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Monday, October 15, 2012

Bernie Bytes: Cards' new Dynamic Duo

Bernie Bytes: Cards' new Dynamic Duo

Hello from San Francisco, where the morning fog has rolled in, and it’s really beautiful.
Some thoughts on the Cardinals vs. Giants as we get ready for NLCS Game 2:
1. Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma continue to excel: What an impressive postseason by two young players that have given the Cardinals an October surprise. And if Kozma and DD keep this up, I don’t see how the Cardinals lose the NLCS.
Here’s what Descalso and Kozma have done, combined, so far this postseason: 13 hits, 20 times on base, 14 runs, 12 RBIs, three homers, four doubles. They’ve also combined to go 7 for 15 with runners in scoring position — and 2 for 4 with RISP and two outs.
Descalso bats 7th, and Kozma hits 8th. When a team can get that kind of production from the down-lineup slots, it’s a wonderful bonus.
With Kozma taking all of the at-bats in the spot, the Cardinals are getting more out of their No. 8 slot than the other teams left in the postseason (Giants, Yankees and Tigers).
Of the remaining four teams, the Cardinals’ No. 8 slot has the highest slugging percentage (.417), highest onbase percentage (.367), the most RBIs (six) and the most runs (eight).
The same is true of Descalso and the No. 7 spot on Mike Matheny’s lineup card. Of the four remaining teams, the Cardinals’ No. 7 slot has the highest OBP (.321), highest slugging percentage (.615), most RBI (six) and most runs scored (eight.)
By now, we all know Kozma’s story. He was the forgotten No. 1 draft choice, batting .232 at Class AAA Memphis, and bypassed for promotion to the big leagues until the Cardinals ran out of options and gave him a shot. And the rookie shortstop has been one of the team’s best offensive players since being called up on Aug. 31.
Including the postseason, Kozma has 112 plate appearances and is hitting .302 with a .378 onbase percentage and a .531 slugging percentage. He’s driven in 20 runs, and has 13 extra-base hits. He’s played very well defensively.
Descalso did some good things for the 2011 Cardinals. He hit .264, with a decent .334 OBP. He took some terrific at-bats with runners in scoring position, hitting .278. The average (.294) was even better with runners in scoring position and two out.
But Descalso struggled offensively during the 2012 regular season, finishing with a .232 batting average and a .292 OBP. And with runners in scoring position, he had only 10 hits in 85 at-bats for a .118 average.
Descalso has been taking really good at-bats for the last six weeks or so, and better results were inevitable.
You really couldn’t ask Descalso and Kozma for more than what they’ve done for this team in October, and their timing couldn’t be better.
Kozma and Descalso as Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr?
OK, who called that one?
One of the best decisions Matheny made all season was to go with Kozma at shortstop and move Descalso into the starting role at shortstop. Descalso had been moving between 2B and SS and it probably impacted his offense. Settling into one position has been good for him. And with Kozma, it just shows what can happen if you get the chance. Maybe he was demoralized in Memphis; I don’t know. But I could see why that would be the case. Whatever the reason, his .232 season at Memphis doesn’t matter now. Kozma waited for this opportunity, and he’s maximized it.
2. Carlos Beltran and David Freese; Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig: I put this note on Bernie’s Press Box late last night and also posted it to Twitter and Sulia for those that follow me there. In case you didn’t see it…
Here are the top four onbase-slugging percentages (OPS) in MLB postseason history:
1. Carlos Beltran 1.305
2. Babe Ruth, 1.211
3. Lou Gehrig, 1.208
4. David Freese, 1.189
No, I'm not saying that Beltran and Freese are as good as the Yankees' immortals, Ruth and Gehrig. Babe and Lou are two of the greatest players of all time. This is a different time. Ruth and Gehrig had to go against the NL’s best team in the postseason; there weren’t any wild cards, division series or league championship series.
