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2014 Playoff Teams by Weekly Power Rankings

September 30th, 2014 by Pip

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2014 Cardinals’ regular season review in power rankings

September 29th, 2014 by Pip

[Note: Each week, the various bloggers of the ESPN SweetSpot network provide input into ESPN’s MLB Power Rankings. Following are our weekly comments for the entire 2014 regular season.]

Date Rank Record Trending Comments
Mar 31 1

Last Week: NR

The Cardinals are ready and eager to defend their National League pennant as super sophomore whiff kids Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha follow in staff ace Adam Wainwright‘s footsteps.
 Apr 7  3 3-3 -2
Last Week: 1
 The Cardinals have yet to find a rhythm on the mound (1.90 K/BB is 14th in the NL) and groove at the plate (.281 OBP is 11th), but they’ve managed a 3-3 start against division foes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
 Apr 14  5  7-5 -2
Last Week: 3
 The Cardinals went 4-2 on their season-opening homestand behind new stars Michael Wacha, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong, even as closer Trevor Rosenthal works out the kinks.
 Apr 21  2  11-8 +3
Last Week: 5
 The Cardinals won a series against the division-leading Brewers but managed only a split against the Nationals due in part to shabby fielding. The Cardinals’ offense, ranked 12th in NL with .302 wOBA, has yet to fully blossom.
 Apr 28  8  14-12 -6
Last Week: 2
 The Cardinals’ offense continues to sputter, averaging fewer than two runs per game for the week until erupting for seven on Sunday against the Pirates to win the series as Adam Wainwright bounced back from a knee-injury scare.
 May 5  13 16-16 -5
Last Week:8
 Little has gone according to plan for the Cardinals so far, with their starting pitchers walking a league-high 3.28 batters per nine innings, and the team demoting promising rookie second baseman Kolten Wong to Memphis and narrowly avoiding a sweep by the Cubs to remain at .500 on the young season.
 May 12  14  19-19 -1
Last Week: 13
The Cardinals narrowly avoided getting swept by the Pirates to return to .500 (19-19), which belies the fifth-best Pythagorean record in the NL (21-17). The club hasn’t lost more than two games in a row this season, but also hasn’t won more than four straight.
May 19  5  23-21 +9
Last Week: 14
 The Cardinals won four in a row last week as Shelby Miller appears to have straightened himself out. The bad news is that reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who walked in the tying run Sunday, still hasn’t.
May 26 5  28-22
Last Week: 5
 Jaime Garcia returned to the rotation to help the Cardinals go 5-1 last week and pull within 1.5 games of the Brewers.
Jun 2  7  30-27 -2
Last Week: 5
 Top prospect Oscar Taveras walloped a home run in his major league debut, but it was one of the few highlights of the week. The Cardinals lost five of seven to open their homestand and lost first baseman Matt Adams to the DL.
 Jun 9  13  33-31 -6
Last Week: 7
 The Cardinals rediscovered confidence by taking two of three from the AL East-leading Blue Jays in Toronto on the strength of shutouts from starters Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia.
 Jun 16  8  37-32 +5
Last Week: 13
Matt Adams hit a home run in each of his first three games back after coming off the disabled list, and Cardinals pitchers (and defense) conspired to throw their MLB-leading 14th team shutout.
 Jun 23  6  41-35 +2
Last Week: 8
The Cardinals lost key hurlers Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to the disabled list and will ask flamethrowing reliever Carlos Martinez to step into the rotation.
 June 30  8  44-39 -2
Last Week: 6
 The Cardinals dropped into a second-place tie in the National League Central after getting caught in the Clayton Kershaw buzzsaw. The Cards are also still seeking long-term help in their rotation after losing Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia.
 Jul 7 11  47-42 -3
Last Week: 8
 Second baseman Kolten Wong returned from the DL, but he wasn’t enough to help the Cardinals avoid losing a series at home to the Marlins. Will GM John Mozeliak pull the trigger on a deal for a pitcher?
 Jul 14  5  52-44 +6 Last Week: 11  The Cardinals suffered their biggest blow yet when Yadier Molina tore ligaments in his right thumb. He’s expected to miss 8-12 weeks. The Cardinals rallied, however, and momentarily pulled even with the Brewers for first place in the NL Central and now head into break one game back.
 Jul 21  6  54-45 -1
Last Week: 5
 In his second game back from the DL, Joe Kelly helped the Cardinals return from the break to take two of three from the Dodgers and climb into a first-place tie with the Brewers.
Jul 28 10  56-48 -4
Last Week: 6
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski arrived in time to help the Cardinals take two of three from the Cubs and — at least for the time being — endear himself to his new teammates.
 Aug 4  11  59-51 -1
Last Week: 10
 Newcomers John Lackey, Justin Masterson and A.J. Pierzynski helped the Cardinals take two of three from the Brewers and pull within one game of the NL Central lead; the team will face Boston and recently traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly this week.
 Aug 11  11  62-54
Last Week: 11
 The Cardinals avenged their World Series loss by taking two of three from Boston, but the Orioles lit up newcomers Justin Masterson and John Lackey as the Cardinals failed to gain ground on the Brewers. Meanwhile, Kolten Wong (1.4 WAR) continues a quiet campaign for NL Rookie of the Year.
 Aug 18  10  66-57 +1
Last Week: 11
 The Cardinals survived a rough start to last week by taking three of four from the Padres; the team is feeling the loss of Yadier Molina and will continue to as they host Billy Hamilton‘s Reds to begin this week.
Aug 25 9 70-59 +1
Last Week: 10
First place continues to be asymptotic for the Cardinals, who drew within a half-game of the Brewers with a sweep of the Reds but then finished the week 1½ games out after losing the rubber match to the Phillies on Sunday.
 Sep 1  12 73-63 -3
Last Week: 9
 Matt Holliday put the Cardinals on his back with three home runs and nine RBIs in the final two games of their series against the Cubs. The Cards are now in a first-place tie with Milwaukee in the NL Central.
 Sep 8  7  79-64 +5
Last Week: 12
 After taking over the top spot in the NL Central a week ago, the Cardinals went for the knockout of their nearest competition, sweeping three games from the Pirates and beating the Brewers in three of four to open a 4½-game lead in the division.
Sep 15 6  83-67 +1
Last Week: 7
 The Cardinals won three games from the Rockies over the weekend and reduced their magic number to 10. Matt Holliday is now up to a season-high .456 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, health questions about rotation horses Michael Wacha and John Lackey have surfaced.
Sep 22 5 87-69 +1
Last Week: 6
The Cardinals clinched a playoff berth after eradicating the Brewers and Reds. But the flu bug has bitten multiple players, including lineup stalwarts Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams, as the club heads into the final week of play looking to clinch the NL Central.
 Sep 29  6  90-72 -1
Last Week: 5
On the final day of the regular season, the Cardinals clinched their second straight NL Central title (and their fourth straight playoff berth). They head into the NLDS against the Dodgers as healthy as they’ve been all year.



