Posts Tagged ‘Adam Wainwright’

Pulling apart the ten best starting pitchers in baseball is almost certain to create a stir at any point in history. But attempting to do so right now is an even more confounding process, because this is quickly becoming an epic era for arms. The offensive era of Major League Baseball has come to a screeching halt in recent years due to the quality of pitching that has confronted it.

Kershaw_22

Despite the fact that there is a clear cut top guy on the mound today, the distinction between number two and even number 10 can be subject to debate….and even much further than that. Take for example that this offseason, the race to acquire one of the three big name arms on the market between Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields was the talk of the winter— but only one of those legitimate frontline cornerstones could even make this list. Needless to say, it’s a tough crowd.

But as there is with everything else, the cream has to rise to the top. And in past years while I have made this list separately as a right-handed and left-handed countdown, I am upping the ante and throwing both together. So, here is the best crack I could take a taking at least 20 deserving pitchers and trimming them to ten.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 LHP in 2014): Every year it becomes more and more difficult to imagine Kershaw taking his game to another level, but he did yet again last year. He added both the National League Most Valuable Player and a third Cy Young Award to his resume, as he finished with a 21-3 record, 239 strikeouts and a career-low 1.77 ERA. Overall he led his league in over 10 separate categories despite missing the first month of the season and became the first pitcher ever to lead the league in ERA four consecutive years.

2-year average: 18-6, 1.80 ERA, 236 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#1 RHP in ’14): The King is coming off the second best year of his career and one where he finished as runner up in the American League Cy Young balloting. He won 15 games for the M’s and led the AL with a 2.14 ERA and held batters to a .200 average against. His 248 strikeout were a new career-best as well. In addition, for the third time in his career Hernandez allowed the least hits per nine innings in the game.

2-year average: 14-8, 2.55 ERA, 232 strikeouts, 220 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

3. Chris Sale, White Sox (#4 LHP in ’14): Far and away the AL’s top lefty, Sale had yet another brilliant campaign in 2014. While injuries interrupted a portion of his season, the 25-year-old was oft-dominant every other time out. He lowered his era nearly a full run, to microscopic 2.17 figure over 174 innings, while leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings at 10.8. He made his third straight All-Star appearance and climbed the Cy Young charts for a third straight year as well, a sign of things that could be come.

2-year average: 12-9, 2.67 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 194 innings pitched, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts

4. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (#3 RHP in ’14): The Redbird’s warhorse ace put up another magnificent season, despite battling through some tough arm troubles for most of the year. He reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. It was the fourth time in his past five years he won at least 19 games while making it to the mound for at least 220 innings.

2-year average: 20-9, 2.67 ERA, 199 strikeouts, 234 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#4 RHP in ’14): The newest Nat’s free agent voyage was the most notable thing attached his name this year, but earned it with another dominant year on the mound. In his final season in Detroit, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner led the AL in wins for the second straight year and topped 250 strikeouts. Over the past two years, he has posted a remarkable 39-8 record, good for 83% win percentage.

2-year average: 20-4, 3.02 ERA, 246 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

madison-bumgarner-40-of-the-san-francisco-giants

6. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#5 LHP in ’14): No player in the game’s stock rose more than Bumgarner’s did last year, and it was well deserved. Even before his unbelievably awesome postseason (a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings and four wins), he had taken a step forward in asserting himself as one of the game’s best arms. He posted career-bests in wins (18), strikeouts (219), innings pitched (217.1) and complete games (4), amongst other categories.

2-year average: 16-10, 2.88 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 209 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

7. Johnny Cueto , Reds (Not Ranked): Cueto jumped from the ranks of underappreciated to unavoidably superb last year. He was more dominant, more often than any other pitcher not named Kershaw. Cueto pitched the most innings in the National League, but still held batters to the lowest average against in NL (.197). Along the way he also won 20 games for the first time, led his circuit in strikeouts and finished with the league’s lowest hits against per nine figure as well.

2-year average: 12-6, 2.82 ERA, 146 strikeouts, 152 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

8. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (#7 RHP in ’14): The ever-efficient, best #2 (by default) in the game had a quietly record-breaking output in 2014. Greinke ran up a streak of 22 straight starts of allow two or fewer earned runs, which dated back into 2013. All-in-all, he won 17 games, with top 10 figures in both ERA and strikeouts, while tacking a Gold Glove on as well.

