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Tuesday 22nd Aug 2017

I guess I could gloat for a bit about picking the St. Louis Cardinals to best the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, but that wouldn’t be very "professional." After all, most of the pundits picked the Rangers to win their first ever championship. But I didn’t go with the herd. I took the opposite path and am now taking in the glory of my prognostication. Just ignore the man behind the curtain and my finishing 2286th of 2778 in my football salary cap game last week after scoring less than half the total points of the winner.

But that’s irrelevant. Just as it’s irrelevant the Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs. The fact is they made it after the second greatest September comeback in baseball history and proceeded to bounce the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, and finally, the Rangers in winning it all. But now the real games and the parades are all over and it’s time for John Mozeliak and company to assess what they have going into the 2012 season and what pieces they’ll need to add.

A look at what St. Louis will need first requires a look at what obligations they currently have entering the start of the free agency period. Those under contract and assumed coming back are Matt Holliday ($17.00M), Chris Carpenter (10.5M), Kyle Lohse (12.188M), Lance Berkman (12M), Jake Westbrook (8.5M), Adam Wainwright (9.0M), Yadier Molina (0.75M), Jaime Garcia (3.375M), and Zack Cox (0.85M). That adds up to a total of $74.163M in salaries not counting the $0.75M buyout of the option on Octavio Dotel’s contract and a $1.3M buyout of the option for Rafael Furcal. There is still a $4M option on the contract of Arthur Rhodes St. Louis has to decide on.

After that, there’s still arbitration for Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs, Ryan Theriot, and Skip Schumaker. The combined 2011 salary of these players was $10.241M and they all figure to make at least what they earned this past year. That brings the Cardinals up to a total of $84.404M even before pitchers and catchers report. Assuming they either offer contracts or arbitration to these five, that gives St. Louis 14 players with 11 left to sign.

Free agents to be include Nick Punto who made $0.75M in 2011, Corey Patterson - $.90M, Gerald Laird - $1.0M, Edwin Jackson - $8.75M, and, of course, Albert Pujols - $16.00M. Without Pujols, that’s another $11.4M which would bring their potential 2012 team salary to $95.804M for 18 players. If six players sign with the Cardinals for the minimum, that will be approximately $2.50M, bringing the total to $98.304M. St. Louis paid roughly $109M in salaries and bonuses in 2011. That leaves them just under $11.0M to sign Pujols without going over last year’s salary total.

But the cream of this year’s free agent crop is reportedly asking for an Alex Rodriguez type contract, which would pay him $275M over ten years or $27.5M per year that would increase St. Louis’s payroll to $125M. So the Cardinals and Mozeliak have some tough decisions to make after winning the 11th championship in club history. The work will start in earnest behind the scenes on these tough decisions soon enough but for now Brian Walton and the rest of Cardinals nation can revel in a hard won championship and a season for the ages. Congratulations!

The World Series is heading back to St. Louis with the Texas Rangers holding a three games to two advantage. I have previously gone on record here saying the Cardinals would win this Series because their hitters could get to the Texas left-handed starters and because Tony La Russa was a tactical genius. Right now, that prediction doesn’t look too good considering the communication gaffe that happened in Game 5 between the manager and his bullpen.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over. St. Louis is now in a must-win situation for two games and the first one comes Wednesday night with the pitchers being Colby Lewis for the Rangers and Jaime Garcia for the Cards – a rematch of Game 2 of the series. Lewis started Game 2 and allowed one earned run on four hits in six and two-thirds innings striking out four and walking two. Lewis got a no-decision in that game. Garcia pitched seven shutout innings allowing three hits, one walk and striking out seven – also a no-decision effort. Texas eventually won that game with two runs in the top of the ninth after trailing 1–0.

If St. Louis manages to win Game 6, Texas will send Game 3 starter Matt Harrison to the mound. Harrison was roughed up for five runs (three earned) on six hits in three and two-thirds innings. La Russa hasn’t announced his Game 7 starter yet partly because Game 6 will be a do-or-die, all hands on deck situation. But possible starters for Tony would be Game 3 starter Kyle Lohse, who allowed three runs (all earned) on five hits – two of them being the out of the park variety – in three innings. Another possibility would be Game 4 pitcher Edwin Jackson, who went five and one-third innings allowing three runs on three hits and seven walks. Jackson threw 109 pitches in that game and would be going on four days rest in a deciding Game 7. Then there’s Jake Westbrook, who threw one inning of relief in Game 4. But, obviously, La Russa will have to get his team successfully through Game 6 first.

For me, I’m still hoping the Cardinals pull it out. It would be fitting in Albert Pujols' possibly final year with the National League Central team. Not to mention the team coming from so far behind to catch the Atlanta Braves and doing it all without Adam Wainwright and with the resurgence of Lance Berkman. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Now onto a look at the National League MVP award as I promised. There is no shortage of highly worthy candidates in the NL. I will limit my choices to hitters only because I am old school in that way. I believe hitters can’t win the Cy Young award so pitchers shouldn’t be able to win the MVP. And since this is my column, my rules count.

The top candidates for this year’s award (in no particular order) are Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ryan Braun. I’ll look at them individually.

Prince Fielder had a strong season in his own right, finishing with a .299 BA, 38 HR, 120 RBI and 95 R. As impressive as his year was, it paled in comparison to his 2009 campaign, which ended with .299/103/46/141 and wasn’t good enough to win the award that year. It certainly can be argued (and I would agree) that, as good as Prince was, he wasn’t the Most Valuable Player on his own team, so that will hurt him in the voting.

Albert Pujols didn’t have the kind of year that we’ve come to expect. He started off very slowly but finished strong as the Cardinals set and held the record (for about ten minutes) for the biggest September comeback. That and name recognition will garner him some votes but not enough in my opinion to reclaim the award that he’s won three times before. A season of .299/105/37/99 is good, but not an MVP winning proposition considering the other candidates.

Justin Upton had a nice bounce-back season after a breakout rookie season in 2009 and a disappointing 2010. Justin set new career highs in HR (31), RBI (88), R (105), and SB (21). At the same time, the outfielder set a new career low in strikeouts even though he had 66 more at-bats than his previous season high. Upton’s good season coupled with Arizona being the surprise winner of the NL West will surely get the 24-year-old some votes, but not enough to bring home the hardware.

