Saturday, December 8, 2012

Are Today's MLB Relievers Overrated & Overpaid?

What was the best season ever recorded by a reliever in major league history?  Many baseball experts point to Dennis Eckersley's 1990 season when the Hall of Fame closer for the Oakland A's posted the lowest ERA ever for a reliever - 0.61 - while recording 48 saves in 73.1 innings of work.  His ERA+ of 603 is so far off the charts, it's ridiculous.  In fact, MLB Network recently aired a Prime Nine episode highlighting the Top Nine Reliever Seasons of All-Time, and this particular effort was ranked Number One.

Apparently, Prime Nine doesn't believe in all that saber-metrics stuff like the Baseball Wins Over Replacement (WAR) measurement.  But we do, and Eckersley's 3.2 WAR is good for 9th-place on this list.  Strangely enough, Eric Gagne's 2003 season (MLB-record 55 straight saves) may be Number Two on Prime Nine, but is 8th over here.  Go figure.

Here's how Gagne and the others fared (Prime Nine's rank in parenthesis) - In ascending order by WAR - along with ERA, IP, CYA & MVP voting. 

2003 - Eric Gagne (2) -           1.20 ERA -  82.1 IP - 3.6 WAR (Won NL CYA)

1998 - Trevor Hoffman (8) -   1.48 ERA -  73.0 IP - 4.0 WAR (2nd NL CYA)

1984 - Willie Hernandez (9) - 1.92 ERA - 140.1 IP - 4.6 WAR (Won AL CYA & MVP)

1996 - Mariano Rivera (6) -    2.09 ERA - 107.2 IP - 4.8 WAR (3rd AL CYA)

1977 - Bruce Sutter (4) -         1.34 ERA - 107.1 IP - 6.5 WAR (6th NL CYA)

1986 - Mark Eichorn (7) -       1.72 ERA - 157.0 IP - 7.1 WAR (6th AL CYA)

1973 - John Hiller (3) -           1.44  ERA - 125.1 IP - 7.9 WAR (4th AL CYA)

1975 - Goose Gossage (5) -     1.84 ERA - 141.2 IP - 8.1 WAR (T-6th AL CYA)

Not that the baseball writers who vote on MVP and Cy Young Awards are dumb, but the guys at the top of this list had the lowest Wins Over Replacement calculations - yet the strongest support for postseason awards - whereas the guys like Eichorn, Hiller and Gossage - with exceptionally high WAR totals - hardly received any support at all.  Go figure.

Of course, back in the '70s and '80s, the concept of Wins Over Replacement had yet to be developed.  Voters typically gave the pitcher with the most wins the most CYA support - or in the case of relievers - an unusually high saves total.  Of course, those numbers can be misleading; when Gossage saved 28 games in '75 (he also won 9), he often worked more than just an inning or two to secure the win.  Many of the games he entered were in the middle innings with runners on base; his job was to put out the fire, then keep the other team at bay until the last out was recorded.  Now those were real saves; it also explains why he pitched about twice as many innings as Eckersley, Gagne and Hoffman; and why his WAR was more than two times higher than those other guys.  But what can be expected from part-time help; aside from multi-million dollar contracts?

It's nobody's fault; this is how the game is being managed today.  The art of securing saves has become a joint effort, for the most part, often employing the services of a 7th-inning specialist, then the set-up man, then the closer.  It's an efficient system, since having three fresh arms coming in to pitch the last thee innings or so to secure a win makes perfect sense.  Of course, Gossage used to perform all three functions by himself, thank you very much.  Doing it the old-fashioned Gossage way not only freed-up a couple of spots on the roster, it probably saved his team (Chicago White Sox) a little bit of money on payroll expense.  Of course, in 1975, that didn't amount to much. 

However, in 2013, just about everybody working in the bullpen will be making anywhere from a couple of million to $15 million per year.  These salaries are skyrocketing because most front offices in MLB have bought into the notion that relievers (part-time employees) are actually worth as much, if not more than a starting pitcher or position player (full-time employees). 

Saves are nice, of course.  However, when they come by rather cheaply, their significance is overrated; and for teams looking to trim the payroll, there appears to be no relief in sight - just plenty of relievers.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chapman to Rotation Makes Sabermetric Sense

The Cincinnati Reds' plan to move lefty power-closer Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph fastball into the starting rotation has drawn the ire of many baseball analysts, including MLB Network's Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams.  For that reason alone, the decision makes sense, since the inaccuracy of "Wild Thing's" assessments and predictions is nearly 100%.

Aside from that compelling bit of logic, Chapman's transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation would potentially give Cincinnati around 200 innings pitched*, as opposed to the 71.2 he logged in 2012.  Those extra innings - assuming they are "quality innings" - would translate into more wins for Cincinnati; a scary thought for the rest of the NL Central, considering the Reds already won 97 games in 2012.

*UPDATE:  Word from the Reds' front office is that Chapman will be under an innings limit when he goes into the rotation.  No word on what that innings limit will be, however.

The saber-metric evidence is compelling:  Good starting pitchers are more valuable than even the elite relief specialists; sometimes, significantly more valuable.  Observe the disparity in the ERA+ of Chapman over the top four starting pitchers in the 2012 NL Cy Young Award voting; then observe the disparity in the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of the four starters over Chapman:

                  ERA+     WAR

Dickey -       140          5.6
Kershaw -    150          6.2
Gonzalez -   137          4.5
Cueto -        152          5.8

Chapman -   282          3.6

Chapman's ERA+ is roughly two times better than the four best starting pitchers in the National League; yet the limited use of his talents translates into fewer wins for his team than the other four.  As an aside, it appears that either Kershaw or Cueto might have a stronger case for the CYA than Dickey; however, somebody else can write about that.

Historically, even when relief specialists get the nod for either the Most Valuable Player Award and/or the Cy Young Award, they don't compare favorably to other players in the voting mix, from a purely saber-metric perspective.  Here's the evidence - the award winners who were strictly relief specialists - their WAR, their rank compared to other players receiving votes, and the player who actually had the highest WAR:

                                                           WAR     Rank     Highest    Player
1950 - NL MVP Jim Konstanty (PHI)      4.2      16th        7.8          Eddie Stanky (NYG)

1974 - NL CYA Mike Marshall (LAD)    2.9        5th        7.5         Phil Niekro (ATL)

1977 - AL CYA Sparky Lyle (NYY)        3.5       9th         8.0         Frank Tanana (CAA)

1979 - NL CYA Bruce Sutter (CHC)        4.9        3rd        7.0         Phil Niekro (ATL)

1981 - AL MVP Rollie Fingers (MIL)       4.1      10th        6.6         Rickey Henderson (OAK) &
                                                                                                            Dwight Evans (BOS)
1981 - AL CYA Rollie Fingers (MIL)       4.1        2nd       4.3          Steve McCatty (OAK)

1984 - AL MVP Willie Hernandez (DET)  4.6      14th        9.8         Cal Ripken (BAL)*
1984 - AL CYA Willie Hernandez (DET)  4.6        4th        7.6          Dave Stieb (TOR)

1987 - NL CYA Steve Bedrosian (PHI)      2.2        8th**    6.8         Bob Welch (LAD)

1992 - AL MVP Dennis Eckersley (OAK)  2.8       17th       8.4         Roger Clemens (BOS)
1992 - AL CYA Dennis Eckersley (OAK)  2.8         6th       8.4         Roger Clemens (BOS)

2003 - NL CYA Eric Gagne (LAD)            3.6        3rd        7.2          Mark Prior (CHC)

Notes:  *Despite having the highest WAR in the AL in 1984 (before WAR was even devised), Cal Ripken garnered the grand total of ONE POINT in the MVP vote!  **Steve Bedrosian (who saved 40 games) had the lowest WAR among all pitchers receiving NL CYA votes in 1987!  Surely, there were others not receiving votes that had a higher WAR than Bedrock's 2.2.

The impact on MLB history may not seem significant if the players with the highest WAR actually won these awards, but it surely would've gotten Phil Niekro in the HOF sooner had he won both the '74 and '79 NL Cy Young Awards!  Ironically, a knuckleball pitcher won the NL CYA this past season - RA Dickey - and it was the first time in MLB history that had happened; but it should've happened 38 years ago.

In the "borderline" case of Dwight Evans, perhaps winning the 1981 AL MVP Award would've put him over the top with the voters; he certainly belongs in Cooperstown.  Hopefully, as they become more saber-metrically informed, worthy players like Evans will finally get their just rewards.

Although some may disagree with the evidence, it seems apparent that a great starting pitcher is comparable to a great everyday player, in terms of the value they provide for their team.  The argument baseball analysts (like Mitch Williams) use when trying to dispel the notion that no pitcher should be considered for a Most Valuable Player Award - because they're not "everyday players" - is saber-metrically unfounded.  Some of the highest WAR totals over the years belong to starting pitchers; just not relief pitchers.

Another compelling piece of evidence:  The elite relief specialists obviously receive a lot of media attention for racking up a lot of saves; but it appears the "save" may be one of the most overrated statistics in MLB history.  That probably explains why a fairly mediocre relief pitcher like Steve Bedrosian - with those 40 saves in 1987 - was able to capture the NL Cy Young Award that year.  Strangely enough, the greatest closer ever - the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera - never won a CYA, although he finished second once and third twice.

