David Freese

Five potential breakout players to watch in 2013

With April rapidly approaching, America’s pastime is almost upon us. Unfortunately, this could be a rough year for Texas baseball. The Astros are on the verge of another 50-win season, as they are welcomed to the AL West and the Rangers will fight for one of the top two spots in the division with youthful Oakland, the up-and-coming Mariners and the lavish Angels.
Though, this doesn’t mean we still can’t look forward to another memorable season. At the end of the season, it is always intriguing to take a look at the breakout seasons certain players had, especially when those player began the year as sleepesr or relatively unknowns.

Here are five players I predict will have breakout seasons in 2013:

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs:
Last year, Rizzo was called up to the majors after tearing it up in Triple-A, hitting 23 homeruns and batting .342. Then, in 87 games with the Cubs, he hit .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. Chicago padded its lineup a bit this offseason with the additions of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, and this should only improve Rizzo’s production by giving him more opportunities. Only 23, the first baseman has a great capacity for improvement. Don’t be surprised if Rizzo posts a .280, 30-plus home run and 100 RBI line this year for the Cubbies.

Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics’ signing of Cespedes was a big headline during last year’s offseason, but when the leftfielder got off to a slow start in his first MLB season, us fickle sports fans almost seemed to forget about him. He finished last year batting .292, with 23 home runs, and 82 RBIs in 129 games. I fully expect Cespedes to start at least 140 games this year, and after making the adjustment to MLB pitching, I expect a 30-plus homerun season and a possible all-star selection. While I see his batting average dipping a bit, I also see a noticeable increase in power, giving Oakland a potent one-two punch with Josh Reddick.

Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
In his first full MLB season, Moore exceeded expectations. While finishing with a 11-11 record doesn’t seem that impressive, his 3.81 ERA and 175 strikeouts show that he has great stuff. He averaged close to nine K’s per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .238 clip. He does need to improve his control some, as he finished 7th in the AL in walks, but he will need to be a central part of the Rays' season if they wish to make another postseason run. Don’t expect Clayton Kershaw-like numbers just yet, but he owns a devastating changeup and an overpowering fastball that can get up to 98 on the gun.

David Freese, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
Baseball fans will not soon forget Freese’s 2011 World Series heroics, especially during the legendary game six. While Freese did get voted to his first All-Star game last year, I can’t help but see his numbers as underachieving for a player of his talent. My view of his production lies in his power numbers and run production. From what I saw in the 2011 postseason, Freese has the potential to be a 30-plus homerun third baseman. Unfortunately for Freese, a loaded Cardinal lineup takes some production away from him. I don’t see the Cardinals lineup producing the way it did last year, and should Craig, Beltran, Hollida, or Molina go down with an injury, expect Freese to be the guy to pick up the slack.

Mike Minor, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Last year, after the month of June, Minor held an ERA greater than 6.00. He was 3-6 and struggling to challenge hitters. But after an outing against the Yankees, in which he went 7 1/3 innings and only allowed one run, it was smooth sailing. Minor finished the season with an 11-10 record and a 4.12 ERA, including a 2.16 ERA after the All-Star break. If he can continue where he left off in 2012, Minor should be one of the centerpieces of the Braves' rotation for years to come. Perhaps Medlen-Minor will develop shades of Maddux-Glavine.

2011 World Series

St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run triple off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz during the ninth inning of Game 6 of baseball's World Series on Thursday in St. Louis.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — David Freese homered to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals forced the World Series to a Game 7 by rallying from two-run deficits against the Texas Rangers in the 9th and 10th on Thursday night.

Freese hit a two-run triple just over a leaping Nelson Cruz to tie the score 7-7 in the ninth inning against Neftali Feliz. Then, after Josh Hamilton put Texas ahead with a two-run homer in the 10th off Jason Motte, Ryan Theriot hit an RBI groundout in the bottom half and Lance Berkman tied it 9-9 with a single. Freese’s shot to center came off Mark Lowe.

Game 7 is Friday night.

Texas had built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit consecutive home runs off Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler added an RBI single off Octavio Dotel.
Allen Craig’s second homer of the Series cut the gap in the eighth against Derek Holland.

In the ninth, Albert Pujols doubled with one out off Feliz and Berkman walked on four pitches.

Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. He sliced an opposite-field drive, and when Cruz jumped, the crowd of 47,315 at Busch Stadium couldn’t tell at first whether he caught it.

Feliz then retired Yadier Molina on a flyout to right, sending the game to extra innings.

