Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:30 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Numbers game? Here's one: Eight starting pitchers into this NL Championship Series, one finally produced a quality start. It came in Game 4 from the most unlikeliest of places: Soft-throwing veteran Randy Wolf.
And it could not have come at a more opportune time for manager Ron Roenicke's crew.
Brewers 4, Cardinals 2, and this series is dead even.
Which means one very important thing to both clubs:
Following Game 5 Friday night, this series is guaranteed to return to Milwaukee, where the Brewers practically have run the table this season.
That does not necessarily mean they'll do it again. But it does mean that if St. Louis has ideas of advancing to its first World Series since 2006, the Cardinals are going to need more out of their starting pitchers.
I know, that sounds like heresy when Tony La Russa has eight relievers on his playoff roster and, just a night before, folks couldn't heap enough praise on his hard-throwing pen. But asking them to be perfect every night is a tall order.
When Ryan Braun greeted reliever Mitchell Boggs with an RBI single in the fifth inning to snap a 2-2 tie and lift the Brewers into a lead they would not relinquish, you bet it was attention-grabbing: To that point, Cardinals relievers had retired 18 consecutive Brewers batters over the past two games.
But they've been pitching a lot of innings in a series marked by (marred by?) the brevity of innings from starters. Only Milwaukee's Zack Greinke and Wolf have lasted six or more innings. And only Wolf has surrendered three or fewer runs while doing so.
You would have predicted Chris Carpenter? Or Yovani Gallardo?
Wolf, tossing a riveting array of pitches from a slow curve (67, 68 mph) to a pedestrian fastball (90), kept St. Louis off-balance all evening. He left having allowed just two runs and six hits in seven innings. He whiffed six and walked just one.
Not that the Brewers were desperate for a performance like that after Gallardo's Game 3 clunker, but Bernie Brewer was seen pulling his winter sweaters out of storage up in Miller Park after that.
Now, it's a whole new series.
First team to get some decent starting pitching wins.
Posted on: October 12, 2011 11:18 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Are the Brewers now in as large a hole as the Tigers? No, they are not.
It only seems like it.
Following Wednesday's 4-3 Game 3 loss to the Cardinals, Milwaukee, still very much in this series, trails St. Louis only two games to one. But given the way the rest of their rotation is bumbling around, the Brewers are wounded badly when Yovani Gallardo starts and they don't win.
Starting pitchers named neither "Yovani" nor "Gallardo" in this postseason have compiled a 11.52 ERA while going 1-3 in five postseason starts.
Being that Milwaukee's Game 4 starter contains the names "Randy" and "Wolf, the Brewers can only hope that trend changes.
Gallardo, now 1-8 career against the Cardinals, did not pitch like the ace Milwaukee thinks he is. He was lit up for four runs in the first inning before calming down.
Part of that wasn't completely his fault: Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke gambled and lost by starting veteran Mark Kotsay, 35, in center field. He liked Kotsay's numbers against Chris Carpenter (4 for 11, .364 batting average). But Kotsay could not get to a fly ball smacked into the left-center gap two batters into the bottom of the first, a play that Carlos Gomez certainly would have made. That helped fuel St. Louis' early rally.
But Kotsay had nothing to do with Gallardo's back-to-back walks of Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman later in the inning. Those were critical, too.
Bottom line is, this series still should have a very long way to go. Milwaukee is facing nothing like its Midwestern (across Lake Michigan) neighbor. Detroit is down three games to one and on the verge of extinction for 2011.
The Brewers are just one win from evening things up against St. Louis. But with Wolf, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum rolling up next in the rotation, it sure looks as if the Cardinals were licking their beaks, er, chops as they left Busch Stadium late Wednesday night.
Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 6:20 pm
ST. LOUIS -- Yanked out of their comfy and productive home park, the Brewers at least have ace Yovani Gallardo starting Game 3 Wednesday as this National League Championship Series shifts scenes.
Lifesaver for them, right?
Um, maybe not.
Milwaukee's Misery Index in Missouri is uncomfortably high as the Brewers face the pivotal Game 3: Gallardo, lifetime against the Cardinals, is 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 11 starts. Extract a smaller sample size to just 2011, and it's 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA in four starts.
Amplifying the situation is this: Gallardo right now appears to be Milwaukee's best shot. He's 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two postseason starts for the Brewers, while those starters not named "Gallardo" -- Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf -- are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five starts.
Milwaukee's first-year manager, Ron Roenicke, has only see Gallardo's 2011 starts against the Cardinals and has no explanation for the struggles.