It's also interesting to note that for whatever reasons, no team has ever won a World Series with a closer that has recorded 50 or more saves; it's happened on nine different occasions, but has yet to help produce a World Championship for any team.  Go figure.

That gets us back to the Aroldis Chapman debate.  Quite simply, if he's able to still pitch effectively as a starter and give the Reds somewhere around 200 IP next season (assuming he stays healthy), he'll be helping them win more games, and that seems to be a gamble worth taking; a no-brainer, especially for a team with no left-handed starters currently in the rotation.

Taking it one step further, if Chapman even comes close to matching the level of performance he produced in 2012, the next NL Cy Young Award winner may well be a former flame-throwing, somersaulting, left-handed relief specialist currently employed by the Cincinnati Reds; who were smart enough to put him in a role that made saber-metric sense.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cabrera-Bashing Tarnishes MVP Honor

If you regularly watch MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential segment - hosted by the analytically brilliant Brian Kenny - chances are, you're gaining insight into the saber-metric side of baseball; and that's a good thing.  Unfortunately, Kenny and his legion of saber-metric fanatics may have gone too far with their relentless attack of American League Most Valuable Player, Miguel Cabrera - you know; the guy who won the AL Triple Crown (last accomplished by Carl Yastrzemski forty-five years ago) while leading his Detroit Tigers team into the postseason for the second straight year (the first time that's happened since 1934 and '35).

While Cabrera's historic season should have made him a lock to win the AL MVP Award (in fact, it did), the saber-metrics community felt otherwise; essentially drawing a line in the sand in support of LA Angels of Anaheim rookie sensation, Mike Trout.  Okay; Mike Trout is a better all-round player than Miguel Cabrera, but under the subjective nature of this award, not necessarily "more valuable".  Hence, the MVP Award went to Miggy and the debate intensified to epic proportions; saber-metric Cabrera-bashing became the latest trend, and leading the charge on MLB Network was the uncompromising Brian Kenny, who refused to believe anyone with a brain could possibly support the Detroit slugger.  Such a travesty.

What Kenny refuses to accept is the reality that voters (sportswriters) are usually impressed by big offensive numbers, especially when they help carry a team into the postseason.  That makes for good copy.  Sometimes, big offensive numbers plus a last place finish is even good enough to win (1987 - Andre Dawson - 49 HR/137 RBI).  Talk about a travesty.

In the aftermath of the Cabrera MVP Travesty of 2012, Brian Kenny has paraded various guest saber-metric analysts on his program - including the witty and smug Keith Olbermann - decrying the injustice and outright stupidity of it all.  One of Kenny's guest saber-geeks solemnly remarked how "sad" it was that the sportswriters did the unthinkable, thus depriving the 20-year old rookie of the award he so richly deserved.  Oh, the humanity.  This may be worse than the Hindenburg Disaster.

I'll tell you what's sad.  It's how the game's greatest pure hitter - Miguel Cabrera - finally wins his first MVP Award, and is being declared "undeserving" by the Brian Kennys of the world, who apparently don't like being on the losing side of their saber-metric arguments.  We're talking about an individual award to a ballplayer coming off a terrific season.  Let him bask in a little glory; not stick him under the microscope and comment about all his deficiencies.  To say there have been far less-deserving players over the years who were chosen "Most Valuable" in their league is an understatement.

In defense of the current crop of voting sportswriters, they've been doing a credible job of selecting players who are at or near the top of the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) saber-metric guidelines; at least in the current millennium.  How all this mumbo-jumbo is calculated is beyond me; however, when Albert Pujols won it on three separate occasions (2005, 2008 & 2009), he indeed had the NL's highest WAR each season.  In fact, he also had the highest WAR on a couple of occasions when he didn't win (2006 & 2010); and I don't recall anybody complaining about those two snubs.  The great Stan The Man Musial - who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday - only won three MVP Awards, but could have easily won another three or four.

Ted Williams was never very popular with a lot of the sportswriters, which partly explains why his incredible season in 1941 - featuring his iconic .406 BA - was trumped by Joe DiMaggio's equally iconic 56-game hitting streak.  Perhaps the most galling snub came when a Teddy Ballgame Triple Crown-season in 1947 was clipped by a rather mediocre Yankee Clipper-season, by a single point.

Many other all-time greats like Mays and Aaron have been consistently snubbed over the years by the likes of Maury Wills and Dick Groat, among others.  Generally speaking, if a player wins a batting championship on a pennant winner (Groat) or establishes some new MLB (stolen base) record (Wills), sportswriters eat that stuff up.  Every now and then, superior players on bad teams are selected (Ernie Banks in '58 and '59), but once their "quota" is fulfilled, they'd really have to go wild to get another one.  Banks had another great year in 1960, but winning three times in a row just wasn't happening.

A couple of my favorite MVP's - Kenny Boyer (1964) and Orlando Cepeda (1967) both led the NL in RBI's playing on pennant winning St Louis Cardinal teams.  Much to my surprise, there were several other players with higher WAR totals than the former Redbird heroes; especially surprising, since the vote for Cepeda was unanimous in 1967.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, as the outrage over the selection of Miggy over Trouty was starting to wane, our saber-metric hero on MLB Network decided it would be fun to review previous MVP selections on his Clubhouse Confidential program which he deemed "wrong".  I wonder if I was the only one surprised when he chose to nitpick the 2005 NL MVP Award which went to Albert Pujols of the 100-win NL Central champion-St Louis Cardinals, instead of Derrick Lee of the sub-.500 Chicago Cubs.  Both had very similar offensive numbers, but Lee's slugging percentage was about fifty points higher, plus he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.  I suppose a clean sweep of the awards would've been nice for Lee, but for some reason those crazy sportswriters took the guy from the 100-win team instead.  "What were they thinking?" suggested the irrepressible Kenny.

I'll tell you what they were thinking, Brian.  They were thinking Pujols was the best player in the National League that season, who played a key role in the success of his team.  His "value" to his team is best measured by his NL-leading 8.2 WAR.  I'm surprised Brian Kenny failed to realize that before he decided to tell his viewers something that made no saber-metric sense whatsoever.  And that's a travesty.

No, the real travesty is subjecting the likable and extremely talented Miguel Cabrera to unfair scrutiny of an honor he deserved - American League Most Valuable Player - 2012.  The last time I checked, Andre Dawson got to keep his; along with George Bell, Don Baylor and Jeff Burroughs, for that matter.  None of those guys won the Triple Crown, by the way.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Postseason "Wild Ride" Nothing New for Cardinals

A little over two weeks ago, Barry Zito - an unlikely hero - pitched the San Francisco Giants back into the National League Championship Series, winning Game Five over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, and sending the two teams back to San Francisco for the final two blowouts.  Zito's surprising win over the Redbirds was the first of seven consecutive postseason victories San Francisco would compile en route to their second World Championship in the last three seasons.

For the Cardinals, it was a bitter disappointment; ending their postseason dream of successfully defending a World Championship which nobody outside of the St Louis organization thought possible to begin with.  Just when so many of the naysayers finally jumped on the Redbirds' bandwagon, those magical bats - which carried them past Atlanta, then Washington DC, and through the early contests with San Francisco - were abruptly neutralized by the Giants' three hottest pitchers:  the aforementioned Zito, then Vogelsong and Cain.  All pitched brilliantly in the NLCS, and carried that momentum into a World Series four-game sweep of a Detroit Tigers team most baseball analysts predicted would do the "sweeping".  They were wrong again (See:  2006 World Series).

Meanwhile, back in Cardinal Nation, the frustration of getting within one win from an eighteenth World Series appearance - and four wins away from their 12th World Championship - had players and fans alike shaking their heads in disbelief.  Perhaps many of those disheartened souls don't remember what happened in 1968; or 1985; maybe not even 1996?  Perhaps they just remember the last time the Cardinals held a three games to one postseason advantage - over the Detroit Tigers, in the 2006 World Series.  Of course, that story had a happy ending, with St Louis taking care of business at home, winning three straight to clinch their 10th World Championship in just five games.  Believe it or not, I never felt comfortable about that favorable outcome until that last out was recorded in Game Five.  Here's why:

The Cardinals have actually blown more 3 games to 1 postseason leads than not; and more than any other MLB team.  After their most recent meltdown against the newly crowned World Champions - the Redbirds, in their long and glorious history - have now blown four, while only winning three, after holding that seemingly insurmountable three games to one postseason advantage.  To get a better understanding of what went wrong, let's examine the crime scenes:

1968 WORLD SERIES VS DETROIT TIGERS - Strangely enough, it was the Detroit Tigers who trailed Bob Gibson and the St Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, three games to one, but proceeded to win the final three games of that Fall Classic; including the Game Seven shocker, when Mickey Lolich out-dueled the Great Gibson in front of 54,692 stunned Cardinals' fans at Busch Stadium.  As I skipped a day of drudgery from Kirkwood High School to watch what was surely going to be another Gibson triumph on national television; in a little more than two hours, had  evolved into a numbing defeat; the first of its kind for Cardinal fans:

*This was the first time in franchise history the team had ever coughed up a three games to one advantage in the World Series to lose.

*This was the first time in Bob Gibson's history that he had ever lost a World Series - Game Seven.  He prevailed in 1964 over the mighty New York Yankees; and three years later, pitched brilliantly and even hit a home run to beat the Boston Red Sox by a score of 7-2 at Fenway Park, in front of 35,188 stunned fans.  With Game Seven in '68 being played at Busch Stadium, the thought of losing never even crossed my mind; nor the minds of most other Redbird fans, for that matter.