If the MVP was awarded solely on the basis of the numbers, then Matt Kemp would be the hands down winner in 2011. Setting career highs in BA (.324), HR (39), RBI (126), R (115), and SB (40) would tend to do that. But the voters don’t always just consider the numbers. The fact the Los Angeles Dodgers finished in third place, 11 ½ games behind the division leading Arizona Diamondbacks, will almost certainly siphon some votes away from Matt. There may even be some who punish Kemp – unjustly - for the whole McCourt mess.

The 2010 winner was Joey Votto and he is again in contention this year. But the fact the Cincinnati Reds first baseman regressed in every offensive category except bases on balls doesn’t help his chances of repeating. A line of .309/101/29/103/8 is very nice and is something I wish I was able to do but it won’t get many votes this year except for maybe some hometown attention.

Troy Tulowitzki is probably the dark horse contender for the award but I’m sure he’ll get some notice. The shortstop ended his season with a .302 BA, 30 HR and 105 RBI – very good numbers coming from the shortstop position, especially considering the struggles and disappointment of Hanley Ramirez, whom Tulo was supposed to battle for the title of best NL shortstop. Votes for him should be few and far between when compared to the other candidates.

Then there’s Ryan Braun. The Milwaukee Brewers left fielder finished his age-27 season with a .332 batting average, the highest of his career. Add in 33 home runs and 33 stolen bases with only six caught stealing for a productive 85% success rate. The stolen base total was also the highest of his career. Ryan contributed 111 RBI and 109 runs scored for the Central Division champions. Braun will be a fixture for Milwaukee for a long time, having signed an extension through 2020 (with an option for 2021) on his original 2015 contract. He’ll be contending for the MVP for a long time and gets my vote for the 2011 NL MVP. Not only was he the best player on his team, his WAR (wins above replacement, for those who like the Sabermetric approach) of 7.8 could have been the difference between Milwaukee winning their division as they did or finishing lower. For me, that was the deciding factor in a close battle with runner-up Matt Kemp.

I was originally going to write about my choice for 2011 National League MVP. However, I will save that for next week and look at the two League Championship Series just finished.

Well, so much for my desire to see a Milwaukee Brewers/Detroit Tigers World Series as the Texas Rangers took care of the Tigers in six games and the St. Louis Cardinals did likewise to the Brewers. Both series ended in final game blowouts. So what happened on the way to the Fall Classic?

Actually, a couple of things happened; namely, series MVPs Nelson Cruz and David Freese. In the American League the Tigers out-homered the Rangers 13-7 but batted 42 points lower, scored 2.3 fewer runs per game, and allowed an ERA 2.03 higher. One of the amazing things was Texas was second in the American League in homeruns but only managed about half as many as the Tigers. Even more amazing, only two Rangers players managed to hit a ball out of the park – Michael Young with one and Nelson Cruz with the other six! Not a single dinger from Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, or Adrian Beltre. Cruz also led the team in runs scored (7) and RBI (13).

Cruz managed a few records during this League Championship Series. His six HR and 13 RBI are both records. Other records set by Cruz: the first player to hit six HR in two different postseasons; the first player with an extra inning HR in two different games of a series; the first walk off grand slam in playoff history. He took care of the Texas hitting while the Ranger pitchers took care of Detroit’s hitting. And therein lies the secret of baseball success – hit the other team’s pitchers while pitching too well for them to hit you.

In the National League, St. Louis was led by the hitting of David Freese as they upset the Brewers four games to two. He led all Cardinals hitters with a .545 batting average. On a team featuring the likes of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and Yadier Molina, Freese was the leader in hits (12), HR (3), and total bases (24). He also tied for the lead in runs scored (7) and RBI (9).

The other factor most responsible for the Brewers’ failure to get to the World Series was the utterly crappy pitching of their starting rotation. Randy Wolf was the only one to put forth a good effort with a 2.57 ERA in the only game he started. Out of the other pitchers who started games, Zack Greinke had a 6.17 ERA in two starts; Yovani Gallardo a 7.20 ERA in one start; Shaun Marcum a 16.20 ERA in two starts including a one inning, four earned run debacle in the Card’s clinching game when Milwaukee most needed a good start from him.

So that was how we got to where we are now. The show starts tonight with C.J. Wilson taking the ball for the Rangers while Chris Carpenter goes for the Cardinals. Game two will be tomorrow with Colby Lewis starting for Texas and Jaime Garcia for St. Louis. Both games will be home games for the Cards. Redbird manager Tony LaRussa has announced Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson as his game three and four starters, respectively. Ranger skipper Ron Washington has yet to announce anyone past game two but Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are likely candidates.

So what are we to expect? From what most prognosticators, experts, analysts, and Las Vegas says, the Texas Rangers will win their first ever World Series. They point mostly to the Rangers offense and say it is too much for the St. Louis pitching. But they said the same thing last year when the Rangers lost to the San Francisco Giants. I would argue that the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals are a much better hitting team than the 2010 Giants. This Cardinals team hit more homeruns than the Philadelphia Phillies and scored more runs and had a higher batting average than every NL team. They were also tied for the league lead in slugging percentage with the Brewers. St. Louis certainly has the right handed bats in Pujols, Berkman, Holliday, Freese, Molina, and Rafael Furcal to handle the left handed Ranger’s starters Wilson, Harrison, and Holland. That’s a big advantage for the Cardinals.

Now consider the Cardinals have the home field advantage the result of the National League winning the All Star game this year. Tony LaRussa is a master tactician and having the home field advantage where he can utilize double switches and limit the Ranger use of the Designated Hitter is another big advantage. To me, this is all enough to add up to a potential (improbable in most watchers’ eyes) World Series victory for the Cardinals. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As everyone knows, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the League Championship Series in the National League. Milwaukee outlasted the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games while St. Louis upset the Philadelphia Phillies in five games in the Divisional Series. With the Cardinals defeating the Brewers 12-3 Monday, the series is tied at one game apiece heading to St. Louis.

Just as the Diamondbacks in the first round, the Cardinals treated Shaun Marcum very rudely. He allowed five earned runs in four innings against St. Louis after being abused by Arizona for seven earned runs in four and two-thirds innings. For my money, however, the Brewers are the team that will represent the NL in the World Series. Albert Pujols notwithstanding, Milwaukee has too much offense and their pitching is deep enough to outlast St. Louis.

