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ESPNs Tim Kurkjian talks MLB Little League Classic and Cardinals playoff chances

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Ahead of Sunday’s unique Cardinals game, Tim Kurkjian talks about the event, Giancarlo Stanton, and how the Cardinals have surprised him.

Little League World Series - World Series Championship Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

On Sunday night, the Cardinals will be playing against the Pirates at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The game, played in the same town as the Little League World Series, will draw attention to the annual event and provide fans a different perspective in watching a Major League Baseball game at a smaller venue.

The game will be broadcast at 6pm CT on ESPN, and one of the broadcasters on the call will be Tim Kurkjian, who is also broadcasting games for the Little League World Series. Kurkjian took some time to answer a few of our question on the event and the current state of the Cardinals.

VEB: I’m not sure if I would go so far as to call you prophetic, but when we last talked in the middle of June and things weren’t looking so good for St. Louis, you said you thought the Cardinals were going to get back into both the division race and the Wild Card. How did they do it, and was it for the reasons you were expecting?

TK: I’m not sure how they did this. They got back in it, of course, because their starting pitching was so good, but then they started to score a bunch of runs which I didn’t see coming. Now they are back in this and they are the Cardinals and they are always in it, so here we go again. It is great to see.

VEB: They didn’t make any big moves at the trading deadline. Did that surprise you? Is there any chance they do something in August. I know there are a lot of people who would like to see Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the lineup.

TK: I don’t see anything major happening before September 1st because it is so hard to do anything through waivers these days. I wasn’t surprised to see the Cardinals not do anything because what they needed was what not many people had or were willing to make available. That was some sort of big bat for the middle of the order. As we all saw, the people that got traded were pitching help somewhere: starters, relievers.

J.D. Martinez was the best bat to move and there weren’t any others other than him. I just didn’t see Stanton going. I still don’t see Stanton going anytime soon. I wasn’t surprised that nothing happened with the Cardinals. I was surprised that even without making a deal they started scoring a bunch of runs.

VEB: Mike Leake is the scheduled starter for the game you are doing Sunday night. When you look at his numbers on the season, he’s right around where he should be, but he’s shown some signs of wearing down--he’s averaged less than five innings per start since the All-Star Break and his velocity is down--is it time to maybe skip a start and give Luke Weaver another shot? Do you have to wait and see where Adam Wainwright’s health is?

TK: I think all of that is important now. I’ve seen Leake in person about three times this season. Once, he just got clobbered against the Mets. Another time, he pitched really well in St. Louis. They’re really going to need him. If they are going to win this thing, if they are going to make the playoffs, they are going to need excellent starting pitching. That’s what is going to separate them from other teams. It’s going to include Wainwright. It’s going to include Leake. And it’s going to include Luke Weaver, too.

They need help from all different areas here if they are going to make it. They fought so hard to get themselves back in it. Sometimes you fight so hard to get above .500 you lose some steam after that. We’ll see how much steam the Cardinals have left.

VEB: The bullpen looked locked in of late with Trevor Rosenthal, but it looks like he’s going to be gone for at least 10 days. What do you do at the back end now?

TK: This has been a real problem for the Cardinals this year in that bullpen. Rosenthal who has been so good, his velocity slipped pretty badly [Wednesday]. You are going to have to look at the rest of those guys--Oh included--and say “you gotta do a whole lot better now because our closer is gone for awhile”.

It’s amazing the Cardinals are still in this having lost 22 games having led by multiple runs. That‘s a lot of losses when you’re up by two or more, and they better get this bullpen straightened out. I’m not sure how they do that without the number one guy.

VEB: This game is being played at a minor league stadium: Bowman Field, home of the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters. Have you ever been to a game like that and what are you expecting in terms of atmosphere? Will the game play any differently?

TK: I did the game in Fort Bragg in North Carolina last year which was really cool in that it was played on a military base. No game had ever been played on a military base before. They put that field together in about three months. It was remarkable. They did a sensational job. It was really a great time because the military built that park, and there was such affection for our military. The players really enjoyed because they got away from the usual ballpark and got to play somewhere else, and I think it really meant something to them.

This will be interesting, too, because this is all about the little leagues which i just love. The fact that the big leagues will be coming to the little league field--or at least the little league town--is going to be great. I think the atmosphere--there will only be 2,600 people here--they will be ready for this. I think it will be very loud and a lot of fun. It will be unique and when something is unique and done well and i’m sure this will be, I think it’s going to be great.

VEB: In addition to your duties Sunday night, you also do the Little League World Series games. What are your goals or approach when you are broadcasting a game full of kids who are likely on television for the first time?

TK: I really enjoy it. I’m really just dazzled by how skilled these kids are. Especially the middle infielders, especially their footwork and their hands around the bag is just really impressive to me. I just love it here. I don’t mean to be corny, but this is baseball in its purest level and these kids really love to play.

All this thought that we’ve lost a generation of kids in baseball and kids don’t love baseball anymore--too boring, too slow, whatever they want to say--these kids really like it. They love it, and I think that’s great. Of course you have to approach this differently because these kids aren’t getting paid to play. They’re 12 years old. I think the love of the game is apparent every step you take in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and that’s why I love coming here.

VEB: The Cardinals are back in it now. Do you see them finishing the job? Who do you see potentially faltering with them chasing the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and technically the Brewers.

TK: I’m not too good on predictions these days, but I’m going to say the Cubs are going to somehow win the division, and I think Colorado and Arizona are going to win the Wild Cards. Nothing is guaranteed. Colorado and Arizona have struggled a little bit lately. The Cubs a couple times this year I thought would get it going and really haven’t.

I’m just worried for the Cardinals’ sake that the runs that have come so easily recently are going to go away a bit. The Rosenthal injury, some other problems with their starting pitching which carried them for so long, just makes me believe that eventually the Cubs are going to find a way to win this.

That lead for Colorado and Arizona is still pretty stout at this point. I picked the Cardinals to make the playoffs at the beginning of this year. I’m certainly not giving up on them, but if you asked me if I think they are going to make it now, my guess is that they are going to finish out of the playoffs again this year.

Thanks again to Tim for taking some time to talk Cardinals baseball.