1985 WORLD SERIES VS KANSAS CITY ROYALS - If anything, blowing a three games to one World Series advantage in the cross-state I-70 showdown with the Royals seemed even more improbable than what had occurred seventeen years earlier; especially after St Louis won the first two games on the road.  Until that time, no team in World Series history had ever lost the first two games at home, and then gone on to win it all; of course, that's exactly what happened.  When the Royals won two out of three at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals were forced into a return trip to KC to capture title number ten; but we all know what happened in Games Six and Seven.  Kansas City won their first World Championship instead, while St Louis would have to wait another 21 years to get that tenth title.

1996 NLCS VS ATLANTA BRAVES - In Tony LaRussa's first year as manager, the NL Central champion Cardinals somehow grabbed a quick three games to one NLCS advantage over the defending World Champion Braves.  Coming off an exciting comeback win in Game Four didn't give the Cardinals enough momentum to overcome a clearly superior Atlanta pitching staff, which allowed just one run over those last three games.  Nor could they stop an offense that put crooked numbers on the scoreboard at an alarming rate; the Braves scored 32 runs in that span, featuring a 15-0 annihilation in that final debacle.  Although this setback was a disappointment, it came as no big surprise.  After all, the Cards fell to three future Hall of Fame hurlers - Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine - and a ferocious lineup that seemed to be able to score at will.  The over-matched Redbirds were fortunate to have extended the series for the full seven games.

2012 NLCS VS SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - Well, at least the Cardinals made a bit of progress, as rookie manager Mike Matheny led his Wild Card team into the postseason, all the way to the NLCS; this time losing those final three games of the series by a composite 20-1 margin; a twelve-run improvement!  Still, the last three "Game Sevens" produced no runs for the Redbirds; lots of runs for their opponents; thirty-nine, to be exact.  All told, St Louis was outscored 93-9 in Games 5-6-7 by the postseason quartet of Detroit/Kansas City/Atlanta/San Francisco.  If someone is going to draw up a blueprint for blowing a three-games-to-one postseason lead, getting outscored 93-9 by four teams works quite well.

So much for rehashing epic collapses.  How about some remarkable postseason comebacks?  No, the Cardinals have never been down three games to one and successfully overcome that deficit to win a best-of-seven postseason series; but they've perfected the art of coming back when trailing three games to TWO.  And that ain't bad.  Here's a quick summary of how things played out (and where Series ended) when the Redbirds faced a three games to two postseason series deficit (They've had a lot of experience in these situations - 9 different times):

1926 vs New York Yankees - STL Wins Series (Home)
1930 vs Philadelphia Athletics - STL Loses Series in 6 Games (Away)
1934 vs Detroit Tigers - STL Wins Series (Away)
1946 vs Boston Red Sox - STL Wins Series (Home)
1982 vs Milwaukee Brewers - STL Wins Series (Home)
1987 vs San Francisco Giants - STL Wins Series (Home)
2004 vs Houston Astros - STL Wins Series (Home)
2005 vs Houston Astros - STL Loses Series in 6 Games (Home)
2011 vs Texas Rangers - STL Wins Series (Home)

From their very first World Championship in 1926 to their most recent title in 2011 - and five other times in between - the Cardinals have managed to overcome seven out of nine 3-games-to-2 deficits; six out of seven comebacks were finished off at home for Games Six and Seven.  That's a pretty impressive postseason resume for St Louis, after all.

If this kind of stuff fascinates you as much as me, check out my two books on Cards' trivia (below).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wild Cards Trumped by Resilient Giants

Sooner or later, something had to give.  Both teams in this year's National League Championship Series - the St Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants - faced nearly insurmountable odds when they survived the first round of the postseason - the best of five-game-NLDS - in historic fashion.  In the end, it was the resilient Giants overcoming a three-games-to-one NLCS deficit to a Cardinals team that simply seemed to run out of gas over those last three agonizing games.

San Francisco's stunning first round three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark just goes to show that simply because it's "never been done before", doesn't mean it will never happen.  No team had ever lost the first two games at home in a divisional series, then go on to win the next three on the road; but it happened.  The Reds had never lost three straight games at home all season; but it happened - in the postseason.

Meanwhile, as the giddy-but-weary Giants were patiently waiting at the airport to determine whether they would be going all the way home to take on the Cardinals in the second round of the playoffs, or make the quick jaunt to Washington DC to take on the Nationals; it seemed to be a slam-dunk that they would be heading to our nation's Capitol.  Early scoring updates indicated a rout was in the making:  6-0 after three-innings, with the home team comfortably ahead of an apparently overwhelmed Redbirds team.

In postseason history, no team had ever trailed by five or more runs in an elimination game to go on and win the game.  Suddenly, the lead was cut in half:  6-3.  As the Redbirds clawed back to make the score 6-5 in the top of the eighth-inning, the Nats answered back with a run of their own:  7-5 heading into the ninth-inning.

As the stunned patrons at National's Park witnessed the unprecedented Redbirds rally, which saw the Wild Cards on their usual brink of elimination on several different occasions, new heroes emerged for St Louis - Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma - who drove in the tying and winning runs, respectively.

Final score:  Wild Cards 9 - Nats 7.  Cardinal Nation was delirious; the rest of the nation either in awe or bitter dismay, depending on the locale and the opinion of adding that second Wild Card to begin with.  The St Louis Wild Cards had already drawn the wrath of every Atlanta Braves fan on earth by having the audacity to beat another ("superior") Wild Card team with a better won-loss record; aided by a questionable call by an umpire, but more importantly, aided by Atlanta's own fielding miscues, led by retiring folk-hero Chipper Jones' throwing error on what should have been an easy double play.  Hey, that's not the Wild Cards' fault; don't be mad at them!

The Cardinals had not only escaped that first elimination game in a hostile environment, facing a pitcher who was considered "unbeatable", they ultimately escaped what seemed to be certain elimination in that epic Game Five NLDS shocker over the Nationals.

With the adreniline flowing all the way to San Francisco, the Redbirds put up a quick six spot of their own in Game One of the NLCS against the Giants, and held on to win, 6-4.  Clearly, the Giants were as undaunted by a six-run deficit as the Cardinals were; however, the St Louis bullpen did what the Washington bullpen failed to do:  Preserve the lead.

After the Giants came back to easily win Game Two, it almost seemed a foregone conclusion this series would probably go six or seven games.  The Cardinals headed home, at least somewhat satisfied with splitting the two games at AT&T Park; no easy feat.  Yet, barring a sweep of the next three games at Busch Stadium,  they would have to endure another trip to the City by the Bay.

However, after the Cardinals won the first two games at the friendly confines of Busch Stadium, to take a that commanding three games to one lead with one more to be played at home, it was obvious that winning Game Five became Priority Number One for St Louis.  After the easy 8-3 win in Game Four, it seemed as though all the pundits were proclaiming the Wild Cards National League Champions.  The post-game interviews with some of the players seemed a bit too giddy; almost as if it was a foregone conclusion the Giants would roll over and go home after losing Game Five.  David Freese inadvertently gave a little sound bite which I'm sure was used to motivate the West division champions:

"San Francisco's a beautiful city, but we don't want to go back there.  We want to win it here, tomorrow!"

Of course he wanted to wrap things up at home; Freese was just being honest.  Naturally, this sentiment was probably shared by everyone on the team.  Of course, the national media repeatedly mentioned this whenever possible; by the time of the revolting loss in Game Five, the Cards were being depicted as a team backpedaling now; no longer brash and confident; now reluctant and unsure of its abilities and unsure of what lies ahead in the hostile environment of AT&T Park.

By the time Game Seven rolled around, I tried to kid myself into believing the Cardinals could win at will; that they always play their best when the stakes are highest.  I tried to kid myself into thinking the Giants could never win a Game Seven, simply because they never had in their long history; as if that mattered what would happen in 2012.

I had never been so unsettled prior to a Game Seven since the 1985 World Series.  Game Six had been a disaster for Whitey Herzog's squad; jump-started by a bad call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger.
Cleary, St Louis didn't want to play that last game in Kansas City, and the proof is in the 11-0 final score.

Game Seven of the 2012 NLCS had a similar outcome for the Redbirds:  9-0.  A season that had been pretty good; perhaps a bit inconsistent, but at least good enough to grab that new second Wild Card the Commissioner was kind enough to add; suddenly ended in sloppy and fundamentally unsound baseball; a sad way to end an exciting season.  

Going into the postseason, I felt this team was much better than most people gave them credit for; saber-metrically they were the third best team in baseball, trailing only Washington and the New York Yankees.  Of course, the impressive "run differential" the Cardinals finished the regular season with doesn't automatically translate into wins and losses.  But it does reflect a team with a lot of talent; especially from a hitting perspective.

In the end, the Cardinals added a fourth postseason epic failure - blowing a MLB-record three games to one lead - to the previous MLB-record-breaking list:  1968 World Series vs the Detroit Tigers; 1985 World Series vs the Kansas City Royals; and 1996 NLCS vs the Atlanta Braves.  It's ironic that Tony LaRussa's first year in St Louis was in 1996; and Mike Matheny's first year as the Cardinals manager ended up in the same fashion as the legend he replaced.  Oh well; that's pretty good company.