I’d most like to see Milwaukee face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Texas doesn’t do anything for me as far as being in a Championship Series. Detroit and Milwaukee would have a natural proximity to each other that would add to the excitement of the series that no other combination of teams would offer.

After the playoffs are finished, MLB will announce the winners of the regular season awards. I’ve already put forth my choice of the Cy Young Award in the NL. What about Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year? This week we’ll take a look at the Rookie of the Year candidates.

There are some serious contenders for the NL ROY award including Josh Collmenter, Wilson Ramos, Brandon Beachy, Vance Worley, Freddie Freeman, and Craig Kimbrel. In my honorable opinion, the winner of the award will come from that group.

Josh Collmenter made 24 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks and was very instrumental in providing much needed starting rotation depth in Chase Field. The 25-year-old threw 154 1/3 innings striking out 100. Josh allowed 137 hits and 28 bases on balls for a 1.07 WHIP and 58 earned runs for a 3.38 ERA. Collmenter’s K:BB of 3.5 is favorable as is a 0.99 HR/9 and 1.63 BB/9. On the other hand, K/9 of 5.83 is a bit lower than one would like to see especially with a .264 BABIP – he can’t get the punch out as readily when needed. It didn’t hurt him too much this year but it very well could in the future pitching in the desert. Josh managed a .500 record at 10-10.

Wilson Ramos compiled 389 at-bats playing in 113 games for the Washington Nationals – 108 of them behind the plate. He put up a serviceable .267 batting average while smacking 15 HR for the improved Nats. Wilson is good defensively which can’t be overstated, handling a pitching staff without any real number one. Or number two. Or number three. When runners got on base and attempted to steal, Ramos threw them out about one-third of the time. Overall, he did a good job behind the dish for Washington.

The Atlanta Braves always seem to come up with home-grown pitching and Brandon Beachy is another. He made 25 starts for Atlanta this year after beating out Mike Minor for the fifth rotation spot coming out of spring. The 25-year-old pitched 141 2/3 innings after missing five weeks with a strained oblique and wound up with 169 strikeouts for a 10.7 K/9! That put Brandon tops amongst pitchers with that many innings that did not have enough innings (162) to qualify. To put that in perspective, of all pitchers who qualified for individual honors, Zack Greinke led the league with 10.54 K/9. One knock on Beachy is he averaged less than six innings per outing which limited his record to seven wins in ten decisions. A 1.21 WHIP and 3.68 ERA rounds out his stat line for the year.

After being called up to replace an injured Joe Blanton, Vance Worley did a good job the rest of the way for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 131 2/3 innings over 21 starts and four relief appearances, Worley finished with a very good 11-3 record. His 119 strikeouts equated to a very solid 8.1 per nine innings and this went very well with a 1.23 WHIP and 3.01 ERA. He did a very good job keeping the ball in the yard allowing only ten round trippers – a good quality to have pitching in Citizens Bank Park.

On the surface, Freddie Freeman did not acquit himself very well with a .167 BA at the major league level in 2010. However, that came in only 24 at-bats in 20 games – certainly not a fair chance to prove anything after hitting .319 in AAA. Freddie certainly got that chance in 2011 with 571 at-bats and proceeded to hit .282 with 21 HR and 76 RBI playing first base full time for the Atlanta Braves. Freeman easily outplayed another 22-year-old on the Braves roster – right fielder Jason Heyward, who was in his second year. In fact, Freeman’s 2011 season eclipsed Heyward’s rookie year of 2010. Freddie did see an uptick in strikeouts from once every 5.5 at-bats to once every 4.0 at-bats, but that is pretty common in first year players.

Last but not least on my list is closer Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves (the third rookie from Atlanta in contention if you weren’t counting). In fact, Kimbrel is my choice for NL Rookie of the Year, hands down. All he did was blow away the NL rookie saves record (36 by Todd Worrell in 1986) and the major league rookie record (40 by Neftali Feliz in 2010) with his 46. That tied John Axford of Milwaukee for the league lead. Kimbrel did have eight blown saves on the year but five of them came before the All-Star break. In 77 innings, the Braves’ 23-year-old had a 1.04 WHIP and 2.10 ERA. While he needs to reduce his bases on balls (32), he was downright overpowering with an amazing 127 strikeouts in those 77 innings – equating to a rate of 14.84/9! Kimbrel limited opposing hitters to a .170 average (.333 BABIP) and only three home runs.

So to sum up my postseason awards to date, Ian Kennedy is my NL Cy Young winner and Craig Kimbrel is my NL Rookie of the Year. Next week will be a recap of the rest of the NL playoffs as well as MVP candidates.

The 2011 Major League Baseball playoffs are underway and my Yankees are again in the fray. (EDIT – it is now golf season for the Bombers). At the same time, the National Football League season is entering its second quarter and my Miami Dolphins are in the thick of the race for Andrew Luck.

Just because the football season is here, however, doesn’t mean that fantasy players stop thinking about baseball. On the contrary, many baseball owners – yours truly included – are even now beginning the process of preparing for the next fantasy baseball contest. Along those lines, I am going to take an early look at some players I will have my eye on going into the 2012 season.

First, there is third baseman Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants. Pablo faced a lot of criticism for being overweight and having a bad work ethic during a disappointing 2010 season that followed a breakout 2009. This included a drop of 62 points off his batting average and 12 fewer home runs. This year he improved his batting average by 47 points to .315 and hit 23 homers. In the last month of the season, Sandoval hit seven of his home runs and had a .378 average to finish strong. The power total was only two fewer than 2010 and came in 146 fewer at-bats as he lost time to a broken wrist. The fact that 18 of his 23 homers came after returning from a wrist injury and the widespread reports of weight loss accompanied by a renewed commitment to his profession is a very encouraging sign for Kung Fu Panda for next year. I’ll be buying wherever I can.

Someone I’ll be keeping a close eye on is Carlos Beltran as he will become a free agent. It is clearly evident that the years of mid 20’s home runs and stolen bases are gone as Carlos managed only four swipes this year. But the power is back as he swatted 22 homers in 520 at-bats. As 2010 wound down he hit six homers in the final month after being traded to the San Francisco Giants while batting a robust .378. The outfielder had six doubles and two triples to go along with the home runs. It will be very interesting to see where he winds up in 2012 and I will take him on my team if the situation is right.