Losing with your best reliever on the bench

September 28th, 2014 by Pip

When the Pirates lost one of their most important games of the year Saturday in 10-6 in 10 innings to the Reds, they used six relief pitchers. Not one of them was Mark Melancon, their best reliever and one of the top firemen in the league.

Why would a manager lose a close game with his best reliever on the bench?
It wasn’t as though Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle lacked occasion: The game was tied as early as the fifth inning, and other than a brief Pirate lead, was knotted up from the seventh inning on. But Hurdle, like many other old-school skippers, was loathe to his his closer in a tie game. The “strategy” is suboptimal, as the Pirates found out.

It’s not as though the Cardinals, whom the Pirates are chasing for a meaningful NL Central title, are any smarter. If not for providential mercy Friday night, they would’ve wrought the same fate as the Pirates. With the game in Arizona on the line, Cardinal manager Mike Matheny went with his second-best in Pat Neshek and later, with the game tied and the Diamondbacks batting, well down the pitching depth chart with rookie Marco Gonzalez, who pitched to five batters but escaped without allowing a run. Only after his team took the lead in the top of the 10th did Matheny summon his best reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, to close out the game in a relatively low-pressure half of the inning with a one-run lead, no one on base and the likes of Didi Gregorius (.301 career wOBA), Tuffy Gosewisch (.230) and Ender Inciarte (.306) due up.