2-year average: 16-6, 2.68 ERA, 178 strikeouts, 190 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

9. David Price, Tigers (#3 LHP in ’14): It was an odd year for Price between Tampa and Detroit, and one where he got off to a rugged start. But once he settled in, he was arguably as dominant as he has ever been. Price went on a strikeout spree in June where he ran up 54 strikeouts against only five walks in 39.2 innings. From there he led the Majors in missing bats with 271 strikeouts and innings pitched with 248.1.

2-year average: 12-10, 3.29 ERA, 211 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 0 shutouts

10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (Not Ranked): I will admit to being slow to the appreciation train for Zimmermann, but his results have become too regularly impactful to deny at this point. He has been in the top 10 in NL ERA for the past two years, and led the senior circuit in wins two years ago. The consummate control specialist has struck a balance between accuracy on the plate and power as well, has he struck out over 180 batters for the third straight year.

2-year average: 16-7, 2.96 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

Runners Up: Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber

 

To catch up on the countdown, scroll back a few days. To keep up with it in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The nod for this award in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance goes towards Walter Johnson, and rightfully so. He unquestionably dominated his era to the point that it is still a relevant mile marker for pitching greatness 90+ years later. However, the king of today’s hill is rightfully making his own impact as well, so for the easiest award of the year its not so much about proving it, but rather trying to ground it some in reality. Because what he’s doing right now seems to be unrealistically great….sort of like the namesake of this honor did back in his day.

 

Clayton-Kershaw-no-hitter-600x400

 

2014 National League Walter Johnson Award Winner—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sometimes when one writes a defense for a choosing a particular player for an award, there is a need to justify it. In other cases there is the push to draw the line between that player and perhaps one or two others. But for Clayton Kershaw, it has reached the point that he is the presumptive holder of the award from the time he takes his first step on the mound in April, and then it is on everyone else to try to take it from him five months in advance. The game’s preeminent ace is far and away the top arm in the game; that is not in dispute. Yet showing just how far off he is from the pack—as well as the historic context he is beginning to reach—is truly what is most impressive about him from a pitching perspective only.

What sets the greats apart from the pack is how regularly superb they actually are. Not a ‘quality start’ (or whatever that is considered to be in today’s game), but a truly excellent outing that would be of huge note for most pitchers, but what’s standard operating procedure from him. For kicks, let’s just say that is eight innings, with at least nine strikeouts and two or fewer walks. Out of his 27 starts on the year, he met those measures eight times. That’s 29% of his outings that can be considered excellent. Moving on.

So let us say that we open up those parameters just a bit further, and lower the strikeout qualifier to eight, the innings requirement to seven and then add in 2 or fewer runs surrendered. Kershaw posted a line that meets those qualifications 19 times. So in 66% of his starts this year, he went at least seven innings, while surrendering two or fewer runs, walking two or less batters and striking out nine. That’s a highlight start for many a pitcher throughout the year, but he regularly met it.

Along the way, the a la carte numbers were stupendous as well: the seven games in double digit strikeouts, the eight walks over the course of two months in June-July, the 41 inning scoreless streak and obviously the no-hitter on June 18th which ranks among the greatest performances in MLB history.

Going back to the sustainable dominance idea, it continues to get more and more impressive. After June 29th, his ERA was never over 2.00 again for the rest of the season.  He had two months were he won every start he made, going 10-0 in June and September. From June 2 through August 5th, his ERA was 0.94 (nine earned runs over 86 innings). To round it all together, he led the NL in nine separate categories and came up three strikeouts short of his second pitcher’s Triple Crown.

And even with all of this accounted for, there is still a “what if” factor in this as well. He missed the entire month of April with a back injury, which left perhaps another five starts on the table. Despite this all, he still ranked first in the NL in wins with 21, second in strikeouts with 239 (three behind the leaders) and still pitched nearly 200 innings. In sort, he was nearly a fifth of the starts on the year behind most of the league but not only pitched to far higher quality per start, but it was such a high quality that it reached the same bar in quantity as well.