On a positive note, 2012 was the first season since the advent of divisional play that St Louis managed to return to the postseason after winning the World Series the previous year; of course, they only had two shots at it - in 1983 and 2007 - but really didn't come close.  Only two other World Championship St Louis Cardinals teams made it to the Fall Classic the following season - 1942 and 1967.  The franchise has never won back-to-back World Championships, although they came painfully close in 1968; but we already know that.

Although winning that 12th World Series (12 in '13?) will have to wait at least one more year, Mike Matheny's resilient bunch made a good run at it, giving Cardinals' fans another dream to hold onto for an extended postseason run.  Still, I have to wonder what happened to the team that stormed into San Francisco, fresh off that wild and wonderful conquest of the Nationals, to take Game One so decisively?
The team that showed up for Games Six and Seven, simply didn't "show up".  The words of David Freese still echo in my head:  "We don't want to go back to San Francisco."

What should Freese have said instead of the truth?  Maybe something like this:

"Sure, it's nice to get the win tonight, but we've got our work cut out for us to get that next one.  The Giants are a great team, and you know they're not just going to roll over for us tomorrow.  Look what they did to the Reds.  Won three straight in Cincinnati after losing the first two at home!  That shows a lot of character.  You know, those guys are a lot like us; neither team gives up.  That's why they're here instead of Cincinnati.

Sure, we'd like to come out on top tomorrow and end it right away; but if we worry about trying "not to lose" the game, we'll never win it.  So, we'll come out and play hard and so will they; we'll see what happens.  Hey, if we have to go back to San Francisco, so be it.  I know I speak for every guy on this team when I say we'd gladly travel to China to finish this thing off.  We don't care; we just play hard, every inning of every game.  May the best team win.  There's nothing more we want in this world than another shot at the World Series.  Once you've got that first ring; that first trophy; you want to keep that winning tradition going - for the fans, for ownership, for Carlos Beltran.  He's like the greatest postseason player ever.  If he doesn't deserve a World Series ring, nobody does!"

Would that approach to the challenge of winning that fourth NLCS game changed anything?  Probably not.  But it wouldn't have hurt.  All I know is, the Cardinals didn't play those games in San Francisco like they had any business being on the field.  I'm sure the Giants could sense their vulnerability; they did what good teams do in situations like that:  They took it to them, and punched their own ticket to the World Series.


Monday, October 15, 2012

"Wild (St Louis) Cards" Getting Some Respect

When the St Louis Cardinals secured that second Wild Card spot in the National League, most baseball "experts" gave them little chance to last more than one game into the postseason.  After all, they had to battle the Atlanta Braves on their home turf with their sensational young ace on the mound - Kris Medlen - who seemed to be more invincible than Whitey Ford or Carl Hubbell.  Of course, those two Hall of Fame hurlers managed to start a major league record 22 games in a row in which their team secured victory.

Medlen broke that record after his final start of the regular season; it was a foregone conclusion the Braves would win for the twenty-fourth consecutive time with Medlen starting that critical Wild Card game for them.  Of course, that didn't happen.  The bad news for the Braves:  Their postseason journey ended abruptly.  The good news:  Postseason games don't affect Medlen's official MLB record, which still stands at 23 straight Atlanta wins when he started the game; small consolation, I know; but that's life.

Critics of the new Wild Card format opine that the teams should play at least a three-game set to determine which one truly deserves to advance into the postseason.  Some of the most vocal critics were players for the Atlanta Braves - most notably, the retiring Chipper Jones.  Ironically, it was his throwing error, on an easy double play ball, which helped pave the way to a fairly easy (albeit controversial) Cardinal win.

With Atlanta's shocking infield-fly-rule-defeat has come an outpouring of negative sentiment directed towards the Cardinals for having the audacity to advance in the playoffs; after all, they only won 88 games.  The mighty Braves won 94 games!  "That's not fair!"

Please, get over it.

With St Louis advancing to the NLDS, their opponents - the NL East champion Washington Nationals - were expected to restore order in the best of five showdown with the Wild Cards.  After all, the Nats had led all of major league baseball with 98 wins; ten games more than the upstart Redbirds.  The script seemed to be going as planned when Washington took Game One, with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

That frustrating defeat seemed to wake the Wild Cards out of their funk, as they scored 20 runs over the next two games to forge ahead in the series, two games to one.  But, whatever momentum the Cardinals had seemed to disappear in Game Four's agonizing defeat to the Nats by a 2-1 score; featuring Jayson Werth's dramatic walk-off home run on the 12th pitch he saw from Lance Lynn.

Game Five began ominously for St Louis when starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was roughed up for six runs in less than three innings.  About that time, a gleeful Chipper Jones, who recently got hooked on Twitter (@RealCJ10) tweeted "Ball Game!"

Not quite, Chipper.  You should know better than that.  The rest of Game Five is glorious Wild Cards' history, featuring a relentless comeback that had St Louis down to their last strike on two different occasions in the 9th-inning, still trailing by a couple of runs.  With Carlos Beltran perched on third base with two outs in the ninth, the Wild Cards had a 3.5% chance of winning the game.  Yet, they did.

Naturally, this was a revolting development for those smug-now-stunned Nationals fans who were expecting to party on Friday night; not attend a franchise wake.  Although most of the blame went to nearly everybody in the Nationals organization, many fans joined the growing legion of Cardinal-haters, simply because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Now, the Wild Cards are in the NLCS, facing a worthy opponent - the San Francisco Giants - who made postseason history, themselves, by sweeping the final three games of their NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark.  Of course, it was the first time all season the Reds managed to lose three games in a row at their own ballpark.  Postseason pressure can do that to a team.

Postseason momentum was still with the Wild Cards last night, as they beat the Giants in Game One of the NLCS at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  Home field advantage, anyone?  Later this evening, Chris Carpenter will try to make it two in a row over the Giants, before the two teams head to St Louis for the next three games (if necessary).  ***Update:  Giants tie Series 1-1 with 7-1 win over Cards.

Those of us who are into saber-metrics know there is a more accurate measurement of a team's relative strength than simply checking their won-loss record.  The Pythagorean Winning Percentage is based on a team's run differential.  The higher the differential, the stronger the team.  It's really that simple.  Of the ten teams that got into the postseason, here's how they all stack up, saber-metrically:


Washington               96-66                           +137                              98-64
NYY                         95-67                           +136                              95-67
St Louis                    93-69                           +117                              88-74
Atlanta                      92-70                           +100                              94-68
Oakland                    92-70                            +99                               94-68
Cincinnati                 91-71                             +81                               97-65
Texas                       91-71                            +80                                93-69
San Francisco           88-74                            +69                                94-68
Detroit                      87-75                            +56                                88-74
Baltimore                  82-80                             +7                                 93-69

From a relative strength standpoint, the Cardinals were the third best team in major league baseball.  Strangely enough, they're better than their division rivals - the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds.  Hey, they're also better than the Atlanta Braves, Chipper!

For all those naysayers who are still indignant about the St Louis Wild Cards' early success in the postseason; I say, it shouldn't be a big surprise.  They may even go on to win the World Series, again.  Back-to-back World Championships for the St Louis Cardinals?  From Wild Card to World Series champion two years in a row?  I'd bet Atlanta would love that.

Maybe Chipper would post a nice tweet about it?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wild Cards Facing Long Odds Again

Here we go again.  Last year, it took a miraculous comeback by the St Louis Cardinals, along with an epic collapse by the Atlanta Braves, to give the Wild Card Redbirds a shot at postseason glory.  Of course, they capitalized on that opportunity; winning the franchise's eleventh World Championship in a classic seven game showdown with the shell-shocked Texas Rangers.

This year, the Cardinals were the National League's beneficiaries of the new Wild Card format, which allows an extra team from each league into the postseason mix.  Ironically, the team they square off against on Friday are those same Atlanta Braves, in a one-game winner-moves-on-loser-goes-home showdown in Atlanta.  To say the odds are stacked against the Cardinals is an understatement.  Here's why:

The Cardinals are the only team in the postseason with a losing record on the road.

Pitching for the Atlanta Braves will be Kris Medlen who recently established a new major league record when the Braves won for the twenty-third consecutive time in a game started by Medlen.  The previous record of 22 straight wins by a team was shared by Whitey Ford (New York Yankees) and Carl Hubbell (New York Giants).

Pitching for St Louis will be Kyle Lohse, who pitched well during the regular season, but has never pitched well in postseason play.

The Cardinals lost five of six games vs the Braves in 2012.

Sentimental Braves' favorite Chipper Jones is retiring at the conclusion of this season.  This will surely have the fans riled up; not to mention his teammates.

As if that weren't enough, approximately 45,000 giant red tomahawks are being doled out to the Atlanta faithful to be used at the appropriate tomahawk chopping time during the game.  That can be quite a distraction; really, for both teams.  What happens if that stupid stunt backfires and the Redbirds start tomahawking balls out of Turner Field instead?  Can you imagine seeing 45,000 tomahawks strewn over the entire playing field by disgruntled fans when the score is 12 - 2 in the bottom of the eighth-inning; and those twelve runs don't belong to the Bravos?  Yikes!

It should be quite an interesting game, to say the least.  Whether it's the only postseason game in the Cards for St Louis remains to be seen.  Certainly, the Cardinals are a resilient bunch.  They seem to thrive on adversity; many fans in other cities (particularly Cincinnati and Milwaukee) absolutely despise them, for reasons that I don't quite understand.  Maybe it has something to do with their success; after all, they're the defending World Champions (for the eleventh time).

Yet here they are, having the audacity to return to the postseason when they should be fat and happy, resting on their laurels.  Not this time; in their entire history, the Cardinals had only returned to the postseason on two other occasions after winning a World Series the previous season (1943 and 1968).  They've never won back-to-back World Championships.  Very few experts are giving them much of a chance to do it again this year; especially as a lowly Wild Card team playing the elimination game on the road against a team that never loses when their good luck charm is on the mound.

Stranger things have happened.  I wonder how many experts picked the Oakland Athletics to dethrone the once mighty-now-shell-shocked Texas Rangers to win the AL West; on the last day of the season, no less?  How many experts picked the Baltimore Orioles to make it to the postseason as well; nearly dethroning the mighty New York Yankees from their top spot in the AL East?

Yes, the Wild Cards are facing long odds again; I just wouldn't bet against them.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 MLB Saber-Metrics Power Rankings

If you asked baseball saber-metrics guru Bill James to name the best team in MLB thus far in the 2012 season, chances are it wouldn't be the New York Yankees; nor would it be the Texas Rangers; nor would it be the red-hot Cincinnati Reds - the team that has the best won-loss record (65-41) after the conclusion of play on Friday night.

Chances are, after crunching all the saber-metric numbers that measure a team's overall talent, Bill James may come to the conclusion that the best team in MLB in 2012 is, in fact, the defending World Series champion St Louis Cardinals - who currently reside in third place in the NL Central; eight games behind division leader Cincinnati, and 3.5 games behind second place Pittsburgh.

To the vast majority of main-stream baseball analysts, this notion is absurd.  After all, the Cardinals are only eight games over .500 (57-49), and are flying well under the radar; especially with all the excitement going on in Cincinnati, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LA, and San Francisco; not to mention the usual dominance on display in the American League (New York Yankees and Texas Rangers).  Even the surprise teams (Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, and Oakland A's) are being regarded higher than the Cardinals; along with the under-achieving Detroit Tigers, who were supposed to run away with the AL Central in a landslide.  They may still pull away from the pack over the final two months of the season, but they've had difficulty getting their act together, for the most part.

Actually, the Cardinals have also had difficulty getting their act together on a consistent basis, despite a MLB best +102 run differential.  According to Bill James' Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the Redbirds are the biggest under-achievers in MLB; or the unluckiest.  The 2012 St Louis Cardinals are a team loaded with talent, especially from a hitting perspective.  They're averaging 4.99 runs per game, and have nearly scored one full run per game more than their opponents so far this year.  According to James' formula, their won-loss record should be 63-43.  Of course, timing is everything.  For all those double digit blowouts they've compiled this season, there have been way too many galling one-run losses which has Cardinal Nation fit to be tied.  However, that's baseball.  When the Cardinals won the whole she-bang back in 2006, they finished the regular season with a lackluster 83-78 record, while compiling only a +19 run differential.  However, that was a team beset by injuries all season long; only at the very end of the regular season did the Cardinals get healthy enough to play up to their potential; and they did so with a vengeance in the postseason.  I don't think too many Cardinal fans were complaining after St Louis polished off the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers in a shocking (and lowest rated) five game World Series.

Likewise, if the Cardinals somehow fail to qualify for postseason play this year, it could be the baseball gods balancing out the ledger.  The law of averages usually evens things out, sooner or later.  Certainly, it would be a shame to have some great individual performances going for naught (Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, David Freese, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn; just to name a few standouts); however, win-lose-or draw, the 2012 St Louis Cardinals have performed admirably, especially with a roster that has had more than its share of injuries.

However, I think this team is simply too good to be denied a playoff berth come October.  At the very least, I think they'll grab a wild card spot; a division title may seem unlikely to most observers, but an eight game deficit with two months to go seems like nothing, after what this team did just last season.  I wouldn't count them out, folks.  After all, this is the best saber-metrics team in baseball, for whatever that's worth.

Without further adieu, here are my top ten:  The MLB Saber-Metrics Power Rankings through August 3, 2012.  There is nothing subjective here.  Just cold, hard statistical (Pythagorean) evaluations.  You can thank Bill James for this one.

10) Oakland A's            (57-49)                        (58-48)
 9)  Arizona D-Backs     (58-48)                       (54-51)
 8)  LA Angels               (59-48)                       (57-50)
 7)  Atlanta Braves         (59-47)                       (61-45)
 6)  Chicago White Sox  (59-46)                       (58-47)
 5)  Texas Rangers         (60-45)                       (62-43)
 4)  Washington Nats      (62-44)                      (63-43)
 3)  Cincinnati Reds        (62-44)                      (65-41)
 2)  New York Yankees   (62-43)                      (62-43)
 1)  St Louis Cardinals     (63-43)                     (57-49)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Biggest Win of the Season for Redbirds

Without being overly dramatic, it's time the Cardinals step up and start winning some games; especially games against teams like the Dodgers...and pitchers like Clayton Kershaw.  They did, on Tuesday night.

It didn't look good when the Redbirds were in a 2-0 hole against the team that has owned St Louis for a frustrating eight consecutive games, with last year's Cy Young Award winner appearing to be in complete control.  All the weight of that miserable streak seemed to be lifted off the collective shoulders of the Cards when Adam Wainwright ripped one in the gap to cut the deficit to a single run in the fifth inning.  The real fun began in a six-run sixth; featuring a bases loaded walk to Waino, when the score was only 3-2 in favor of the Redbirds.  Open the flood gates; exit Clayton Kershaw, who gave up a career high eight runs to the team that has been the highest scoring squad in the NL all season long, but had scored a measly 21 runs in the previous eight games to LA - all losses.

With Cincinnati winning again, St Louis remains six games out, which sounds a whole lot better than seven games out.  Of course, timing is everything, and the Reds happen to be playing the Houston Astros at a time the Astros haven't won much of anything for the past month.  Still, the Reds are definitely winning when they have to - for the time being.  Much can happen over the final two months of the season.  Actually, much can happen over the final month of season (Anybody remember 2011?).

This season has so many similarities to last season, it's almost scary.  Last year, it was Chris Carpenter rising to the occasion in the second half to pitch the Cardinals to a playoff berth, with Waino on the sidelines.  This year, it seems like Waino is taking on that role as his buddy recuperates.  It would be nice to have both aces dealing in 2013; wouldn't it?

In the meantime, St Louis has a playoff berth to capture this year, and for the first time since early May, they appear to be heading in the right direction.  Tuesday night's outcome could be the catalyst that gets them rolling, once and for all.  We'll see.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

'85 Cards' Game 7 Comeback World Series Miracle

Saturday's 12-run 7th-inning outburst against the hapless Chicago Cubs tied a St Louis Cardinals' franchise record for most runs scored in a single inning.  As everyone remembers, they also turned the trick on September 15, 1926 against the hapless Philadelphia Phillies.  As it turned out, the Redbirds were just getting warmed up for their first ever World Series appearance, which ended in a classic seven game triumph over the heavily favored not-so-hapless New York Yankees.

Of course, Cardinals fans are hoping for history to repeat itself in 2012; twelve runs in a single inning during a regular season game surely means another World Series title for St Louis; doesn't it?  This would be their 12th championship in franchise history - and first back-to-back World Series winner, to boot.  I wonder if the invincible Texas Rangers from the vastly superior American League will be the patsies again this time around?  No, let's make it the LA Angels of Anaheim with What's His Name going up against his old team this time around.  Maybe he can strike out to end it in the ninth-inning with the bases loaded in Game Seven with the Halos trailing by three runs in front of his former legion of fans at Busch Stadium, just to make it more dramatic; especially, since the world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012, as the Mayans predicted a few thousand years ago.  As we all know, the Mayans were always right.

As much as I enjoyed that big inning against the Cubbies on July 21, 2012, I couldn't help but fantasize what it would have been like to experience that type of production in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series, with the Cardinals entering the seventh-inning trailing the Kansas City Royals by the score of 11-0.    To every Cardinals fan who remembers that ill-fated Fall Classic, Game Seven was the culmination of the most disastrous collapse in World Series history.  It may have been the single worst 24-hour span in St Louis Cardinals postseason history.

But now, thanks to a very well-written script authored by the current Redbird edition, here's a condensed play-by-play description of the miracle seventh-inning comeback by the '85 Cardinals to shock the Royals in the new and improved Game Seven, as seen on ABC.  Al Michaels, Jim Palmer, and Tim McCarver (the last minute replacement for Howard Cosell) are in the booth, describing the incredible on-field events.  It might have gone something like this:

AL MICHAELS:  Jack Clark is leading things off for the Cardinals, trying to get something started, down eleven runs to the Royals.

JIM PALMER:  Al, Bret Saberhagen is in complete control; St Louis has no chance against the ace of the Royals staff.  What do you think, Tim?

TIM MCCARVER:  There's plenty of time for St Louis to get back into this game.  They're due to break out of their World Series slump.  They're hitting under .200 as a team; that's simply impossible!

AL:  As if on cue, Clark hits a slow roller down the third base line; George Brett charges, makes a nice bare-handed grab, and fires a strike to first base, but Clark beats it out on a bang-bang play at first base! The first base umpire is Bill Williams, perhaps giving the Cardinals a break this time around.

TIM:  No, it looks like the replay shows Williams made the correct call; Jack Clark is no speed demon, but he flew down the line on that one; of course, Brett was playing deep which gave Jack that extra step to just barely beat the throw!