The knock on Dee Gordon is his lack of plate discipline. At only 5’11” and 150 lbs, Gordon needs to develop some since he won’t be hitting for much power. If the way he ended the 2011 season is any indication, he seems to have developed some of the plate discipline he will need going forward. In 113 at-bats in the final month he hit .372 with a .398 on-base percentage. When he got on base, the strength of his game and his real fantasy value became evident with 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts. That equates to over 70 steals in a full season – something any fantasy owner would welcome on their team. I already own Gordon in one keeper league and will want him in more if the plate discipline carries over into next spring.

Mat Latos had an excellent 2010 season for the offensively challenged San Diego Padres as he finished with a 14-10 record, 1.08 WHIP and 2.92 ERA. He added better than a strikeout per inning to his other stats. This rate dropped in 2011 by about half a strikeout per nine to 8.57 as his record fell to 9-14. He started off the season poorly and I’m hoping most of my opponents remember this. He caught fire in the last month, finishing with a 3-1 record, 0.90 WHIP, 1.96 ERA, and 10.3 K/9 which gave him a K:BB of just under 8.50:1. My bet is that the 2012 version is more like the last month rather than the first part of the year.

Madison Bumgarner isn’t really a household name as some other pitchers in the league but he is certainly a capable major league pitcher. He is another pitcher who falls into the category of not much offensive support and I’m hoping that turns off prospective buyers in 2012. Bumgarner had a nice year with a 1.21 WHIP and 3.21 ERA but just an average record at 13 wins and 13 losses. However, he ended the season in very strong fashion with four victories against only one loss and a 1.02 WHIP and 2.01 ERA in his final five starts. His strikeouts were strong as well, at 9.78 per nine innings. There could be a buying opportunity if others ignore the strong finish.

These are just a handful of the players I will be watching out for. There will be more as the analysis of the 2011 season gets into full stride.

It’s official. The 2011 regular season has come to an end and with it so have many a fantasy league. Some owners are basking in the glow of a championship while others are left to wonder what went wrong.

The same could certainly be said of the National League playoff race. While the race was certainly very exciting and kept baseball fans on the edge of their seats, it also was the cause of much agita. As late as August 25, the Atlanta Braves had a comfortable nine and one half game lead on the San Francisco Giants for the wild card race. The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t even in the discussion at that point as they were a game behind the Giants. Entering September Atlanta was still eight and a half games behind the Braves even though they had leapfrogged San Francisco. And so the race was on.

When the end came, it was a historic moment as far as collapses go not only for the Braves in the National League but also for the Boston Red Sox in the American League. What we witnessed on the final day in both leagues was unparalleled in baseball history and kudos go to both the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays for not giving up and finally making it into the playoffs at the last possible moment.

Which now brings us to the second season of 2011 – the playoffs. The heroics of the Cardinals have earned them the uncoveted distinction of having to face the Philadelphia Phillies - who have won the NL East five years in a row – in the first round of the playoffs. To make matters just that much worse, St. Louis will be facing a Phillies starting rotation that has been set up nicely for the postseason.

Philadelphia leads off with Roy Halladay followed by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Certainly a tough mountain for any opposing team to scale. St. Louis counters with Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia. On the surface it would seem St. Louis is behind the eight ball. However, the Cards have a three win against one loss record this season against the Philadelphia troika. On the Cardinals side, Lohse, Carpenter, and Garcia are a combined three wins and one loss against the Phils with a 1.00 ERA.

On the offensive side, St. Louis handily outscored Philadelphia on the season 762-713. In head to head play the Cardinals outscored the Phillies 34-32 and outhit them .275-.233. St. Louis hit seven balls out of the park against Philadelphia’s five. And the best player on either team – Albert Pujols – didn’t have a typical Pujols season.

In spite of this, the smart play seems to be to put your money on the Phillies to vanquish the Cardinals. However, I am not going with the smart play. In my mind, St. Louis played the Phils too tough this year and with what they did just to get into the playoffs fate certainly seems to be on their side. I am going with the Cardinals to pull the upset and for the magic of this special season to continue.

In the other NL playoff series, the Arizona Diamondbacks take on the Milwaukee Brewers. Both the Brewers and D’Backs won their divisions easily by six and eight games respectively. The Brew Crew won 96 games while Arizona won 94. In the regular season Arizona edged Milwaukee four games to three in head to head play.

The Brewers and Diamondbacks were very close in a number of offensive categories throughout the year. Arizona had the edge in runs scored at 731-721 while Milwaukee had the edge in HR (185-172), BA (.261-.250), OBP (.325-.322) and SLG (.425-.413). Milwaukee also holds a similar slim advantage in most pitching categories. Even the bullpens are close with Milwaukee closer John Axford saving 46 games compared to Arizona’s J.J. Putz successfully closing out 45. While the two teams are close overall, it will be imperative for the Brewers to do well at home because they are the only playoff team with a losing road record.

The Brewers have set their rotation for the first three playoff games with Yovani Gallardo starting off followed by Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum. Ian Kennedy will take the mound first for Arizona with Daniel Hudson likely to follow although Kirk Gibson hasn’t announced his rotation yet.

I really like this series and think it will be very close and entertaining. Both teams are certainly capable of moving on to the League Championship but in the end I feel it will be the Milwaukee Brewers coming out on top due to the home field advantage and their depth in starting pitching.

The 2011 Major League Baseball season has but a week’s worth of games remaining. The Philadelphia Phillies have clinched their fifth consecutive East Division title – the last four of which they compiled over 90 wins. In fact, the Phils have the best record in all of baseball and are the only team with a realistic shot at hitting the century mark in victories. The Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks are the odds on favorites to win the Central and Western Divisions respectively as they are both up by five and one half games. The only race still in question in the NL is the Wild Card where the Atlanta Braves are clinging to a two and one half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Atlanta has lost six of their last ten while the Cards have won eight of ten.

So the regular season drama is winding down and that leaves us with the National League playoffs and, eventually the World Series. But with football season entering its third week I’m going to bypass that, go against the grain and fast forward to one of the individual awards that MLB doesn’t announce until after the World Series winner has been determined.

Let’s look at the Cy Young Award. The Phillies have a trio of starting pitchers in Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels who will all get votes. And all of them are worthy of the votes they will garner.