In the course of it all, he continued to push one of the great runs in starting pitching in any era to yet another level. He won the MLB ERA title for a record fourth consecutive year (2.28, 2.53, 1.83 and 1.77), and at the age of only 26, continues his precocious run through the game.

Personally, I have given him my best hurler in the NL vote for the past three years and it does not seem to be a push that will deviate any time soon. It is an incomparable run that is quickly placing him among the giants of any era on the mound; far more than just the year-to-year National League field.

Runners Up

  1. Johnny Cueto, Reds: Cueto’s coming of age season included him taking home a share of the NL strikeout lead (242) and meeting 20 wins for the first time as well. He also led the league in innings pitched (243.2) and lowest average against (.194), finished with a sub-1.00 WHIP and an ERA of 2.25, second to only Kershaw.
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: The Redbird workhorse reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a personal-best 2.38 ERA. He had led the MLB in most starts of over seven innings and 2 or fewer runs yielded and led the NL with three shutouts as well. He was the NL Pitcher of the Month in September, and was the NL All-Star Game starter.
  3. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The game’s best #2 affirmed that fact again, winning a career-high 17 games while striking out 207. He completed an MLB record of 22 straight games of two or fewer runs yielded as well.
  4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: Greater glory awaited in October, but the first six months of the year were not too bad for Mad Bum either. He won 18 games and finished fourth in the NL with 219 k’s, setting a team record for lefty strikeouts in the process.

 

Past Winners

2013: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2012: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2011: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

 

Two awards left to give, and we’ll see how it shakes out in real-time as well. Until then follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for the word in the works.

Wainwright_50

One thing there will always be in the game is a dominant right-hander on the mound. And in the lineage of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller, the best of the best change the course of an entire day from the moment they touch the mound.

Entering into this summer, there are a plethora of hurlers cut from that game defining cloth, and has this list shows, they approach doing so from every possible angle. There’s two sets of teammates included, both whom do it via running up the strikeouts with overwhelming fastballs. While there is a second set that does so in about as divergent ways as possible—one via 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and another with mid-80’s material that never ends up where you’d think it would.

Overall, making the cut here is no easy task today. There is an MVP, four Cy Young winners (including one that is one in the same). There’s two rookies of the year—one former and one reigning—as well as a two-time World Series winner and a phenom that is quietly earning his stripes. Rounding it off, two arms that are in the business of proving that dominance on one side of the ocean can translate just fine to the other. Consider all of this without the inclusion of the injured Matt Harvey as well.

There’s plenty of ways to get the job done, but the ten guys here have found the most dominant ways to go about creating the hardest scenario in sports—squaring up a baseball.

10. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: His record lies about how well he performed last summer. The Nats managed to net him only eight victories, despite him limiting batters to a .207 average against him, and striking out 191 across 30 starts.

9. Jered Weaver, Angels: One of the trickiest pitchers in the game, his ability to throw six pitches at any point, combined with his long delivery and 6’7 frame make him a frustrating presence to get a read on. Injuries limited him 24 starts last summer, but he won 18 and 20 games respectively in 2011-12.

8. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: The owner of maybe the best splitter in baseball made proved his keep in his second season. In route to finishing third for AL Cy Young honors, he won 14 games, with on a 2.66 ERA, while walking only 42 batters in 219 innings.

7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The only thing that sidetracked him from a season that could have potentially rivaled rotation mate Clayton Kershaw was a broken collarbone from an April brawl. Overall, he won 15 games in 28 starts, reaching the victory marker for the fourth time in five years.

yu-darvish-2013-opening-day

6. Yu Darvish, Rangers: He came up short of two no-hitters after the start of the 7th inning, but despite those disappointments, Darvish’s rise to ace status was undeniable. He led all of baseball with 277 strikeouts and finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA.

5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Maybe only Kerry Wood and Doc Gooden made a more immediate impact on their first arrivals in the last 30 years than Fernandez. The NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the league in ERA and allowed the least hits per game of any starter in baseball, at just over five.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for Scherzer in route to winning the AL Cy Young and pulling rank on par with his more renown rotation mate. Always an overpowering presence, he added a changeup that took him to the next level. The result was a 21-3 record, which led the Majors in wins, while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings mark north of 10.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He not only returned to his pre-Tommy John form of 2010, he set a new personal standard. He won the National League in wins , innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, while setting a personal high and strikeouts and finishing second in the NL Cy Young ballot, along with a Gold Glove to boot.

