Scouting the opponent: St. Louis Cardinals
October, 19, 2011
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
Drew Litton for ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- Derrick Goold, the Cardinals' beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Cardinals. You can catch all of his coverage here. Here goes:
Q: What makes the Cardinals bullpen so good and have you been surprised by how well they pitched in the NLCS?
DG: What makes them so good is that they've settled into their roles. They have each asserted their niche and that's allowed the bullpen to take shape and be an answer for a lot of the situations that faced the Cardinals in the NLCS. The bullpen was not good in the first half of the season and had the second-most blown saves in baseball and fell behind in the divison because of it. They landed Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel around the trade deadline and they were also important personalities. They added Rzepczynski and has become a real weapon. Jason Motte took over at closer and that's when things clicked. He's had a tremendous season, but they were hestitant to throw him out there in the ninth. But when they started their run from 10 1/2 back to the NL pennant, it's not a coincidence that Motte became the closer and that power arm was huge.
Q: Talk about manager Tony La Russa and what makes him so good at guiding teams in the postseason.
DG: I think it's his willingness to manage urgently and not second guess. He manages with no fear of the reprecussions. If that means pulling his starter after two innings when something doesn't look right, he'll do that. If he doesn't want to put Matt Holliday in the cleanup because he's worried about pressure, he'll do that. If it means starting Freese at No. 7 spot to take pressure off, he'll do that. He'll change guys at spots when he feels it's needed. His level of urgency and willingness to use everything at his disposal not only to get a lead, but once they have it, he doesn't cloud himself with the "what ifs" and what message it sends. If they play for the one key inning, he'll manage for it too. He had a gutsy NLCS.
Q: When the games shift to Arlington, will Allen Craig likely be the addition to the lineup? Would he play the OF and Berkman DH or would Craig DH? Can you tell us a little bit about Craig?
DG: Allen will be the addition. Whether or not Craig, Berkman or Holliday DHs, I don't know. I get a sense it might be different each day, to be honest. But Craig is the bat they want to get in the lineup. Even once in the NLCS, Craig started ahead of Berkman. Craig has hit at every level. He's been an everyday bat without an everyday position. He's played at CF, RF, LF, 2B, a little at third and at 1B. The question is how to get him more plate appearances and more productive spots than a pinch-hit appearance. So there's an eagerness to have the DH because it gives them a chance to start a guy who is like David Freese with a touch more power. If you took what he had over an entire season, he'd have 20-plus homers and has that power to the gaps.
Q: What made Chris Carpenter so effective against the Phillies' lineup in Game 5 of the NLDS and how do you think he fares against the Rangers lineup?
DG: He's relentless. He had command of everything in that game against the Phillies. He had command of the fastball and could use the curve more. He had increasing confidence in that off-speed stuff in that game. It was everything that defines Carpenter was at its best in that game. His poise, competitive zeal, sometimes raw anger that fuels him and his stuff. He was efficient. He said the other day that Game 5 wasn't as taxing as his NLCS start because his mechanics were solid. He didn't have to throw out of the stretch much. He had it all going. That's what he's been searching for. He hasn't had that consistently. He's had it when the Cardinals have needed it most, but he hasn't had the stretch where he's put it together for four, five, six starts in a row. He'll need to find that in the World Series.
Q: How does the rest of the Cardinals rotation likely lineup after Carpenter and can you give us a sentence or two on each of the starters as a bit of a scouting report?
DG: Jaime Garcia is a second-year lefty, went to a Texas high school and was overlooked in the draft. Was third in the rooke of the year voting last year. He's a weapon when he's on, but is prone to having innings unravel on him and gets frustrated by peripheral things sometimes. They might start him at home because he's been much better at Busch Stadium [note: La Russa said late Tuesday afternoon that Garcia will start Game 2]. He's had his moments on both ends of the spectrum, capable of excellence and capable of things snowballing on him.
Kyle Lohse has had an interesting year. He came in healthy after a forearm surgery that was a first for this type of ballplayer that allowed him to get feel of some of his pitches back. It was the second-most wins of his career, led the rotation in ERA and was essential in their run. He didn't lose from Aug. 25 to the end of the season. he brought stability to the rotation when needed. He only got one start in the NLCS to give him some rest and the results were he was a little rusty. He's pitched very consistently, but his reward has been sort of to be yanked around a little bit.
Edwin Jackson had the real disappointing start in Game 6. It was over quickly. He is the power arm starter with above average velocity and aslider that can be his put-away pitch. When he is on, he's found a way to increase his tempo and understand the value of quick outs so he doesn't get high pitch counts. But everything for him is command of fastball.
Q: The Rangers have three left-handed pitchers in their rotation. Is that an advantage or disadvantage against the Cardinal lineup?
DG: The Cards have had a track record of not doing well against lefties. But that's changed this year. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they can throw out Pujols, Berkman, Holliday, Freese, Molina and Craig all of them are right-handed, all are going to take All-Star type at-bats or grind-it-out at-bats. That is a hard gauntlet to run through for a lefty these days and they've done better because of it. Berkman has improved from the right side than he was before this year. It doesn't hurt to have Furcal as a switch-hitter, either.
Q: David Freese sure was impressive in the NLCS. What was his approach at the plate and what made him so effective?
DG: He has real legit power to the opposite field. As teams have pitched to him, he has used that to his advantage. His willingness to let the ball go deeper gives him time to adjust. What he's added recently is a willingness to pull the ball and that's made him tougher to get out. He was pivotal in sending the Cardinals to a Game 5 with a big Game 4 of the ALDS and then was great in the ALCS. But he's pulling the ball too, so he's able to adjust better and has more coverage because of that. He can do more damage with different types of pitches now. He has a jolt of confidence that comes with performance in the postseason. He's up there thinking that whatever they do I can hit it.
Q: Any good places to eat and tourist spots to hit for Rangers fans coming to St. Louis for the World Series?
DG: Absolutely. City Museum is great. It's a creative museum and I bet they haven't seen anything like it. It's downtown. Sydney Street Cafe is good. Tin Can Tavern is one of my favorite places. You've got to get the almond chicken fingers. No visit is complete without a brewery tour of Anaheiser Busch, but don't ignore the smaller breweries.
Q: Is there anything to the magic of the squirrel?
DG: No. But it's a nice merchandising and marketing gimmick. They've done stuffed animals, T-shirts, graphics on the videoboard.