Cliff Lee has gone 16-8 with a 1.03 WHIP and 2.38 ERA in 226 2/3 innings. He has better than a strikeout per inning with 232 on the year. Roy Halladay has had a typical Doc year with a 1.05 WHIP and 2.41 ERA in 227 2/3 innings with 217 strikeouts. He bested Lee in the win/loss department with 18 victories against six losses. Cole Hamels has an impressive 0.98 WHIP with a 2.80 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 206 innings although his record is only 14-9.

Over on the west coast, the San Francisco Giants have two worthy candidates as well in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. In 212 innings The Freak has put up numbers of 1.19/2.59/217. Likewise, Cain has good numbers with 1.08/2.86/173. However, both have been victimized by the Giants’ poor offense and have only managed 13-13 and 12-10 records respectively.

Moving down the coast a bit is the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw – who many consider the favorite to win the NL version of the Cy Young. And Kershaw has had a Cy Young-esque year with a 0.99 WHIP, 2.27 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 226 innings to go along with his 20-5 record. Certainly a very impressive season by anyone’s standards.

As big and successful a season that all of these hurlers have had, none of them would get my vote. That is, if I had one to give. My vote would go to Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kennedy has amassed 216 innings pitched this season – comparable to anyone else who would be considered for the award. In those innings he had a 1.08 WHIP and 2.88 ERA. The 26 year old has a very impressive 20-4 record and, in fact, was the first NL pitcher to 20 victories this year. He was no slouch in the strikeout department either with 194.

Arizona started out the season very roughly. They won their first game of the season April 1 but were not over the .500 mark again until May 25. Ironically, the first two times eclipsing the breakeven point were both against the Colorado Rockies in Colorado. After the May 25 game the Diamondbacks would not fall below .500 for the rest of the year. Both of those games were started by Ian Kennedy. He pitched well enough to win the first one allowing three runs in six innings. In the second game he went eight innings allowing one run for the victory.

After that May 25th game, Arizona didn’t look back. They had climbed from a low of 15-22 (a .405 winning percentage), fourth place in the division, five and one half games back on May 13 – just a dozen days prior – to second place, two and one half games back and a .510 winning percentage at 25-24.

Kirk Gibson had his team taste first place for the first time in 2011 on May 29. The Giants and D’Backs see-sawed back and forth for a while before Arizona slipped into second place on June 25. They were as much as four and one half games out of first as late as July 20 before climbing back even with San Francisco on August 2. On August 10 Arizona took over sole possession of first place and has retained that spot since then. This from a team that some Las Vegas books had as 1200:1 underdogs to win their division!

A big part of the success of the Diamondbacks is directly attributable to Ian Kennedy. Nine of his twenty wins came after losses. After July 20 when Arizona was four and a half games out, Kennedy started 12 games and won 11 of them. In that stretch, Kennedy pitched to a 0.98 WHIP and 2.02 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings. Against division foe San Francisco, he is 2-0 in four starts with a 0.84 WHIP and 0.87 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 31 innings. On the year opponents are hitting .227 against him and with a BABIP of .281 he isn’t considered as just being lucky.

Diamondbacks pitchers have won the Cy Young award twice before – Randy Johnson in 2001 and Brandon Webb in 2006. How does Kennedy compare against them? In 2001 Randy Johnson was 21-6, a .778 winning percentage against Ian’s present .833 at 20-4. It can certainly be argued that Randy had the benefit of a much better offense than the 2011 version. Second to the Big Unit that year in the voting was teammate Curt Schilling with a 22-6 record and .786 winning percentage. Johnson had a better ERA than Kennedy’s while Schilling’s was a little higher. Randy had a WHIP just over 1.00 while Curt’s 1.07 was closer to the 1.08 of Ian. Where it was no contest was in strikeout totals with Johnson at 372 and Schilling at 293 to Kennedy’s 194.

Brandon Webb finished 2006 with a 16-8 record for a .667 winning percentage. His 1.13 WHIP was inferior to Kennedy’s as was his 3.10 ERA. Ian Kennedy also has a much better strikeout rate than Webb did – 8.08/9 vs. 6.81/9. The runner up for Cy Young that year was Trevor Hoffman with Chris Carpenter third.

Kennedy’s 2011 could even be considered with the likes of other winners of the past decade – Roy Halladay in 2010, Tim Lincecum in 2008 and 2009 and Jake Peavy in 2007. The most remarkable comparison would be Chris Carpenter in 2005 who was 21-5 for a .808 winning percentage, 1.05 WHIP, 2.83 ERA and 7.94 K/9.

Even taking the past comparisons into consideration, the thing that puts Ian Kennedy over the top for me is the team he is on. Again, this is a team with 1200:1 odds against it winning their own division and is now challenging for the second best record in the National League. You might argue they are in the weakest of the 3 NL divisions but they have still won 90 games – no small feat for any team. Clayton Kershaw might have better numbers but without him the Los Angeles Dodgers are still a bad team – just more bad. Without Ian Kennedy the Arizona Diamondbacks are nowhere near accomplishing what they are poised to accomplish and could very well be a bad team themselves. When Arizona fell back to four and a half games out on July 20 they could have cashed it in and no one would have blamed them. Everyone would have said they over achieved to that point. The Pittsburgh Pirates were still contenders at that time and they faded away. But Arizona didn’t fade away. Ian Kennedy put them on his shoulders and pitched them past the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants and on the verge of entering the history books as the Western Division champions.

Who knows what will happen from here on out into the playoffs? But that doesn’t matter in the Cy Young voting. What does matter is the Arizona Diamondbacks getting there while Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing golf.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago there was a bite in the air and teams were starting the marathon known as baseball’s regular season/2011 Version. At that time, many a fantasy owner was drunk with the prospects of how their team would dominate the competition and bring home a fantasy championship. It wasn’t long after drafts were finished that the smack started about who won their draft and how all the also rans should just surrender the title then and there.

Truth be told, however, rarely does the winner of the draft actually go on to hoist the trophy and bathe in the Yoo-Hoo as baseball reality plays havoc with fantasy baseball. Injuries have to be overcome and breakout players as well as underperformers need to be identified and added or subtracted from a roster soon enough to positively affect league standings. This is as true with Major League teams as it is with your fantasy team.