But my point is this: Beltran-Freese postseason numbers are special and can rate with anyone in MLB history. Differences in eras aside, when you see two Cardinals hanging with Ruth and Gehrig on an all-time leaderboard, it’s something that catches your attention.
In 29 career postseason games, Beltran is now hitting .370 with a .481 OBP and a startling .824 slugging percentage. He has 14 homers in 108 postseason at-bats.
This is Freese's second postseason and he’s put up a .386 average, .450 OBP, .739 SLG, six homers, 25 RBIs.
3. Monday night, the Cardinals will play their 100th postseason game since Bill DeWitt purchased the franchise before the start of the 1996 season. The Cardinals have won 55 postseason games, and counting.
During the DeWitt era, only the NY Yankees have played in more postseason games (159) than the Cardinals (99). And only the Yankees have more postseason wins (97) than the Cardinals (55).
4. Jon Jay’s two-out RBI single was a big moment in the Game 1 win. The Cardinals were up 3-0, but hadn’t fully exploited Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner, who clearly was off form.
Jay has been struggling this postseason, and when he came up in the fourth inning with Kozma in scoring position, Bumgarner threw two sliders and got ahead 0-2 in the count. But Jay saved the at-bat by fighting off a fastball that looped into CF for a single that scored Kozma.
The Cardinals led 4-0, and Jay’s hit kept the inning going. Beltran was next, and he walloped a two-run homer for a 6-0 lead that bounced Bumgarner from the game.
Jay’s timely RBI just shows how important he can be to the lineup. He’s only 5 for 29 so far this postseason (.172 batting average). And his onbase percentage (.241) is anemic for a leadoff hitter. But Jay’s hits have made a difference. He has five RBIs this postseason, which ranks fourth on the team.
5. Matt Holliday update: Going into Game 1, Holliday had a peculiar batting trend going in the 2012 postseason. He was hitting just about everything on the ground. During the regular season, Holliday had a ground-ball rate of 57.4 percent on batted balls. Nothing unusual about that. But over the first six postseason games, Holliday hit 17 ground balls, and only one fly ball. That’s abnormal, and a sign that Holliday’s stroke has been off.
In Game 1, Holliday hit two balls into the air, one that went for a single to center field. So maybe he’s finding his swing. Holliday is batting .250 with a .344 onbase percentage and a .393 slugging percentage this postseason. He has a homer, five RBIs and four runs scored.
Let’s close by briefly looking ahead to Game 2:
Chris Carpenter pitches for the Cardinals in Game 2, and you always like the team’s chances when he’s out there. The Cardinals are 13-3 in postseason games started by Carp, who rates among the most successful pitchers in MLB postseason history.
Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong figures to be a very tough assignment for Cardinals hitters. Vogelsong led the NL with the lowest ERA for a time this season, then suddenly swerved off course in mid-August.
Over a seven-start stretch that ended Sept. 16, Vogelsong had a 10.13 ERA, and allowed 60 base-runners (and 6 homers) in 29.2 innings. Over his last four starts, including a Game 3 win in the NLDS at Cincinnati, Vogelsong returned to his sharp and crafty form. He’s 2-0 in the four starts, with an 0.82 ERA. In 22 innings he’s given up 15 hits and one homer, with six walks and 20 Ks.
Volgelsong pitched 7 shutout innings against the Cardinals on Aug. 8 at Busch Stadium. They managed only three hits and three walks against him. Vogelsong also had an effective start against the Cardinals in 2011, but the Cardinals have some different hitters in place now, so I don’t think the ’11 start is particularly relevant.
Vogelsong is a mix master who throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, curve and change. He likes to go with the four-seam when he’s ahead in the count; it’s his best pitch. He doesn’t like to use the changeup against RH batters, but the LH hitters will see it. The sinker has given Vogelsong the most problems. This season on at-bats that ended with a ball in play, LH batters hit .446 against his sinker, and RH batters hit .295 against the sinker. LH batters had a .661 slugging percentage against the sinker; the RH hitters slugged .438 against it.
Thanks for reading. And enjoy Game 2.

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