Yesterday afternoon, it was revealed that the St. Louis Cardinals are under investigation by the F.B.I. for having hacked into the Houston Astros‘ network.
Last June, the Astros admitted that somebody had hacked into their internal systems, compromising their scouting database which went under the nickname “Ground Control”.
At the time, it was not revealed who had broken into their systems; only that somebody had done it and it was under investigation.
Yesterday, the criminals were identified as members of the Cardinals.
The story goes that employees of the Cardinals were able to access the Astros’ systems by using old passwords that belonged to then-Cardinals scout and now-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow left his role in the St. Louis scouting department after the 2011 season, taking over as Houston GM that December.
Since then, the Houston Astros have taken off as a team whose scouting department is considered top notch, right up there with the likes of the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins. True, Houston’s farm system currently ranks “only” 14th by Baseball America. Also true – they had three years in a row where they had the #1 pick overall in the draft, though 2014 top pick Brady Aiken didn’t end up signing with them.
But the fact remains that the Houston franchise is considered by many to be a paradigm for how to put an organization together. Last season, Sports Illustrated did a feature story on the ‘stros system, calling this out.
I offer those facts up as rebuttal to trolls who say “big deal, it’s just the Astros”. Well, not only does Houston’s major league team have the best record in the American League right now (38-28, .576), but the information from their scouting department is the kind of thing must teams would absolutely love to have access to.
Really, the larger point here is that this is corporate espionage and breaks laws set forth in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Whether or not the information they received is useful or helped the Cardinals win games (either directly or indirectly), it’s still against the law to go into a rival’s computer system and nose around. Any argument that this was no big deal is a bad argument. It’s illegal. Plain and simple.
A lot of people reduced the seminal book “Moneyball” to being a game-changer for how it elevated On Base Percentage as an important statistic.
Moneyball = OBP.
For me, that’s really simplifying things. What I think you were meant to take away from that book was something else.
It was about how teams (like the Oakland Athletics) who don’t have deep pockets need to find some other way to get a step ahead on their opponent. Yes, in the case of that book, it was how they believed the other 29 franchises were overlooking OBP as an important yardstick to measure a player’s worth. They jumped on that and rode it to success for a few years there.
But in the post-Moneyball years, we’ve gotten more and more into advanced statistics and analytics, still coupling all of that with scouting.
What I’m really driving at here is that the team with the best data wins.
It’s not necessarily who has all the money. (Where are all those New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers World Series rings from the past decade?) It’s who has the best data.
And that’s why this story is important.
This is theoretical, yes, but it explains why this is important.
Let’s say the Cardinals had been scouting a player as a potential trade target, and their scouting department’s feelings on the guy were that he would be a great asset to the team.
Now let’s say the Cardinals look into the Astros’ scouting department and find that they have spoken to somebody who knows that same player and identified that he has some sort of nagging injury that is getting progressively worse.
All of a sudden that trade target looks a whole lot less desirable.
More data = better informed decisions.
Conversely, let’s say the Cardinals were scouting a pitcher for the draft and ended up feeling just “meh” about him. He moves down on their list.
They then see the Astros’ internal system and find that they actually think that pitcher has plus stuff, great make-up, etc.
Well, geez. Maybe the Cardinals’ scouts caught him on a few bad days. Maybe something was just going on with him when they scouted him and he’s worth another look. After all, this other team’s opinion of him is totally different from theirs. They’d better get to the bottom of this.
Again, more data leads to better decision-making.
Exactly what information was gotten, who got it, what they did with it, and who knew about it… all of that is still up in the air at this point.
What punishments will be handed down – loss of draft picks, firings, financial penalties meted out by Major League Baseball… all of that is also still up in the air until the investigation concludes.
No, this isn’t life and death. It’s stealing secrets from other teams. Not well-protected secrets, mind you, particularly if Luhnow is using the same password as he used to. The Cardinals’ franchise has certainly committed other, larger sins in the recent past. They seem to have an alcohol-related incident every few years, with players endangering (and occasionally ending) the lives of others with blood alcohol content levels ranging from twice the legal limit (see Josh Hancock, Tony LaRussa) to FIVE times the legal limit (see Oscar Tavares and the spouse that he murdered as a result of bad decision-making).
Those things somehow keep getting swept away and people say “I can’t believe the Cardinals would do something like this! There’s such a wholesome franchise! They do things the right way – ‘The Cardinal Way'”.
