Posted on: May 15, 2011 4:15 pm
By Matt Snyder
The St. Louis Cardinals have scored the most runs in the National League and have the sixth-best ERA in the NL (and tops in the NL Central). Yet, after getting swept by the now-first-place Reds, the Cardinals sit 1 1/2 games out of first place with a rather modest 22-19 record. There have been several games blown by the bullpen late, but the defense is also a big-time culprit, and it was on display Sunday in Cincinnati.
The Cardinals made two more errors, tying them with the Astros for the most in the NL -- only the Rangers have more in all of baseball. Tyler Greene easily could have been tagged with another and balls routinely found holes in the slow defense throughout the entire weekend. Worse yet, a five-run rally in the ninth inning Sunday only got the Cardinals to within two runs, thanks in part to how many outs the defense gave away earlier in the game.
Lance Berkman has been brilliant with the bat, but he can't get to much out there in right field. Colby Rasmus is decent in center, but he's battling a sore abdomen, and John Jay is the replacement in the meantime -- and he's better suited for the corners. Ryan Theriot and Greene are lackluster and Albert Pujols has surprisingly been sub-par at first. Sunday, he lazily tried to backhand a ball and committed an error that would eventually cost the Cardinals a run.
It does appear the two best teams in the NL Central are the Cardinals and Reds. Both can pound the baseball and have solid starting rotations with shaky back-ends in the bullpen. But the true separation point is defensively, where the Reds are stellar and the Cardinals are lacking. It was on display all weekend in Cincinnati and it could ultimately be the deciding factor in the divisional race.
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Posted on: May 7, 2011 10:15 pm
By Evan Brunell
It's paid off handsomely so far, as the former first baseman has handled right field to the point where he is not an outright liability and litters the offensive leaderboards with his name by hitting .388/.467/.767 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI, while striking out less than he walks (14/17 K/BB ratio).
"Obviously when you look at his career, his overall production, we thought he could be a good player for us," GM John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, looking back at the Dec. 5 signing. "But he's played at an exceptional level to this point. We embraced him. And he's embraced this opportunity."
Obviously, Mozeliak couldn't have anticipated Berkman's performance to date, but clearly he felt the 35-year-old had something left in the tank. How did he know that after a season in which Berkman looked like he was quickly being ushered into an early retirement?
"We did a lot of due diligence," Mozeliak said. "We truly believed he could have a bounce-back year. When we looked at it, we knew he was working extremely hard on his conditioning, was getting the knee healthy, was getting himself in tremendous shape, and that he'd be a lot stronger. That was a big thing. We knew that he still had an eye for hitting, and he would work the count and take walks. The question was, how would he be physically. And once we knew how much he was putting into his training, it gave us confidence."
One other thing Berkman did was change the culture of the clubhouse. Berkman's known to have a personality that is conducive to a positive clubhouse atmosphere, and the Cardinals made clubhouse impact a priority after struggling to get everyone on the same page and happy last season. That was a major reason why the Cardinals made the (at the time) head-scratching move of bringing Berkman in to play right field along with signing Ryan Theriot to play short. Theriot hasn't exactly worked out so far, but he's had the impact on the clubhouse the club was hoping for along with Berkman.
"The team has changed its look," Mozeliak said. "Last season if we were down 4-2 in the seventh inning, the game was over. This year, even if we're down, you don't want to leave. We'll battle. We thought Berkman and Theriot could help us change the culture."
Posted on: May 6, 2011 1:42 am
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Brennan Boesch, Tigers -- Detroit managed just four hits in its 6-3 victory over the Yankees, and Boesch had two of them. Boesch had an RBI single, a solo home run and a sacrifice fly, finishing with three RBI. Boesch is 4 for 7 in two games as the Tigers' third batter in the lineup.
Lance Berkman, Cardinals -- Has anyone ever been awarded the Comeback Player of the Year Award in the first week of May? Because Berkman may have already clinched it. His 10th home run of the season provided the Cardinals' the winning margin in their 6-3 victory over the Marlins and Josh Johnson. Berkman added a sacrifice fly for his big-league best 32nd RBI.
