, the Mariners have gotten a .235 average, with 22 RBI, 24 SB and 9 errors from Figgins.  These numbers are far below Figgins’ career averages and clearly not worth the money they are spending.  If you compare Figgins with the man he essentially replaced (Adrian Beltre) the Mariners sure do look foolish.  Beltre is having a great season with the Red Sox and signed a 1-year contract worth $9 million (the same amount as Figgins for over twice the production).  In addition to Figgins, the Mariners traded for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (now shipped to Texas) and temperamental slugger Milton Bradley.  The pairing of Lee with Felix Hernandez was supposed to solidify the top of the rotation and Bradley was supposed to provide some pop in the middle of the order.  While Lee pitched exceptionally well, Bradley imploded (he’s hitting .210 with just 8 HR).   The Mariners clearly have given up on this season, shipping Lee to the Rangers for prospects.  It will be interesting to see if any other players are traded and how the Mariners play in the 2nd half.  Runner-up: Chicago Cubs. A year after finishing 5 games above .500, the Cubs (with the 3rd highest payroll in MLB) are 11 games under .500 going into the Break.

First Half NL Cy YoungJosh Johnson, Florida Marlins.  The race for the first half NL Cy Young was a close one, with at least 4 pitchers having legitimate cases for the award.  In the end, the award goes to the Marlins’ big right-hander.  Johnson has been nothing short of stellar this season, posting the lowest ERA in the majors (1.70).  Sure Ubaldo Jimenez has a more impressive record and excellent stats, Roy Halladay has a perfect game and more complete games than all but 2 teams, and Adam Wainwright has put up stellar numbers across the board.  Johnson has put up equally impressive numbers as the aforementioned trio.  He has averaged 9.07 strikeouts per 9 innings, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.39.  Johnson has not given up more than 4 runs in a game all season (and that game was the first of the year), and has walked only 28 batters in 122 innings.  Opponents are hitting just .203 against him.  His consistency, control, ability to make hitters swing and miss, and ERA make him my choice for the first half Cy Young.  Runners-up: Ubaldo Jimenez , Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright

First Half AL Cy Young – David Price, Tampa Bay Rays.  The AL doesn’t have nearly as many dominant pitching performers as the National League.  The 2nd year man is my choice for the first half AL Cy Young.  Price leads the Rays’ pitching staff, which is 4th in the league in ERA and has led the Rays to the 2nd best record in the majors.  Price has pitched 2 complete games, 1 shutout, and has the lowest ERA in the AL.  In addition, he is tied for the AL lead with 12 wins and opponents are hitting just .223 against him.  Runners-up: Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia

First Half NL MVP – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  It is truly amazing that Joey Votto had to wait for MLB’s Final Vote to make the All-Star game.  He has been awesome this season.  He’s hit 22 home runs, driven in 60 runs, has the highest OPS (1.011) in the National League, and is batting .314.  Through in 4 stolen bases and a .997 fielding percentage and Votto is deserving choice for first half MVP.  Runners-up: Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn

First Half AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. This decision was the easiest of the awards.  Cabrera is pushing for the Triple Crown this season.  He leads the league with a .346 BA and 77 RBI, and is second in home runs with 22.  Cabrera also leads the league in OPS.  If Cabrera can keep up his current pace, he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  Runner-up: Josh Hamilton.  In virtually any other year, Hamilton would have a case to win the award.  Like Cabrera, he has a .346 batting average and 22 homers.  He has 64 RBI and an OPS of 1.015.

First Half NL Rookie of the Year – Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals.  The race for rookie of the year in the National League is between two pitchers.  My choice for the first half ROY is the Cardinals’ lefty.  He has posted an 8-4 record in 17 starts with a 2.17 ERA.  He has a strikeout ratio of 7.22 K/9 and has been the 2nd best pitcher on the Cards’ staff.  Runner-up: Mike Leake.  Leake has been the 2nd best pitcher for the Reds, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he never pitched in the minors.

First Half AL Rookie of the Year – Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. The race in the AL is between two Detroit outfielders.  For me, the choice is Boesch.  Since being called up in late April, Boesch has been on fire.  He is 4th in the league in batting average, at .342.  He has hit 12 homer runs, driven in 49 runs, and his OPS is .990.  Runner-up: Austin Jackson.  If not for his teammate, Jackson would be the front-runner.  He’s batting .300, with 20 RBI and 14 SB.  He has been a catalyst at the top of the Tigers’ order and the clear prize in the trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.

NL Manager of the First Half – Bud Black, San Diego Padres. See entry on the Padres as surprise team of the first half.

AL Manager of the First Half - Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. Washington has rebounded nicely after a summer of turmoil in which it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season.  The Rangers are 4.5 games up in the AL West (the largest lead in the league) and look poised to make a run to their first playoff appearance since 1999.