With Texas ahead 3-2 in the Series and one win from its first title, the Rangers also wasted 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads. The Cardinals made three errors in a Series game for the first time since 1943, and Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two, with each team allowing two unearned runs.
Matt Holliday was picked off in the sixth at third base by catcher Mike Napoli, thwarting the Cardinals’ attempt to go ahead, and he had to leave the game because of a bruised right pinkie.

Hamilton’s RBI single had put the Rangers ahead in the first off Jaime Garcia, Berkman’s two-run homer gave the Cardinals the lead in the bottom half and Kinsler’s run-scoring double tied it 2-all in the third.

Cruz reached when Holliday dropped a flyball leading off the fourth and came home when Napoli singled for his 10th RBI of the Series. Berkman then got to first on a throwing error by Young starting the bottom half and scored on Molina’s grounder.

Freese dropped Hamilton’s popup to third leading off the fifth, and Young lined a pitch from Fernando Salas to the gap in left-center. An error by Young on Holliday’s sixth-inning grounder was followed by three straight walks, including two by Alexi Ogando.

Colby Lewis allowed four runs — two earned — and three hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Texas got far better swings against Garcia than it did in Game 2, when he allowed three hits in six shutout innings. This time, he gave up five hits and two walks, throwing 59 pitches, and seven of the first 13 Texas batters reached base.

Just 24 of the 61 previous teams with 3-2 leads won Game 6, but 41 of those 61 teams went on to win the title. Eighteen teams trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven format bounced back for championships, including 12 that swept the last two games at home.

In an effort to provide more production behind Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa moved Berkman to cleanup and dropped slumping Holliday down to fifth.
Rangers manager Ron Washington moved the hot-hitting Napoli up one spot to seventh and had Craig Gentry hitting eighth, as he did in Game 2.

Four Cardinals Hall of Famers, wearing cardinal red sports jackets, stood at home plate before the game. Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith. And then the greatest Cardinals player, 90-year-old Stan Musial, was driven from the right-field corner to the plate in a golf cart. Wearing a red sweater and Cardinals warmup jacket, he greeted his fellow Hall of Famers and watched 2006 Series MVP David Eckstein throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Texas went ahead 10 pitches in. After starting with a called strike, Garcia walked Kinsler on four straight pitches, and Elvis Andrus’ hit-and-run single put runners at the corners. Hamilton pulled the next pitch into right field for a single and his third RBI of the Series.

Garcia recovered to strike out Young and Beltre, then got Cruz to hit into an inning-ending forceout on his 23rd pitch.
Lewis quickly gave back the lead. Skip Schumaker, moved up from eighth in the batting order to second, singled with one out in the bottom half. Pujols flied out on the next pitch. Berkman also swung at the first pitch, sending an 89 mph offering over the center-field wall.

Napoli walked leading off the second and Gentry singled him to second. Lewis bunted directly at Freese, who started a rare 5-6-4 double play. Shortstop Rafael Furcal took the throw at third for the force, then threw to second baseman Nick Punto covering first.

Kinsler followed with a ground-rule double that hopped over the left-field fence, tying the score 2-all. La Russa then had Mitchell Boggs start warming up after Garcia had thrown just 42 pitches to 10 batters,

Andrus hit an inning-ending lineout to right that Berkman slightly misjudged and caught with a jump.

Schumaker and Pujols flied out just in front of the warning track in the third. Other than his 5-for-6, three-homer, six-RBI performance in Game 3, Pujols is 1 for 17.

St. Louis, tied for fourth in the majors in errors during the regular season, started to get sloppy in the fourth. Cruz led off with a fly to short left, where Holliday called for Furcal to take it, only for the shortstop to back off. The ball then bounced off Holliday’s glove for a two-base error.

Napoli sliced a single down the right-field line, kicking up chalk from the foul line, to put Texas ahead 3-2. After Gentry struck out, Lewis bunted to Pujols, who threw to second in time for a forceout, but first base umpire Jerry Layne called the ball foul. Lewis bunted the next pitch to Salas, who threw the ball into center field. Not sure whether to slide, Napoli went in awkwardly and turned his left ankle. He stayed in, but the base was later replaced.

Salas escaped further trouble by throwing a called third strike past Kinsler and retiring Andrus on a fly to left that turned Holliday around in the wind.

