About Gehrig and ALS and running and giving back

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

First, watch this.

What a tremendous tribute to an all-time great on the 75th anniversary of one of the most famed speeches in this sport’s history. But Major League Baseball has taken this week not only to recognize Lou Gehrig for his on-field achievements, but also to bring attention to the cruel disease that cut his life short.

Now, watch this.

That’s Greg Ratliff, the father of one of my friends and colleagues, Jason, from MLB.com. Theirs is one of many families currently burdened by ALS (now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease), to which there is no cure or treatment.

The city of Kimmswick, Mo., has rallied around the Ratliffs to try and help them as they deal with  rising insurance costs and medical needs for Nancy. The jewel event in those efforts is the Kimmswick 5K and 1-mile Fun Run, which is scheduled for Sept. 6. For those of you who enjoy road races or who have thought about giving one a try, I urge you to consider participating. The course is wonderful (I can vouch for it!) and the community is darling. Even Fredbird will be making an appearance at an event where winners are rewarded with pies.

For details on the race, visit this webpage.

If you’re not sure the race is for you but still feel compelled to give back, I have set up a fundraising page. All monies raised will go to the Nancy Ratiliff Foundation. That page can be accessed here.

I hope to rally some support for the Ratliffs from the St. Louis community, as this has been the family’s longtime home. Jason, who is the behind-the-scenes backbone of MLB.com’s Draft and prospect coverage, has worked hard to tell his mother’s story and organize this race. What a wonderful opportunity we now have to give back.

July 3: Cardinals (45-40) @ Giants (46-38)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140703_100653671.jpgAs trying as this 10-game road trip has been for the Cardinals (at least since they left Colorado more than a week ago), the club can finish it at .500 with a win today. Given who the Cardinals have faced and where they have been, .500 would probably be an accomplishment at this point.

Allen Craig is out of the lineup today, as Oscar Taveras gets the right-field start instead. Craig is hitless in his last seven at-bats and is 6-for-34 on this road trip. Jhonny Peralta moves back into the cleanup spot for the fourth time on this trip.

Carlos Martinez will be making his fourth start and is at the point where he is stretched out enough to push toward 100 pitches if all is going well. Martinez threw 82 in his last outing and came out with one out in the fifth. The Cardinals have won each of his three starts.

A reminder, too, that today is the final day to cast online ballots for All-Star Game starters. Yadier Molina was ahead of Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy by close to 500,000 votes on Tuesday. However, Major League Baseball announced today that Lucroy had 24 percent more online votes than Molina on Wednesday. That race for the starting catcher job is tightening. To access the ballot, click here.

Also, for those of you out-of-market readers, today’s game will be shown on MLB Network and on MLB.TV.

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July 2: Cardinals (44-40) @ Giants (46-37)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140702_154524812.jpgOnce reluctant to expose Oscar Taveras to center field at this level, the Cardinals brought him up to the Majors this time with a willingness to use him at the position when circumstances were right. Consider Wednesday the first of those opportunities since Adam Wainwright is on the mound. With manager Mike Matheny’s immediate priority being the need to spark the offense, he keeps Taveras in the lineup without pulling Matt Holliday, Allen Craig or Matt Adams out of it.

The Cardinals come into Wednesday’s game having scored just one run (a Matt Carpenter homer) since Friday. The team has been held scoreless over its last 24 innings. That’s the longest scoreless stretch of the season for the Cardinals, who have been shut out five times since June 1.

In five games against the Giants this season, the Cardinals are batting .176 with two homers. Through eight games on this road trip, the Cards have hit .222. And remember, this was a road trip that opened with three games at Coors Field, where the Cardinals scored 22 runs on 29 hits.

Not that the offense’s struggles are a new development. The Cardinals, with 307 runs scored in 84 games, rank only above the Padres in that category.

And don’t look now — but the Cardinals’ division lead over the Reds and Pirates is just about gone. The Cardinals are only a half-game out of fourth place.

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July 1: Cardinals (44-39) @ Giants (46-36)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140701_154506314.jpgOscar Taveras is back with the big league club and he finds himself immediately in the lineup. Manager Mike Matheny explained yesterday that Taveras’ return will give him an opportunity to rest various starters from time to time. On Tuesday, that’s Matt Holliday, despite Holliday’s career .324 average against Giants starter Tim Lincecum.

