Search This Blog


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bernie Bytes: Beltran vital to success

Bernie Bytes: Beltran vital to success

Later today we’ll know more about Carlos Beltran’s sore left knee and if he’ll be able to play in Game 4. At this point it would be silly for me to speculate one way or another; we’ll find out soon enough. In a text message to Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold late Wednesday night, Beltran said he’d try to be in the lineup for Game 4. The good news: the MRI showed no structural damage to the knee.
However, this isn’t just a matter of Beltran playing. There’s another question that’s just as meaningful: even if Beltran does play, will he be effective?
Beltran has established a ridiculously high standard for postseason performance. His career numbers are, as they say, off the charts: 31 games, 138 plate appearances, .375 batting average, .486 onbase percentage and an .830 slugging percentage with 14 homers in 112 at-bats.
Beltran has been the Cardinals’ best player this postseason, batting .400 with a .486 onbase pct. and .867 slugging pct. He’s homered three times, doubled five times, walked six times, scored seven runs and produced six RBIs.
Usually it’s the power that everyone mentions when discussing Beltran’s postseason prowess. But Beltran’s ability to draw walks and get on base from the No. 2 slot makes him a vital presence in the lineup.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Matt Carpenter, who saved NLCS Game 3 offensively by hitting a two-run homer in Beltran’s vacated spot. The Cardinals are fortunate to have a versatile, tough-minded, disciplined and skilled young hitter like Carpenter to help in times of need.
In 66 games as a starter during the regular season, Carpenter batted .308 with a .382 onbase percentage and a .490 slugging pct. He was also very good in high-leverage situations, batting .303 and reaching base 40 percent of the time. Carpenter can play 1B, 3B, both corner OF positions. The Cardinals briefly spotted Carpenter at 2B, but his inexperience there put him in harm’s way. Carpenter nearly got trampled a couple of times near the second-base bag.
The issue isn’t Carpenter; if used, chances are he will hit. The real issue is the prospect of having to play one or two games, or perhaps the remainder of the NLCS, without Beltran. The potential problem is not having Beltran at his best, or not having him at all, for as long as this postseason lasts. Given his onbase capability and game-changing power, Beltran’s value can’t be downplayed. And we say that even as we express respect for Matt Carpenter.
How important is Beltran?
Well, let’s look at the three distinct stages of his season:
Part I: From opening day through June 25, Beltran batted .313, had an excellent combined onbase-slugging percentage of .992, slammed 20 homers, drove in 57 runs and scored 46 runs. When Beltran started and had more than one at-bat in a game, the Cardinals were 35-28.
Part II: Bothered by knee and hand pain, and worn down from a busy workload in right field, and out of synch with his swing, Beltran slumped terribly from June 26 through Sept. 8. In 242 plate appearances he batted .201 with a combined onbase-slugging pct. of 618. Not only did Beltran lose power, but his onbase percentage during the drought was .248. That decreased run-scoring chances for other Cardinals. During Beltran’s freefall, the Cardinals were a game under .500.
Part III: Beltran began feeling better, and extra work in the cage with batting coaches Mark McGwire and John Mabry helped him find his good swing, and his timing. In 119 plate appearances from Sept. 9 through Game 3 of the NLCS, Beltran has batted .351, with a combined onbase-slugging of 1.102. He has 7 homers, 17 RBIs and 19 runs. The Cardinals are 19-11 during this Beltran surge.
Beltran’s impact can be assessed in another way.
Consider: Including the postseason, the Cardinals are 55-15 when Beltran scores a run in a game. They are 35-8 when he drives in a run. And they are 24-6 when he homers.
Should the knee strain sideline Beltran, the Cardinals obviously can survive his absence over a short run of time. They did it in Game 3. But can they replace him without repercussions for more than a game or two? Well, yes. But if there is any chance for that to happen, the Cardinals need a reawakening from their many quiet bats.
When we look at these alarming numbers, we realize how fortunate the Cardinals are to be leading the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in this NLCS:
— In the last two games the Cardinals are 11-61 for a .180 batting average. They’ve scored four runs.
— Since taking that 6-0 lead through the top of the fourth inning in Game 1, the Cardinals have gone 11 for 76. That’s a horrendous batting average of .145. They have scored four runs in their last 22 innings.
— Looking at the four runs they’ve scored since the fifth inning of Game 1: two came via one swing from Matt Carpenter in Game 3. A third came on an RBI double by starting pitcher Chris Carpenter in Game 2. And the fourth RBI was the work of backup outfielder Shane Robinson, who got a run in with a ground ball to second in the seventh inning of Game 3.
— Think about this for a moment … Matt Carpenter, Shane Robinson and Chris Carpenter. Two rookie reserves and a starting pitcher that has a career batting average of .118. And no RBIs from core lineup pieces Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, David Freese, Jon Jay, etc.