Sorry to burst your bubble. That self-righteous thing plays well in the press if you’re a Cardinals’ fan. But the rest of the sporting world shouldn’t be fooled. Not anymore.
Sadly, much like the drunk-driving deaths that resulted in practical parades at Busch Stadium celebrating players who jeopardized the lives of other road travelers, Cardinals Nation will likely flip the script on this as well, and say things like “every team does this”, “the Cardinals are only being investigated because other teams are jealous of their success”, yada yada yada.
Jeff Gordon, at the Post-Dispatch, writes:
Industrial espionage would be conduct unbecoming America’s Model Baseball Franchise. If the FBI finds merit in these allegations, the Cardinals’ previously pristine image would be soiled.
Again, I ask, what “pristine image” are we talking about here? Sharing porn on your Twitter feed (see Carlos Martinez). Drunk driving. Murder. Those aren’t exactly “pristine”, are they?
Don’t buy and of that mid-American wholesomeness for a second.
More from Gordon:
There was nothing to gain by hacking the Astros… Any idiot can order wholesale tanking and conduct a perpetual fire sale. The much greater challenge is contending season after season after season — as the Cardinals have done…
Again, Gordon is missing a pretty large point here. The Cardinals have been riding a decade-plus stretch of success based largely on scouting that was done while Luhnow was with them as their scouting director. Of course they’d still love to see what he thinks of players!
From a separate Gordon article:
People are tired of the Cardinals winning all the time because people don’t enjoy seeing the same people succeed over and over again. Maybe it reminds them too much of their high school days when they never sat at the popular table.
See, this is what I knew would come out of the Post-Dispatch. No, it’s not that other teams are jealous and want to see you fail. It’s your franchise’s fake “aw shucks”, mock humility and self-righteousness that gets under people’s skin. Don’t deflect it as “y’all are just jealous of us”.
People from your organization have done bad things. In some cases, really bad things.
In another bit of delusional sports-writing, the usually steady Tim Brown from Yahoo! Sports:
Before Tuesday morning, about the worst one might have said about the Cardinals was they had figured out Clayton Kershaw – Were they filching signs? Had they picked up tendencies? Was he tipping pitches in a way only they could see? – and they were mostly lauded for it. That’s not cheating. That’s the game.
That was the worst? Really?
Again: A pattern of drunk driving in the organization, capped off with last year’s off-season murder of an innocent young woman.
Don’t be stupid. Or, at the very least, don’t be lazy. There are plenty of bad things you could have said about the Cardinals before this hacking story broke.
Rant aside, as a fan of baseball history, I find this all extremely interesting. It’s completely unprecedented, though not entirely surprising that it happened. My gut feeling is that this has happened before but the Astros were the first team to actually realize who they were being hacked by. Even if hadn’t happened before, it was bound to happen at some point.
What MLB does about it is what I’m most interested in.
* * *
The Pittsburgh Pirates won their sixth straight as they continue to play amazing baseball.
And they did it the way they’ve been doing it throughout this streak, behind amazing starting pitching.
This time it was Charlie Morton, who improved to 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA after firing 7 shutout innings in a 3-0 win for the Bucs. Since returning from a season-opening stint on the DL, Morton has 5 starts, all of them for wins.
In the last 6 games, the Pirates have fired 5 shutouts! In that stretch, here are the starting pitcher lines:
June 10th – Morton: 7.1 IP, 0 ER
June 12th – Jeff Locke: 6 IP, 0 ER
June 13th – Gerrit Cole: 6 IP, 1 ER
June 14th – A.J. Burnett: 9 IP, 0 ER
June 15th – Francisco Liriano: 8 IP, 0 ER
June 16th – Morton: 7 IP, 0 ER
That’s a total of 6 GS, 43.1 IP, 1 ER for a 0.21 ERA.
Mark Melancon picked up his 21st save with a perfect 9th inning.
* * *
The Cardinals shook off all the talk about this data hacking scandal with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Michael Wacha was the winner again, improving to 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA.
Wacha went 6.1 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 5. He was pulled after 86 pitches after a second rain delay kicked in. That works well anyhow as the Cardinals would prefer to balance using a guy who is pretty much pitching lights out right while avoiding overusing a young kid and running him into the ground before the post-season.
Kevin Siegrist stepped in once again to notch the save while usual closer Trevor Rosenthal sits out with some arm stiffness.