David Price, Rays -- The left-hander struck out seven of the first 13 batters he faced on Thursday and 10 overall. Price held the Blue Jays to just four hits before being pulled with an out to go in Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory over Toronto. Price had thrown 118 pitches when Joe Maddon brought in Kyle Farnsworth to face Yunel Escobar, who singled. Farnsworth got Adam Lind to finish the game.
Eduardo Nunez, Yankees -- For as many of us who have blasted Derek Jeter's defense, Nunez has been a disaster when he gets to play. At least Jeter makes the play when a ball is hit right at him, Nunez hasn't been able to do that. He made two throwing errors on Thursday, raising his season total to five in just 13 chances at shortstop this season.
Chris Tillman, Orioles -- The Orioles starter gave up four runs in the first, one in the second and three more in the fourth against the Royals. The Royals managed just two hits off relievers Josh Rupe and Clay Rapada in the 4 1/3 innings after Tillman was yanked, but the damage was done. Tillman gave up 10 hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings.
John Lannan, Nationals -- Coming in to Thursday's game with the Phillies, every Nationals starter this season had gone at least five innings -- and you know by the "coming into Thursday's game" part what's coming next… until today. Lannan lasted just two innings against the Phillies, allowing seven hits and six runs, while walking one and hitting another. That's a rough start anytime, but it's a death sentance against Roy Halladay.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: April 29, 2011 4:51 pm
By Evan Brunell
Entering 2011, Lance Berkman wasn't taken seriously. He had just slogged through his worst season as a professional, splitting time between the Astros and Yankees. His bat looked slow and his body looked like it was ready for a new career as DH.
That made it all the more head-scratching when the Cardinals signed Berkman to play right field, which he had not done so in years after serving as Houston's primary first baseman for the last few seasons. There was much snark about it, but Berkman showed up in spring training having dropped weight and somehow has performed decently enough defensively that he isn't a liability.
On offense, Berkman's been an MVP as his eight home runs rank second behind Ryan Braun's nine. His .410 average also trails just one, teammate Matt Holliday's .433. He absolutely wrecked his former team in a three-game set in Houston and topped off the series with a two-homer game Thursday night.
It's easily his hottest April to date, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a look at all his other Aprils and finds that every other hot April makes Berkman end up as one of the league's best hitters by the end of the year. In his four slow starts, he still rebounds well, but doesn't come close to his production off hot Aprils. And yes, last season's poor showing was off a bad April.
What exactly is Berkman doing differently? It's not increased plate discipline, as his patience has actually decreased -- but so has his strikeout percentage, so he's making a lot more contact with the ball. That makes sense -- if you walk less and strike out less, you're going to put the ball in play a whole lot more often.
And what's happening to these balls when put in play is remarkable. His .406 batting average on balls in play is light years away from his career mark of .318 and most of that is fueled by line drives and fly balls. His line-drive percentage shows that he's squaring up balls impressively, which is also why he has the highest isolated power of his career so far.
Anyone in the game will certainly take what Berkman has done so far, but is the lack of plate discipline simply a reflection of the fat pitches he's been served, or a change in hitting philosophy? While some hitters can be too patient and hacking a bit more can help the overall game, Berkman's plate discipline has taken a sudden decline after years upon years of data to build on. Is the lack of walks due to a new hacking philosophy, or are pitchers simply less fearful of the slugger after his poor season?
The data seems to suggest the former. There's no question that Berkman is going after more pitches, as he's offering at 74.3 percent of pitches in the strike zone, compared with a career average of 71.3 percent -- but he was under 70 percent each of the last two years. In only two of his seasons -- 2007 and 2008, has his in-zone strike percentage matched his 2011 output. Berkman has offered at pitches inside the strike zone at a healthy amount before and is making contact at the same rate, so there's no arguments here and it helps explain why he's striking out less.
However, Big Puma is also offering at more pitches out of the zone, chasing 26.1 percent of pitches, which is a major spike from his career 18.1 percent. On the face of it, eight percent doesn't seem like much, right? Except Berkman has seen 22,414 pitches in his career and 9,876 balls. Multiply the total number of balls by his 18.1 percent swing rate at pitches out of the zone gives up 1,788 balls Berkman has swung at in his career. Now, multiply by 26.1 percent instead of 18.1 percent, and you get 2,578. That's a difference of 790 pitches, and it's significant.
So why hasn't it burned Berkman yet?
Because he's making contact on a ton of these pitches, far more than he ever has before. Of the pitches he's offered at out of the zone, he's connecting with 71.4 percent of them. Compare that to his career average of 48.3 percent, and that's a wild shift sure to fall back to earth. (Baseball's average contact rate this season on pitches out of the zone is 66 percent, but that's comparing apples to oranges. Those overall contact numbers represent every single baseball player and their specific quirks and talents. Berkman, for example, shouldn't be compared to Ichiro Suzuki, who is part of that overall sample.)
Look, no one expects Berkman to keep up this type of production, and the numbers back that up. But at the same time, it's also clear that his offensive resurgence is for real. Even if he regresses to his career percentages in out-of-zone contact and swinging percentage, it won't be enough to drop him back to obscurity. Berkman is back to being a force.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 9:54 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 4:36 pm
By Matt Snyder
Lance Berkman played in parts of 12 seasons for the Houston Astros. When he joined, he was the new member of the "Killer B's," along with Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. He was a five-time All-Star and finished in the top five of MVP voting four times. The Astros' career leaderboard is peppered with Berkman's name. He's first in OBP, second in slugging, fourth in batting average and second in OPS. Only Biggio, Bagwell and Jose Cruz played more games for the club. He ranks third in runs, fifth in hits, third in doubles, second in home runs and third in RBI.
Or, put more succinctly: Lance Berkman is one of the greatest Houston Astros of all time.
But things aren't exactly peachy now. Berkman was having the worst season of his career in 2010 -- still a 122 OPS-plus, by the way -- before being dealt to the Yankees. Now, Berkman is playing for Houston rival St. Louis.
As a Cardinal, he's back to his old mashing ways. He's Big Puma again, hitting .377 with a 1.173 OPS, six home runs, 15 RBI and 19 runs through 19 games. He leads the NL with a .725 slugging percentage.
The big start drew the ire of a Houston-area sportscaster, who suggested Berkman didn't work hard his "last few years" for the Astros and now he was back in shape. (Eye on Baseball )
Tuesday night, the Cardinals visit the Astros at Minute Maid Park for the start of a three-game series. Needless to say, Berkman isn't exactly looking forward to it.
"I'm not crazy about going back in there. I felt like I've kind of turned the page and part of me just wants to be done with it. But I know I'm going to have to go back in there and face a lot of questions."
"I guess it's inevitable. When I signed here, I knew we were going to go in there three times, so I'm ready to go and to get all the hoopla, if there is going to be any, out of the way." (stltoday.com )
For whatever it's worth, Berkman did note he's in better shape, though he pointed out it was because his knees are finally healthy again.
It's certainly going to be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives and how he plays.
BASEBALL TODAY: Will Andre Ethier extend his hitting streak tonight? Will Roy Oswalt and Aaron Harang remain unbeaten? C. Trent Rosecrans joins Lauren Shehadi to answer those questions and more.
FEAST OR FAMINE GUYS: When you think of guys who either hit home runs or strikeout -- the Rob Deer All-Stars, if you will -- the names Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn are among those who come to mind. Carlos Pena, too, though he has been only famine thus far in 2011. Who are the ultimate feast or famine guys in the young season this time around? Beyond the Box Score took a look at the guys who are striking out or collecting extra base hits at the highest percentage. At the top? Jorge Posada, Kevin Youkilis and then ... Reynolds.
Rangers ROTATION UPDATE: The Texas Rangers have gotten pretty good starting pitching this season, other than from Colby Lewis -- who certainly isn't going to be removed from the rotation. Thus, they're pretty close to having an embarrassment of riches. Brandon Webb threw two hitless innings at an extended spring training game Monday. Scott Feldman is slated to throw three innings in extended spring training Thursday, while Tommy Hunter is going to throw in an extended spring game Saturday. Collectively, the Rangers' starters have a 3.56 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 103 strikeouts to 43 walks. The one expected to lose his rotation spot when someone comes back from injury is Alexi Ogando -- the guy who is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA and astounding 0.79 WHIP. So are the Rangers going to remove him? Or Matt Harrison (3-1, 1.88, 0.94)? Or Derek Holland, C.J. Wilson or Lewis? It's quite a log-jam, once Webb, Hunter and Feldman return, particularly if Harrison and Ogando continue to throw the ball well. (Star-Telegram )
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE FOR OZZIE: On the heels of a 1-10 stretch, the White Sox got a close win Monday night in Yankee Stadium. It had to partially lift a big weight off their collective chests. Still, Guillen had recently put a target squarely on his own back, by saying if anyone should get canned, it should be himself. It was a noble move by Guillen, playing shield for his hitting and pitching coaches. Regardless, general manager Kenny Williams has now said it wasn't necessary. "The coaching staff is not throwing the baseball and not hitting the baseball," Williams said. "They’re doing what they’ve always done." (Chicago Sun-Times )
Mariners FUTILITY: The always-solid Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times discusses how bad the Mariners' offense is, and why it's going to get even worse. In fact, he argues there's a legitimate shot they'll score even fewer than last season's record-low 513 runs.
JAPANESE CONNECTION: Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki go back a long way. In fact, they first met in high school when Matsui committed a breach in bathing etiquette -- and Ichiro questioned him about it a decade later. Yes, seriously. There's a lot more in there about the relationship between the two, and it's definitely worth a read. (ESPN's West Coast Bias )
LA RUSSA IN OAKLAND: No, not Tony. His daughter, Bianca, has made the Raiders' cheerleading squad for the upcoming NFL season. (Shutdown Corner )
MANNY IN HIGH SCHOOL: Manny Ramirez hit .650 with 14 home runs in 22 games his senior year in high school. Oh, and check out this description of him in high school: "He was the shy, happy-go-lucky boy with the perfect swing who everyone knew was going to the major leagues. The boy who loved to hit more than anything else. The boy who worked harder than anyone else. The baby-faced boy who never drank anything stronger than the nonalcoholic Puerto Rican eggnog from the corner bodega he chugged to bulk up." The writer begs the question, which is the real Manny? An interesting quandry. (New York Times )
HEAT MAPS: NESN is using heat maps for Red Sox's broadcasts. I like the general idea, but there are a million possible variations. What would be best? Personally I'd want OPS by pitch location. (Baseball Analytics )
ATTENDANCE WOES: We're going to hear about this all season if things don't significantly pick up during the summer when the weather gets better. Yahoo! columnist Jeff Passan writes about how bad it looks for several teams and the league as a whole. A lot of numbers look really bad, but it's important to note the drop across the entire league through April 24 was only 1.77 percent. You could easily use the economy and some pretty awful weather to account for that. I'll stick with that for now. Let's revisit the topic in late July. Now, if you're down more than 20 percent (like the Rays and Mariners are), that's a problem. A big one.
A VISITOR'S TOUR OF WRIGLEY: page/COL">Rockies%3A+Blog%29" target="_blank">Troy Renck of the Denver Post took video to give fans a tour of the visitor's dugout at the historic Wrigley Field. Obviously I'd much rather experience things of this nature in person, but for now this'll do.
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Tags: AL Central, AL East, AL West, Alexi Ogando, Astros, Athletics, Brandon Webb, C.J. Wilson, Cardinals, Colby Lewis, Cubs, Derek Holland, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, Jorge Posada, Kenny Williams, Kevin Youkilis, Lance Berkman, Mariners, Mark Reynolds, Matt Harrison, NL Central, Ozzie Guillen, Rangers, Red Sox, Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter, Tony La Russa, White Sox, Wrigley Field
Posted on: April 25, 2011 5:47 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
At 35, first-year Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman looks as good as he has in years, and long-term Astros radio announcer Milo Hamilton is not happy about it. Hamilton, who has called Astros games since 1986, said Berkman didn't put in the off-season work the last couple of years that he did for the Cardinals this winter.
Berkman said he worked with a trainer in the offseason for the first time in order to return to the outfield for the first time since 2007. Hamilton said when he saw Berkman in spring training, he was in better shape than he'd seen the Big Puma in the last five years.
"If he'd done that the last couple of years he was here, he could have finished out a really fine career in Houston if he'd have given it that same dedication," Hamilton said Monday on SportsTalk 790 AM in Houston. "I just what a simple answer, why did you not think it was necessary to get in shape for the Astros?"