Felix-Hernandez-Seattle-Mariners-

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers: He had a down year by his own otherworldly standards a year ago, but the ship has far from sailed on JV. In the postseason, he gave up a single run over three starts while striking out 31 against only three walks. He’s averaged 18 wins, 236 innings and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: As he has come into his own and made his potential reality, King Felix has made the excellent the norm. He seems to have the rare ability to throw any pitch on demand, regardless of location, speed and count. He topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive year, and at age 27 he already has 110 wins, a Cy Young win and two other finishes in the top three within the past five years. What’s more is that he is finally pitching for a team that has a few everyday talents that can match his own.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Matt Cain, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this year’s ‘Top 10 Today’, and for the real-time read, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

2013 set out as the year of the pitcher, especially in the National League. There were a series of dominant performances in the first half of the season that made picking the All-Star Game starter tougher than making it through the Golden Corral buffet with just one plate. But in the long run, it sorted itself out, in what is becoming a most predictable fashion. Because the cream always does rise to the top, and it is who that is, not only in the NL, but in baseball as a whole.

The Walter Johnson Award for best pitcher of the year was without a doubt the easiest award to select, as for the third straight season; my vote has stayed with the same man. One that made it abundantly clear that the conversation regarding the best pitcher in baseball now starts after him…

2013 National League Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw_

The Numbers: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 Ks/52 BB, 3 CG/2 SHO, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA

The dominance of Clayton Kershaw has become a standard part of the summer at this point. Yet, despite authoring the pitcher’s Triple Crown two years ago, and then returning in even better form albeit with slightly lesser numbers in 2012, he put together his finest campaign this time around. It started with a foretelling Opening Day complete game, four-hit shutout and continued on to see him reach some impressive historical marks.

For the third consecutive season, he finished with the lowest ERA in the MLB, a feat that had only been accomplished twice before by Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux. His 1.83 mark was 0.36 runs lower than any other pitcher in the NL, and the lowest number since Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 in 2000. His 0.92 WHIP led the NL for the third consecutive year, and allowed only 48 earned runs across a career-high 236 innings. For the second time in three years, he topped the NL in strikeouts with 232, topping the 200 K mile marker for the fourth consecutive year.

But the precocious start to Kershaw’s career has put him in truly rare air. His 2.70 career ERA was the lowest of the live ball era ever for a starter that has topped 1,000 career innings. At 25 years old, he has never pitched a full season and had an ERA over 3.00 or struck out less than 185 batters. What’s more is that even in defeat, he often should have won. In the 14 games the Dodgers lost that he started, the team scored only 23 runs total, and in games he was the losing pitcher of record, he surrendered more than three runs only once.

Excellence is the regular order of the day for Kershaw, and the beginning of an all-time great career is well under way.

The Rest:

2. Adam Wainwright-Cardinals: 19-9, 2.94 ERA, 241.2 IP, 223 Ks/35 BB, 5 CG/2 SHO, 1.07 WHIP, .248 BAA

A year removed from his Tommy John comeback season, Wainwright returned to the form that has made him the winningest pitcher of the past five years. The workhorse led the NL in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and starts.

3. Matt Harvey-Mets: 9-5, 2.27 ERA, 178 IP, 191 Ks/31 BB, 1 CG/1 SHO, 0.93 WHIP, .182 BAA

Harvey was on pace to be the foil to Kershaw’s run atop NL pitchers this season, and authored one of the most dominant season’s in recent history before his year (and the next one) were brought to an end by a torn UCL in his elbow. He struck out more batters than innings pitched 11 times.

4. Jose Fernandez-Marlins: 12-6, 2.19 ERA, 172.2 IP, 187 K’s/58 BB’s, 0 CG/SHO, 0.98 WHIP, .182 BAA

The dominant rookie’s run at 20 years old was something to behold, and saw him finish with the second best ERA in the NL and the lowest batting average against….as well as the Willie Mays ROY Award here.

5. Cliff Lee-Phillies: 14-8, 2.87 ERA, 222.2 IP, 222 Ks/32 BB, 2 CG/1 SHO, 1.01 WHIP, .232 BAA

The always steady Lee was a rare bright spot in the bleak Phllies season. He closed out 2013 with a 3-2 record in September on a 1.85 ERA and giving up only three runs across his two losses.