That’s five straight wins for the Cards.
Wondering what Adam Wainwright has been up to while he sits out the remainder of the season with that Achilles injury?
I’m gardening my face off. I’ve got cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, five different kinds of tomatoes, all the herbs. I’ve got blueberries, apples, grapes. Once I can start moving around, I can start weeding stuff.
* * *
The battle between Sports Illustrated’s pick for the World Series and the Sporting News’ pick turned into a dud, as the Cleveland Indians (SI) pounded the Chicago Cubs (SN) 6-0.
By the way, I’m not sure either publication picked well there. Nor am I thinking that either magazine made those picks for any reason other than trying to appeal to championship-starved markets from the Midwest who will buy those magazines just because of those predictions.
Kyle Schwarber made his pro debut for the Cubs striking out looking on three pitches. Schwarber, rated the #19 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, was supposed to have the night off but got plugged in at catcher when Miguel Montero was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the bottom of the 8th inning.
Owen Watson at Fangraphs.com took a look at Anthony Rizzo’s improved plate discipline thus far through the 2015 campaign. Check it out over there.
* * *
The Cincinnati Reds were 5-2 winners against the Detroit Tigers.
Todd Frazier hit a pair of homers, upping his season total to 20, good for 3rd best in the National League. And tops in the division – check out the Leaders below.
* * *
The Milwaukee Brewers fell 20 games back in the division on the night of June 16th, losing 7-2 to the Kansas City Royals.
They allowed 7 straight runs before putting a few runs on the board in garbage time.
* * *
NL Central Leaders
|Todd Frazier (CIN)||20|
|Joey Votto (CIN)||14|
|Ryan Braun (MIL)||13|
|Starling Marte (PIT)||12|
|Anthony Rizzo (CHC)||11|
|Francisco Liriano (PIT)||99|
|Gerrit Cole (PIT)||93|
|Jake Arrieta (CHC)||89|
|Johnny Cueto (CIN)||82|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||43||21||–||W5|
* * *
|34-28||CUBS||Wada (0-1, 4.84)|
|30-33||Indians||Marcum (3-1, 4.09)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|34-31||Tigers||Price (6-2, 2.44)|
|29-35||REDS||Cueto (4-4, 2.85)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|24-42||BREWERS||Fiers (3-6, 4.04)|
|36-25||Royals||Blanton (0-0, 1.80)|
|7:10 PM CT|
|37-27||PIRATES||Locke (3-3, 4.90)|
|28-35||White Sox||Danks (3-6, 5.29)|
|7:10 PM CT|
|43-21||CARDINALS||Martinez (7-2, 2.93)|
|34-30||Twins||Milone (2-1, 4.15)|
|7:10 PM CT|
The St. Louis Cardinals ran their winning streak up to 7, overcoming the 5 runs that Carlos Martinez allowed in the top of the 1st inning and coming back to beat the upstart Chicago Cubs, 10-9.
Mark Reynolds‘ grand slam off of Travis Wood got them right back into the game in the bottom of the 1st and they jumped ahead in the bottom of the 7th, taking a 10-8 lead when the Cubs bullpen couldn’t do their job.
Pedro Strop (L, 0-2) allowed all three batters he faced in the 7th to reach base, then Zac Rosscup allowed them all to score plus one additional run.
Martinez finished with 7 runs allowed in 3.2 innings on 9 hits and 4 walks. Pretty horrible line for a guy who entered the day with a phenomenal ledger in 2015, but he exited the game with a 3.64 ERA.
Wood was pretty bad as well, allowing 6 runs in 5 innings, giving up 6 hits and walking a pair.
Cubs rookie Addison Russell connected for his 2nd homer of the year.
Also, rub your eyes to make sure you’re reading this clearly – Matt Carpenter was 0-for-5 with a pair of whiffs. That can’t be right…
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina did not play last night, having caught every inning of this past weekend’s 3-game sweep of the Pirates, each of which went into extra frames. Yadi, who is batting just .231/.291/.282 this season, is 3 for his last 30.
The Cubs lost Chris Denorfia (again) with a left hamstring injury that he appeared to tweak while advancing from 1st to 3rd on a base hit into left-center. Rookie Matt Szczur, who opened the season on the 25-man roster with Denorfia injured, is expected to get the call up again. He was removed during the 8th inning of a AAA game after Denorfia went down. Denorfia was hitting .429 in 22 plate appearances spanning 12 games.
The Cardinals turn to Tyler Lyons for the start tonight. Could be interesting with both teams having really taxed their bullpens last night. Lyons is replacing Tim Cooney, who failed in his first start as Adam Wainwright‘s replacement in the rotation last Thursday.
Here’s how many innings the St. Louis bullpen has had to throw since Saturday: 5, 7.1, 5.1. That’s a lot of work. They could use a long start, but I’m not sure it’s coming tonight.
With their win, St. Louis set a franchise record for the best 25-game start to a season.
Given the Cubs’ bullpen woes as of late, could it be long before we see yet another of their rookies? C.J. Edwards might not be long away.
* * *
Hector Gomez (not Carlos) homered and tripled for the Milwaukee Brewers, who gave new manager (and former player) Craig Counsell the game ball after the team was able to come back against Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to pull off a 4-3 win.
Kershaw was going for his 100th career victory, but that was put off when Ryan Braun legged out a shattered bat, infield single to third, barely beating the throw and allowing the go-ahead run to cross the plate.
It was the Brewers’ 3rd straight win.
* * *
NL Central Leaders
|Matt Carpenter (STL)||.347|
|Matt Holliday (STL)||.329|
|Adam Lind (MIL)||.326|
|Joey Votto (CIN)||.323|
|Anthony Rizzo (CHC)||.313|
* * *
|12-13||CINCINNATI||Lorenzen (0-1, 5.40)|
|12-13||PITTSBURGH||Locke (2-1, 4.76)|
|6:05 PM CT|
|16-9||Los Angeles||Greinke (4-0, 1.93)|
|8-18||MILWAUKEE||Garza (2-3, 4.60)|
|7:10 PM CT|
|13-11||CHICAGO||Hendricks (0-1, 5.23)|
|19-6||ST. LOUIS||Lyons (NR)|
|7:15 PM CT|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||19||6||–||W7|
Tim Cooney‘s Major League debut went about as you might have expected given some pedestrian numbers in the minor leagues.
He faced 15 batters and 8 of them reached base.
Thankfully for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies are really awful and that allowed the Redbirds to win 9-3.
Props to Carlos Villanueva who came on in long relief to replace Cooney and was masterful, tossing 3.2 innings without allowing a single base runner. In 9+ innings this season, Villanueva is sporting a 0.96 ERA.
Ya, it’s early and his career ERA+ is 98, but I still say that you have to consider using Villanueva as your starter to replace Adam Wainwright in the rotation, at least until Marco Gonzales is ready for the call up. Villanueva has played the role of swing man in the past, making 76 starts in his 10-year career.
Also in the running is Jaime Garcia who threw 54 pitches in a simulated game yesterday, going 5 virtual innings (I guess). He’ll throw again Tuesday while Gonzales (recovering from a DL stint) is expected to throw in the minors again on May 10th. Until then, we’ll see if that spot in the rotation can tread water.
Matt Adams went 3-for-5 with a HR (3rd) and 3 RBI. His 2-run shot in the bottom of the 3rd broke a 3-3 tie and the Cards never looked back. “Big City” was hitting .200 with 1 HR and 4 RBI after 11 games, but in the 9 games since then he has hit .412 with 2 HR and 10 RBI. His OPS over that time frame is 1.123 and the Cardinals have gone 7-2 in those games.
Matt Carpenter went 2-for-3 with yet another double and a pair of walks. Carp now has 13 doubles and is hitting .372 this year. Is it too soon to start the Earl Webb Watch? Webb hit 67 doubles in 1931. Carpenter is currently on pace for 100.
Matt Holliday had a pair of doubles (4), upping his average to .379 while driving in two runs.
Jason Heyward, who had had two nice games since being moved down to 6th in the order, batted 5th and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and also grounded into a double play. He’s hitting .217 this year.
Speaking of Waino, no problems were reported in yesterday’s surgical procedure to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left heel. He’s still expected to be ready to go in Spring Training 2016.
* * *
Mike Leake (W 1-1, 3.03) went 8 shutout innings and allowed 2 hits and 2 walks, striking out 3 to lead the Cincinnati Reds over the Atlanta Braves, 5-1.
Oh, he also homered.
Injured catcher Devin Mesoraco was reported as still being 7-10 days away from catching again.