Allen Craig moves to left — a position he’s more comfortable at and one better suited for his arm — and Taveras takes his place in center. Taveras is also batting second, a spot most recently fitted for Holliday.

“It was good when they called me and said I was going up again,” Taveras said before heading out for batting practice. “I’m ready now. I’m ready to stay here. I’m going to do everything I can do.”

Marco Gonzales is making his second career start, this time in front of a not-so-supportive crowd. He’s also matching up against a pitcher who threw a no-hitter his last time out. Lincecum is one of three pitchers with a no-no this season, and the Cardinals will have now faced all three in a five-game span.

While you’re waiting for the late start in San Francisco, keep an eye on the Triple-A game this evening. Joe Kelly is making his second rehab start. Kolten Wong has joined the Memphis club for a rehab stint, too, and is playing second. You can follow along by clicking here.

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Matheny on Taveras: “We just need to figure out how he fits with us”

By Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Shortly after the Cardinals announced the call-up of outfielder and top prospect Oscar Taveras, manager Mike Matheny took a few minutes on the team’s off day to speak with a reporter from MLB.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the move. Here is some of what Matheny had to say:

On purpose of roster move… “We’re trying to generate some offense. I don’t think this is going to be exactly like we saw before when we had him up where it was, ‘Here you go, you’re going to be in there every day.’ But we’re going to have to find some considerable time for him.”

On where Taveras is going to fit, whether centerfield is an option and what this means for Allen Craig/Matt Adams… “I think it’s going to be shared around. We’re not ruling out an occasional day in centerfield if things line up perfectly with the right style pitcher that we think is going to produce more groundballs, depending on the field. For example, the park here in San Francisco is not very conducive to a non-centerfielder who plays centerfield. It’s a big yard to cover. We’re not ruling out that’s an option.

“We’re also going to try and get everybody else a day here and there and kind of spread it around. We’re going to try and be as creative as possible to get him playing time and make sure our other guys are getting the time that they deserve as well.”

On whether the move was made in reaction to lack of offense in LA… “It was already in the works. We knew that would probably be part of the plan moving forward [and] to see how we can add to our depth, which, too, strengthens our bench as well as gives us the chance to get a guy in there who has been swinging the bat well.”

“We just always kept in conversation about who would be the likely fit, about who would come in and bolster our offense. And how can we find time? With the DL to [Matt] Adams [earlier this month], it was pretty simple, let’s just let [Taveras] play and see what we’ve got. After that, trying to incorporate him pushed the need for a little creativity, not a lot unlike what we did with Matt Adams a year ago. I think that proved to be really beneficial with how that did help our bench. Every day we had a real nice bat off our bench regardless of how it played out.

“A lot of this is going to come down to, we’re going to throw him in some opportunities, but he’s going to have to produce. And if he produces, just like any of the other guys, you keep swinging it right, you’re going to have the opportunities.”

On Taveras’ results during most recent Triple-A stint… “I think we’ve seen some really good nights. We’ve seen some other days where, it’s baseball. You’re going to have good ones and bad ones. Overall, I think he’s done a real nice job. I think everybody understands he doesn’t have a whole lot more to prove there. He’s done what he needs to do. We just need to figure out how he fits with us.”

(more…)

Taveras rejoining Cards in San Francisco

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Cardinals’ top prospect is returning to the Majors, as Oscar Taveras was recalled from Triple-A Memphis on Monday. He will take the place of right-hander Jorge Rondon, who was optioned to Memphis following Sunday’s game and will be available for Memphis’ Monday game.

Rondon made his Major League debut on Sunday against the Dodgers, throwing one scoreless inning of relief walking one.

Taveras, the No. 2 overall prospect according to MLB.com’s Prospect Watch, played in 11 games with the Cardinals from May 31 to June 11. He hit .189 (7-for-37) with a home run and two RBIs during that span. The Cardinals sent him out when they did so he could continue to get regular at-bats.

Over 62 games with Memphis this year, he’s hitting .318 with eight homers and 49 RBIs. The Cardinals made this move on the heels of scoring four runs in a four-game series in Los Angeles.