Berkman led off with a grounder to Young, who bobbled it and made a throw that pulled Lewis off the base for an error on the first baseman. Holliday walked for the second time, and Furcal bounced into a forceout to second, with Andrus’ throw to first for a double play way high and bouncing off a screen near the dugout. Molina followed with a grounder to third that drove in his sixth run of the Series.

After Young’s double, Napoli was intentionally walked with two outs, and pinch-hitter David Murphy walked to load the bases. While Yorvit Torrealba was in the on-deck circle to hit, Washington left Lewis in the game, and he struck out in three pitches.

Berkman reached on an infield hit. Young then picked up Holliday’s grounder, thought about throwing to second and allowed the ball to pop free. Berkman then just beat him to the bag.

Walks to Freese and Molina forced in a run, and Napoli picked off Holliday at third, with Holliday bruising his right pinkie and leaving the game. After a wild pitch, Punto walked and Holland retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.

Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter will start game on of the World Series tonight against the Ranger’s C.J. Wilson. Carpenter’s pitching is key to the Cardinals success in the series, along with the rest of their starters. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Austin Laymance covered the St. Louis Cardinals for three months during his summer internship with MLB.com.

The Cardinals are no strangers to the World Series. But this might be their most improbable run yet.

St. Louis is the only team in Major League history to be 10.5 games out of a playoff birth in August and make it to the Fall Classic. The Cardinals are the hottest team in baseball and are playing their best ball at the right time.

Their bullpen is among the best in the league and their lineup, from top to bottom, has found its swing. The Redbirds have scored in the first inning in each of their last eight playoff games, a postseason record. 

The heart of the batting order — Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman — is a nightmare for pitchers. If Texas manager Ron Washington wants to walk Pujols, he better have an answer for the RBI machine that is Holliday and the switch-hitting Berkman.

And don’t forget about David Freese, the hometown hero and National League Championship Series MVP. The oft-injured third baseman is the key to the St. Louis offense. When he’s hitting, the Cards score in bunches.

Freese is just one of a host of Cardinals who spent time on the disabled list this season. St. Louis, though, is a better team because of it.

The Cards also lost Holliday, Pujols, Nick Punto, Gerald Laird, Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig, Kyle McClellan and Lance Lynn to the injuries in 2011. Still, the Redbirds persevered and became the never-say-die team that manager Tony La Russa covets.

The adversity began in spring training, when staff ace Adam Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. When the club announced he would miss the entire season, few gave St. Louis any chance of making it this far.

But they did. And they aren’t going to leave quietly.

Veteran right-hander Chris Carpenter gets the ball in Game one. He’s 2-0 this postseason with a 3.71 ERA in three starts. Carpenter shutout the high-powered Phillies in the Divisional round, so he’s capable of silencing the Rangers.

La Russa, though, hasn’t announced his starters for the rest of the series. And that isn’t a surprise. The crafty manager will exploit any advantage he thinks he may have. But Rangers fans should hope they see Jaime Garcia in Arlington. The southpaw is dominant at Busch Stadium but struggles mightily on the road.

The Cardinals rotation has been a model for inconsistency all season. But La Russa is a master at utilizing his bullpen. He’s often credited for the construction of the modern bullpen and has a pair of left-handed specialists ­— Marc Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes — lined up for Josh Hamilton.

Rhodes was with Texas earlier in the season before being waived and signing with St. Louis. He’ll get a ring no matter who wins.

It’s hard to think of two franchises with such a stark contrast in pageantry.

The Cardinals have won a record 18 NL pennants and 10 World Series championships — second only to the Yankees.

The Rangers are going to the World Series for the second time in as many years after decades of futility.

While the Cards have several champions on their roster, they acquired a number of players at the trade deadline searching for a title late in their careers. Shortstop Rafael Furcal and relievers Octavio Dotel and Rhodes all came to St. Louis in hopes of a ring. The same rings true for Berkman, who signed with the club in the offseason and recently agreed to an extension.

The Rangers showed interest in Berkman at the trade deadline — funny how baseball works. He’s also a Texas kid who grew up in New Braunfels, went to Rice and started his career in Houston. But this October, the “Big Puma” could upset his fellow Texans.

Pujols will be a free agent at the end of the season, and this could be his last hurray in a St. Louis uniform.

The Cardinals are searching for their 11th World Series title in ‘11. And if you think they can’t beat Texas, consider this: St. Louis has not boarded a plane coming off a loss since August 3. The Cards have dubbed the streak “Happyflight” and chant it after each win before heading home.

Yes, these Redbirds are ready to soar.