* * *
|5-17||MILWAUKEE||Peralta, W (0-3, 5.04)|
|12-8||CHICAGO||Lester (0-2, 6.23)|
|1:20 PM CT|
|11-11||CINCINNATI||DeSclafani (2-1, 1.04)|
|6:35 PM CT|
|12-10||PITTSBURGH||Burnett (0-1, 1.80)|
|15-6||ST. LOUIS||Lynn (1-2, 3.63)|
|7:15 PM CT|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||15||6||–||W3|
I find the talk about bringing the designated hitter to the National League sooner rather than later to be a bit ridiculous.
Let me clarify. I am not opposed to the DH in the NL. I prefer keeping the rules as they are.
However, there are multiple reasons that lead me to believe it is inevitable that the DH is introduced to the National League. I’ve written about them before and don’t need to rehash it, but it’s basically something I’m resigned to.
What chafes me, however, is pointing to the Adam Wainwright injury as a point in favor of the DH.
That Achilles injury had nothing to do with being asked to hit. Yes, it happened while he was in the batter’s box. But that’s a matter of circumstance more than anything.
As the broadcasters pointed out during last night’s broadcast, when Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard suffered the same injury a few years back, doctors told him that it was basically a time bomb waiting to go off. There was nothing he could have done about it. It was going happen somehow, someway.
So while Waino’s Achilles tore while starting to run out of the batter’s box, it could just as easily have happened while he was picking up a gallon of milk at the grocery store.
Wainwright, by the way, is a career .198 hitter with 6 homers. Not shabby for a pitcher.
He’s scheduled to have surgery this Thursday.
* * *
In action last night, the Chicago Cubs were winners over the Pittsburgh Pirates, ending the Bucs’ 5-game winning streak.
Jason Hammel went 8 innings for the win, striking out 7 in the 4-0 shutout.
Anthony Rizzo continued to stay hot, picking up two RBI; he has reached base in 32 of his last 60 plate appearances. Jorge Soler broke an 0-for-15 slump with a pair of hits, including a nice hit through the right side on a hit and run play.
* * *
The St. Louis Cardinals couldn’t hold on to a mid-game lead, losing 4-1 to the Phillies.
Philly starter Cole Hamels, an ideal replacement for Wainwright in the St. Louis rotation, went 7 innings for the win, striking out 9 Cardinals.
Cody Stanley entered the game as a pinch-hitter and struck out as the potential tying run against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Left-handed pitcher Tim Cooney (AAA: 2-1, 3.63), one of the possible guys to replace Wainwright in the rotation, was pulled from his start in Memphis last night. So take that as a strong indicator that he’ll be starting this Thursday.
The Cardinals got good news on Marco Gonzales‘ injury, with an MRI revealing “no structural damage” and him being cleared to resume throwing tomorrow. He seems to be the more likely long-term guy to plug into the rotation and he has plus stuff.
* * *
The Cincinnati Reds handed the Milwaukee Brewers another loss.
To keep with the theme of pointing out pitcher’s hitting abilities, Reds starter Jason Marquis had a hit and an RBI, also pitching 8 innings in the 9-6 win.
Jimmy Nelson had a horrible outing, with four unintentional walks, matching his total from his previous three starts. Nelson’s line: 2.1 IP, 7 R, 6 ER, 6 H, 5 BB.
The Milwaukee staff walked nine, hit a batter, and threw four wild pitches.
It was a blowout until Milwaukee staged a little rally in the 9th. Aroldis Chapman struck out Ryan Braun, who entered the game as a pinch hitter and represented the tying run at the plate, to end the game. Braun is hitting .226 in 66 plate appearances with just one extra-base hit.
For the Reds, Jay Bruce homered (4th) and had a trio of walks. On the flip side, Joey Votto went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts and also grounded into a double play.
* * *
Another starting pitcher goes down, with the Reds’ Homer Bailey going on the DL with a right elbow ligament strain. Like Wainwright, this should be the end of Bailey’s season.
Bailey had surgery last September and started this year on the DL, eventually going 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in 2 starts.
* * *
|4-16||MILWAUKEE||Lohse (1-3, 7.94)|
|9-10||CINCINNATI||Cueto (1-2, 1.86)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|11-9||PITTSBURGH||Locke (2-0, 3.32)|
|11-7||CHICAGO||Wood, T (1-1, 3.24)|
|7:05 PM CT|
|8-12||Philadelphia||Gonzalez, S (NR)|
|12-6||ST. LOUIS||Wacha (3-0, 1.33)|
|7:15 PM CT|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||12||6||–||L2|
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was at the plate and hit a pop up to Adam Lind at first base.
At first glance, it appeared the ball would drift foul. So Wainwright stood in the batter’s box, looking up to watch the ball soaring into the air.
Noticing the ball was coming back towards play, with Milwaukee Brewers‘ first baseman Adam Lind positioning himself underneath it, Wainwright motioned to jog towards first base.
Only that first step never really happened.
Wainwright lurched forward, trying to force himself down the line.
But whatever damage was going to occur had already been done.
It appears to be an Achilles injury, which is a long and difficult path back.
4 shutout innings in the books to go along with 4 strikeouts, no walks and a 1.44 ERA on the 2015 season.
And that’s how we might be remembering Adam Wainwright until next season, because this could very well be it for the 33-year old veteran leader of the pitching staff.
You’re going to hear a lot about how this is the end of the Cardinals’ season, but I’m not buying it.
Yes, it’s obviously a huge blow. John Lackey, 36, is the only other veteran left in the starting rotation. I don’t see him stepping up to be the new leader; he’s a relative newcomer to the franchise.
But it’s not as though Lance Lynn, 28, isn’t capable of being that veteran face of the staff. He’s in his 5th year in the Bigs, all spent with the Cardinals, and owns a 50-30 lifetime record with a 3.47 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts per 9 innings.
The Cards came into the season with a surplus of pitching in case this sort of thing came up, as it so often does for a team during the course of a 162 game season.
Don’t worry about the Cardinals. They’ll be fine. They’re still going to be favorites to win the division. They always seem to find a way.
2015 will still likely be a successful season.
It just won’t be the same without Wainwright.
* * *
Internally available candidates who have been mentioned to replace Wainwright in the rotation:
* Marco Gonzales – He almost made the team out of spring training and has started well in AAA but was recently placed on the 7-day DL with a sore pectoral. Possibly the Cards tread water with this spot in the rotation for a turn or two until Gonzales can get the call up.
* Carlos Villanueva – The relief pitcher has often worked in a “swing” role before.
* Tim Cooney – Doing so-so in AAA this year, but questions remain about the lefties ability to get righties out at the big league level. The peripherals don’t look so great.
* Tyler Lyons – The lefty made 12 ineffective starts for the Birds last year, had a bad spring and is getting tagged at AAA.
* Zach Petrick – 25-year old right-hander with a bloated ERA (8.66) at AAA but some decent peripherals (12/2 K/BB ration in 17 innings).
* Jaime Garcia – Had a nice spring in trying to work his way back to the bigs, but injuries will likely keep him out another couple of months.
Waino’s turn in the rotation is due up Thursday, so look for one of those first three names to take his spot until Gonzales and Garcia have recovered from injuries they are dealing with.
I have a strange feeling we’ll see the Cards pull off a trade that brings in a stud to replace Wainwright. They’ll have an opportunity to scout Cole Hamels tonight, in fact, going up against the lefty and the Philadelphia Phillies at home.
The bright spot, if you believe in those sorts of things, is that Wainwright missed out on the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery. That was the most recent World Series win for the franchise.
Also don’t forget that they already have some young kids contributing in a huge way, namely Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. It’s not as though Wainwright himself was the sole reason the Cards lead the National League with a 2.24 team ERA.
* * *
National League Ranks
* * *
|4-15||MILWAUKEE||Nelson (1-1, 1.35)|
|8-10||CINCINNATI||Marquis (1-1, 7.20)|
|6:10 PM CT|
|11-8||PITTSBURGH||Worley (2-1, 4.00)|
|10-7||CHICAGO||Hammel (1-1, 5.19)|
|7:05 PM CT|
|7-12||Philadelphia||Hamels (0-2, 3.75)|
|12-5||ST. LOUIS||Lackey (1-0, 4.34)|
|7:15 PM CT|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||12||5||–||L1|
I finished 2014 with a large surplus of vacation days accrued and, since I’m allowed to roll over only a certain number, I figured I’d plan a few “staycation” days ahead of time. Yesterday’s planned day off was supposed to include some bike riding to various local restaurants and museums. Instead it turned into a day that was about 25 degrees cooler than it should normally be and my wife and I had great coffee and watched snowflakes falling outside the store. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was still a great day.
Back to baseball.
* * *
Looking around the division and seeing some story-lines that seem to be developing for each team.
The St. Louis Cardinals are as good as we expected. Their pitching staff has been nothing short of phenomenal, but the lineup has left something to be desired. It will be interesting to see if the hitters step their game up and if the pitching is for real.
The Chicago Cubs have started to parade out their young talent and have been a really fun team to watch. The lineup has been surprisingly effective, but Jon Lester has struggled in three starts as the high-priced ace.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, championed by many to win the division, are off to a really rough start. Like the Cards, bad hitting and amazing pitching, but they haven’t been able to get above .500 yet.
The Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers are as bad as expected, but for the Brew Crew it’s just one bit of awful after another. They lost star CF Carlos Gomez to a hamstring injury, C Jonathan Lucroy‘s fractured left toe will keep him out 4-to-6 weeks, and 2B Scooter Gennett just required stitches on after slicing open his hand while reaching for body wash. When it rains, it pours.
As for the Reds, manager Bryan Price (who has already made some really questionable decisions with his bullpen) went all Lee Elia on the media. And it was delightful.
* * *
Last night, the Cubs and Pirates went back and forth in a crazy game with numerous lead changes, ultimately ending with another bad outing by Pirates closer Mark Melancon (8.53 ERA) that led to an 9-8 win for Chicago.
Both teams got horrible work from their bullpens – each team allowed 5 ER in 4 IP of work from their relievers.
The Bucs took an 8-6 lead into the top of the 9th, but Melancon couldn’t hold it down. Anthony Rizzo singled, Jorge Soler doubled over Andrew McCutchen in center, Kris Bryant walked to load the bases, Starlin Castro tied it with a 2-RBI single and Bryant scored on Wellington Castillo‘s slow roller to second, putting Chicago ahead.
Three up, three down for Hector Rondon, who notched his 3rd save.
Castro also homered earlier in the game – it was his 2nd of the game.
New stud prospect Addison Russell went 0-for-5 with 3 K in his Cubs’ debut. Russell was the #2 ranked prospect in baseball per Baseball Prospectus, #3 by both Baseball America and Fangraphs and #5 by MLB.com.
Though he is a slick-fielding shortstop by nature, Russell will fill in at second base where the Cubs have been woeful. (He spent the last week playing 2B exclusively for AAA Iowa.) The Cubs would be clearly better served by swapping Castro and Russell at the middle infield positions, but for whatever reason will keep things as they are for the time being.
Castro has yet to play a game at second base in his MLB career, nor have I seen any news stories saying this is something they’re considering doing.
Javier Baez has not played a game in the minors in well over a week now, having taken bereavement leave following the death of his sister earlier this month.
Regardless of which position Castro plays, any talk involving a trade of him should be tabled. Since a bad 2013 season where the Cubs tried to turn him into a more selective hitter, he has been solid. He’s a 3-time All-Star, he’s only 25, he’s cost controlled, and he consistently puts up OPS+ numbers above 100. Those types of players don’t go on trees and, as Baez is an example of, there’s no such thing as can’t-miss prospects. Castro has proven himself to be a solid Major Leaguer and deserves to keep a spot in the lineup. Worst case is that he slides over to play second base next season.
* * *
In Washington, the Cardinals lost 2-1 in 10 innings.
Matt Carpenter had only one hit, but it did lead to a game-tying run in the 9th inning.
The Nats had a prime opportunity to win in the bottom of the 9th, loading the bases with 1 out, but Jordan Walden struck out Ian Desmond and got Jayson Werth on a fly out to Jon Jay in center.
Yunel Escobar ended the game with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th, ending the Cards’ 5 game winning streak.
Lance Lynn had another nice start done in by a lack of offense, as he went 6.1 innings, allowing 1 run with 7 strikeouts. He did have some control issues, however, walking 4 Nationals.
The Redbirds currently have three starting pitchers with sub-2.00 ERA and all five are under 3. John Lackey is the “worst” of the bunch with a 2.77 ERA, Carlos Martinez just outside the sub-2.00 group with a 2.08, while Michael Wacha (1.35), Lynn (1.56) and Adam Wainwright (1.71) are all making opponents look silly.
* * *
And finally, in Milwaukee, the Brewers’ pitchers allowed 13 hits, walked 6, and the fielding committed a pair of errors that led to 5 unearned runs.
Of course, when you allow 11 earned runs, what’s another 5?
The Reds were 16-10 winners in Milwaukee, as things continued to go downhill for the Brewers who have now lost 7 straight.
Since April 30th of last year – remember, this is four full months before they fell out of 1st place, but people seem to mis-remember that 2014 Milwaukee club has a good one – Milwaukee is 64-84 for a .432 winning percentage. They went 62-72 from April 30th onward last season.
Zack Cozart had a pair of homers for Cincinnati in the win that brought them back up to .500. Todd Frazier also went yard, hitting a grand slam. It was the 4th homer of the year for both Reds.
Elian Herrera homered, doubled and had 5 RBI for Milwaukee. Nice day for a kid that was drafted in 2003 and didn’t make it to the Bigs until 2012.
* * *
|8-5||CHICAGO||Hammel (1-0, 5.11)|
|6-8||PITTSBURGH||Worley (1-1, 5.84)|
|6:05 PM CT|
|8-4||ST. LOUIS||Lackey (1-0, 2.77)|
|7-7||Washington||Fister (1-0, 0.69)|
|6:05 PM CT|
|7-7||CINCINNATI||Cueto (0-2, 2.14)|
|2-12||MILWAUKEE||Nelson (1-1, 1.50)|
|7:10 PM CT|
* * *
|St. Louis Cardinals||8||4||–||L1|
As predicted here yesterday afternoon, Adam Wainwright was able to pick up his first win since 2010, going 7 innings and facing 26 batters, both season highs for his 5 starts. Of course, this was against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were averaging just 2.64 runs scored per game coming into the contest.
What might continue to be a little disconcerting is that Wainwright is still allowing a crazy high number of home runs per fly ball allowed.
Granted, the 30-year old still had 11 balls hit on the ground versus 4 balls hit into the outfield.
But the four balls hit into the outfield went thusly:
- Top 1st – Alex Presley: deep fly out to CF (sinker)
- Top 3rd – Rod Barajas: double on a deep fly to CF (cutter)
- Top 3rd – Jose Tabata: home run to LF (curveball)
- Top 7th – Pedro Alvarez: home run to LF (cutter)
The prevailing wisdom is that ground ball pitchers allow more hits, but fewer extra-base hits than fly ball pitchers. So we know that fly balls tend to yield extra-base hits. But through 5 starts – small(ish) sample size, I know – Wainwright is allowing a staggering HR/FB rate of 33 1/3%.
Between 2008 and 2010, his rate hovered a bit over 8% and the current 2012 league average is 10.5%.
Looking at the PITCHf/x data, Wainwright’s Pitch Value/100 for hit cutter is sitting at -4.18, his curveball -0.62 and his sinker -0.41. The only pitch he has thrown for a positive value in 2012 is his changeup, which he is also throwing more often this season – 10.1%, up from about 8% between 2007 and ’10.
It might be that he hasn’t found his feel for his “bread & butter” pitches yet. He’s been going (roughly) 45% sinker, 20% cutter, 20% curve, 10% change. When the 3 pitches you throw most often are getting hammered, that’s a bad sign.
If Wainwright can find those pitches again, he can be successful again. But, despite the win last night, he’s not there yet.
PIRATES (10-13) @ CARDINALS (15-8)
7:15 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: A.J. Burnett has surprised me with some strong starts since making his way back to the team, but Lance Lynn has been phenomenal. Could be a fun game.
CUBS (8-15) @ REDS (11-11)
6:10 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: The Reds are trying to get over .500 for the first time since April 8th. This will mark Bronson Arroyo’s 24th career start against the Cubs.
- The Cubs may be trying to figure out a way to get both Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo into the lineup at the same time. Both are left-handed hitter first baseman, but might I suggest converting one into a left fielder?
- Paul Janish broke his wrist and will be out 4-6 weeks for the Reds. Billy Hamilton will not get called up.
BREWERS (11-13) @ Padres (8-17)
5:35 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: SIERA suggest Yo should have fared better than a 6.08 ERA thus far. The Brewers hope that’s true, because right now they can’t seem to get over the hump.
- How Ryan Braun has gotten better. Wait, better? Didn’t he win the MVP or something? How much better does he need to get? Slow down, Ryan.
- Randy Wolf has some self-loathing. Which I understand.
Mets (13-11) @ ASTROS (10-14)
1:05 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: Neither team has a particularly thrilling record, and yet each might be called something of a surprise team, outplaying their low expectations.