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June 29: Cardinals (44-38) @ Dodgers (46-37)

wpid-wp-1404064634057.jpegJenifer Langosch/MLB.com

As expected, the Cardinals made a roster move today in advance on their series finale in Los Angeles. Up is righty Jorge Rondon; down is Eric Fornataro. It wasn’t so much a move necessitated by what Fornataro did or didn’t do, but rather one needed so as to have fresh backup behind Shelby Miller. The Cardinals were encouraged by how Miller felt (i.e. little to no back tightness) over the last two days. But there is no certainty as to how is back will respond.

This is Rondon’s third callup of the season, though he’s yet to make his Major League debut.

With an off-day scheduled for Monday, manager Mike Matheny can be aggressive in going to his bullpen early if Miller needs to be bailed out. The only unavailable reliever will be Nick Greenwood, who threw 53 pitches in a four-inning appearance on Saturday.

The Cardinals have loaded their lineup with right-handed batters against Clayton Kershaw, who is making his first home start since he threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium. Matt Adams is sitting, as a result, and Shane Robinson gets his first start since being recalled. The sample size is small, but Robinson is 3-for-5 in his career against Kershaw. Jhonny Peralta is batting third for the first time this season and carries an eight-game hitting streak into the day.

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June 28: Cardinals (44-37) @ Dodgers (45-37)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140628_124554937.jpgThe Cardinals begin their second slate of 81 games later today after reaching the midway point of the season with win No. 44 on Friday night. In case you missed it, here is a rundown of some first-half numbers and how they compare with the pennant-winning club of 2013. The improvement on the defensive side is particularly staggering.

This has been a pitching-and-defense dominated series )five total runs) to this point and today may be no different. Lance Lynn has a 2.50 ERA in three career starts at Dodger stadium, a 2.57 road ERA in 2014 and has not allowed more than two runs in any of his last four starts. He shut out the Rockies over eight innings at Coors Field his last time out.

Zack Greinke goes for the Dodgers and is trying to get to a 10-win mark already reached by National League pitchers Adam Wainwright and Alfredo Simon (Reds). Including two postseason starts last year, Greinke is 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA in five games against the Cardinals since 2012.

Matt Holliday (11-for-32), Matt Carpenter (5-for-13) and Yadier Molina (9-for-28) have all had some success against him. Jhonny Peralta is 11-for-47 against Greinke but out of the starting lineup today. Peralta extended his hitting streak to eight games with a game-winning, two-run double on Friday. Daniel Descalso takes his place at short.

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June 27: Cardinals (43-37) @ Dodgers (45-36)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140627_154933354.jpgThe Cardinals’ lineup is unchanged from Thursday, when the Cardinals were shut out for the seventh time this season. This is the third straight game in which Jhonny Peralta has hit cleanup, a move manager Mike Matheny made in an effort to best capitalize on a nice recent stretch from Peralta. He enters Friday with a seven-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games. One of those two hitless games was one in which Peralta had just a pinch-hit appearance.

While the Cardinals were taking batting practice this afternoon, Joe Kelly made his first rehab start with Triple-A Memphis. His final line: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 HR (41 pitches/21 strikes)

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June 21: Phillies (34-38) @ Cardinals (39-35)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140621_113459437.jpgAdam Wainwright returns to the mound today after a 10-day layoff during which he mostly rested while trying to alleviate tendonitis in his pitching elbow. Wainwright threw seven shutout innings his last time out despite dealing with the issue. He enters the day ranked second in the National League with a 2.15 ERA and is looking to become the second NL pitcher to win 10 games.

Wainwright will be opposed by lefty Cole Hamels, who will carry a 23-inning scoreless streak into the outing. The Cardinals are going with a right-handed heavy lineup against Hamels, which is why Jon Jay and Kolten Wong are out. The lineup shuffle also resulted in Allen Craig being moved up to the No. 2 hole.

There isn’t much other pregame news to pass along. Given Jaime Garcia’s terse and tense postgame session with the media last night, I thought it necessary to revisit the health question. Short answers are oftentimes indicative that there is something bigger going unsaid, particularly with Garcia. However, manager Mike Matheny said today that he was unaware of any physical issue bothering Garcia.

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