"There's not a good reason why," Roenicke says. "You know they have a good offense. Sometimes an offense matches up better against a certain type of pitcher. If it's a power pitcher and you have an offense that really handles the fastball well, that could be a reason. And same on the other end. If an offense matches up really well against guys that have the off-speed, slower stuff. ...
"I don't know what the case is with this, but I know we expect him to pitch a good game."
Elementary as it sounds, it starts at the beginning for both Gallardo and the rest of the rotation. While St. Louis leadoff man Rafael Furcal is just 2 for 10 against Milwaukee in the first two games, No. 2 hitter Jon Jay has severely wounded them with a .500 on-base percentage in the two games (.444 batting average).
When these two reach base consistently, that means Albert Pujols -- and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman behind him -- is even more dangerous. Jay has scored four runs in the first two games of this NLCS, three of which were included among Pujols' five RBI in Game 2.
"We're not too concerned with what we've done in the past," Jay said of the Cards' success against Gallardo. "We just try to have good at-bats. He's a great pitcher. You have to make him throw strikes. If we can have good at-bats and work the count, we'll be all right."
As for Pujols' Game 2 fireworks, it's hard to imagine the Brewers pitching to him any more than they have to from here on out. But when they do, Roenicke said, the key is simple.
"We have to make good pitches," the manager said. "Even Albert, as good a hitter as he is, if you put the pitch exactly where you want to, he's still, percentage-wise, going to have a tough time to continue to hurt us like he has."
Easier said than done. Especially given the current numbers of a rotation of which Roenicke said, "Our starters, that's why we are where we are today. Our starters have pitched great all year, and our relievers have been great, too. ... The playoffs, we have not pitched as well with our starters. But if we are going to win this thing, our starters need to pitch well.
"That's the four of them. We can't get by with just one or two pitchers."
Among other things, expecting a low-scoring pitcher's duel between Gallardo and Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night, Roenicke hinted that he my start Carlos Gomez over Nyjer Morgan in center field in a nod to Gomez's defense.
Posted on: December 10, 2009 6:06 pm
INDIANAPOLIS -- As baseball executives made like Indy 500 cars and sped toward the airport around midday Thursday -- braving freezing temperatures, a biting wind and ice-covered trees along the way -- the one clear thing that emerged from a mostly slow-paced winter meetings was predictable:
The best hedge against an economy that is squeezing many is if you making your living pitching a baseball.
When Brad Penny, 31 and released by the Red Sox last summer before he hooked on with San Francisco, signed a one-year deal for a $7.5 million base salary plus another $1.5 million in incentives with St. Louis, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
When Randy Wolf, 33 and having missed time with both shoulder and elbow injuries during the past four years, signed a whopping three-year, $29.75 million deal with Milwaukee, it practically raised the roof of the Indianapolis Marriott.
And when Rich Harden, who seems to be stricken with some type of injury every 100 pitches, signed a one-year deal for $6.5 million with Texas ... well, let's just say that ought to scotch any collusion accusations from owners.
"In all honesty, we came into this thing without expecting to be a player for starting pitching," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "We were prepared to pay significant money for Randy Wolf a year ago, but because of the economy we had to back out.
"Guys at the top of the market are going to get their money."
Indeed. In the case of Wolf, three years is what it took to get him. The Mets were one of the teams offering two years.
"With Penny, [new Houston manager and former Boston bench coach] Brad Mills said that just before he was released by Boston, he started to get his arm strength back," Wade said. "He showed he was healthy in San Francisco.
"On a one-year deal, it makes sense. If there's a bounce back, it can be a big bounce back."
-- Still, more teams than not left Indianapolis with long to-do lists, without having accomplished much of what they need to before spring training draws too much closer. A large part of the reason is because the deadline for a club to tender contracts to its arbitration-eligible players -- Saturday -- comes after the winter meetings. Probably somewhere close to 100 or more free agents will flood the market after that. "From the GM's point of view, we all wish more trades were made," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said. "It was slower than we all anticipated. There are so many free agents, and there will be more after Saturday. If you can come to a deal with a player without giving up prospects, then that's the way to go."
-- You've heard of "location, location, location" in the real estate business, but it was a key to getting the three-way trade between Detroit, the Yankees and Arizona done this week, too. Diamondbacks' GM Josh Byrnes was able to drive over and see Ian Kennedy pitch in the Arizona Fall League this fall, and his first-hand scouting of Kennedy helped move along the discussions.
-- One other thought on the three-way deal: Several baseball people wondered in the aftermath of the deal whether Arizona knows something about the two young pitchers it sent to Detroit, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlerer, like whether they're injured. One scout who saw each toward the end of the year said he doesn't think that's an issue, but did say he thinks each is a long-term health risk given the way they pitch with maximum effort and given each's body type. OK, fine. But remember, people have been saying that for the past few years about a guy in San Francisco, fella named Tim Lincecum.