JIM:  I wouldn't get too excited, Tim.  That was more luck than anything else; he barely got his bat on that pitch.

AL:  That brings up Andy Van Slyke, who tries to bunt his way on base, but pops it up down the third base line; Brett makes a nice diving catch, while Clark scrambles safely back to first.

TIM:  George Brett made a nice play, but failed to double Clark off first base!  Had Brett immediately fired the ball over to first base, he would've had Clark dead to rights!

JIM:  Yeah, look at Saberhagen; giving his buddy a good-natured ribbing about not making the double play; those guys are really something, aren't they?  They're really having some fun out there tonight.

AL:  That brings up Terry Pendleton - the hero of Game Two...and just as he did in Game Two, Pendleton slaps one down the left-field line for a two-base hit, with Clark motoring to third; of course, being held up there, with St Louis still trailing by a bunch.

JIM:  Uh-oh; Saberhagen's in danger of losing his shut-out; time for the Royals to panic!  Ha!

AL:  That brings Tito Landrum to the plate...and he promptly grounds one through the hole into left-field, scoring Clark, with Van Slyke holding at third.  Now it's 11 to 1, in favor of Kansas City.  The shutout is gone, but Saberhagen is still very much in control.

TIM:  Better tell Reggie Jackson to get ready and move the champagne over to the Cardinals' clubhouse; this could be a big rally for St Louis!  Ha!

AL:  Coming up to bat for St Louis is 1982 World Series hero Darrell Porter...who promptly launches one to right-center field, in the gap!  This will score both Van Slyke and Porter makes it all the way to third base for a rare triple for the Cardinals catcher.  Now it's 11 to 3.

TIM:  With one out, that was a good decision for Porter to go for the extra base, where he can score on a sacrifice fly; had there been none out or two outs, he probably would have stayed at second base; good base-running by Porter!

JIM:  You just like him because he's a catcher and he's wearing your number "15".  Ha ha ha!

AL:  That'll bring up a pinch-hitter for pitcher Bob Forsch; that's Steve Braun grabbing a bat for the Cardinals; trying to keep the inning alive...and Braun draws a base on balls!  That gets the Kansas City bullpen stirring.

JIM:  Saberhagen may be getting a bit tired now; you know, his wife just had a baby, so maybe he's losing his concentration; thinking about his new-born son and his lovely wife; what a cute couple.  He's still smiling, though; I think he wants to pitch his way out of this jam and stay on television.  What a ham!  Ha ha ha ha ha!

AL:  Back to the top of the order now, is NLCS hero Ozzie Smith, whose home run in Game Five gave the Cards a thrilling 3-2 win over the Dodgers; his first-ever home run as a left-handed batter...and Smith corks another one down the line in right!  It may go!  No; it bounces into the stands on one hop for a ground-rule double, scoring Porter, but Braun has to stay at third base; I don't think he would've scored anyway.  Now, it's 11 to 4, and the natives are getting a bit restless here in Kansas City; and perhaps some of the St Louis fans are going a bit crazy right now!

JIM:  I'm a little surprised they're leaving Saberhagen in there; if he loses the next batter, I'm pretty sure he's gone.

TIM:  Absolutely!  Look at that Cardinals' dugout!  They're coming alive now!

AL:  Still down by seven runs, however; that brings up NL batting champion Willie McGee with first base open; runners on second and third...This is odd; they're walking McGee intentionally; I suppose to set up the double play; but it seems strange to put another runner on base.

TIM:  Absolutely!  You've got to pitch to McGee in this situation!  The Royals just need to get outs; they don't need to give St Louis any breaks by putting another runner on base here!  Makes no sense!

AL:  That brings up the Cardinals' leading RBI guy during the regular season - Tommy Herr - to the plate, with the bases loaded with Redbirds and just one out...and Herr pops it up!  The infield fly rule is in effect as second baseman Frank White squeezes the second out of the inning.  Oh, that's a big out for Saberhagen, as Cardinal fans are letting out a collective groan.  Herr is beside himself; he had a pitch to hit, but got under it; that's not like him; he's a notorious line-drive hitter.

JIM:  You have to credit Saberhagen for making a big pitch when he had to, Al.  Look at him; he's still smiling.  Ha ha ha!

AL:  Well, the guy who started all this noise for St Louis - Jack Clark - is coming to bat with the bases still loaded.  Any kind of hit here could have the Cardinals right back in this thing; Clark is of course, their only legitimate power hitter.  He had 22 homers during the regular season, and his ninth-inning bomb in Game Six of the NLCS gave the Cardinals an impressive 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

TIM:  Absolutely!  If you'll recall, first base was open in that situation, and Tommy Lasorda elected to pitch to Clark with Andy Van Slyke on deck for St Louis; a huge mistake, in my opinion.  You never pitch to the one guy in that Cardinals lineup who can beat you; and that's Jack Clark.

AL:  Of course, no place to put Clark here; the bases are loaded, although there are two out.  This could get very interesting...and Clark rips one to right field!  Braun and Smith both score; it's 11 to 6 now, as Clark rumbles into second base with McGee stopping at third!

TIM:  And that's exactly why you don't walk McGee.  He represents the seventh run of the inning - and the game - for the Cardinals!  You've got to get Saberhagen out of there now.  No way a right hander pitches to the left-handed swinging Van Slyke in this situation.  They've got to bring in a left-hander out of the bullpen.

JIM:  That's a shame; Saberhagen pitched just great tonight - and the whole Series for that matter - but he must be out of gas; but look at him; he's still smiling!  Ha ha ha ha ha!

AL:  And as Saberhagen leaves the mound to a standing ovation, the new pitcher for Kansas City is Charlie Liebrandt - who pitched so brilliantly in Game Two, before losing the game on a miracle ninth-inning rally, just one week ago, tonight.  The southpaw will try to quell the Cardinal uprising here in Game Seven, and send Kansas City to its first-ever World Series championship.

TIM:  Even though first base is open, there's no way they're going to walk Van Slyke.  They've got to go after him, especially since switch-hitter Terry Pendleton is due up next; and we all know what happened the last time he faced Liebrandt.  His double scored the winning runs in that remarkable ninth-inning comeback win.

AL:  And Van Slyke slices a line drive to left field!  Two more runs are in, making the score 11 to 8 now, as Andy pulls into second base with another St Louis double!  Do you believe in miracles?  Seriously!

JIM:  Ha ha ha ha ha!  You've already used that line, Al!  But you're right; this is getting out of hand if you're a Royals fan!

TIM:  I told you; this team is too good to keep down for an entire seven-game series!  Here's proof!

AL:  Now it's just a three-run game; but still, the Cards only have one runner on base with Pendleton coming to the plate.  Liebrandt's going to stay in there and make Pendleton bat right-handed...and Terry does it again!  A shot into right field scores Van Slyke from second base; Pendleton has the fifth double of the inning for the Cardinals, making the score 11 to 9!  There are a lot of Cardinals fans here tonight, and we're really starting to hear from them now!  The St Louis dugout has really come alive now!  Look at Vince Coleman; he's out of action of course, with a broken bone in his leg, but it looks like he's break-dancing down there!  There's starting pitcher John Tudor, with his left hand bandaged after punching a fan; even he's smiling!  And no, I'm not talking about a baseball fan; he punched a real fan that blows cool air; so please, don't call the network to complain, folks.  It's all good!

JIM:  This is a weird game, that's for sure!  Ha ha ha!

AL:  Okay, with Pendleton at second base, the batter will be Tito Landrum who singled his first time up this inning to drive in the first run for St Louis...and the pitch misses for ball four!  The tying runs are on base now for St Louis!  Here comes Darrell Porter again; Porter tripled in a couple of runs earlier in this wild and crazy inning...and Porter lines one into left field this time!  Pendleton will easily score as Landrum races around to third base!  Porter makes it into second base, representing the go-ahead run for St Louis!  Landrum represents the tying run, just 90 feet away!  It's just a one-run game now; 11 to 10!

TIM:  That's the sixth double of the inning for the Cardinals!  Never before has a team had so many doubles in a single inning in World Series history!  Never!  This is unbelievable!

JIM:  Where did Saberhagen go?  He's not in the Kansas City dugout, grinning for the cameras any more.  He must have retreated to the clubhouse.  I wonder if Reggie Jackson is still in the Kansas City clubhouse with all that champagne?  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

AL:  That brings Steve Braun up again.  Braun pinch hit for pitcher Bob Forsch earlier in this inning, and with the game on the line, could drive in the runs to make Forsch the pitcher of record for St Louis.  Forsch only worked 1.1 innings, but allowed no runs; keeping the Royals at 11 runs.  At the time, it seemed inconsequential; but now, it could make him the winner of Game Seven!

JIM:  I'm surprised they're leaving Liebrandt in there; he clearly doesn't have anything tonight!

AL:   And Braun rips one to right field!  Landrum will score, and they're waving Porter around from second base; he'll easily score the go-ahead run as Braun motors into second base with the seventh double in the seventh-inning of Game Seven for the running Redbirds!  St Louis has grabbed the lead for the first time; 12 to 11!  And this ballpark, which was fantasy-land just a few minutes ago has turned into a Cardinals' private party with several thousand St Louis fans going crazy right now!  You're looking at one for the ages!  I don't believe what I just saw!  I don't believe what I just saw!  This is absolute pandemonium!