6. Francisco Liriano-Pirates: 16-8, 3.02 ERA, 161 IP, 163 Ks/63 BB, 2 CG/0 SHO, 1.22 WHIP, .224 BAA

7. Jordan Zimmermann-Nationals: 19-9, 3.25 ERA, 213.1 IP, 161 Ks/40 BB, 4 CG/2 SHO, 1.09 WHIP, .238 BA

8. Zack Greinke-Dodgers: 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 177 IP, 148 Ks/46 BB, 1 CG/1 SHO, 1.11 WHIP, .234 BAA

9. Madison Bumgarner-Giants: 13-9, 2.77 ERA, 201.1 IP, 199 Ks/62 BB, 0 CG/0 ShO, 1.03 WHIP, .203 BAA

10. Mat Latos-Reds: 14-7, 3.16 ERA, 210.2 IP, 187 Ks/58 BBs, 1 CG/0 SHO, 1.21 WHIP, .247 BAA

 

There has been a slight audible to the Awards revealing mix, as the schedule below will show

November 6: NL/AL Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the YearKoji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel

November 7: NL/AL Willie Mays Rookies of the YearWil Myers and Jose Fernandez

November 8: AL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the YearMax Scherzer

November 12: AL/NL Connie Mack Manager of the Year

November 12: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

November 13: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

Pujols_

Tonight, for the first time (and perhaps the last time for many years), the St. Louis Cardinals will face Albert Pujols. In the year and a half since the best player in at least a generation is St. Louis left for LA Angels, and invoked a large range of emotions in his wake.

In the time since he’s left, there has been a contradiction of sorts in the emotion towards Pujols. On one hand, there’s the feeling that he betrayed the club by leaving; that his decision to leave went against the sentiment and covenant that develops between a franchise cornerstone and the fans of said franchise. On the other hand, there is the fan of the team first, that still roots for the Cardinals above all, and the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.

In many cases, there has been an odd crossover between the two segments of the fan base when the subject shifts to Pujols. There is the feeling that, regardless of the rationale in maintaining him in St. Louis, or the success since of the team itself, that Pujols should still be vilified in regards to his move. On every level possible, this makes absolutely no sense and has to end, for multiple reasons.

The reality of the situation of keeping Pujols in town show the inherent ridiculousness of why having an issue with his decision is as well. The fact of the matter is that the fan should follow with their heart, but also base reaction on reality. There was no realistic, plausible positive outcome of Albert returning to St. Louis. Yes, there would of course be a place for him to come back, but the cost would have been detrimental to everything that the club is looking to establish. If the contracts of Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafeal Furcal have looked like dead weight over the last two years, imagine what seven more years of Pujols’ inflated, yet fair, deal would have seemed like. The organization’s greatest asset has been financial flexibility, that is offset by an ability to build around 1-2 large deals. With the massive price of Pujols sitting as a boulder in the middle of the Cardinals payroll, all of the long-term success of the team would have been put at risk. Need an example? Look at the Minnesota Twins.

When the Twins signed hometown hero/MVP Joe Mauer to his eight-year, $184 million deal in 2010, the Twins had won the AL Central six of the last nine years. For the annually cash strapped Twins to pony up the funds to secure not only their best player, but a community cornerstone such as Mauer to an elite contract in baseball, it was reflected as a big deal in keeping the club’s identity concrete. Fast forward two years later, and the Twins haven’t moved out of the cellar of the division since that deal was signed, and have lost over 95 games two years in a row and are at the bottom of the AL Central again.

This is due to an inability to keep their promising youngsters in tow, and a lack of flexibility to compete in the free agent market financially. Conversely, those are the strengths of the Cardinal approach. Championship caliber rosters require large level of compensation across the board. The Cardinals are the most successful lower-medium market team in baseball because they have been business savy. The decision to not pay ahead for “reputation pay” years of Pujols enabled them to lock up their entire core to contracts that could carry them through the full prime of their careers. In other words, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are here because Albert isn’t. The ability to maintain Allen Craig and Jason Motte was done because Albert did not have to be accounted for. Because of these decisions, the Cardinals were able to be tactical in how to approach filling their needs. Between the signing of Carlos Beltran for $13M per and the expansion of time for Allen Craig, the Cardinals got in return 54 home runs and 189 RBI. Basically, the expected 2-for-1 exchange for Pujols paid off with a similar production level in the lineup, the flexibility to extend Yadi Molina $96 million and to keep free another $118 million, of which $97M was given to Adam Wainwright this spring to keep him in town. Basically, the Cardinals built another five years, at least, of competitive advantage by not keeping Pujols in tow.