To be sure, Rosenthal hasn’t been his shutdown self in 2014, his walk rate double what it was the previous two seasons. Still, he sports the bullpen’s best strikeout rate (28.3%) and best career K%-BB% at 21.3%. Interestingly, that’s the same number that Neshek boasts this season, which may explain Matheny’s confidence in the resurgent righty. But with Matheny giving Rosenthal most of the save opportunities, it’s safe to assume that the manager believes Rosenthal is his best reliever (and we agree). However, Matheny has used him suboptimally. The Cardinals have lost 34 games by two runs or fewer, yet Rosenthal has pitched in only 10 of them. Surely the Cardinals could’ve used their fireman in more of those high-leverage moments. Conversely, Rosenthal has appeared in 17 of 23 games that the Cardinals have won by three or four runs — not exactly high-value situations requiring that level of firepower.

The good news for the Cardinals and Matheny is that they won the NL Central despite of their suboptimal bullpen management. And they still have time to rectify the situation: They’ll have at least three playoff games to get it right. With the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke lining up for the NLDS, chances are better than usual that the Cardinals will find themselves in late innings without a lead. Will Matheny give them an improved chance of winning by using his best reliever — or will he, like Clint Hurdle, lose games with his best man watching, waiting for a save opportunity that will never come?

Brewers-Cardinals Preview

September 17th, 2014 by Pip

The Milwaukee Brewers stagger into their three-game series at Busch Stadium having found the finish line of the NL Central title a bit farther than they expected. After trailing the Brewers for most of the race, the Cardinals have less sprinted by their foes and more simply kept running. Now Mike Matheny hopes to put impossible distance between his nine and Ron Roenicke’s.

The Cardinal manager reoriented his rotation to feature Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller. But the questionable health of John Lackey and Michael Wacha make the decision more of necessity than killer instinct. That trio will square off against Milwaukee’s Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Kyle Lohse.

The Brewers bring the league’s fourth-most potent offense, featuring a .317 wOBA. They pack a lot of punch, ranking second in the NL in ISO (.152) behind only the Rockies. Darkhorse MVP candidate catcher Jonathan Lucroy leads the lineup with a .372 wOBA, while Khris Davis, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Braun all boast ISO rates above .200. The Cardinal lineup has no one above a .200 ISO, but several players with above-average on-base rates: Jon Jay (.385 OBP), Matt Carpenter (.373), Matt Holliday (.372), Yadier Molina (.343) and Jhonny Peralta (.340).

What to watch for

  • Matt Clark: The Brewers recently called up the journeyman first baseman who once hit 25 home runs in the Japanese League. The big lefty will likely start all three games against the Cardinal right-handed starters.
  • Matt Holliday: The understated left fielder has quietly reached a season high in his slugging percentage, something that has been on the steady rise.  Jhonny Peralta leads the club’s everyday players in WAR at 5.5, a tremendous accomplishment, to be sure. But Holliday has been the player whose hits have mattered the most: He leads the club with 3.96 Win Probability Added, currently 10th in the majors in WPA among hitters.
  • Mike Fiers: It’ll be his first start since blasting Giancarlo Stanton (and Reed Johnson) last Thursday. (Future trivia players will note that Fiers did not record an official hit-by-pitch in the game.) Those high-and-tight pitches are part of the Brewer righty’s success — after all, he leads the team’s starters with a 25.3% K-BB% (the next-highest is Marco Estrada at 12.7%).

Around the horn

The Cardinals lead the majors in defensive runs saved with 59. They had -39 last year. They’re sixth in MLB in overall Defense (23.8)… The Brewers, despite the ham-handed Ryan Braun (-14.6), are still average (0.6, 16th)… Trevor Rosenthal has entered only 10 tie games of the 68 total games in which he has pitched … He has entered while trailing only twice… One batter that Rosenthal should probably not face with the game on the line is Braun, who is 4-for-5 with a home run against him.

First place an asymptote no longer for Cardinals

September 2nd, 2014 by Pip

After 136 games in which they never enjoyed the spoils of being alone at the top of the National League Central Division, the Cardinals finally ascended to the top spot with a 5-4 win over the Pirates in game #137. Contrary to what we wrote in last week’s ESPN Power Ranking comment, first place is no longer an asymptote for the Cardinals.