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In the Zone: The juxtaposition of the Cardinals and the Royals, Chelsea Thomas, and the NBA/NHL Playoffs

The dog days of summer are approaching. We’re done with spring collegiate sports. We’re into the meat of the MLB schedule. And the calendar-covering NBA and NHL seasons are about to come to an end (eventually).

1) The St. Louis Cardinals are the best team in baseball.

Despite having four starting pitchers on the disabled list: Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, John Gast, and Chris Carpenter (technically still classified as a starting pitcher); the Redbirds have an MLB-best 34-17 record entering Wednesday night’s game with the Royals.

Thanks to the effective and surprising contributions of a half dozen rookies, the Cardinals still have the best pitching staff in Major League Baseball, despite the injuries. It’s THE reason why this team has the most wins in the Bigs.

Three rookies in the rotation – Shelby Miller, Tyler Lyons, and Gast – have combined to go 9-3 with a 2.33 ERA.

Three rookie relievers – Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez – have combined to go 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 17 holds.

The rash of injuries is about to force another rookie onto the big-league stage.

Michael Wacha was the Cardinals first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft and has quickly established himself as one of the prized pitching prospects in all of baseball.

Wacha began his meteoric ascent with a stellar 2012 debut in pro ball. The big 6-foot-6 righthander pitched in 11 games as a 20-year-old and was touched for just two earned runs in 21.2 innings pitched (0.86 ERA). More astoundingly, he struck out 40 of the 75 batters he faced.

Wacha then came to spring training in 2013 and looked like the best pitcher on the team. He didn’t allow a single run.

Despite that dominating performance against major league hitters, Wacha was sent to Triple-A Memphis because he wasn’t needed in St. Louis. In nine Triple-A starts this season, Wacha is 4-0 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 2.05 ERA.

Wacha makes his MLB debut Thursday against Kansas City.

2) Speaking of the Royals, Ned Yost’s bunch is currently playing like the worst team in baseball.

They have hit two home runs since May 15. Both by 39-year old Miguel Tejada.

Not kidding.

To further the embarrassment, the Royals hitting coach offered this nonsense to reporters inquiring about the team’s lack of power.

*Ironically enough, two different big league players have hit three homers TODAY by themselves.

Sure, the lineup is the biggest issue on the field with this team, but I’m not sure it’s the biggest issue overall with the team.

Is it time to can Ned Yost?

I say yes. It’s not for this reason, but I find it to be the perfect microcosm of his current status with the team and lackluster decision-making.

On May 6, the Royals were 17-10 entering a Monday series finale at home against the White Sox. They had won four straight games and were attempting to finish up a long home stand with a sweep of a division rival. They were one of the feel good stories of the first month in Major League Baseball.

On that fateful Sunday afternoon, the Royals sent their ace, their horse, the centerpiece of their blockbuster off-season trade – James Shields – to the mound.

After a scoreless opening frame from Shields, Billy Butler doubled home Alex Gordon in the bottom of the inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. That was plenty for Shields. He allowed two hits and two walks covering the next seven frames. He had struck out nine helpless White Sox hitters.

Despite that dominance covering eight breezy innings, Yost inexplicably pulled Shields in the ninth inning and turned the game over to his bullpen; a bullpen that can only be described to that point in the season as shaky at best.

OF COURSE, the bullpen blew the save and eventually lost the game in the 11 th inning.

Shields, who has thrown more than 200 innings in each of the last six seasons, was sitting at 102 pitches after his eight innings of work. In 27 of his 33 starts in 2012, Shields threw 102 pitches or more.

In fact, in his third start of the 2013 season, Yost let Shields take a nine-inning complete game loss against the Blue Jays in which he threw 115 pitches and was not nearly as dominating as he was against the White Sox.

Citing pitch count won’t fly here, Ned. Shields should have stayed in to finish what he started. Instead the Royals lost that game and haven’t been the same since. Since that loss, Kansas City has tumbled to seven games under .500 thanks to just four wins in the 21 games that followed. #Yosted.

*To add insult to injury, the Royals had to travel by bus down I-70 to reach St. Louis after losing two to the Cards at The K because their plane was grounded in Kansas City with mechanical issues. #Yosted.

*To add more insult to injury, the Royals blew a late lead against the Cardinals and lost 5-3 Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. Former Mizzou pitcher Aaron Crow allowed four runs in the eighth inning. The game-winning hit came from lefty Daniel Descalso…after Crow had given up four hits and two runs…and with lefty Bruce Chen idly waiting in the bullpen. #Yosted.


Seeking a reprieve from their 4-19 slump, and astounding lack of power, the Royals re-assigned their two hitting coaches, Jack Maloof and Andre David, and hired Hall of Famer George Brett (and Pedro Grifol) to replace them on an interim basis.

Will No. 5 help?

Well, we know the man can hit. Just look at the back of his baseball card.

One thing Brett does have going for him is a working knowledge of the roster and each players strengths/deficiencies as a hitter. Brett has served as an on-field coach during spring training for quite awhile.

He recently said the key to breaking a slump is to force yourself to have fun.

For whatever reason, the previous regime has turned Eric Hosmer into little more than a 6-foot-4 slap hitter. Mike Moustakas hits the ball hard from time to time, but you can’t have an MLB player in your everyday lineup hitting .187. Where is the power from Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez, who each have just one home run this season?

Good luck, George. Hopefully better than the luck you had that one time in Las Vegas looking for a bathroom.

3) It was highly disappointing to see the Mizzou softball team fall flat in Super Regionals against Washington. The senior class deserved better. Pitcher Chelsea Thomas deserved better.

On Wednesday, she was named a 1 st -team All-American for the third time in her collegiate career.

She won two Big 12 Pitcher of the Year awards.

She won the 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year award.

She won 111 collegiate games.

My question to you: Was she the most dominant Mizzou athlete of all-time?

4) The San Antonio Spurs are waiting for an opponent in the 2013 NBA Finals.

On one hand: Commissioner David Stern could host a championship series featuring the bustling media markets of San Antonio and Indianapolis.

On the other hand: Stern could host a championship series featuring the fascinating juxtaposition of San Antonio versus Miami.

That Hail Mary you hear is coming from the NBA offices.

At this moment in time, the Eastern Conference finals are tied at 2-2. It now becomes a best-of-three series with two of those games coming in South Beach.

By his standard, LeBron James is having just an average series. He’s averaging a very human stat line of 28.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.8 bpg against a Pacer defense that was statistically one of the best, if not the best, in the NBA this season.

With the way Chris Bosh is playing (14.0 ppg/3.3 rpg in this series, 16.5 ppg/6.8 rpg in the regular season), the way Miami’s snipers Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers are shooting (a combined 24.3 percent from three in this series on 37 tries), and the way Dwyane Wade has been hobbled by his balky right knee (career low 14.3 points per game this postseason), though, LeBron may need to do even more to get his team back to its third straight NBA Finals.

Time for the four-time league MVP to pull out “The Look” for the rest of this series and go Game 6 in Boston on a very pesky Pacer team that is being led by the new “best big man in the game,” Roy Hibbert. Averaging 22.8 ppg, 12.0 rpg, and intimidating and altering shots in the paint on defense, Hibbert has been the MVP through four games of this series.

5) The Blackhawks won game 7 of their series Wednesday night with the Red Wings 2-1 in OT and advanced to the Western Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

The Hawks rallied from a 3-1 series deficit.

I’ll take the Hawks in seven over the Kings. But LA goalie Jonathan Quick has been the best postseason goalie the past two years and goaltending is the ultimate equalizer in the NHL.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins begin the Eastern Conference finals Saturday in the Steel City.

Pittsburgh in five…and seven in the Cup final.

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