For both sides, the hopes and dreams of spring turned into the reality of the 162 game schedule. Some teams got off to a hot start while others faltered. The same applied to individual players. We moved into the start of summer and eventually into the dog days. Hot players and teams turned cold while those on the lower temperature settings heated up. The weather generally turned from cool to unbearably hot and is now moving back to comfortable days and brisk nights. All the while the fluidity of the early-season standings started to gel to the point we are at now.

The Philadelphia Phillies have the best record in the Majors with 92 victories against 48 losses and are well on the way to their fifth consecutive Eastern Division title. The remaining schedule has them playing three more games at the Milwaukee Brewers and three at the Houston Astros. They then head home for two against the Florida Marlins and four each against the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals before finishing the regular season with three game series at the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. With 22 games to go and a ten game lead in the division over the Braves, the Phils should be a shoe in to best their 2010 record of 97-65 and are odds on favorites to eclipse the 100 win plateau.

Over in the Central Division, the Milwaukee Brewers have moved out to an eight game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brew Crew have three more games at home against the Phillies and two games against the Colorado Rockies. They then hit the road for three games each at the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs before finishing back home for three with the Florida Marlins and three with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With only 17 games left, Milwaukee has to hope for as many victories as possible to retain their very slight lead in the battle for the second place seed in the playoffs. Falling into the third or fourth best spot would not bode well for the Brewers as they are the only team in either the National or American League seemingly playoff bound to have a losing record on the road.

The National League West has the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks with a healthy seven and a half game lead over the defending world champion San Francisco Giants. Arizona finishes out the remainder of the schedule with three games at home against the San Diego Padres, three each at the Los Angeles Dodgers and Padres, then home again for three against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers. With 18 games left, Arizona has a good shot to surpass their 90-win 2007 season.

The NL Wild Card race has the Atlanta Braves with a comfortable seven and a half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves have an important three-game series at the Cardinals which could decide the Wild Card winner. After that they are home to face the Florida Marlins and New York Mets for three games each then head to Florida for three more and the Washington Nationals for three. Atlanta then finishes up at home as they host the Phillies for three games.

Looking at these races, it seems as though the four leading teams for the playoffs should be the same four in a few weeks. The only questions that remain are the final playoff seedings as well as how each team will use its personnel down the stretch. The roster decisions each of these teams make will likely go a long way in deciding the final standings of many a fantasy team.

The beginning of the 2011 draft season saw Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley on the sidelines with a knee injury. Many fantasy owners were unwilling to take the chance on Chase with a top pick and so set their sights on either Brandon Phillips or Rickie Weeks as the top two rated second baggers. If neither of these could be had the next down the list for many was Dan Uggla.

Coming off a contract with the Florida Marlins for a year in which he hit .287 with a career high 33 HR, Uggla was due for a raise in pay in arbitration. The .287 BA couldn’t have come at a better time as it was seemingly an aberration compared to the .257 mark over his first four years with Florida. Certainly, many were pointing to 2010 as the proverbial contract year in trying to get a big raise and long-term contract from Florida. On the other hand, others were quick to say that he had hit .282 in his freshman year as a Marlin so he was certainly capable of hitting for average. The naysayers were quick to point out the 760 strikeouts in five seasons while the pro-Uggla camp responded with four consecutive seasons of 30+ HR. And so the point/counter-point went.

The Atlanta Braves obviously were believers as they made a trade for the homer-hitting second baseman. It didn’t hurt Uggla’s prospects that the Braves were near the bottom of the league in HR for the 2010 season or that they would be chasing the offensive powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies for the division title.

Right from the start there were those who thought Atlanta made a mistake. Armed with the knowledge that Uggla turned down a four year $48 million offer from his former team, they didn’t think the Braves would or should eclipse the Marlins’ offer. However, Atlanta took stock of their position and put their eggs in one basket by going all in for the ex-Marlin for a total of five years and $62 million.

Winter gave way to spring and players reported to camp. The Braves were eager to get going to show their fans what they would get from their marquee off-season acquisition. However, as things sometimes go, they didn’t go well for Atlanta and their new second baseman. Uggla played in 23 spring games that saw him get 66 at bats. He made the least of those chances with only 14 hits for a meager .212 average. Even worse, only one of those hits made it over the fence. Pro-rate that over a full season and Dan winds up with less than ten HR – a stat he was supposed to supply for his new team in a big way.

But that was only spring training and everyone knows that doesn’t mean anything. At least everyone not an Atlanta Braves fan. Management was telling everyone not to worry and that things would be different in the regular season as Dan became acclimated to his new team and surroundings. Spring training ended and teams headed north for the real games. Uggla was hopeful he would come around, Braves management was confident, and the fans were nervous.

Baseball in earnest started for Atlanta on March 31 and Dan proceeded to go hitless in four at bats with two strikeouts against the World Series favorite Washington Nationals. April came and he had one hit in four at bats in the first game of the month with that hit being a homerun – exactly what he was supposed to do. By the end of April he was batting an anemic .194 with five homeruns. Those five HR only yielded a total of nine RBI, however. There were also 21 strikeouts to go along with the bad BA.

By the end of May Uggla had gone in the wrong direction. His batting average was down to .178 and he only added two more HR and seven RBI in the month. Worse than that, Atlanta had now played division rival Philadelphia Phillies in six games and Uggla had two hits in 23 AB with no HR and only one RBI. What he did have were eight strikeouts. The pressure was getting to Dan and he admitted it: "When you're struggling when you come to the field, I don't care who you are, you're going to feel a little bit of pressure," Uggla said.

But, surely, June would be better – or would it. He went one for 16 at the plate his first five games with no RBI as his batting average sunk to .170. It was not a good start to the new month for the badly slumping infielder. The month wound up being an up and down affair as it saw him end with the same BA he started the month with. He also added five HR and 12 RBI to his totals. After three months, Uggla now had 12 HR and 28 RBI to go along with the .178 average.

Enter July and a new chance for redemption. It started off in the usual manner with only one hit in 15 at bats over four games as he saw his BA sink further to .173 for the season. Then came a July 5 game – the second of a four game series – at home against the Colorado Rockies. In the game Dan went two for two with a homerun and RBI. The next day he went two for three with another HR and two RBI. The back-to-back games with a HR seemed to be the catalyst Uggla needed to get the monkey off his back as he proceeded to play in 20 more games in the month and hit safely in all of them. The month ended with Dan accumulating eight HR and 19 RBI as he saw his average jump to .206 as he now was sporting a 22 game hitting streak.