— Since the fifth inning of Game 1: Holliday is 1 for 9; Molina is 2 for 10; Craig is 0 for 7; Jay is 1 for 9; Daniel Descalso is 0 for 8; Pete Kozma is 1 for 8; Beltran is 2 for 5.
— In the first three games, the Cardinals have faced San Francisco relievers in 27 at-bats and have only one hit. That’s right. No typo. They’re 1 for 27 against the Giants bullpen. Giants relievers have pitched 8.2 virtually flawless innings. They’ve been nicked for only one hit and two walks.
The Cardinals can win this series, even with a somnambulant offense. The Cardinals won Game 3 even though they managed to get only eight runners on base in 32 plate appearances. They got through because of Kyle Lohse’s gritty pitching, more big-time bazooka action from the bullpen, and Matt Carpenter’s response to the 911 call after the Beltran emergency.
The Cardinals can do this, even with the middle of the lineup gone MIA … again, they did it in Game 3. But realistically, the Cardinals may squander this 2-1 lead and exceptional opportunity unless a few of the bats start cranking. That's all I'm saying.
The Giants had the highest-scoring road offense in the NL this season, averaging 5.06 runs per game. The Cardinals’ obvious strategy of working around Buster Posey to go after Hunter Pence has worked so far. But can the Cardinals expect to hold the Giants’ lineup down for the next two games at Busch Stadium? The Giants may try to perk the offense by putting Posey at first base and catching Hector Sanchez in Game 4. Sanchez doesn’t have good numbers on the season, but some of our friends in the Bay Area media seem to think he can make a difference.
Tim Lincecum vs. Adam Wainwright tonight. And no, I don’t know what to expect from Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young award winner who was 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA as a starter this season. In 2008, Lincecum averaged 94.6 mph on his four-seam fastball. In 2011, Lincecum averaged 93.1 mph on the four-seam and 92.5 mph on the sinker. This year the average velocity on the four-seam dropped to 91 mph. His sinker velocity averaged 90.9 mph. Keep in mind that in 2008 Lincecum clocked an average of 95 mph with the four-seam and the sinker.) As for 2012, even though the velocity is down, Lincecum's strikeout rate remains healthy. But his walk rate was up this season.
Lincecum looked great in a relief role during the NLDS triumph over Cincinnati, so maybe he’s back on track. This will be intriguing. Here's what the Cardinals need to be concerned about: if Lincecum has his good sinker going, it can still be a devastating pitch. This season in at bats that ended with the ball in play, opponents hit .207 with a .360 slugging percentage against the Lincecum sinker. Lincecum's most vulnerable pitch this season? The slider. Opponents didn't hit the slider for average (.263) but they powered up on it, with 9 doubles, 7 homers and a .450 slugging pct.
The Giants seem fired up over Lincecum's return as a starter.
"What he's been able to do for us out of the 'pen has been so uplifting and motivating," reliever Sergio Romo told Bay Area media after Game 3. "It gets you excited when he's on the mound. We'll have the same confidence in him (Thursday.)"
Posey said, "Someone mentioned that he's pitching with a lot of confidence. I think that's half the battle. Hopefully, it can carry over."
• After Game 5 of the NLDS in Washington, we can’t be sure if Wainwright has got it together. (I think he’ll bounce back.) But even after the startling beatdown in D.C. I know that every player in the STL clubhouse has confidence in Wainwright. I suspect Wainwright tipped pitches in that Game 5 start. If so, he'll have that cleaned up in time for tonight's start.
• Some good and typically colorful writing here by my friend Bruce Jenkins, columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle:
"There's no telling what might happen in Thursday night's Game 4. There are no hard-and-fast trends in postseason baseball, save Alex Rodriguez's descent into irrelevance in the Yankees' dugout. But this game defined the Cardinals, and how they intend to win this series: a few nice moments from the starting pitcher, then a veritable conga line of relievers.
"When the Cardinals took Game 1 in San Francisco, the relief procession was a half-dozen strong. This time, four pitchers shared the cleanup work behind Lohse. It seems like all of these guys have mountain-man beards and blinding fastballs - not a finesse guy in the bunch - and it's wise to do some damage against the Cardinals before they let these guys out of the cage."
A footnote on Jenkins: he's the son of the late Gordon Jenkins, the legendary arranger and composer that worked with Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and many other famous vocalists. There's a local connection: Gordon Jenkins was a native of Webster Groves, and he got his professional start working in St. Louis radio. In 2005, Bruce Jenkins authored a loving, honest and compelling biography of his father, "Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins." Bruce got the great Sinatra to sit down for an interview to discuss Gordon's career. It's an excellent book.
Thanks for reading.

No comments: