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Don't do it, Mang!!! (Image via Wikipedia)

On twitter the other day, I asked for some article ideas and a friend of mine asked me to analyze the bullpen and lament all of the blown saves. After all, Franklin blew four saves in the first month of the season… take those away and the Cardinals would be right in the thick of the NL Central race, right? Well, not exactly… but it’s probably fortunate that Albert is holding the sniper rifle in the picture to the right instead of one of 3 million fans that will walk through Busch Stadium’s gates this season.

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Game 15

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The Good: The offensive surge continued as Allen Craig provided the fireworks in this one. His 3-run homer in the 5th inning improved the team’s win expectancy by 25.5%. It did my heart good to see TLR resist the temptation to play Berkman’s streaking bat despite his pronounced split (.423 wOBA as LHB; .338 wOBA as RHB). Of course, even his “bad” split is about league average… though it’s been much worse in recent seasons. At any rate, Craig needs at-bats, and this is an appropriate way for him to get them.

The Bad: Again, there just really isn’t a lot of blame to pass around in this one. The worst win probability belonged to Tyler Greene at -.057 WPA, but even he contributed a hit and 2 SB (though he easily could have been picked off on the second one had Macdougal’s pick-off not been thrown to CF instead of 2B).

Gerald Laird’s non-tag at home plate on Andre Ethier was definitely the most baffling play of the game (see it for yourself and enjoy the narration of Vin Scully). Pujols had time to double-pump before making a throw home that still beat Ethier by several steps, but Laird headed up the  line instead of blocking the plate completely whiffed on the tag in the process. It didn’t cost the Cardinals last night… but it a closer game, that could have really hurt.

The Impressive: Eduardo Sanchez struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to mop up the win. I don’t know if you’re counting (I am), but he’s now struck out 8 of the 11 batters he’s faced. He’s impossibly lowered his FIP to -2.27(!). With this kind of dominance, Franklin’s room for error will be even slimmer in the fans’ eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think TLR is anywhere close to supplanting Franklin in the closer role, but I’m not naive enough to believe that fans won’t start clamoring for this decision given Sanchez’s hot hand. Of course, we’re talking about three innings here. Despite the cause for hyperventilation, he’ll come down to earth at some point.

One more thing: In an unbelievable turn of events, the Cardinals now lead all of MLB in offensive production (.361 wOBA); the Cincinnati Reds come in 2nd (.357 wOBA). See the FanGraphs leader board.

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PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 12:  Lance Berkman #12 of ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Cardinals now rank second in the league in team wOBA (.356). This is not a joke. Since I wrote that piece about their slow start offensively merely one week ago, they started scoring runs at a torrid pace. Their BABIP has jumped 61-pts (.324)! They have hit fewer ground balls (48.8%), more line drives (20.2%); their fly ball rate hasn’t changed much (31.0%), but they’ve cleared the fence at a more realistic rate (12.9%). While they’ve started walking a little less (7.9 BB%), they have the third lowest strikeout rate in the league (16.7 K%). Altogether, the Cardinals have transformed from an unlucky team to a surprisingly fortunate one in the span of seven days. Fans, let’s keep our cool. Much like we shouldn’t have panicked when the offense was seemingly MIA after one week, we shouldn’t be quick to anoint them league leaders either. Perspective, friends; you can either have it now or the long season will eventually force it upon you.

With that said, it has been a lot of fun watching Lance Berkman hit 6 home runs in the span of 5 games.

Let’s take a look at the past few games…

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Eduardo Sánchez.

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Congratulations to Eduardo Sanchez (no, not Kenny Powers’ long lost father) who graduated from triple-A to the big leagues after only 30 innings in Memphis. His call-up was expedited by the decision to place Tallet on the DL when he fractured his right hand on this outstanding play.

Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked Sanchez as the Cards’ 6th best prospect and believes that he has the upside to be a late-inning reliever:

Sanchez shocked scouts by cranking 94-98 mph heat out of a build more reminiscent of the bat boy’s than a power pitcher’s. He’ll flash a plus slider with good two-plane break, and he wants the ball in pressure situations.

Derrick Goold chimed in on Sanchez’s play in winter ball:

In 14 games with the Tigres, Sanchez, one of the top reliever prospects in the system, went 0-1, 10.13 ERA in 14 games. He had command problems, walking 12 and striking out eight in 10 2/3 innings. Sanchez was one of the Cardinals’ reps at last year’s Futures Game, and despite a slight build Sanchez has a fastball with pop.

At Future Redbirds, the robot offered observations you’ll find in the table below:

Sanchez featured the kind of strikeout rates you want to see from a pitcher who (1) projects as a dominant reliever and (2) has average groundball rates.

Eduardo Sanchez
Year/Team IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP
2009/A+ 25.0 9.4 1.8 50% 1.44 3.09
2009/AA 50.0 10.1 3.6 52% 2.70 3.09
2010/AA 26.0 9.3 2.8 60% 3.12 3.30
2010/AAA 27.0 10.3 4.0 46% 1.67 3.81
2011/AAA 3.0 9.0 0.0 50% 0.00 1.75

*Thanks to Baseball-Reference and First Inning for the stats.

And, as I type this, the Cardinals are really handing it to the Diamondbacks, 9-0. Maybe we’ll see the 22-year-old’s debut tonight.

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Hello offense!

Game 10

The Good: Kyle McClellan led the team with another strong outing (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 4 SO, 1 R; .264 WPA). Despite not having his best stuff – as evidenced by worse control and fewer strikeouts – McClellan pitched two-thirds of the game and minimized damage. So far, he’s defied the odds of maintaining his unsustainable strand rate from last year (89.6% in 2010; 90.4% in 2011). Look for that to change.

Lance Berkman’s home runs didn’t offer much in the way of win probability (.037 WPA), but I think we were all a little relieved to see him poke a couple over the opposite field wall, and without the Crawford Boxes (damn you, Minute Maid Park) nonetheless!

The Bad: Albert Pujols did not join the offensive breakout. He was one of three starters who posted negative win probability… not to mention he grounded into another double play. See Steve’s post about Albert Pujols and small sample sizes from the other day; and Steve Slowinski posted another article at FanGraphs today on the matter (haven’t read that one yet). My analysis? Pujols will eventually be Pujols. There’s no reason to believe otherwise yet. Believe it or not, there really are some fans worried about this… I overheard a 70-ish year-old couple talking about it at dinner last night to prove it.

Game 11

The Good: David Freese had a solid game (2-4, 1 BB, 1 HR, and 2 RBIs; .202 WPA). His home run wasn’t cheap either as it cleared the elevated wall in CF. That was the second day in a row that Berkman hit back-to-back jacks; his wOBA creeped above the .390 mark.

The Bad: The pitching staff as a whole had a miserable performance, combining for -.751 WPA despite the offense’s best attempts to keep them in the game. And their pride wasn’t the only thing hurt since Augenstein and (probably) Tallet are expected to hit the DL. I’m happy for Salas’ promotion given his competence last year; he didn’t do anything wrong in Jupiter this spring either. I’m also excited to see Eduardo Sanchez get an opportunity; he’s struck people out at a pretty decent rate (2010: 9+ K/9 in AA and 10+ K/9 in AAA).

The Ugly: Chris Carpenter was alone responsible for -.495 WPA. I was going to take a look at his pitch f/x stuff compared to his first start to see if there was anything noteworthy, but my internet screwed up, and now I don’t have time. Let’s just chalk that forgettable performance up to a random blip and move on.

Hey, we’re still in Arizona! Maybe the offense will stick around for another night.

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Steve gave his Top 7 Cardinal prospects earlier today
. You didn’t think the godfather of FR was going to sit idly by and not chime in, did you? Without further adieu -

1. Shelby Miller – One year removed from high school, Shelby Miller struck out 32% of the batters he faced in the Midwest League while posting a walk rate under 3 per 9. That’s tremendous. He predominantly threw his fastball, which may account for some of his .366 BABIP. As he gets more of a feel for his breaking stuff and as luck corrects itself, I have a feeling that number will drop. I’m glad the Cardinals were careful with his workload.

2. Zack Cox – I really liked the Cox pick, and I’d like to believe there’s a good chance that he’s the everyday third baseman of the future. My only concern is the lack of power in his sophomore season at Arkansas, but from what I read about Cox, it seems like he has the aptitude to make adjustments. I’ve read mixed reviews about his glove, and I almost can’t help but wonder if he’s not Brett Wallace 2.

3. Carlos Matias – I’m going to go bananas here and buy into the the hype. 99 MPH with control? I need some oxygen. The Dominican Summer League isn’t somewhere to look for reliable statistical information, but 78 K’s in 59 innings is pretty good.

4. Lance Lynn – I seem to remember a period when Lynn was getting consistently hammered, but truth be told, he put together a pretty solid season. Triple-A has swallowed up some other Cardinal pitching prospects in the past in their first go (Ottavino, Hawksworth), but Lynn posted decent walk, strikeout and ground ball rates in his first season in Triple-A. There’s nothing really spectacular about Lynn, but he’s gotta be at least a win (maybe two better) than the monster that is Lohssan.

5. Seth Blair – I saw him pitch in the College World Series, and his change-up is a sight to behold. His fastball velocity wasn’t at the as-advertised range of 94-95; it was more in the 89-91 range, but I’m willing to chalk that up to fatigue for now.

6 . Eduardo Sánchez – I’ve fallen into the trap of rating relievers too high in times past, but Sánchez continued his success in the higher levels of the minors. He should be a solid set-up man, and could possibly be the closer of the future.

7. Matt Carpenter – He fell to the 13th round as a senior in last year’s draft, but has done nothing but produced. He has a line-drive, contact oriented type of swing and doesn’t have a ton of power, but that’s OK so long as he continues to walk at a good clip. I’ve seen him on one occasion and from what little I could gather, his glove was a plus.

Personal cheeseballs: Oscar Taveras, Tommy Pham, Joe Kelly. Oscar Taveras and Pham are cut from a similar cloth, while Taveras is the hype of the day while Pham has been languishing until this past season. Both have tools out of the ying-yang, power, speed and arm strength. Taveras probably has better power, while Pham has shown the ability to take a walk.

Joe Kelly is a ground-ball machine with his 93-96 MPH sinker of his, and he has a good slider. His numbers at the QC were a little underwhelming, but this was his first full season starting since high school, and if all else fails, he should do well in relief.

Just missed: Dan Descalso, Tyrell Jenkins.

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