August started and Uggla continued his hot hitting as he got at least one hit in another 11 games with his average rising to a lofty .232 with the 33 game hit streak. He finally saw the streak end on August 14 but has only gone hitless in four August games. The power continued as ten HR were added to his totals for the year and it is apparent that Dan is well on his way to salvaging the season. Over the first three months, Uggla hit .178 with 12 HR and 28 RBI. Over the last two he has hit .317 with 18 HR and 39 RBI.

"This is obviously the place that I want to spend the rest of my career," Uggla told the media. "This is a great organization and a great team. It's just a matter of time before I make the adjustment. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll make it."

The turnaround has been very fortuitous for the Atlanta Braves. They are still a good distance from the first place Philadelphia Phillies but are in total control of the 2011 NL Wild Card Race - a year they have seen the good the bad and the ugly from their high priced addition.

Having recently completed a three-part series on each National League team’s first half, I thought it would be interesting to go back and read over some of my own predictions for how certain players would fare for the year.

PICKS

Hunter Pence – I was pretty high on Pence finishing with .285/90/25/90/20 but he’ll have some work to do from here on out to attain all those numbers. We’re 100 games into the season and the outfielder has less than half those totals in homers and steals. He’s also on pace to come up short in runs scored and RBIs. On the positive side, Hunter is hitting .308 on the season, so he could surpass the .285 BA I envisioned. The trade to the Philadelphia Phillies may serve to accelerate things but it’s certainly not a lock.

Drew Stubbs – The projection on the Cincinnati centerfielder was for .256/98/25/78/33 and things look mixed as he’s on pace for .250/104/20/55/40. Drew’s BB% has decreased a tad with his strikeout rate increasing a bit. BABIP is up 12 points to .342 although SLG is below .400 at .390 for the first time in his two-plus years up in Cincinnati (.439 and .444).

Seth Smith – My original projection for Smith was 450 at-bats with a .275 BA, 20-plus homers and 80 RBIs. While he is on pace to get over 500 at-bats with a .289 BA, the rest doesn’t seem likely as he projects out to 12 homers and 65 RBIs.

Will Venable – This pick has pretty much been a bust as I was hoping for a possible 15/30 season. The 28-year old started off slowly and, at the time he was demoted to the Minors on May 23, was hitting only .224 with 11 steals but no home runs. Will was brought back up and is currently hitting near .250 and has added three homers and eight stolen bases to his totals. At this point he has a chance to steal close to 30 bags but anywhere near 15 homers is out of the question.

Chris Heisey – I liked Chris as a reserve round pick this year, sure that Dusty Baker would eventually tire of Jonny Gomes’ subpar defense. After all, it’s not like Gomes has enough offensive ability for the bad defense to be overlooked. Heisey got some playing time earlier in the year but has seen much more since the trade of Gomes to the Washington Nationals. Heisey has contributed a dozen home runs, five steals and an average near .250 for the Reds so far and will likely meet or surpass my expectations in every category with the exception of a lighter BA.

PANS

Jayson Werth – In real baseball, Werth has certainly been less than expected, especially when you take into consideration the outrageous contract the Nats gave him. He hasn’t been any less disappointing as a fantasy player with only 13 homers and a .226 BA. Yes, he does have 14 steals and could surpass his single-season high of 20 but that pales in comparison to how poorly his final line could be - .226/71/19/63. All of these would be significantly lower than most people were counting on.

Carlos Lee – On the positive side, Lee’s BA has rebounded about 20 points this year. On the other hand, his home run production, which has been in a slide, has actually fallen off the cliff this year. Carlos finished 2010 with 24 homers in 605 at-bats but at his current pace will finish 2011 with 14 home runs in 599 at-bats. His saving grace will be a comparable amount of RBIs and runs thanks in large part to a 40 point increase in BABIP.

Carlos Beltran – The New York Mets (now San Francisco Giants) outfielder has actually been fairly productive and mostly healthy this year. Carlos is hitting just under .290 and his 15 homers puts him on track for 22, which would be his highest season total since 2008. The steals still aren’t there and probably won’t be anymore but Beltran is still on a pace for 94 runs scored and 100 RBIs, which would again be his highest season totals since 2008.

Jonny Gomes – Well, it happened. Dusty and the Cincinnati Reds front office grew tired of Gomes for whichever reason and shipped him off to the Washington Nationals where he will probably see even less playing time. The 30-year-old outfielder has hit 11 bombs so far and will be fairly close to last year’s total of 18, but a .212 BA certainly won’t cut it. Gomes will see significantly decreased totals in runs scored and RBIs when the season finally ends.

Pat Burrell – Pat the Bat will most likely end 2011 with about 125 fewer at-bats than he had in 2010. His seven homers to date will leave him far short of 2010’s 20 dingers. Combine that with a pitifully lousy pace for 25 runs scored and 30 RBIs along with an average hovering in the .230 range, and you have yourself proof of one of the worst signings of the past offseason. While Brandon Belt has had his struggles with Major League pitching, how much worse could the Giants have been if they gave him the full-time reins?

This is always an interesting little exercise for me although this is the first time it was meant for more than just my eyes only. It’s fairly evident I did better picking my pans than picking my picks – at least in the NL outfield. For me, the fun part is not really how many I nailed but, rather, the whole process of mulling individual players over in my head and coming up with my own analysis of what their actual skill level, production, and value will be. As we head into the final turn towards the 2011 stretch run, I’m already looking forward to next year’s iteration.

This is the final part grading each National League team on their first half performance.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates are the feel good story of the 2011 season and are in the thick of the Central Division race only one game out of first. The Bucs are four games over .500 and are playing winning ball both at home and on the road. Pittsburgh’s strength hasn’t been its offense as they are on the wrong side of the league average in just about every category except SB. Andrew McCutchen leads the team in HR, BA, R, and SB and is becoming a fantasy stud. Other than him, no one is standing out on this Pirates team. Jose Tabata is second with 14 SB; Neil Walker leads with 59 RBI; Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit has been a good backstop tandem but both are now on the disabled list. Lyle Overbay is well below average at first base. Pedro Alvarez has been a major disappointment at the hot corner with only two HR and a .208 average and was sent back to AAA after coming off the DL to try to work out his problems.

The strength of this team has been its pitching. There aren’t any aces on this team. In fact, the starting staff is a collection of unspectacular hurlers, many of whom are having career years. Kevin Correia leads the team with 11 wins and needs only one more to tie his career high. Jeff Karstens has the best WHIP (1.07) and ERA (2.55) of his career. Likewise with Paul Maholm and his 1.18 WHIP and 2.96 ERA. Charlie Morton has tied his career high for wins in a season with seven. Nobody on this staff strikes out many hitters and James McDonald leads them with a 7.19 K/9. Joel Hanrahan has been perfect in save chances with 26 out of 26.

GRADES: Pitching – (B); Hitting – (D)

San Diego Padres – San Diego is at the bottom of the West Division 12 games under .500 and 12 games out of first place. They are playing to a losing record both at home and on the road. This is an abysmal offensive team with the lowest BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS in the league. They have managed to hit a grand total of 48 HR and have struck out the most times in the NL. On a positive, they are tied for the league lead with 89 stolen bases. Chase Headley has been their best average hitter with a .299 mark. Ryan Ludwick is the team leader with 11 HR and 55 RBI. No one else on the team has more than five HR or 31 RBI. Jason Bartlett’s 18 SB are the most and Will Venable, Orlando Hudson, and Cameron Maybin are all in double digits. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo was brought up but is struggling with a .165 BA thus far.

The Padres are another team that has one of the best ERA’s (3.23) in the league but who don’t strike out many hitters (6.82/9). San Diego’s BAA is the fourth best in the NL at .248 and their 57 HR allowed is second best. Even though he has missed a month to a foot injury, Aaron Harang is leading the team with seven wins and is having a very good comeback year. Tim Stauffer has the best WHIP and ERA among the regular starters with 1.21 and 2.97 respectively. Mat Latos has had an up and down year and is the only starter with a good strikeout rate (8.34/9). Dustin Moseley and Clayton Richard are a combined 7-17 although they both have a sub 3.90 ERA. Heath Bell has seen a major dip in his strikeout rate but is still 26 of 27 in save chances. He and Mike Adams comprise one of the best one-two bullpen punches in the league.

GRADES: Pitching – (B+); Hitting – (F)

San Francisco Giants – San Francisco leads the pack in the West, 12 games over .500 and three games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This is another team that hasn’t gotten to where they are on the strength of their bats with a .243 average that is fourth from the bottom in the NL. The Giants are the second worst in the league scoring runs with a grand total of 332. The offense which wasn’t good to begin with, got worse with the loss of Buster Posey. A sign of how bad things are, Miguel Tejada leads the team with a .241 BA among those players with enough at bats to qualify for the title. Pablo Sandoval was having a good comeback season before being put on the sidelines with a wrist injury. Even with the time off and 140 fewer at bats he is still tied with the most homeruns on the team at eight with Aubrey Huff. Sandoval has gotten his average up over .300 after a disappointing 2010 season. Andres Torres is the big SB threat on this team but has a hard time getting on base.

The Giants are one of the better pitching teams in the league and have struck out more hitters and have a lower BAA than any other team. Matt Cain leads the team with an 8-5 record and is one of two pitchers with over 100 strikeouts. Obviously, the other is Tim Lincecum who has 132 punch outs in 123 innings but an unspectacular 7-7 record. Madison Bumgarner has pitched pretty well and has a good number of strikeouts but has only managed a 4-9 record. Ryan Vogelsong has been the big surprise winning six of seven decisions with a 2.17 ERA. Brian Wilson and his beard have made good on 26 of 30 save chances. He has struck out a batter per inning along the way but allows way too many base runners as indicated by his 1.42 WHIP.

GRADE: Pitching – (A); Hitting – (F)

St. Louis Cardinals – The Redbirds are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the Central Division. St. Louis leads the National League in BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS. All with Albert Pujols having a subpar season with 18 HR and a .280 BA, which is his high water mark for the year. Lance Berkman has been a pleasant surprise leading the team with 24 HR and 63 RBI. Matt Holliday spent some time on the DL but is back raking again to the tune of 14 HR and a .324 BA. This isn’t a running team with only 35 SB against 22 caught stealing for a lousy 61% success rate. Ryan Theriot and Yadier Molina have provided good batting averages and some counting stats while Colby Rasmus, who was a popular pre-season pick, has been a disappointment.

St. Louis has not been a good pitching team this year and are, in fact, near the bottom in strikeouts and BAA. Obviously, the loss of Adam Wainwright has had its effect. Jaime Garcia is the team ace with a 9-3 record in 18 starts. Jaime is the only pitcher on the Cardinals staff with at least 100 strikeouts. Chris Carpenter has had a down year with a 4-7 record and his worst ERA since his days with the Toronto Blue Jays. Kyle Lohse has had a productive season winning eight of 14 decisions. Dave Duncan hasn’t worked his magic on Jake Westbrook. Even though he has a 7-4 record it comes with a 1.61 WHIP and 5.34 ERA. Fernando Salas is closing out games with 16 of 18 chances converted and a strikeout per inning.

GRADES: Pitching – (B+); Hitting – (D+)

Washington Nationals – The Washington Nationals are playing .500 ball this late in the season but are still 11 ½ games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. The Nats are a cool ten games over .500 at home but give it all away on the road. Washington is offensively challenged and doesn’t score many runs or hit for a good average. The bright spots have been Michael Morse and his 15 HR and .306 BA, and Danny Espinosa’s 16 HR and 12 SB. The not so bright spots include Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond. While Werth has ten HR and 11 SB he’s also hitting .215 with a .319 OBP. Desmond has 20 SB but it comes with a draining .223 BA and .264 OBP.

Washington doesn’t have much of a pitching staff either. With Stephen Strasburg out for the year, there isn’t much to talk about in a starting rotation consisting of Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, and Jason Marquis. The best pitcher has been Jordan Zimmermann who, despite a losing 6-7 record, is pitching well with a 1.07 WHIP and 2.66 ERA. He leads the team with 82 strikeouts but with 115 innings pitched that only equates to a 6.42/9 rate. Tyler Clippard has pitched well coming out of the bullpen striking out 63 hitters in just over 51 innings with a 0.86 WHIP and 1.75 ERA. Drew Storen finishes off games and has saved 23 of 26 on the season with a 0.97 WHIP and 2.53 ERA.

GRADES: Pitching – (D); Hitting – (D)

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