-- Atlanta left with an excess of starting pitching and still hoping it can acquire a middle of the lineup bat. The Braves will continue to field inquiries about starters Javier Vazquez and Derek Lowe, and they probably will have to absorb some of either's contract to get a deal done. Vazquez, the more likely of the two to be traded, is owed $11.5 million in 2010, Lowe is due $45 million over the next three years.
-- Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik on the Mariners' talks with free agent slugger Jason Bay. "We've left our options open to acquire more talent. There are several ways we could go about that."
-- Zduriencik on Seattle's winter so far: "We're very satisfied, certainly, with signing Chone Figgins. We restructured Jack Wilson's contract, locked him up for the next two years. We brought Ken Griffey Jr. back. As we sit here today, we have three pieces that are very important to next year's club. We still have flexibility with Figgins [who can play third base, second or left field}. We needed a guy like Chone. We targeted him from the get-go."
-- Most likely trade partner with Toronto for Roy Halladay remains the Los Angeles Angels. Philadelphia was said to be talking with Toronto, but Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said Thursday "there's nothing likely" regarding a trade with the Blue Jays. If the Angels would include shortstop Erick Aybar -- doubtful -- that would be key to getting a deal done.
-- If the Angels can't reach an agreement for an extension with Halladay -- who has one year and $16 million remaining on his contract -- then they would accordingly reduce the level of the package of players they ship to Toronto.
-- The Phillies were in trade talks with Atlanta for Rafael Soriano "pretty deep", according to Amaro, before Tampa Bay acquired the reliever.
-- The Mets made offers to two free agents, outfielder Jason Bay and catcher Bengie Molina, just before departing the meetings Thursday, sources close to the team said.
-- One NL executive's prediction as he wheeled his suitcase through the Marriott lobby Thursday: Jason Bay winds up signing with Seattle and Matt Holliday with Boston.
-- The Cubs, in the market for a center fielder, very well could wind up signing one of two free agents, either Mike Cameron or Marlon Byrd. Cameron played for manager Lou Piniella in Seattle. "As a player and a person, I have the utmost respect for him, there's no question," Piniella said. "I had him in Seattle and got along with him very well. He's a guy that, he can play. He likes to play."
Posted on: December 9, 2009 10:50 am
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Brewers are optimistic that veteran free agent pitcher Randy Wolf is moving closer to accepting their three-year offer believed to be worth between $29 and $30 million, a source with knowledge of the talks told CBSSports Wednesday morning.
After cutting ties with Braden Looper, the pitching-thin Brewers are looking for at least a couple of starters. Wolf was non-tendered by the Dodgers following the 2009 season despite going 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA. He worked 214 1/3 innings in 34 starts and racked up an eye-popping total of 16 no-decisions.
Wolf, who also was courted by the Mets, among others, started Game 1 of the NL Division Series for the Dodgers against St. Louis.
Posted on: October 14, 2009 7:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2009 7:36 pm
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are coming strong out of the gate with a left-hander against Philadelphia in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday, opting to hand the ball to rookie Clayton Kershaw, 21.
The decision not only emphasizes the Dodgers' growing confidence in Kershaw, who started Game 2 against St. Louis last round after defeating Colorado on the final Saturday of the season to clinch the NL West, but also allows them to position a lefty right away to face Philadelphia's big left-handed bats: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Kershaw was 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA against the Phillies in two 2009 regular-season starts.
The rotation also is notable on a couple of other levels, from going with the kid in Game 1 to starting August acquisition Vicente Padilla in Game 2 to leaving All-Star Chad Billingsley out completely. Hiroki Kuroda will start Game 3 and Randy Wolf Game 4.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel named lefty Cole Hamels as his Game 1 starter, as expected. Manuel declined to go beyond that until the Phillies finalize their roster, probably either later tonight or Thursday morning.
Billingsley's absence is particularly noteworthy not only because he was an All-Star in July, but because he was the starting pitcher against Philadelphia last year in Game 2 when the Phillies' Brett Myers knocked Manny Ramirez off the plate and the Dodgers failed to respond.
Billingsley was the losing pitcher that day, and he lost more than the game. He also lost face in his own clubhouse as several Dodgers were angry that he did not respond and protect their best player. His fortitude has been questioned ever since and, though he seemed close to leaving that behind while pitching like an All-Star the first half of the season, those questions came back to dog him as he slumped down the stretch.
Kuroda, who wasn't even on the active roster last round because of a bulging disk in his neck, has been working at the Dodgers' facility in Arizona. Manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt journeyed there to watch him Tuesday and came away impressed enough to pick him to start Game 3.