And at the end, that’s what matters if you are truly a Cardinals fan: your team being competitive. If Albert had taken less, would there have been a place for him in St. Louis? Absolutely. But is it is fault for cashing in on the reward that was rightfully his for the unworldly start that his career took off with? Absolutely not. There are no bad guys in this equation, and in the end, everybody has truly walked away better for it. This is not a case of the team going from championship level, to in the tank, such as when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, due to one man’s decision. No, the greater good was served overall here.

So if anything, the next three days in Anaheim present an opportunity finally move on for the portions of the Cardinal fan base that have their feet stuck in the tar of two years ago. It is irrational to celebrate the success following the decision of Pujols and adjustment of the team, but to vilify him for the decision that he made. The time to move on is here; let carpe diem be your friend this week.

Maybe it’s the most ironic Independence Day yet, and if you don’t get the gist of that, give a Twins fan a call and ask them how their two years have been since their “Decision” went the other way.

 

For more on the Cardinals and the return of the King, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Shelby+Miller+St+Louis+Cardinals+v+Washington+Ucc7p6_GxFTx

Wednesday night was my time in the rotation for the United Cardinal Bloggers Radio Hour once again, with Tara Wellman. In addition to covering the end of the Cardinals 4-2 victory over the New York Mets, we touched on a spread of topics around the Cardinals currently.

On yesterday’s show, we discussed riches and roles of the young Cardinals pitchers, who are currently beginning to push their way onto the big league club. Also in the same neighborhood of topics, we touched on the potential returns to the club, including what Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski, and even Chris Carpenter. What could each mean to the team and how it progress across the season.

In addition to these, check out our word on why Shelby Miller is having such quick success, what’s the real difference in Adam Wainwright from ever before and the indispensable impact of Matt Carpenter as well.

These topics along, along with plenty more made the UCB Radio Hour what it was, and the podcast is available for download here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ivieleagueproductions/2013/05/16/ucb-radio-hour

And for more Cardinal talk along the way, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan 

Yadier-Molina

Yet again the National League Central was home to one of the most diverse pennant races in the game a year ago. The Pittsburgh Pirates came out the gate with their best (and longest) runs in nearly 20 years, as they sat in first place at the All-Star Break, in front of the Cincinnati Reds and defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Yet, that grasp on the division didn’t last in the second half, a part of the year where the Milwaukee Brewers put together an assault on pushing into the postseason picture. But in the end, the Reds made the regular season their own down the stretch, winning the Central by nine games, the largest division title margin in either league. Yet, in the end, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who pushed their season the furthest from the Wild Card spot again, finishing one game away from a second consecutive World Series.

2012 Finish

1.                   Reds (97-65)
2.                   Cardinals (88-74)**
3.                   Brewers (83-79)
4.                   Pirates (79-83)
5.                   Cubs (61-101)
6.                   Astros (55-107)

This season, it’s a new division in where in the fact it’s a smaller division. Gone are the Houston Astros, who joined the Chicago Cubs as one of two 100 loss teams in the Central. That subtraction will make the fight for the division rougher in and of itself. The Reds are bringing in perhaps their most complete team of any season. The Cardinals loom constant in the division, as the most clutch team in baseball in the last two pennant chases. The Brewers and Pirates are both just outside the hump of the Cards/Reds, but both have shown plenty of fight and have made the changes needed to cut the division down. Meanwhile, the Cubs rebuilding continues, and they could be in position to spring a rise as well. So who’s the best in the revamped middle of the NL?