Hamilton questioned Berkman's leadership qualities, saying Berkman didn't do his rehab work in the last couple of years and the veteran players weren't upset when he was traded to the Yankees and the younger players thought they could get away with not working hard, because they saw Berkman do it.
Hamilton spoke highly of Berkman off the field, but said he was upset to hear Cardinals manager Tony La Russa call Berkman the leader of the Cardinals, since Berkman said in Houston it wasn't part of his personality to lead. Hamilton said he owed Astros owner Drayton McClain not only to be in shape but also to lead after signing a six-year, $85 million contract in 2005.
After a slow start, Berkman has been red-hot, hitting .377/.449/.725 with six home runs in his first 19 games of the season.
If this is the general sentiment around Houston, it will be interesting to see how Berkman is greeted at Minute Maid Park when the Cardinals start a three-game series there on Tuesday.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: April 24, 2011 10:58 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 1:06 am
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Albert Pujols is optimistic about the tight left hamstring that forced him from Sunday's game.
"I think it depends on how I wake up tomorrow," Pujols told reporters, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Tom Timmermann. "The tests were pretty good. They don't think it's too bad. When I wake up tomorrow, I can sense a little more about how I feel. Hopefully it's not as bad as I feel right now. I'll be glad we have an off day tomorrow."
The Cardinals are off on Monday before starting a three-game series at Houston on Tuesday. Pujols said he'll go to Busch Stadium early Monday to get treatment.
Pujols left the game after grounding out to end the seventh inning. Pujols hit a weak grounder to third baseman Miguel Cairo, whose throw was high, but first baseman Joey Votto was able to leap to catch the ball and come down on the bag. Pujols had already started slowing down before Votto caught the ball. Lance Berkman replaced him at first, with Jon Jay going to right field.
"I tried to get an infield hit, which I don't get too many of," Pujols said. "And after three or four steps, it felt a little tight. I pulled up because obviously I think I prefer tightness to a blown out hamstring. It's something that I have to deal with. It's been rough the last week or so with the rain. Our body takes a little beating."
Pujols said the constant rain and wet fields caused fatigue in his legs.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: April 19, 2011 12:38 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Maybe Lance Berkman can talk to Red Sox fans. After the Cardinals started 2-6, the veteran spoke to his teammates about their slow start and told them not to panic. Since then, St. Louis is 6-2 and just a game out of first place in the National League Central.
"I do think more than anything else, I just didn't want anybody to be shellshocked," Berkman told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That was the feeling I got. That can happen when things don't go well, particularly when crazy things start happening and you're getting 'walked-off.' I just wanted guys to know this was a fluky thing. It wasn't to keep happening. There was no reason to get that deer-in-headlights look. We've still got a job to do."
Berkman was a member of the 2005 Astros who went on to the World Series after starting 13-23, so he's seen slow starts before and knows not to overreact. Berkman's Astros started 0-8 last season and where 36-53 at the All-Star break, but 40-33 after the break (some of that without Berkman, though).
Of course, it also helped that Matt Holliday returned the next day. In St. Louis' first eight games, the team hit .216 with a .581 OPS, in its last eight, it hit .353 with a .985 OPS.
Talking to a pitcher the other day, he said the Pujols-Holliday-Berkman trio was enough to keep him up at night --- "any one of those three can be a No. 3 hitter."
Berkman's also backed up his words with his play, in the Cardinals' first eight games, he was hitting .214.290/.286. In the six games he's played since, he's hit .417/.462/1.167 with six home runs. What makes that stretch even more impressive is that his batting average on balls in play is just .286 in those games.
Holliday's been in all eight games since returning from his appendectomy on April 10, hitting .400/.526/567. He hasn't homered, but he has hit five doubles and accounted for 7 RBI. He is getting a tad lucky -- despite the appendectomy -- with a .571 batting average on balls in play, an abnormally high number, so don't expect him to be hitting .400 all season, but who did?
On the other hand, Pujols has been below average -- by Pujols' standards -- during that stretch, hitting .297/.316/.568 in the last eight games. That's better than his first eight games (.167/.257/267) and should only get better as the season progresses. That's pretty good news for the Cardinals as they start a six-game homestand tonight starting with three against the Nationals, followed by three with the Reds.