Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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Game five

Pitch Please! Why the MLB pitch clock is inevitable

Baseball has been going through some big changes in recent years. The most notable one in recent memory was the replay review. The game needs to move into the future, so the change was important. Every other major sport has video review, so it was good to see the MLB catch up.

There have been some growing pains that have come with the replay however. The extra time in the game that comes from it is one of them. Game time is one of the biggest issues facing the game today other than substance abuse, which the league has done a good job of fazing out. Major league games are taking longer than ever, and there are a variety of reasons why that is. The best way to combat this problem at the moment, is instituting a pitch clock.

Why are games taking longer?

MLB Pitch Clock

MLB game time has steadily increased over time (SB Nation)

MLB games are longer than ever. Since 1950, the average game time has gone up 48 minutes from 2 hours and 21 minutes to 3 hours and 9 minutes. There are a variety of reasons for this as I mentioned earlier. There aren’t more innings in a game and teams aren’t scoring more runs. What has changed though is the number of pitching changes by each team.

In 1960, the average number of pitchers used in a game by each individual team was 2.45 according to baseball-reference.com. That number has shot up to 4.15 pitchers per team per game in 2016. Teams are using more pitchers in order to get the righty-lefty matchup favorable, and also because pitchers are wearing out their arms more easily. Having a specific pitcher for the 8th and 9th inning is also relatively new, so this is contributing to extra time.

The extra commercial breaks also come with the territory. With how commercialized sports are these days it is not hard for advertisers to make their mark in the game.

The biggest hindrance in the game though is the constant fidgeting by players. This contributes to more dead time in baseball than ever. In an article by nydailynews.com, Rob Manfred and Joe Torre talked about the dead time in baseball and how the MLB will approach it. They believe that it is not the game time that needs to be addressed but rather the fidgeting that goes on between the batter and pitcher almost every at bat. Batters didn’t always re-adjust their gloves or step out of the batters box after every pitch.

Why MLB Needs to Address the Problem

According to Nielsen’s Year in sports media report, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older. The MLB needs to address this issue in order to have a promising future. Baseball will never have the same celebrity status in the mainstream as football or basketball, but the MLB can still compete for top dog between these leagues.

What scares me about the typical age of baseball viewers is what it will look like 30 years from now. The MLB needs to address this issue before it catches up to them. Many kids love playing baseball and following the sport and the big name players. The problem is having people being able to sit down and watch a game on television. We are in a time where people do not have the same attention span as they used to, so it is hard to have someone sit down and watch a three-hour baseball game, especially with all the dead time there is in between plays.

According to a study done by The Wall Street Journal, there are only 18 minutes of actual game play during a game. This stat probably won’t change with a pitch clock. It would not be bad if the game was 30 minutes shorter like it used to be though.

The length of baseball games does not personally bother me. I don’t mind sitting down and enjoying baseball and listening to fantastic stories the broadcasters have to tell. If the length is not addressed, baseball may lose popularity. If that happens, we might have fewer talents go out for the game and the quality of play might ultimately suffer. This wouldn’t be in the near future perhaps, but it is a possibility down the road in my eyes. Rob Manfred and Joe Torre seem to have a similar view of the situation as well.

What the league has done already

MLB Pitch Clock

The pitch clock is already being used in A ball (Grantland)

The MLB has already made some changes in order to address the issue. One is that batters have to keep one foot in the box in between pitches, another is the 30-second clock in between hitters.

Baseball also started using a 20-second pitch clock in the minor leagues already. There has not been a whole lot of news on how that has been going thus far, but it will factor into Manfred’s decision to implement it on the big league level.

Some players have said that they haven’t noticed the changes on the big league level too much. Alex Avila of the Tigers stated that he does not even think about the pace of play during the game, so the changes have not made a big impact of the quality of the game yet. However, that does not mean baseball has to proceed with caution when implementing pace of play rules.

Current popularity of the pitch clock

According to a study done by ESPN the Magazine in 2015, 60 percent of surveyed fans were not in favor of the pitch clock. As expected, the players aren’t especially fans either. 

MLB Pitch Clock

Adam Wainwright thinks a pitch clock could damage the quality of play (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Adam Wainwright spoke to The Guardian in 2015 of what he thinks of the idea.

“You have to be of sound mind, you have to step off and slow things down occasionally. Sometimes you have to move quickly, but as a pitcher you have to have the ability to slow the game down at those big moments – that’s just so key in the postseason. If you’re a young pitcher and you’re worrying about the pitch clock, you’re not worried about getting the hitter out.”

Many baseball purists weren’t fans of the replay system being introduced either. There was a lot of talk of the game being tainted because the human element was taken out of the game.

Thus far, replay has been a success though. It is true that it slows down the game a bit but at least they are getting the call right. Fans also didn’t stop watching because of the replay system, now it is accepted as part of the game.

What makes the pitch clock different though is that it can change what happens in the game drastically. As Wainwright stated, speed matters when delivering.

Many fans are afraid that the game will be fundamentally hurt if a clock is instituted. That is exactly what Manfred and Torre are trying to avoid.

Baseball players may have some trouble adjusting to a pitch clock. However, the game is ultimately a business and needs to do what is best for its future. There are going to be plenty of people that are opposed to such a change in baseball as well, but eventually it will become as much as a part of the game as anything else.

 

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