"I wasn't hopeful that he would be ready for this round with the way things started with him," Torre said.
But the manager said he was "comfortable" watching Kuroda pitch Tuesday.
"He may not be as good as we want him to be, but still, off of what he did for us last year, it's something that we felt we wanted to give a shot to," Torre said of Kuroda, who won two postseason games for the Dodgers last year, holding the Cubs and Phillies to a combined two runs in 12 1/3 innings in the process.
Meantime, Wolf, a second lefty in the starting quartet, is bumped down to Game 4 after pitching Game 1 against St. Louis.
While he seemed disappointed, Wolf chose not to complain.
"I feel like I have an opportunity in Game 4 to help the team win," he said.
Posted on: September 10, 2009 6:41 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2009 6:42 pm
• Why the Dodgers are still first in the NL West: Thanks to gritty starting pitching and a stellar bullpen, they're surrendered four or fewer runs in 27 of their past 29 games.
• The Dodgers' latest challenge: Lefty Randy Wolf, their most consistent starter this season, has a sore left elbow and will skip the opener of this weekend's big series in San Francisco. So, to review: Wolf is ailing, Chad Billingsley appears to have hit a wall and youngster Clayton Kershaw (non-pitching shoulder) is skipping a start.
• The way things stand today, it'll all eyes on the field generals come October: The managers from the eight clubs would comprise the most experienced group of managers in one postseason since the wild-card format started in 1995. Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy will have combined for 51 postseason appearances (including 2009), 17 pennants, 11 World Series titles and 11 manager of the year awards. (The Yankees' Joe Girardi would be the lone man of the eight to have never managed in a postseason).
• Reasons why the AL West race is not a foregone conclusion: Sure, the Angels lead Texas by 4 1/2 games with little more than three weeks remaining, BUT: While the Angels still have four games left with the Yankees, three against Boston and seven against the Rangers, Texas' mix includes six games against Seattle (72-68) and three against Tampa Bay (72-68), decidedly less fierce than that Yankees-Red Sox tango. And the Rangers have beaten the Angels in nine of 12 games so far this summer.
• Reasons why the AL West race could be a foregone conclusion: While the above is true, so, too, is this: While the Angels are only 19-23 against the AL West this season, they're 24-12 against the AL East. Texas is 24-13 against the AL West and 25-19 against the AL East.
• Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson both think left-hander Francisco Liriano, 5-12 with a 5.80 ERA this summer, is going to come back strong in 2010 based on being two years out (by then) from Tommy John ligament transfer sugery. Liriano finally has regained his strength but couldn't repeat pitches this summer, especially his slider. "He'd throw two nasty sliders and then not get on top of the next one, leave it down in the zone and whack," Gardenhire says.
• He's out now with a plantar fascia injury, but Kyle Blanks has made a good early impression in San Diego (10 homers and 22 RBIs in 54 games). And it's easy to see why the 6-6, 285-pounder was who Tampa Bay targeted in trade talks last spring when the Padres came asking about right-handers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann. The Rays' answer was no, and Tampa subsequently wound up dealing Hammel to Colorado for minor-league pitcher Aneury Rodriguez on April 5. Rodriguez went 9-11 with a 4.50 ERA, with 111 strikeouts and only 59 walks over 142 innings pitched (27 starts), for Double-A Montgomery this summer.
• Maybe the Royals should zero in on second baseman Placido Polanco this winter on the free agent market. The Tigers' infielder is batting .337 (66 for 196) with 10 doubles, a triple, two homers and 24 RBI in 45 career games at Kauffman Stadium. The .337 average is seventh among active major leaguers at the K.
• Only two AL pitchers since 1988 have won 12 or more games in a season before turning 21: Seattle's Felix Hernandez and, now, Detroit's Rick Porcello. In Motown, Porcello's 12 wins is the most in one season by a Tiger 20 years old or younger since Dave Rozema won 11 in 1977 before he turned 21 that Aug. 5.
• Boston general manager Theo Epstein's line about the possibility of Curt Schilling running for Senate in the spot vacated by the late Ted Kennedy, that Schilling "would be good at filibustering", is one of the summer's classics.
• Bob Watson, vice-president of major league baseball's on-field operations, is recovering from back surgery this week.
• Hilarious piece on a new Jeter "movie", Pride of the Yankees 2, from my buddy Jim Caple.
Dislikes: I'm already stocked up with reasons enough, but Ellen DeGeneres signing on with American Idol gives me one more reason not to watch.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Back then it was beautiful
-- The Hold Steady, Joke About Jamaica