Time restraints ends the play-by-play coverage of this inning, which finally ends with Willie McGee striking out to end the seventh inning with no further damage.  Heading into the bottom of the seventh-inning, St Louis is leading 12 to 11.  The Royals are shell shocked, but they still have three chances to take the lead and still win the game and the World Series.

Not this time.  The St Louis bullpen retires the Royals in order; nine up and nine down to close out the most improbable World Series comeback in history.  Terry Pendleton is voted the World Series MVP, and Don Denkinger is spared decades of abuse from disgruntled Cardinals' fans for blowing that call at first base in Game Six.

All it took was a twelve-run rally in Game Seven to make Cardinal Nation forget what happened in Game Six.  Just a simple little twelve-run rally, featuring seven doubles.  And nice commentary from Al Michaels, who was forced to use some classic play-by-play calls a bit earlier than history otherwise dictated.  Big deal; at least Tim McCarver got to provide his expert color commentary for the first time in postseason history, as the last minute replacement for Howard Cosell, who fell out of favor with the ABC executives for writing his scathing book, "I Never Played the Game".  McCarver has done just about every postseason series ever since, and I've always appreciated his words of wisdom.  He's finally getting some recognition from Cooperstown, as the recipient of the Ford C Frick Award, which may have happened a bit sooner had the Cards actually pulled off that miracle in '85!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Westbrook Dilemma Solved - But What Took So Long?

When Cardinals' veteran hurler Jake Westbrook began the season pitching like Cy Young, I thought he had discovered some mysterious new technique; maybe a new mental approach to pitching, which translated to a remarkably low ERA and WHIP, which of course, translated into wins.

Not exactly.  His early season success seems to be based on something quite simple - an extra day's rest. Yesterday, when he pitched brilliantly against a formidable Detroit Tigers team, he was working on five day's rest; not the customary four day's rest.  So far this season, Jake has made thirteen starts - seven have been with five day's rest; six with four day's rest.  Six starts.  Four day's rest.  In those six starts, Jake has managed to win one game, posting an ERA of 6.00.

By contrast, when given five day's rest - like he had in yesterday's win over those Tigers - he has won five games, posting an ERA of 2.50.  The net effect for Westbrook and the Cardinals has been six wins and six losses.  Okay.  Maybe I'm being a little picky, but I'm trying to understand why it has taken so long to come to the conclusion that this guy should work all of his games on five day's rest.

At least I hope that's the conclusion Mike Matheny has reached.  I don't know.  Maybe he'll test the "four day's rest" theory in July or August, just to make sure Jake is still ineffective with one less day to rest up. What's another game to toss into the loss column?  Big deal.  The NL Central offers no challenge as it stands.  Let's give the Reds and even the Pirates a fighting chance to win the division title.  It's only fair.  They hardly ever win.

Actually, I don't really want to give any team in the division a fighting chance.  I want the Cardinals to win every game they play.  I want them to dominate the rest of the division; the rest of MLB.  I want them to win another World Series championship.  I got spoiled after last year's miracle run.  It's a lot more fun to win.  Since winning isn't so easy, no matter how much talent a team possesses, I don't think it's a good idea to throw away a half dozen games - in essence, giving the other team another 3.5 runs per game - just for the hell of it.

So yes; I'm glad the Cardinals won a game.  In the process, it seems like the Jake Westbrook dilemma has been solved by allowing him to pitch on five day's rest; not four.  I just can't quite understand why it took so long to figure this out.

Thank you for allowing me to vent; I feel better.  I don't even know if the Cardinals won or lost today.  It was 1-1 in the fifth-inning.  If they lost; so be it.  Maybe they'll keep winning most of the games a well-rested Jake Westbrook starts, going forward.  That would be a nice way to get back into first place, where they belong.

Believe it or not, I feel better about the Cardinals' postseason prospects now.  Yeah.  12 in '12, baby.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Expect Justin Verlander to Throw a No-Hitter vs Cards

It's been ages since we've had a no-hitter/perfect game in MLB.  What's it been?  A week?  Actually, it's been almost a whole week since Matt Cain's perfect game against the Houston Astros - the 22nd in MLB history; although it seems like there have been 22 just in the past couple of years.  Let's not forget that number should really be 23, but a blown call at first base cost then-Tigers' pitcher Armando Gallaraga from joining the elite club in 2010.  Apparently, the disappointment of not getting credit for recording that last out has weighed heavily on Gallaraga; he hasn't pitched effectively since that close call; in fact, he's not even with the Tigers, nor is he even in the major leagues anymore.  Easy come, easy go, Armando.

I usually don't make these type of predictions, but it seems to me Justin Verlander is due for another no-hitter.  He hasn't had one in over a year, for crying out loud!  Of course, the Cardinals were just vicimized on June 1 by Johan Santana - the first time they've suffered that fate since Fernando Valenzuela no-hit them on June 29, 1990, at Dodger Stadium.  But let's face it; the Redbirds are really in a funk these days, so it would be no surprise if they were held completely in check by Verlander tonight.  Maybe even a perfect game, although that's a bit of a stretch.  The Cards are a disciplined team at the dish; even though they strike out a lot, they also draw more than their fair share of bases on balls.

With all due respect to Santana, Verlander's stuff is far more imposing.  How many pitchers can throw 100 mph fastballs, 90 mph change of paces, and mix in more than a few sharp breaking curve balls reminiscent of Bert Blyleven in his prime?  The answer:  Nobody.

The Redbirds have their ace going tonight - Lance Lynn, looking for win number 11.  If he weren't facing Verlander, he might have a good shot at it.  Not tonight, Lance.  Maybe you'll get a no-decision; but shutting the Tigers out for a full nine innings is nearly impossible; at least it hasn't happened in 134 straight games, but who's counting?

To be honest with you; I'm trying to jinx Verlander by making this outlandish prediction; anything to shake things up for the struggling Redbirds.  Unfortunately, I don't think my strategy is going to work.

Verlander is due for a no-hitter; MLB is due for a no-hitter; and the Cardinals don't seem to be hitting very well these days.  This could be Detroit's perfect storm, tonight.  Maybe even a perfect game?  I'm sure Verlander would love to get into that club which Kate Upton oversees.  Who could blame him?  Tonight could be the night, Justin.  For sure, you'll get no-hitter number three.  No doubt about it.

***UPDATE:  Verlander's no-hitter was broken up in the first inning by Cards' DH Matt Holliday, who prior to Tuesday night, was hitting under .150 as a DH in his career.  Go figure.  Verlander got an easy win, however, allowing just five hits and one earned run in 8 innings of work, as the Cards went down to defeat, by a score of 6-3 (2 of the runs the Redbirds scored were unearned).  Lance Lynn had a tough outing, allowing a career high five runs, as his record fell to 10-3.  Big deal.  St Louis trails the Cincinnati Reds by 4.5 games, and second-place Pittsburgh by two games.  For the record, St Louis trailed the Atlanta Braves by that same 4.5 game margin on September 11, 2011, in pursuit of the wild card berth; which they eventually nailed down, en route to the 11th World Series title in franchise history.  It's hard to get worked up about such trivial deficits this early in the season.  I'm just glad the Cardinals avoided that no-hitter on Tuesday night.

Monday, June 11, 2012

No-Hit Oddities: Featuring Cards, Dodgers & A's

Did you know...Prior to Johan Santana's no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 1, the last time a defending World Series champion was victimized by a no-hitter:  June 11, 1990 - Texas Rangers' Nolan Ryan no-hit the Oakland A's at the Coliseum; final score:  5-0.  Ryan walked two and struck out 14, improving his record to 5-3.  The A's went on to play in the World Series that year, but were somehow  swept by the Cincinnati Reds in four games.

Strangely enough, the 1973 World Champion A's were no-hit in on July 19, 1974 by Cleveland's Dick Bosman in front of 24,302 screaming Cleveland fans, by a final score of 4-0.  In a game that only took 1:56 to complete, Bosman struck out 4 and walked none, while improving his record to 2-0.  Bosman's own 4th-inning throwing error allowed the only runner of the game to reach base for Oakland, depriving himself of a perfect game.  The A's shrugged off the loss, and went on to play in the World Series that year, beating the LA Dodgers in six games.

The year prior, the defending World Series champion A's (who else?) were no-hit at home on July 30, 1973 by the Texas Rangers' Jim Bibby; final score:  6-0.  Bibby walked six and struck out thirteen, as he improved his record to 5-6.  And yes, Oakland went on to play in the World Series that year, beating the New York Mets in seven games.

Prior to that, the last time a defending World Series champion was no-hit:  September 17, 1968 - At Candlestick Park, the San Francisco Giants' Gaylord Perry beat Bob Gibson and the St Louis Cardinals, by a score of 1-0.  The Giants scored their lone run in the first inning, and Perry made it stand up as he improved his record to 15-14; walking two and fanning nine.  Gibby was nearly as good, allowing just four hits in eight innings of work; walking two and fanning ten, as his record fell to 21-8.  The Cards went on to lose the World Series that year, as Gibson lost Game Seven to Mickey Lolich and the Detroit Tigers, 4-1.

Prior to that, the last time a defending World Series champion failed to get a hit:  October 8, 1956 -  Game Five of the 1956 World Series - Don Larsen retired all 27 Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium, as  New York won the game by a 2-0 score.  Larsen struck out seven, including pinch hitter Dale Mitchell on a called third strike to end the perfect game.  The Yankees also won the Series, but it took seven games to dethrone the Dodgers.

Speaking of the Dodgers...The last two times they won the World Series, they also happened to be no-hit during the regular season each time.  Believe it or not!  On September 26, 1981, the Houston Astros' Nolan Ryan held LA hitless at the Astrodome; final score:  5-0.  Ryan walked three and struck out eleven, improving his record to 10-5, while lowering his ERA to 1.74.  LA advanced to the World Series in that strike-shortened season, and finally beat their primary nemesis - the New York Yankees - in six games.

Then on September 16, 1988, Cincinnati's Tom Browning was perfect - 27 up and 27 down - in beating LA at Riverfront Stadium; final score:  1-0.  Browning threw exactly 100 pitches in the game, while  recording seven strikeouts, as his record improved to 16-5.  The "hitless wonder"-Dodgers advanced to the World Series; shocking the "Bash Brother"-Oakland A's in five games.

Proving that being victimized by a no-hitter is really no guarantee to winning the World Series for LA; Dennis Martinez of the Montreal Expos pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers - at Dodger Stadium - on July 28, 1991, striking out five in the process.  El Presidente threw 96 pitches in the game, improving his record to 11-6.  The Dodgers failed to make it to the postseason that time, finishing second in the National League West.

Whereas the Dodgers are hoping their most recent no-hit loss last Friday evening in Seattle will somehow lead them back to their first World Series title in twenty-four years, the Cardinals are hoping to keep the other streak alive, which currently stands at five (including the '56 World Series).  That's how many consecutive times a defending World Series champion has managed to at least make it back to the Fall Classic after succumbing to a no-hitter.  Counting the postseason, the defending champs are 2-3 in those unusual situations.

Of course, the Redbirds would like to improve that record to 3-3, as they hope to defy the postseason odds just one more time this year.  Actually, I seriously doubt anybody in the world is even aware of this unique oddity; although now you know.

Do you love Cardinals trivia as much as I do?  I'm the author of St Louis Cardinals IQ - The Ultimate Test of True Fandom - Volumes I & II (see below):

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is Beast Mode to Blame for MLB's Rash of Injuries?

One hundred years ago, baseball was a rough and tumble game, played by tough guys named Honus, Ty, Tris, Stuffy, and Buck.  They were underpaid by unappreciative owners who had complete control over their easily replaceable commodities.  If they got hurt and were unable to play for any extended period of time, they didn't get paid; not too surprisingly, these guys hardly ever missed a game.

When the season ended, these early baseball pioneers usually went back to the farm or the factory, to make ends meet until the the next Spring, when they hoped to continue their playing careers for at least one more year.  They stayed in shape during the off-season, baling hay, working in the mines, or picking cotton.  The weight room wasn't part of the regimen.  Beast Mode would have to wait for another century.

As the years went on, the game became a bit more refined and the players made a bit more money, but when the season came to a close, they were soon back home trying to make a buck doing whatever they could.  The big-name players might find a nice off-season gig working at a car dealership, or selling insurance.  Anything to keep the paychecks coming.

As the game progressed, the revenues increased and eventually players started getting a bigger cut of the action.  Free agent contracts became increasingly more lucrative for the players; more costly for the owners; more outlandish in the eyes of millions of fans who still have to work for a living.

The pressure for the players to stand out from their peers probably had a lot to do with the advent of the Steroids Era.  Home run records fell, much to the delight of fans everywhere.  Chicks may dig the long ball, but Congressional hearings dug up the dirt on widespread steroid use involving many big-name players.  Scandal forced MLB to adopt a random drug testing program, which has no doubt discouraged the use of performance enhancing drugs; a positive test now results in a fifty-game suspension for the offending party; assuming no chain-of-custody irregularities somehow come into play.

While obscure loopholes may exist to get an offending party off the hook, the vast majority of MLB players aren't taking any chances with the juice; instead, they're pumping themselves up the old-fashioned, Beast Mode way.  But have too many players taken Beast Mode a bit too far?  Has all this weight lifting caused far too many cases of tight muscles which become easily strained when players are constantly swinging for the fences?  Or when they accelerate a bit too quickly out of the box trying to leg out an infield hit; or going from first to third, or trying to score from second on a sharp single to right field?  I certainly think so.

This past Spring Training, when 19-year old phenom Bryce Harper was trying to make the Opening Day roster of the Washington Nationals, he was hampered by a bit of "tightness" in his calf.  I wonder if that condition may have possibly been the result of those famous heavy-duty leg squats he can be seen performing on You-Tube?  There's no doubt about it; the kid's an animal; a five tool player with incredible upside potential, if he can keep the calves from tightening up too much.

Speaking of You-Tube sensations; Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes put on quite a weight-lifting show as well, among other things, which no doubt got him a nice major league contract with the Oakland A's.  When he's been in the lineup, he's been a big catalyst; however, a muscle strain in his left hand landed him on the DL from May 7 to June 1, and a srained left hamstring on June 7 has him sidelined again; at least for a while.  After the injury, a somber Oakland analyst lamented, "He's built so tight; such a strong-body kid."

Speaking of strong-bodied catalysts; there's no doubt Dodgers' slugger Matt Kemp was more than just a bit Beast Mode-motivated heading into the 2012 MLB season.  But did all those 6 am workouts do more harm than good; especially for the legs?  A recurring left hamstring strain has him on the DL for the second time, and will more than likely cost the NL's best hitter - when he's able to play - what seemed to be a certain MVP Award this year.  As it stands, in just 36 games he had already whacked 12 home runs - a 54 home run pace over a full 162-game season.  Obviously, the Dodgers could use that type of production in the lineup on a regular basis; maybe he could have mustered a hit or two Friday night in Seattle.  As it stands, LA became the latest no-hit victim of 2012 - the fourth, overall.

The last time I checked, strained obliques and strained hamstrings are currently the leading cause of disabling injuries for MLB, followed closely by strained groins and strained backs.  Wherever there are tight muscles, there are plenty of issues; strained calves, shoulders, quadriceps, pectorals, and lats have wreaked plenty of havoc, as well.  How much of this is the result of overdoing the Beast Mode routine?  I don't know, but I have a feeling it's more than anybody would care to admit; at least publicly.

I know there are "strength and conditioning" specialists on most teams; maybe they need to place a little less emphasis on the "strength" portion of the job description, and more on "conditioning".  It couldn't hurt.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Odds Not in Favor of No-Hit Cardinals

When the St Louis Cardinals were no-hit by Johan Santana of the New York Mets last Friday night (June 1), they became the first defending World Series champion to suffer that fate since Nolan Ryan (Texas Rangers) turned the trick against Tony LaRussa's Oakland A's, on June 11, 1990.  The Redbirds also became the twentieth MLB team to be no-hit in the current millennium, and the third already in 2012.

Out of the previous seventeen no-hit victims, six went on to play in the postseason (five division champions and one wild card).  Generally speaking, these playoff-bound teams were playing consistently well shortly before - and after - they were no-hit; unlike the Cardinals, who have been struggling for quite some time now.

Below is a summary of each team's remarkably consistent won-loss record - five games before the no-hitter - and five games after, along with their final won-loss record:

                                   W-L RECORD         W-L RECORD        OVERALL    
 Date        Team       5 GAMES PRIOR    5 GAMES AFTER    W-L RECORD  Final Standings

04/27/03      SF                      3-2                           3-2                     100-61             1st-NL West
06/11/03      NYY                   3-2                            4-1                     101-61             1st-AL East
05/18/04      ATL                    3-2                            3-2                      96-66             1st-NL East
04/17/10      ATL                    3-2                            2-3                      91-71            2nd - NL East*
05/09/10      TB                     2-3                            3-2                        96-66            1st-AL East
06/25/10      TB                     4-1                            3-2                       
10/06/10      CIN (NLDS)        3-2                            3-2**                     91-71          1st-NL Cent

Combined Totals:                21-14 (.600)             21-14 (.600)         575-396 (.592)
*NL Wild Card team (2010)
**2 losses occurred in postseason

Despite their overall success, none of these teams would go on to win the World Series, although the Yankees at least made it to the Fall Classic in 2003 - losing to the Florida Marlins in six games.  The remaining eleven teams that have been no-hit since 2000 (prior to 2012) had a composite won-loss record of 1221-1368 (.472); in other words, there was a good reason they were no-hit at least once* - they weren't very good!  Adding to that tradition of losing will more than likely include two teams that were no-hit earlier this year - the Seattle Mariners** (25-32) and the Minnesota Twins (21-33).

*Tampa Bay leads MLB's no-hit wonder list since 2000 (4 times), followed by San Diego (3 times).  Two-time losers include Baltimore, Atlanta, and the Chicago White Sox (Somehow, the Cubs have dodged the 21st century no-hit jinx).

**Actually, Seattle fell victim to Chicago White Sox hurler, Phil Humber's perfect game.

Whether it's merely coincidental that the playoff-bound no-hit victims were playing .600 ball, five games before and after the big event; which is consistent with their overall composite winning percentage (.592); but the Cardinals have been playing quite poorly as of late.  Injuries have played a large role in their recent slide; however, if they expect to qualify for postseason play, they've got to figure out a way to keep their key players in the lineup on a regular basis, going forward.

Otherwise, they're going to join the rest of the 21st century no-hit bunch - out of the postseason; hoping for better luck next year.