All Division Team

Catcher: Yadier Molina-Cardinals

First Base: Joey Votto-Reds

Second Base: Brandon Phillips-Reds

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez-Brewers

Shortstop: Starlin Castro-Cubs

Left Field: Ryan Braun-Brewers

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen-Pirates

Right Field: Jay Bruce-Reds

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright-Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Johnny Cuerto-Reds

Starting Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo-Brewers

Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos-Reds

Righty Relief: Mitchell Boggs-Cardinals

Lefty Relief: Sean Marshall-Reds

Closer: Aroldis Chapman-Reds

Top 10

  1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
  2. Joey Votto, Reds
  3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  4. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
  6. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
  7. Brandon Phillips, Reds
  8. Jay Bruce, Reds
  9. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  10. Starlin Castro, Cubs

Lineup

  1. Cardinals
  2. Brewers
  3. Reds
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Cardinals led the NL in hits a year ago, and finished in the top 5 in average, runs scored and total bases. With Jon Jay atop the lineup for a full season, those numbers could each increase. Meanwhile, sparked by Braun and a resurgent Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers seven of the eight everyday players reached double digits in home runs.

Cincinnati's All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Cincinnati’s All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Reds (Votto/Ludwick/Bruce)
  2. Cardinals (Holliday/Craig/Freese)
  3. Brewers (Braun/Ramirez/Hart)
  4. Cubs (Rizzo/Soriano/Castro)
  5. Pirates (McCutchen/Jones/Alvarez)

The re-emergence of Ludwick (26 home runs, 80 RBI) gave the middle of the Reds line up some much needed right handed power. Votto had another now-standard type of season for him (.337 average, 40 doubles), despite missing over 50 games. Alfonso Soriano had a career-high 108 RBI and topped 30 homers for the first time in 5 years.

Table Setters

  1. Reds (Choo/Phillips)
  2. Cardinals (Jay/Beltran)
  3. Pirates (Marte/Walker)
  4. Brewers (Aoki/Weeks)
  5. Cubs (DeJesus/Schierholtz)

There’s a diverse group of lineup lead offs in Cincy. Choo and Phillips are both 20 homer/20 steal candidates, while Carlos Beltran is an early indicator of the big bats up and down the Cardinals lineup (32 homers, 97 RBI). Norichika Aoki had made a big debut, stealing 30 bags and adding 50 extra base hits as well.

Bench

  1. Pirates
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Reds
  5. Cubs

Pittsburgh is taking to the strength in numbers approach. With Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Gaby Sanchez all rotation in and out of the starting linup, there’s always going to be at least two impact bats in reserves. Add in John McDonald, and that’s a deep offering. The Cardinals depth is lead by the presence of a couple of Matt’s (Adams and Carpenter) that will offer various impacts for both resting and alternating lineup approaches.

Rotation

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Reds had a coming of age in their rotation a year ago. Four of their five starters reached double digits in wins to go along with ERA’s under 4.00; a result strong enough for the team to resist putting Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. The Cubs have boosted their rotation with Edwin Jackson, but the health of Matt Garza and return of Scott Baker are key to if this team can actually surprise the rest of the pack in the Central, which they have the potential to do.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

1-2 Punch

  1. Reds (Cuerto/Latos)
  2. Cardinals (Wainwright/Lynn)
  3. Brewers (Gallardo/Lohse)
  4. Pirates (Burnett/Rodriguez)
  5. Cubs (Garza/Samardzija)

Johnny Cueto won 19 games with a 2.78 ERA last season, and continued his accent up the ranks of most underappreciated hurlers in baseball. Lance Lynn won 18 games in an up and down first season as a starter, and Adam Wainwright had a gradual yet impressive, 14-win return, from Tommy John surgery as well. A return completely from him gives the division a legitimate Cy Young front runner candidate.

Bullpen

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Cubs
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The back end of the Reds bullpen is a nightmare. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton are among the best left-right setup combos in baseball, and Chapman waits in the wings as arguably the best power pitcher in baseball (a record 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings). The Cardinals bullpen took a hit when Jason Motte was shutdown indefinitely with an elbow injury. He tied for the NL lead in saves with 42 a year ago.

Defense

  1. Reds
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Cubs
  5. Pirates

There’s a trio of Gold Glove worthy centerfielders in the Central, with McCutchen, Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez. But there’s only one award to go out, and The Cutch took it home a year ago. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are among the elite defensive infielders in the game, while Yadier Molina (five consecutive GG’s) is among the greatest defensive catchers ever.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

Speed

  1. Brewers
  2. Pirates
  3. Reds
  4. Cardinals
  5. Cubs

With the exception of Milwaukee, it is not a very fast division. The Brewers outfield of Braun, Gomez and Aoki each topped 30 steals, with a total of 97. Pittsburgh has an aggressive, quick team with Sterling Marte, Josh Harrison and McCutchen topping five triples.

