Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals

NLCS Preview: Cardinals vs. Brewers

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You can’t predict baseball, but you can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Cardinals and Brewers have in store for us during the National League Championship Series.

The Teams

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

The Probable Matchups

Game 1 Sunday in Milwaukee: Jaime Garcia vs. Zack Greinke
Game 2 Monday in Milwaukee: Edwin Jackson vs. Shaun Marcum
Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis: Yovani Gallardo vs. Chris Carpenter
Game 4 Thursday in St. Louis: Randy Wolf vs. Kyle Lohse
Game 5 (if necessary) Friday in St. Louis: Zack Greinke vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 6 (if necessary) next Sunday in Milwaukee: Edwin Jackson vs. Shaun Marcum
Game 7 (if necessary) Monday, October 17 in Milwaukee: Chris Carpenter vs. Yovani Gallardo

Analysis: Neither team will have their best pitcher going in Game 1, as Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter both started deciding games on Friday. Zack Greinke is coming off a rough start against the Diamondbacks, but posted a 3.15 ERA and 18/1 K/BB ratio in 20 innings over three starts against the Cardinals during the regular season. Jaime Garcia, who allowed three runs over seven innings in a loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, is expected to oppose Greinke in the series opener. The southpaw has a 4.28 career ERA on the road, including a no-decision against the Brewers in early August where he allowed seven runs (three earned) over five innings. It’s difficult to give one team the advantage over the other, as Brewers’ starters had a 3.78 ERA during the regular season while the Cardinals had a 3.81 ERA, but I think Greinke gets them off to a pretty good start.

The Storylines

– The Brewers and the Cardinals haven’t met in the postseason since the 1982 World Series, which was also dubbed the “Suds Series” for obvious reasons. The Cardinals won in seven games while catcher Darrell Porter was named MVP.

– “That’s correct” – That was Lance Berkman’s reply when he was asked to confirm whether his team doesn’t like the Brewers. The Cardinals and Brewers split the season series 9-9, which included a beanball war and plenty of bickering during some intense ballgames in early August and September. Things could get chippy here.

– The Brewers have home-field advantage, which is significant, as they were a major-league best 57-24 at home during the regular season and took all three games at Miller Park against the Diamondbacks during the NLDS. Of course, the Brewers were swept by the Cardinals at home just over a month ago, so who knows?

– Will Matt Holliday be able to play through his recent hand injury? The 31-year-old outfielder has been bothered by inflammation in his right middle finger for nearly four weeks and didn’t start the first three games of the NLDS against the Phillies.

– Can the Cardinals keep the Brewers’ one-two punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in check? Braun and Fielder combined to hit .389 (14-for-36) during the NLDS against the Diamondbacks while the rest of the Brewers’ lineup batted just .215. They need some of their other bats to step up, including No. 5 hitter Rickie Weeks, who went 1-for-18 (.056) against the D-Backs.

– Skip Schumaker, who went 6-for-10 with two doubles and three RBI during the NLDS against the Phillies, is expected to miss the NLCS due to an oblique injury. Tyler Greene will likely replace him on the active roster, but Tony La Russa will likely shuffle Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto in and out of the lineup at second base.

– John Axford blew his first save since April 18 on Friday against the Diamondbacks, but was at least able to get out of a major jam in the ninth inning and pitch a scoreless tenth. Not worried about him. With Francisco Rodriguez, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins and Kameron Loe also available as late-game options, the Brewers have the clear edge in the bullpen.

Prediction

These offenses matchup pretty well against each other, but the Brewers probably have the advantage in the pitching department. Throw in home-field advantage and Ron Roenicke’s crew looks too tough to beat, even for the red-hot Redbirds.

BREWERS WIN THE SERIES 4-2

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.