Manager

  1. Dusty Baker, Reds
  2. Ron Roenicke, Brewers
  3. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
  4. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
  5. Dale Sveum, Cubs

Baker has pulled the Reds to two consecutive division championships, while the Cardinals as a team have reached the previous two National League Championship Series, which Matheny did as a rookie manager last year. Hurdle has the Pirates on the verge of snapping their record losing season streak, and received a two-year contract extension to do so.

Finances

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Reds
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The Cubs are in the midst of an intentional rebuilding run, but if they wanted to go all in immediately to fight into the picture, the funds are there. Team president Theo Epstein is just biding his time by building within, before inevitably releasing the okay to make the type of additions that no other team in the Central has the resources to match. The Cardinals shored up their final questionable contract situation for the foreseeable future by reaching a $97.5 million extension in March.

Impact Additions

  1. Shin-Soo Choo (Reds from Indians)
  2. Kyle Lohse (Brewers from Cardinals)
  3. Edwin Jackson (Cubs from Nationals)
  4. Randy Choate (Cardinals from Dodgers)
  5. Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs via Japan)

Acquiring Choo, who is pending free agency, was a win-now move for the Reds who are looking to find a way to carry their regular season runs into October. After what felt like the longest, coldest winter ever, Kyle Lohse found a 3 year home in Milwaukee, in a move that could tilt the balance in the Central some.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  2. Todd Frazier, Reds
  3. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
  4. Michael Fiers, Brewers
  5. Jeff Sarmardija, Cubs

Rizzo has raw power to spare, and as soon as he touched Chicago a year ago, he became the guy they built their lineup around. He hit 15 homers in his Cub debut, and shows the type of profile to become an All-Star as soon as this year. Frazier stepped when Votto went down last year and hit 19 homers as third and first baseman, as well as some outfield.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Oscar Tavares (Cardinals, Outfielder – AAA)
  2. Shelby Miller (Cardinals, Pitcher –MLB)
  3. Starling Marte (Pirates, Outfielder—MLB)
  4. Billy Hamilton (Reds, Center Field—AAA)
  5. Garret Cole (Pirates, Pitcher—AAA)

The Cardinals top two prospects are ready to burst into the MLB scene, but only one has a clear path. Tavares hit like he belonged in the spring, but Miller will get his day in the sun first, as he made the club as fifth starter. Hamilton has stolen 258 bases the last two years in the Reds system, and as soon as he finds a position, he’ll be among the elite speedsters in the MLB too.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

While 2012’s Central was the scene of the biggest gap between the best and worst in baseball, which is a thing of the past. There are four legitimate contenders for the postseason bunched together, and if everything plays out as it forecasts, it will be the toughest division to get out of in baseball. While it has produced three of the last six Wild Card winners, winning this division will never have been more important, because the chance to rack up wins, without a title, is going to be difficult.

One thing is certain, is that every team can hit in the division, so the margins of who can keep their red flags flying the lowest is of the utmost importance. The two-time runners up in St. Louis have the talent to win the division, but have the challenge of staying healthy in front of them, as well as a lot of “ifs” regarding their pitching staff. The Brewers can hit, and worked on their pitching some, but the staff as whole is still a cut below St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Winning it one way will be tough. As for the Cubs, they are quietly improving, but it’s going to be closer to two years off before they have everything in place to factor back into the race.

That leaves the Reds in a similar position. They have the bats, pitching and ballpark to shape the division in their favor. The decision to leave Chapman in the bullpen gives them the most dominant unit of any team in the division via their pitching staff. They can play defense behind them, and get the runs to support their effort consistently. If Joey Votto’s knee is healthy, Shin-Soo Choo can be steady enough in the field at his new position in center and health continues to be their ally (only two non-rotation starts in all of 2012), they will hold off the pack, and take their third consecutive Central title. But what happens from there…is still uncertain.

For more on the season to come, and everything Opening to closing Day related, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan