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Tag:Albert Pujols
Posted on: May 18, 2011 8:55 am
 

THN 5-18 - Albert Pujols' Career in Retrospect

Albert Pujols' Career in Retrospect


So, it's been too long since the last THN entry and this due to a few reasons.  One: living in Huntsville, Alabama, our city was without power for a full week so I and my family "fled" to St. Louis to stay with family.  We also had a vacation planned and now I'm currently out in Colorado traveling for work, so things have been fairly hectic. 

I don't have time to touch on the Cardinals' sweep at the hand of the Reds, nor our sweep of the Phillies last night, but I finally had a second to reflect on Albert this morning, so here we go.  Today's entry is mostly for me (aren't they all?! - ha ha.  Shuddup).  But, my therapist said it would help in the grieving process so, bear with me.

I want to thank Albert Pujols for so many things that I've witnessed and experienced as a baseball fan and lifelong Cardinal fan.  

His incredible rookie season, arguably the greatest ever.
Ten years of Hall of Fame, "spoil us" production.
A Decade Triple Crown (the 2000s and done in only nine years, mind you).
A batting title, a home run title, an RBI title and three MVP awards.

And now that it seems a page has turned in Albert's career it's suddenly becoming much more clear what a once-in-a-lifetime athletic performance we've witnessed.  What do they say?  It's a blessing to get old and see how far one has come, what challenges have been overcome, and what new possibilities lie ahead?

One distinct memory of mine: In 2001 when Pujols burst onto the scene, I was mesmerized by his hitting prowess, but the thing that excited me the most was how seldom the dude struck out.  After watching whiff-machines like Ray Lankford, Ron Gant, Jack Clark, Mark Whiten, and Jim Edmonds over the years, this Pujols kid was definitely different.  Maybe even once-in-a-lifetime different.  He struck out "just" 93 times with 30-homer power that year and that was his worst K-year.  For his career he's averaged 42 home runs per year against just 67 strikeouts a year.  Simply unreal. 

So with bittersweet feelings I have to admit that Albert reminds me of another great hitting first baseman that suddenly got old: Todd Helton.

Helton was a stellar producer with seven years of Hall-of-Fame production and then since 2005 he's hit 20+ homers just once in the last seven.  I never gave Helton enough credit because he had inflated numbers in Denver, but he WAS always a good hitter no matter where he played.  And he was never suspected of juicing and the path of his career sure seems to support that.  And Helton, despite being overpaid, once his slide began, never gave up.  He's continued to be a .300 hitter who can pop 10-15 homers and be a contributor.  Just a class act. 

And Albert should work on doing the same thing.  He physically cannot be "the man" anymore and he needs to embrace it - not sulk about it.  

And ten years after the steroid era, fans, writers and experts really see now that 'roids really didn't make players better than their talent level - but they certainly helped guys play at a high level much longer than what is naturally possible.  

Albert may be older than we think, but he's not juicer.  Just like Helton was not.  So I applaud them for aging gracefully and with dignity, without cheating.

And I must also thank Albert for having such high expectations of himself, such pride in his game, that he didn't accept a huge contract from the Cardinals, even though there's no way he could physically live up to it.

And while my original fear was that he would only be good for two or three years out of the 8 or 9 year deal, now it seems far more prudent for the Cards to either sign him to about $15 mill a year or let him walk, thereby preventing the team I love from being crippled by an albatross contract and sub-par production from a power position like first base.

And that's not how I want to remember "El Hombre".

So it's pretty cool to sit back and see just how incredibly good Pujols was.  Probably the best right-handed hitter in history his first ten years.  In reality, Albert produced his numbers in a time of depressed offense across baseball, playing in very fair offensive ballparks his entire career that have even shaded toward being pitcher-friendly.  And despite his obvious all-world talent, Albert always wanted to win, never coasting, never accepting less than his best, always willing to give whatever his team needed to help get a win.

In retrospect we see that his three MVP awards don't even begin to do him justice as to how much better he was than ever other player.  In a sport where one MVP award in a career gets you some HOF consideration, Albert could have had five or six MVPs, easily.  

That's Michael Jordan dominating the NBA good.  That's Wayne Gretzky skating circles around everyone good.  

So, I honestly hope Albert finishes his career as a Cardinal with dignity and we can all savor his legacy along with him as he enters the latter part of his career.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 10:32 am
 

THN 4/26 - Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?

Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?


Before we dive into some highlights of the first-place Cardinals' series win over the Reds this past weekend, I want to take you on a warm/fuzzy stroll down memory lane. 

I don't have tons and tons of memories of my dad, especially from when I was younger, but I do remember some things about him.  For instance, he always loved NFL football.  My dad adopted the Kansas City Chiefs pretty early after the Cardinals left St. Louis.  He also rooted for certain coaches - Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins and Tom Landry with the Cowboys are a couple.

But he loved football because every game had so much weight.  Three games out of first place in baseball?  That's nothing.  Three games out in football?  Better blow up your roster, try that new rookie quarterback, or fire the coach and bring in that hot college football coordinator.  Every game was almost as important as a playoff game.  My dad loved it.

And I see the attraction in that. 

As many say, "NFL" stands for "Not for long".  Seriously, when has an NFL coach actually fulfilled his entire contract before getting fired, quitting, or melting down in front of 39 reporters at a post-game press conference?  In a modern world that craves instant gratification, it's no wonder the NFL is King.  A team can go 15-1 as easily as 1-15.  Dynasties are built in a single off-season and collapse just as quickly.

So I don't mind sounding mushy when I confess: boy, I love baseball.

162 games is a beautiful thing.  A "good" team wins 55% of their games, a "bad" team 45%.  It's nice to have perpetual hope (or perpetual madness, right, Cub fans?).  There is no time limit.  There is no "running out the clock".  Baseball is almost eternal, for better or worse.  You gotta get 27 outs.  I believe I watched nearly all of the 20-inning marathon between the Cards and Mets last year even though I really knew we were going to lose.  As long as you have a strike left, you have a chance.

Insurmountable 10-game leads in September standings whittled away in just a week.
A batter's quest to lead the league in average, home runs and RBIs - the rarest of rare, the Triple Crown. 
Perfectly pitched contests broken-up by the last batter off the bench, pinch-hitting who's batting a measly .185.
A 100-year-old curse broken.

Football is fast food.  A can of cola.  You devour it and move on.  And that's fine.  But baseball - baseball you savor every minute of the season because you never know when you'll see history. 

So, I hope my six-year-old ends up sharing this passion with me more and more.  I hope I can give him a leg-up on what this baseball game is about.  I can't wait for the day when I have tell him to ease up on his throws - it's really starting to hurt my hand.  I can't wait for him to ask me to play some catch.



It is time, my fellow Cardinal-lovers (or haters) for...


The Hard Nine


1.  Molina Took My Lunchable, Yo!

Brandon Phillips is having a nice year so far and I'll be honest: he's growing on me.  He's having fun at the Cards' (and their fans') expense and, yes, true rivalries are good for the sport.  Plus, it's very unfortunate that the number of black players has been declining steadily for years.  And that's a lot of talent not being added to the league for fans to enjoy. 

One of my favorite Cardinal outfields in recent memory was in 1996 when Brian Jordan, Ray Lankford and Ron Gant roamed the Busch greenery.  My grandpa called them (probably a bit too tongue-in-cheekly) the "St. Louis Blackbirds".  I shake my head now and today we see so clearly, a diverse sport is a much richer sport.  Back then, I just knew we had a kick-butt outfield and those guys were a blast to watch. 

                             AVG    HR    RBI    SB
Brian Jordan     .310    17    104    22
Ray Lankford    .275    21    86     35
Ron Gant          .246    30    82     13

B.J. was the best clutch-hitter in baseball.  Ray Lankford, while whiffing too much, had a sweet lefty swing that could send the ball a mile and you can't forget he had speed, too.  He had 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season five times in his career.  Ron Gant's first year in St. Louis was terrific.  He had not yet become the whiff-machine that plagued him in later years and he led the club with 30 bombs.  What a trio of power, speed, and production. 

No wonder the Cards finished in first place that year. 

So, Brandon Phillips says that Nelly's cool in his book.  Well, BP is ok my book, too.  We need more characters with All-Star talent.  And besides, my homeboy, Yadier Molina took care of business on Sunday giving the Cards, yet another, series win over the Reds in St. Louis.  It's gonna be a fun year.


2.  Not-So Saint Valentine Hates the Cards

Cardinal fans have learned to dislike certain opposing managers over the years.  And some of the dislike is tinged with a bit of respect.  There's Dusty Baker's "stick up for my family" thuggery.  Bobby Cox, whom you simple could not rattle...and that just ticked you off. 

But I don't think the Cards ever faced a slimier opposing manager than Bobby Valentine.  (The 2000 NLCS between the Cards and Mets was NOT FUN for Redbird fans.)  And today, if you listen to Valentine's commentary on ESPN's TV broadcast, you quickly pick up that he simply knows more than...well, just about anyone else on earth. 

Low-lights from Sunday night's game:

Cardinal shot #1:
"When I managed against Tony, I used to love it when he would bat the pitcher eighth!" (Valentine laughing hysterically, crew also chuckling)

Cardinal Shot #2
"The Cardinals have some major bullpen issues."

Thank goodness we couldn't see his trademark used-car salesman cheesy grin while he made those comments.

All I know is, there's a reason you are no longer a manager, Bobby.  The Cards bullpen finished off the shutout that night.  And Tony La Russa is going into the Hall of Fame, not you.  But you can buy tickets and visit whenever you want.


3.  I Need Some Stats, Stat!

So far this year, McGwire's Mashers are 1st in the National League with a .293 team batting average, 2nd in runs (114), 2nd in home runs (24), and Dunc's Dealers are 4th in pitching ERA (3.19).

Something tells me the Reds are NOT running away with the division this year.


4.  Ex-Cardinal Update

Former THN-Favorite Player Ryan Ludwick finally had a game he could feel good about.  He hit two homers yesterday, the second of which was a game-winning walk-off job in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Padres a 5-3 win.  After his monstrous game, he's still batting just .195 with .378 slugging percentage.  .378 slugging - that's like David Eckstein weak.  I hope Luddy's bat comes back, for his own sanity's sake. 

I also must admit that it's become apparent to me that Cards general manager John Mozeliak just might know a little more about running a major league baseball team than I do.  If I had it my way, the Cards would be running Brendan Ryan (.220) and Luddy (.195) out there instead of Ryan Theriot (.311) and Lance Berkman (.377).

Um, yeah.  Whoops.


5.  With Apologies to Bob Marley

Remember when Franklin, used to get outs
In da top o' da Ninth
We observed his smoke and mirrors
He was like da good voodoo doctor, mon

But den he mixed in some knuckleballs
And good pitching was not his ting no more
Now da future is bright, with Boggs and Sanchez
Dry your tears with Motte and Salas

No Franklin, No Cry
No blown saves, No Cry
Carp and Garcia, shed no tears
No Franklin, No Cry


6.  Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Wherever it is, Andre Ethier is trying to follow Joltin' Joe there.  Ethier, after going 0 for 4 in the Dodgers first game of the season has now hit in 22 straight games - four of those, of course, coming against the Cards.  He's also been a little lucky as in almost half those games (nine of the 22, to be exact) he's only gone 1 for 4, barely keeping the streak alive. 


7.  SWING...and a miss? 
                                      IP   H    BB  K    R    ERA
Fernando Salas (H,2)    1    0    0    2    0    1.50
Eduardo Sanchez (H,3)  1    0    0    2    0    0.00
Mitchell Boggs (S,3)      1    1    0    2    0    1.46

The knock on Ryan Franklin?  Terrible swing and miss rate from opposing batters.  More balls in play means more chances for bad things to happen.  On Sunday night, the Cardinals' suddenly youthful bullpen threw three shutout innings giving up just one hit and striking out 6 of 9 batters.  Needless to say, we've not seen many innings like that from venerable relievers like Franklin.  Perhaps my nails will finally grow back this year.


8.  Do They Want ANYONE To Survive the Season?

The Rams won the Super Bowl the year my family moved from St. Louis.  Great timing, yes, I know.  We did go back for the obligatory Super Bowl party and yes, the game was quite the thriller.  The Titans and Rams were both up-and-coming teams.  One coach weeping over greeting card commercials and the other telling players to tuck their spleens back in and get back out on the field.  It was probably a once in a lifetime year for Ram fans and I basically missed it.

But, I like football very much.  Living down in SEC country now (an adopted Auburn fan in Crimson Tide country) I'm following the college game more, too.  Since relocating to Huntsville we've seen both Alabama and Auburn take the national titles in the BS bowl system.  (Oh, sorry, typo...)

But as far as the NFL goes, for the love of Pete, when the NFL collective bargaining lockout is finally over, they better not increase the regular season from 16 games to 18.  It doesn't sound like much, but I will be sorely tempted to boycott the NFL if they do that.  The players break down enough as it is.  They end up nearly crippled in retirement.  The line has to be drawn somewhere.  Just my two cents. 


9.  NHL Ramblings

Congrats to the Nashville Predators who finally won their first playoff series in their 12-year history.  The team that has closely emulated the Blues for so long in construction, after taking years of lumps by my Blues, and the finally surpassing them the past few years have moved on in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  After knocking out the Anaheim Ducks, they'll face a much taller task in round two, whoever the opponent is.

And the Canucks and Cheatin'hawks have gone to Game Seven.  After leading the series 3 games to none, the Canuckleheads are on the verge of completing one of the greatest choke jobs in NHL history.  The Hawks didn't just scrap and claw back.  They DESTROYED Vancouver in games 4 and 5, and then did squeak by in overtime in game 6. 

I don't know who to root for.  Vancouver would be logical since I must hate Chicago but the Canucks had the best record in hockey during the regular season.  The mighty must fall, no?




Next Time: Pujols' hammy will be cooled off, but hopefully the birds bats will not.  Stay tuned...

As always, thanks for reading.










Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:47 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 9:17 am
 

THN 4/16 - And On The Last Out, Bob Rested

And On The Last Out, Bob Rested


In Arizona this week, umpire Bob Davison was in mid-season form.  Working home plate between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, he must have called four or five check-swing strikes, himself , which would be quite unusual for a typical umpire, but not "Balkin'" Bob.  

You know - a check-swing where typically, the catcher asks the plate ump to appeal to the third base or first base ump to verify if the batter actually checked his swing or not since THEY HAVE A MUCH BETTER VIEWING ANGLE THAN THE HOME PLATE UMP?  Ha ha, ye mere mortals.  "Balkin'" Bob needs no help making the right call.  And Arizona's rookie manager Kirk Gibson finally had enough when Davidson called a checked swing strike on Miguel Montero in the third inning after doing the same thing to Montero in the first to set the tone of incompetent umpiring. 

TV replays showed Montero's bat wasn't even close to breaking the plane of the plate.  Gibson sure got his money's worth going nose-to-nose with Bob "The Show" Davidson before getting ejected.

And "The Show" continued, as later in the game, Davidson was calling checked swing strikes if the batters even FLINCHED at incoming pitches.  One can only surmise his mommy didn't hug him enough as a boy because he's one of the few garbage umps that seem to dare you say something about his incompetence. 

Remember, he's the guy that threw a fan out of game in Milwaukee last year, even though there isn't one MLB rule allowing an ump that power.  Maybe he should have his name legally changed to "Zeus" and be done with it.

Any chance someone can blindfold him, throw a Giants jersey on him and drop him off in Chavez Ravine around 2 a.m.?  Ohhh....I hear the groans from here.

On to the first regular season edition of...



The Hard Nine




1.  Breathe Again, Breathe Again...Cardinal Fans


Hear that?  

That was the sound of a couple million Cardinal fans all exhaling at once this week as the Redbirds finally remembered how to hit during this current road trip out west.  And at 7-7, with a major-league lead in runs scored, things suddenly don't look so bleak for our beloved birds on the bat.

The Cards' front office really needs to send the schedule-makers a gift basket for sending the boys out to Arizona early in the season where they have the highest visting home run rate of any team that has played the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

Suddenly, our lineup looks pretty imposing:

Theriot     .298
Rasmus    .397
Pujols       .241
Holliday    .393
Berkman   .327
Freese      .372
Schumaker .241
Molina      .268

The Good:
Matt Holliday looks much more comfortable at the plate this year than last year where through May he was still on a paltry home run pace of 15 dingers and I was calling his the worst contract in Cardinals history.  Allow me to revise that: he looks like one of the top three outfielders in baseball.  Period. 

Albert Pujols is finally finding his timing, hitting two homers last night.  He still is pulling off waaaaaaaay too many pitches and I really have doubts he'll ever approach a .330 batting average again (it's hard to get a ton of hits when you refuse to use half the baseball field by pulling everything to the left side). 

Last year Colby Rasmus had a fabulous spring training and many of us were Predicting his breakout season was at hand.  Turned out he was still a little green as was very much vexed by strikeouts.  Well this could be the year - he looks comfortable at the plate and locked in on the strikezone.  My favorite online fan comment regarding Rasmus is "Looks like he's this year's Carlos Gonzalez".  Hopefully, hopefully not.  The Cards still need to lock him up on a long-term deal before he becomes an MVP, eh?

The Bad:
Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina still worry me.  After both having multi-year periods of at or near .300 batting, Skip seems lucky to ever bat .275 again and Molina - well, remember Tony La Russa's famous words about Yadi: if he never gets another hit again as a Cardinal he would still be an asset to the team?  I think Yadi decided finally decided to take TLR up on that "offer". 

The Surprising:
I absolutely hated how the Cards' got rid of Brendan Ryan and brought in Ryan Theriot.  Nothing against either guy, but Theriot simply looked done last year - just nothing like the Cub player a few years ago that was a tough out, get-under-your-skin-type. Yet two weeks in, he's carrying a .386 OBP which ranks right up there with his career best.  His defense is still atrocious, as is Skip's and Colby's and Lance's, but that's a topic for another blog.  By comparison, Brendan Ryan is still apparently helpless at the plate, so this "trade" appears to be a wash, which is more than I expected.

Speaking of Berkman, Big Puma is on pace for 69 homers and 150 RBIs.  

(Pause for effect.)

He's even running down pretty much every thing hit to him in right field.  He's slimmed down, moving well on the bases and in the field, and looks re-focused and re-energized.  And contrasting his production to how far Ryan Ludwick has fallen - suddenly we all wish we had
signed Berkman to a two year deal instead of just one.

In general, it's exciting that you can pick any guy from 2-6 in our lineup and you could theoretically see him batting 3rd for just about any NL team.  Barring injury, this is a pretty deep lineup.  With health and continued effective pitching, the Cardinals only issues are a terrible closer and terrible defense.  But the guys just might overcome those to make some noise this year.


2.  Beware of the Blue Crew

"The Blues were right there," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "They were as good as anybody in our division, our conference. It just went the wrong way, and I think it's all because of the injuries. You can certainly see that now ... they're just about healthy and look how well they're playing."

The Blues had a very disappointing season missing the playoffs yet again.  And despite the fact that they lost their most talented forward (David Perron) to a Joe Thornton blindside hit, the future is bright for the young club, despite their cloudy ownership situation.

Doug Armstrong absolutely fleeced the Colorado Avalanche in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement.  David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini, and Alex Pietrangelo made massive strides forward this year.  Backes and Berglund came back strong from down seasons and Pietrangelo and D'Agostini blossomed beyond all expectations. 

(By the way, it was ridiculously stupid for fans to boo Johnson in St. Louis.  He never loafed, was always a stand up kid who happened to hit the wall developmentally.  We sure don't need to give him more incentive to beat us in the future.) 

At any rate, if the Blues can stay healthy and learn some consistency next season, the league better watch out.


3.  Too Manny Roids?

Sometimes aging stars hang on longer than they should.  Sometimes they suddenly fall apart and quit.  And for the first time ever a player failed a ped test and decided to retire rather than face the 100 game suspension music.  

Classy exit, manny Ramirez.  The once sure-fire Hall of Famer "retires"as a cheating idiot savant.  As Boston writer Dan Shaughnessy wrote, "Manny doesn't care.  So why should fans care?".  Well put.  In fact, who were we talking about again?


4.  Red Sox Look a Little Threadbare

The Boston Red Sox are 2-10.   

(/Me sighs happily).  And the Yankees look like anything but world beaters at 8-5.  I bet it's almost safe to turn on ESPN again.  We just might hear something about one of the 28 other teams.  

Maybe.


5.  You Gotta Tag the Runner, Kid!

We must pile on the Red Sox when we can.  It was great seeing Sox catcher Jason Varitek allow a runner to score at home uncontested while he stood there holding the ball.  

The Indians had the bases loaded and third baseman Kevin Youkilis dropped a liner at third.  He scrambled and stepped on the third to force the runner from second, then threw home for a possible double play.  Problem was the runner from third was no longer forced at home and had to be tagged.  

Varitek caught the ball while stepping on the plate, assuming the force-out, apparently.  The runner stepped on home.  The ump, almost incredulously, of course called him safe.  

The moral of the story: I'll be a little more calm in the future with my six year old when I say, "You gotta tag the runner, son!  But don't worry.  Even big leaguers forget sometimes."


6.  The Best Player in Baseball is Troy, Troy, Troy!


Hopefully, fans of NBC's "Community" will get the reference.  

Anyway, Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop for the Rockies, is the new "best player in baseball".  Nice work by Colorado to lock him up long term.  If he can stay healthy all year, this is your 2011 NL MVP.  The guy is amazing playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond.


7.  The Chicago Cheatin'hawks

On April 7th, the Blues were leading the Cheatin'hawks 2-0 when all world winger Marian Hossa kicked the puck toward the Blues net while standing in the crease.  

While the puck rolled along the goal line but never in the net the overzealous goal judge lit the goal lamp and the overzealous referee signaled goal as well.  The Cheatin'hawks celebrated around Hossa as he sheepishly looked like he had just robbed a 7-Eleven.  

After a 10 minute review the goal stood since, apparently, the video didn't prove it WASN'T a goal.  And the kicking motion was never even questioned.  Shockingly the NHL remains a joke, third-rate league with horrendous officiating and laughable match penalty suspensions for illegal hits that would probably warrant jail time if they happened in your neighborhood.  

Anyway, enjoy getting knocked out in the first round, Cheatin'hawks.


8.  Bizarro MLB Standings

The Red Sox are 2-10 (third shot in the column -- it never gets old).

The Royals and Indians are 10-4.

Awesome.

9.  Tall Order

If the Cards want to continue their 14-hit per game attacks (now five straight games and counting) they'll have To go through Clayton Kershaw - one of the toughest lefties today and a strikeout machine.  I'm curious to see how well they grind out at bats against the toughest pitcher they'll face on this road trip.



Sorry for the Extra Large edition of THN, everyone.  Thanks for reading.

Next time: THN predicts the Cards will be either above .500 or below it.  Stay tuned...










Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:26 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 3:28 pm
 

THN 1/12 - Put Hoffman in the HOF

Put Hoffman in the HOF

Yesterday, Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time career saves leader, announced his retirement.  Probably one year too late as he absorbed a 5.89 ERA even in a year where baseball offense was knocked back to the Stone Age*.

(*That would be 1992 in modern terms.)

But the Brewers stuck with him enough times that he added ten final saves to his resume and finished his career with a highly memorable total of 601.  So today we consider his Hall of Fame worthiness and with joy we can do this without discussing those nasty performance-enhancing substances - that dirty word that rhymes with Altoids and hemorrhoids - mostly because it's pretty clear Hoffman's career was the product of high-durability, incredible consistency, and one of the best change-ups ever unfurled on a baseball diamond.

As it has been said many times in the past, a save in Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage's eras were not what they are today, which would explain why those two are in the Hall of Fame and great closers like Lee Smith and John Franco haven't even gotten a sniff.  But I think Hoffman is rare in that he had a more transcendent career than Smith or Franco. 

Let's look at these guys' career stats (and we'll throw in another modern HOF-worthy closer for good measure).  In parenthesis is the number of times they were an All-Star. 

Name (AS)      Games    ERA    Innings    H       BB       K         HRs    Saves

Hoffman (6)    1035       2.87    1089    846      307    1133    100      601
Smith (7)        1022       3.03    1289    1133    486    1251     89       478
Sutter (6)        661        2.83    1042    879      309    861       77       300
Gossage (9)    1002       3.01    1809    1497    732    1502     119     310
Rivera (11)     978         2.23    1150    887      267    1051     62       559
Franco (4)       1119       2.89    1245    1166    495    975       81       424

What sticks out to me (and this is no revelation) is that Mariano Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.  He made one pitch famous: the cutter (as Sutter did with the split-fingered fastball).  He has always been money in the regular season, but incredibly, even more so in the playoffs.  He is a legend.

Another item is that Lee Smith was an All-Star more times than Sutter or Hoffman.  That surprised me.  And honestly as a Cardinal fan, I've always wondered why Lee didn't get more support for the Hall.  Lest anyone forget, Smith WAS at one time baseball's all-time saves leader as Hoffman is now.  In the mid-90s he was our "game over" guy.  He took eight and half minutes to lumber to the mound when called on.  He menacingly threw only from the stretch, which was particularly heart-warming for Cardinal fans since that was also how former Cardinal Rookie of the Year closer Todd Worrell threw.  And like an Al MacInnis slap-shot, Smith simply brought the gas.  He blew guys away.  (In fact, I'm getting queasy even now thinking about Ryan Franklin throwing 85 MPH frisbees in the ninth in comparison.)

Finally, I've always had a hard time accepting Bruce Sutter as a Hall of Famer.  But in looking at the numbers, we see he threw almost as many innings as a "horse" like Hoffman in about 60% the amount of games Hoffman appeared in.  So in that context, the fact that Sutter had exactly half as many saves as Hoffman in (roughly) half as many games played speaks well of Sutter. 

All of this, of course, leads us to the fact that Hoffman is wholly Hall-worthy.  In 200 fewer innings than Lee Smith he ends up with 123 more saves??  Not three saves difference.  Not 23 saves.  A HUNDRED and twenty-three saves more.  Smith is not even in the same universe as Hoffman.

And we can't ignore the fact that Hoffman was not an upper-90s flame-thrower like Smith, Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner and other "sexier" closers that have come and gone.  It's not too hard to get outs when you can come in throwing 98-99 MPH in the ninth when the opposing batters have been seeing 90-94 all game.  But for 22 years Hoffman relied on an 85-MPH fastball and the most devastating change-up in history.  Hoffman was the Greg Maddux of relievers, which is probably the highest compliment I can give the guy. 

And if an 85 MPH fastball is good enough to make the Hall of Fame, then maybe there is hope for Ryan Franklin and all us Cardinal fans who no longer have finger nails left to nibble. 

Yeah, not gonna hold my breath on that.

It's time for a snow-covered, long-overdue, hot-stove edition of...


The Hard Nine



1.  Gee, I Guess We're Not a Forgiving Nation After All - Ken Caminiti apologized for steroid use.  So did Jason Giambi.  Alex Rodriguez, check.  And the world allowed them to move on.  So Mr. PED-Era Litmus Test himself, Mark McGwire, went on the apology circuit before spring training last year to pave the way for him to join the Cardinals' team as the hitting coach.  He said all the right things. (Except that he insisted the drugs didn't help him hit homeruns.   Apparently, McGwire wouldn't be a good politician.)  But despite all that, sports columnists said, "Oh if McGwire confesses and apologizes, he will get a fair shake for Hall of Fame consideration." 

Or not.  This year's Hall of Fame vote saw McGwire actually drop below 20%, his lowest support ever, AFTER fessing up.  It seems writers instead chose to say "I knew it!" and voted accordingly, even though 15 years ago McGwire and Sammy Sosa essentially brought the fans back and saved baseball, helped sports writers sell millions of newspapers and books, and captured our imaginations like only Hall of Famers can.

Sorry, but I don't see how we can blame players for doing what fallible human beings do when given license.  The Players' Association, the MLB, the commissioner, agents, fans, the media, team owners, hot dog vendors, ticket scalpers, taxi drivers, stadium janitors, homeless people living on steam grates outside the stadium - NO ONE CARED about players taking PEDs and in most cases they probably encouraged it. 

The Hall of Fame voting quagmire we are in now is the bed that baseball, itself, made and they must now lay in it.  No one can say any one player was clean or dirty unless they, themselves, come forward to admit guilt.  Either way, the playing field was level - PEDs were available. 

But instead, baseball writers are embracing their role as morality police and stats and accomplishments on the field don't really matter any more.  Their "gut feeling" - dirty or not - is all that matters now.  What joy.

2.  NL Central Arms Race - This coming season is going to be exciting for NL Central fans as the Brewers, Cubs and  to a lesser extent, Cardinals, all worked to solidify their pitching staffs.  The Brewers made the most noise trading for Shaun Marcum from Toronto and more impressively, picking up former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Royals.  Every team in the division (save the Pirates, of course, and the rebuilding Astros) has the pitching talent, now, to take the division pennant.  Not sure if I'll ever see the Cards with a comfortable 15-game lead by June ever again.

3.  Boston Could Win It All - No really, the city could literally win EVERYTHING this year.  The Patriots win the Super Bowl next month, the Bruins take the Stanley Cup this Spring, and the Red Sox, now that they've added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, win about 140 games out of the 162 game regular season schedule on their way to a World Series crown. 

I just threw up in my mouth a little. 

4.  The Halak-ness Monster Is Already Just a Myth - I blogged quite a bit about the Blues' trade for Jaroslav Halak late last year and early on, the move looked beyond brilliant.  The Blues had the best start in the NHL going 9-1 and Halak was the main reason.  Then reality had to set in.  The team got decimated by injuries, the defense suffered, and suddenly Halak looks human.  If the team can somehow make the playoffs, maybe we will see the Monster surface again.  Here's hoping.

5.  War Eagle!  Fight Chickenhawk!  Attack Buzzard!   That was a pretty incredible BCS Championship game Monday as "my" Auburn Tigers beat Oregon.  Now I get to be obnoxious to the Alabama fans at work - yes, more obnoxious than usual. 

6.  $100 Million and Happy or $126 Million and Miserable?   I hope Albert Pujols doesn't try to get every dollar possible in his upcoming mega-contract.  Jason Werth did the money grab thing and ended up with the Nationals, who are not contending for an NL East title any time soon.  Then his buddy, Cliff Lee, returned to the Phillies where that team appears poised to run roughshod over the National League and Werth could have been joining in the fun. 

So hopefully Albert accepts a merely obscene amount of money to stay in St. Louis rather than a "gross-domestic-product-of-a-me
dium-sized-country" type deal that will simply give him more money than he needs and make it it difficult for us as fans to continue to care about the great game of baseball.

7.  Sam Bradford Hit the Lottery, So Did Rams - Despite the Rams disappointing finale against the Seahawks last week, the bigger picture is that the Rams found a bonafide franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, who took every snap of every play for the Rams this year and broke some rookie records in the process, including one held by Peyton Manning.  In an era where 9 out of 10 first round pick QBs ends up being a complete bust and considering the Rams have squandered too many early picks the past few years, they finally hit pay dirt. 

8.  On the Other Hand, Pujols in Pinstripes?   For the sake of seeing Cardinal Nation as a whole hyperventilate in unison, it would be entertaining to see the Cards NOT SIGN Pujols before spring training.  The Cubs would be drooling to give AP a lifetime contract - upgrading Carlos Pena for Pujols.  And the Yankees could be too, even to throw him in left field or make him DH.  At any rate, it would be a nice distraction from the fact the Cards are not winning the division this year.

9.  I Guess Herzog's Opinion Don't Count For Much - I can't close this Hard Nine without mentioning other moves the Cardinals made this off-season, namely ending their relationship with Brendan Ryan, who was arguably the best glove man at shortstop in the majors.

We have now lost two Gold Glove-caliber defenders in Ryan and Ryan Ludwick and replaced them with not even average defensive players (Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman).  In fact, Berkman could blow a knee with the first step he takes in right at Busch.  And if scrappy, tough, in-the-LaRussa-mold-but-not-real-ta
lented Theriot is good enough to be our starting shortstop, then why on EARTH did we ever let World Series MVP David Eckstein go??? 

All I know is that left-handed batters (which we don't neutralize very well to begin with) are going to be amped to see a right-side defense of Skip Schumaker and Berkman.  Pujols is going to have to play tight to the first bast bag, too, just to guard against hits down the line which will get played into triples by the Big Puma. 

Yes "Big Puma", St. Louis. 

Actually, is there a fatter cat species we can give him a new nickname for? 


Posted on: August 18, 2010 9:11 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 9:18 pm
 

8/18 - Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues

Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues


It probably shocks no Cardinal fan that after sweeping the Reds IN CINCINNATI (in a year where the Cards have been pretty bad on the road and extremely good at home) they turn around and embark on their first four-game losing streak of the season that saw Carpenter and Wainwright both get beaten - at HOME. 

On the bright side, they certainly didn't get shelled like has happened on occasion.  The dark side?  Once again a feckless offense is to blame.  As stated in this space recently, the Cardinals have decided to be a team with a handful of super-salaried stars fortified with a whole bunch of cheap fill-ins. 

Can the Cards AFFORD to have a shortstop and second baseman that can actually hit?  Nope. 

Are Jon Jay and Allen Craig legitimate major-leaguers?  They haven't been the past four years but suddenly, this year they are?  That seems fishy. 

One of the biggest concerns many experts had with the Cards when the season began was a lack of depth and a lack of veteran experience and the team has been exposed in both categories.  The only veterans they can afford to pick up are only those that have literally been thrown out with the trash.  Guys like Randy Winn, Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan.  Super-sub Felipe Lopez could have been very effective as a part time guy, but has been overwhelmed as a starter.

The number of guys on this team that are borderline major leaguers is staggering.  Those I'd put in that category?  Tell you what.  It's easier to state those NOT in that category and we're talking position players (pitchers are a different animal).  Strictly limited to position players, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, and...that's about it.

The Cards have literally only four everyday major league quality position players.  That's barring injury, the Cards' lineup is only comprised of 50% quality bats (not counting the pitcher, of course).  That's four legit bats out of eight in the lineup for those who are bad at math like me.  And you can almost not count Molina as he is not in for his bat, but his defense.  Certainly, that's been the case this year.

I mean, who is afraid of (deep breath)...Skip Schumaker or Brendan Ryan or Felipe Lopez or Jon Jay or Randy Winn or Nick Stavinoha or Aaron Miles or Allen Craig?  Right.  No one.

At our best, our offensive lineup is going to be 50% effective.  That's an "F" in my book - and probably any book.  And as I said before, this is the path John Mozeliak and the Cards have committed to for the next five+ years, assuming the contract Pujols will get this off-season. 

For comparison sake, in 2004 the Cards had one automatic out in the lineup in Mike Matheny.  This year, we have four or five every night. 

Here's to hoping Jay and Craig morph in players they've never been before.  Here's to hoping David Freese can stay healthy next year. 

Here's to a LOT of hoping for next year.

And now, with a bitter taste in my mouth after a Brewers two-game sweep...

The Hard Nine


1.  When Quality Starts Become "Quality" Losses -
I hope our top three pitchers don't lose their sanity this year.  According to Baseball-Reference.com's team neutral pitching stats this year Chris Carpenter should have 15 wins, Jaime Garcia 13, and (drum roll) Adam Wainwright 19 (instead of the 13, 10 and 17 they currently have).  Each of their last starts were quality starts - and they all took the loss.  Jake Westbrook is fast joining them.  He is only 1-0 in three starts even though he's been plenty good in all of them. 

2.  Worst Contract in Club History - I was feeling nostalgic about the "good old days" when Kyle Lohse was actually a decent pitcher and something occurred to me: he has never been a decent pitcher.  Ever.

In his best season in 2008 he was 15-6 but his team neutral pitching record that year says he should have been just 11-10.  That means he got lucky (everyone is entitled once a decade, right?).  But even without sabermetrics, he had absolutely no track record of success in his career.  Really, 11-10 IS a good year for Lohse, which is sad, of course and a record of 15-6 was a mirage.

He's never - NEVER - allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in a season.  His career batting average allowed against is .283 (and was a slightly better .272 in 2008).  A pitcher that allows a .280 batting average doesn't seem like he would be worth $10 million a year.

And of course, Lohse is not worth it.  Which is why he has the distinction of being the beneficiary of the worst contact in Cardinals history and Mozeliak has the distinction of giving it to him.  Congrats to both.  How fun it will be to see the Cards throw games away by giving the ball to Lohse every fifth day through 2012.  Wait, I forgot - he'll probably be hurt half the time.

Whew.  I was worried.

3.  Get Out Of Jail Free, Derek - I am happy for Derek Lee who has finally been granted his release from Cubs-Purgatory (though he could have left earlier for the Angels).  He was traded to the Braves today and he should probably send the Cards a thank you gift for allowing him to hit four homers in three days off of us, which probably sealed the deal.  But seriously, DLee has always been a real classy guy and I hope he can give the Bravos a jolt and help them hold the NL East lead over the Phillies.  And maybe old friend Troy Glaus will feel more like a real ballplayer moving back over to 3rd base, which might wake up his long-dormant bat.

4.  Year of the Pitcher?  Try Year of the Wierd Injury -
Kendry Morales of the Angels broke his leg running out a walk-off home run.  Super Sophomore Mat Latos of the Padres landed on the DL holding back a sneeze.  2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan of the Marlins tore up his knee giving a celebratory shaving cream pie in the face to teammate Wes Helms during his post-game interview.  He's out for the year.  And this week, the weirdest and saddest: Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod) of the Mets injured his finger punching his girlfriend's father in front of other players' family and kids and had season-ending surgery. 

5.  What If The Reds Were Even Better? - The Reds showed their commitment to build a quality pitching staff three years ago which led them to trade Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for talented starter Edison Volquez.  Volquez had a stellar year in 2008 going 17-6 and was an All-Star.  But this year he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for PEDs.  But even beyond him, suddenly, the Reds seem to have plenty of pitching.  Bronson Arroyo, we've talked about before.  He's solid.  Mike Leake is a great young talent with lots of upside.  Jonny Cueto is a tough pitcher (and a pretty good kicker, too).  Homer Bailey just came back from the minors and pitched a great game on Sunday tossing six shutout innings allowing just three hits and no walks. 

Meanwhile, Hamilton has emerged as an AL MVP candidate this year.  He's having an Albert Pujols-type year (.359 average, 26 homers, 80 RBIs).  Drew Stubbs, Jonny Gomes, and Jay Bruce may all develop into everyday outfielders but for now they are all very inconsistent which has stunted Cincy's attack.  If the Reds still had Hamilton, I'd wager they'd be the best team in the NL, period. 

6.  The Cards' Last Hope This Year - The Cardinals are about to embark on an epic road trip and their only hope is to continue the success they found in Cincinnati and since they apparently have lost their mojo at home maybe this is the best scenario.  Can they somehow summon a grinding offense in San Francisco this week?  Can they return the favor in Houston sweep the Astros?  They do have a ton of games left with the Pirates at PNC Park where Pujols is a monster so that bodes well too.  But, if they can't get it done on the road the rest of this season, they will finish second - or worse.

7.  God Bless Us, Everyone -
Christmas has come early for NL batters this year.  Tiny Tim Lincecum of the Giants has been a lot less like Scrooge and been more generous with opponents.  Hopefully that also means the door is finally open for Adam Wainwright to win a Cy Young Award.  His ERA has ballooned to 3.62 and he's almost given up as many hits this year as all of last year (in 80 less innings).  Adam should send him a fruit basket or something.

8.  We're Having Twins - For the postseason!  The Twins are proving me wrong in fending off the Chicago White Sox.  They are first in the AL with a team batting average of .282 and fourth in ERA (3.88).  The only thing that disturbs me about them is Carl Pavano.  He's tied for the league lead in wins (15) and has been sharp all year, but especially recently.  His ERA of 3.27 is fantastic (especially for the AL) and a full run lower than his career ERA of 4.31.  That dude sure gets motivated for his next contact don't he?  At least the Twins are the beneficiaries and his next team will be the chumps who sign him.

9.  Going to Confession - Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants (along with every other baseball "expert" that dissed the Pads) needs to finally confess that the Padres are legit and headed to the postseason.  Sanchez, if you didn't know, said the Giants would sweep the Padres in their most recent series.  But a funny thing happened: the Padres swept THEM and the Giants are now 5 1/2 games out of first place.  The Pads (now with one of my favorites, Ryan Ludwick) will be one of the "underdogs" I'll be rooting for.  But anyone will tell you they are anything but.



WG



Posted on: August 7, 2010 1:46 am
Edited on: August 7, 2010 2:05 am
 

8/6 - Road Warriors...At Least Tonight

Road Warriors...At Least Tonight


There are so many holes to plug in the Cardinals' roster that it's easy to overlook the single most pressing issue with the club (and quite a few other NL contenders this year, as we talked about last entry) and it has NOTHING to do with player personnel - who's hurt, who's under-performing, who do we need to trade for: the Cards simply need to be more competitive on the road. 

It's hard to call the Cardinal's 4-2 home stand a "success" when they beat up on the woeful Pirates and got torched by the suddenly potent Houston Astros.  But hey, someone had to stop the bleeding and Chris Carpenter answered the call in the last game of the Houston series. 

And darn it, somebody had to stop the bleeding on the road and who better than Adam Wainwright?  Ok, so his last road outing (against the Mets) was a clunker, but no matter.  This team has to find some kind of traction on the road if they are to do anything meaningful this season.  The division is there for the taking.  The NL Central is weak.  They need to pull their heads out, grab their lunch pails, and get to work on the road. 

Wainwright pitched an absolute gem tonight - a two-hit, complete game shutout and miracle of miracles: Tony La Russa didn't feel the need to bring in Trever Miller to face a right-hander. 

The boys need to remember that Cardinal Nation is still watching - home or away - and even if they are wearing road grays, we're all wearing Cardinal red and cheering them on, 24/7. 

If the Redbirds can remember how to impose their will on other teams as visitors, they can do some serious mental damage to the Reds' playoff hopes in addition to reclaiming first place in the division.  The rumble in Cincy starts Monday and I can't wait to see how it unfolds.

Now, please enjoy a quick edition of...


The Hard (Seven)



1.  Just A Bit Outside - Tonight's home plate umpire, Laz Diaz, seems to be a classy ump.  He picked up Brendan Ryan's bat on his double and handed it to Aaron Miles as he crossed the plate.  But his strike zone extended 8 inches off the plate.  He called a clear inside pitch a strike on Pujols (which Albert nearly spit out his gum in reaction).  Luckily AP hit the next inside pitch into the left field corner for an RBI double.  Later, poor Colby Rasmus took a called third strike on a curve that was a good half foot outside.  The MLB should be embarrassed.

2.  Beethoven's Third...Base -
I enjoy listening to most opposing team TV commentators.  As some of you know, I really like the Diamondbacks crew with Mark Grace and Bob Carpenter with the Nationals is, for my money, one of the best.  Conversely, the Cubs, Phillies and White Sox inferiority complexes seem to come through loud and clear via their TV broadcasts (which are, then, about as enjoyable as Vogon poetry).

Tonight I heard the Marlin's enjoyable duo of Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton.  They were laid back and knowledgeable but I have to complain about one tiny thing: the Cardinals traded Ryan "Lud-WICK" - not "Ludwig".  He's not deaf and he once won a Silver Slugger Award, you know. 

3.  Bob Davidson Strikes Again -
There are a handful of really arrogant, bad umpires who think the term "The Show" refers to the fat guys officiating the ballgame and Balkin' Bob is certainly one of them.  He robbed the Marlins of a ninth-inning, come-from-behind win last night when he called a certain double down the line, a foul ball. 

The ball landed fair down the line AFTER it had already been called foul, with Davidson not even following the path of the ball.  Slow motion replays show the ball landed on the edge of the foul line right before it bounced over the third base bag, and then landed six inches fair in the outfield, making it virtually impossible to call the ball foul at any point.  

The MLB needs to give each manager one "challenge" per game and if the manager wants a call reviewed by replay, Boob Davidson can cross his arms all he wants, but he's still going to have to check that replay.

4.  Shame on Them?  Maybe Shame on Us -
If you feel really passionate about steroids in competitive sports (especially baseball) you owe it to yourself to read an essay on the subject at steroids-and-baseball.com, which is written by MLB analyst Eric Walker.  He argues (pretty convincingly) that our condemnation of doping athletes has been blown way out of proportion - basically, every argument we have against PEDs has been overblown.  Seriously.  Every one.

In reality, it seems our anger about 'roids has more to do with our feeling foolish about blindingly putting faith in fallible human beings.  It doesn't at all discount that illicit steroid use is illegal, but it sure didn't alter the history of the game as much as we think - not nearly as much as when the balls manufactured in a given year seem to have more "jump" in them than in the previous ten years.  Not as much as the sudden prevalence of "intimate" bandbox stadiums that seem designed to allow cheap homers.  Not as much as the batters' mindsets changing over the past 15 years so they simply don't care about striking out anymore - they swing for the fences with no, one or two strikes on them. 

Self-righteous indignation is a terrible filter to view such a beautiful sport with.

5.  The New Big Red Machine - I wasn't kidding when I said that Bronson Arroyo of the is a poor-man's Adam Wainwright.  Arroyo led the Reds over the Cubs today 3-0 by throwing seven shutout innings with 7 Ks against just one walk.  He is now 12-6 with a tidy ERA of 3.83. 

6.  Is "Lohse" French for "Loser"?
  I don't mean to burn any bridges but, Kyle Lohse appears to be Mark Mulder all over again.  The injuries are totally different.  They throw differently.  But, every time they are actually able to climb the mound, they stink up the joint.  The fifth spot may be a black hole in the rotation for the entire year, but Lohse hasn't show anything to suggest he should get that opportunity.  Except his ridiculously overpriced contract.

7.  Back When .300 Meant Something -
You faithful Cardinal fans remember Terry Pendleton, right?  In 1991, he won the batting title with a fairly low .319 batting average as he helped usher in the new era of Braves' dominance.  He wasn't an All-Star, but he won the MVP Award that year.  Were the season to end today Joey Votto of the Reds would win the batting title with a .322 average, which would be the lowest batting title since Pendleton's in 1991. 

Which is all kind of surreal, seeing as Albert Pujols is a lifetime .332 hitter and in any "normal" season would typically be batting about .340 or .350 right now and would have a comfortable 20-point lead in the batting race.  Albert finished second in the batting race in 2005 to Derek Lee's career-high .335 average and he was second in 2008 to .305 lifetime batter Chipper Jones who decided to bat a career-high .364 at age 36.  So of course Albert is batting just .309 (and below .300 just last week).

But this may be the perfect climate to see the first batter's Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  In a down offensive year, maybe the NL's most consistent offensive force will rise to the top.

.326, 44 HR, 121 RBI
.316, 49 HR, 122 RBI
.327, 47 HR, 135 RBI

Pretty tough to tell the last two Triple Crown seasons (by Yaz and Frank Robinson) from Pujols' MVP campaign last year.

Just something to keep an eye on. 



WG











Posted on: August 2, 2010 5:46 pm
Edited on: August 2, 2010 10:07 pm
 

8/2 - Goodbye, Luddy - Hello Pujol$$$

Goodbye, Luddy - Hello, Pujol$$$

Compared to most MLB trade deadlines, this season was a whirlwind of activity.  Former CY Young winners and All-Star caliber pitchers were dealt (Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt), some plucky utility infielders changed hands (Blake DeWitt, Ryan Theriot), and even former "franchise" cornerstones were moved (Lance Berkman). 

But it has been the Cardinals' major trade this year that has instantly ranked among the top head-scratchers: the Indians' Jake Westbrook to the Cards for Ryan Ludwick, who was sent to San Diego.  A #3 starter (at best) for the Cardinals' best clutch hitter - a hitter that instantly adds meaningful depth to the Padres lineup that desperately needs offense, a Padres team the Cards could very well meet this fall in the playoffs.

On the surface, it's easy to second-guess John Mozeliak.  Ludwick was arguably the Cardinals best clutch RBI man.  He is the best defensive right-fielder in the National League.  He was, in so many ways, the heart and soul of the Cardinals offense.  When Ludwick was hot, it didn't matter if the pitcher was Tim Lincecum or Tim Conway - he would smoke extra base hits and drive in runs.  And the Cardinals would just win (baby). 

He was the quintessential Cardinal and this was only echoed by the comments from his stunned, former teammates upon hearing of the trade.  Jon Jay and Allen Craig are on the cusp of being permanent fixtures in St. Louis but neither can be classified as an everyday player - not like Ludwick was.  Even my 93-year-old grandmother knows that Jon Jay will not bat .400...like, ever.

Luddy brought his bat, his glove, and his positive attitude to the club every day.  But he also brought a surgically repaired hip and a $5 million price tag (due to increase to $7 or $8 million this off-season).  So, like every decision made in professional baseball, it's all about money. 

So we bear witness to another phase in the evolution of the Cardinals franchise.  Like wealth distribution in the U.S., the Cardinals, too, are becoming a team of haves (Hollidays and Pujolses) and have-nots (Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Colby Rasmus).  The middle class is disappearing everywhere - even middle class baseball players like Ludwick. 

The trade the Cardinals really made was Ludwick for Pujols.  Warm clubhouse, ditch-digging Average Joe for grouchy, cliquish superstar who has "spoiled" us with his brilliance and will be paid $30 million a year for the rest of his life to be a slightly above average first baseman. 

The die has been cast.  We're crossing the Rubicon.  The bridge is aglow with flames.

I'm not saying that when the Cardinals sign Albert to his next extension it will be an event on par with Truman signing the order to bomb Hiroshima.  I'm not saying that at all (though, someone in St. Louis tell me if a dark cloud and/or lightning appears over Busch Stadium that same hour the signatures are scribbled). 

I'm just saying the Cards have decided to take a dangerous road, one lined with a few monumental All-Stars yet littered with cheap talent to balance the budget.  We better start drafting gems like never before.  We have to find SOME way to plug 20 roster spots with guys who only make $400k.

Best of luck to you, Luddy.  Hope you win a ring in San Diego.  I hope you get a standing ovation when you return to St. Louis.  You always bled Cardinal red.

** wiping eyes **

Ok, Back from hiatus, it's time for...


The Hard Nine


1.  The MLB: Every Game is Homecoming - I suspect part of Bud Selig's grand master plan is unfolding this year: keep the stands filled by keeping the home team fans happy.  There are just three teams in baseball that are five games above .500 or better on the road (The Rays, Yankees and Padres).  There is only one truly awful home team this year (Baltimore - surprise, surprise). 

But aside from those 127 poor Oriole fans, every home team's crowd has a good chance of seeing a decent ballgame.  Even gawdawful teams like Pittsburgh (23-26), Seattle (24-28), and Arizona (24-29) aren't totally helpless at home.  Heck, the Nationals are in last place with a 29-23 home record. 

The flip side is that many contenders (even division leaders) have been terrible on the road.  Collectively, the Braves, Phillies, Dodgers and Cardinals are 92-122 on the road for an anemic .429 win percentage. 

Good thing the NL finally won the All-Star game, eh? 

2.  Oh Look, We Got An All-Star for Free - As the Padre fans found out in Ryan Ludwick's very first game, the guy is a pretty complete ballplayer.  As a pinch hitter Sunday, Ludwick hit a single to left and then aggressively scored on a double on a close play at the plate.  Luddy made a beautiful slide to the back of the plate touching home with his left hand to avoid the tag and scored the winning run.  Fitting, too, that he caught the last out of the game to close out the Padre's win.  Dang it, there I go getting misty-eyed again.

3.  NL Rookie of the Year Update - The Cardinals' bullpen blew another win for Jaime Garcia who is still sitting pretty with a record of 9-4.  But he is now only on pace for 14 wins which should still be enough to take home the hardware, but we can't count out the fact that the club is limiting his innings to keep his young arm fresh and the fact that the bullpen has been far from airtight for him.  (Give me a second to put on my boxing gloves so I can write some more about stud lefties "I Spend Too Much Time At" Dennys Reyes and "Since I'm 37 Years Old Why Is My First Name" Trever Miller.)  This will all be a moot point, however, if Jason Heyward of the Braves regains his early-season form and ends up the season with 20+ homers and puts Atlanta in the playoffs.

4.  Thanks For The Stanley Cup, Seeya - Now with a team salary cap, the NHL is really starting to emulate the quirks of the National Football League.  For one, as soon as you win a championship, you have your free agents signed away.  And second, winning teams release perfectly good players because they can't afford them under the cap.  In this case, the Chicago Blackhawks did not re-sign 26-year-old Antti Niemi who went 16-6 in the playoffs this past spring and have instead signed 35-year-old Marty Turco, the longtime Dallas Star.  Jeez.  With 26-year-old Stanley Cup-winning goalies falling out of the sky, maybe former Blue Chris Mason shouldn't be so shocked he couldn't find a job this summer.

5.  More Signs of Armageddon - I read a great piece by Bill Simmons about how boring the Red Sox are now that they've won not just one, but two, recent World Series and it got me thinking: I think I'm ready to pull for the Cubs to win one too.  Our country is 234 years old - the Cubs are championship-less for 102 years.  In just 30 years, the Cubs' World Series drought will be HALF of our country's entire existence .  When Walt Jocketty is done rebuilding the Reds, he needs to move to Chicago and save the Cubs, make some shrewd deals and trades, and get them a World Series win.  Especially in this self-help, I'm damaged goods, pity me world we live in, this Cubbie fan torture has actually become a positive thing for them.  Enough!  Just let them win one so we can all stop talking (and writing) about it.  And they can gripe about something else, like the Bears.

6.  Daddy, the Cardinals Won't Let Me Start - As previously mentioned, John Mozeliak has already been second-guessed about the Ludwick trade and if the Padres knock us out in October this year, I will actually feel sorry for the man considering the wrath he will incur from us timid, faithful Cardinal fans (tee hee).  But its also possible that he may look like a new-age genius if he unlocks the hidden All-Star within Colby Rasmus.  He has everyday talent (and improving numbers against lefties), but was still platooned by Tony La Russa.  The Ludwick trade forces Tony's hand and makes Rasmus a true everyday player and maybe that is the kind of situation he needs to succeed.  He's always been "the guy" and with Ludwick gone he is definitely "the guy" in center field.  Maybe he will find sustained success where pressure to perform is absent.  That seems a better option than putting Tony Rasmus (Colby's dad and former(?) coach) on the payroll. 

7.  Taking a Holliday From Bashing Matt - It is official: Matt Holliday's FIRST season under his big new contract will not be a bust.  He's been the best hitter in the National League since mid-June and is on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBIs.  For $16 million a year, his numbers are adequate - barely.

8.  Jimmy's Still Got Game - THN wants to thank Jim Edmonds for his game-winning home run against the Reds on July 26th.  Jimmy Ballgame actually hit five home runs in July and is 10 away from 400 in his career.  Check out his video highlights on mlb.com and you'll see he's made a couple spectacular catches in center this year as well.  Unlike many stars that have taken too long to retire (ahem, Ken Griffey Jr., cough) Edmonds truly is still an entertaining ballplayer with a flair for the dramatic.  Don't know if he's a Hall-of-Famer, but he was the best Cardinal outfielder I ever saw.  Edmonds for Bottenfield will always be the signature trade of Walt Jocketty's amazing career.

9.  Trade Targets Collide Tonight At Busch - The Cardinals will send newly acquired Jake Westbrook to the mound to face another recent Cardinal trade target, Brett Meyers of the Astros.  The 30-year-old Meyers has pitched like an ace this year.  He's definitely got better stuff than Westbrook so tonight will be the first litmus test of John Mozeliak's player personnel savvy.  After Houston traded Roy Oswalt to the Phillies, the asking price for Meyers became prohibitively high.  The 'Stros then locked up the hurler to a three-year contract extension.  Did we get the right guy?  We shall see.




WG











Posted on: July 7, 2010 2:02 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2010 2:13 pm
 

7/7 - La Russa's Cardinal Sins

La Russa's Cardinal Sins

According to many end-times "enthusiasts" the end of the world is going to come in 2012.

Apparently, that wasn't soon enough for Tony La Russa as he personally summoned the Four Horseman of the Apocalyptic Bullpen last night in Denver to turn a towering 9-2 Cardinal lead into a 12-9 life-stealing loss.  Collectively, Blake Hawksworth, Trever Miller, Dennys Reyes and Ryan Franklin crafted quite the pitching line against the Rockies: 6 2/3 innings, 23 baserunners and all 12 runs allowed.

I've already spent enough time bashing Miller and Reyes for being ineffective lefty specialists and last night Miller had another mind-boggling outing by giving up two hits to left-handed hitters, recording no outs , and and then leaving the game.  This clunker put us directly on the path to losing - why?  Because it forced La Russa to bring in our best "closer", Jason Motte, and with just six pitches, Motte recorded three outs and allowed just one inherited runner to score.  The damage wasn't the single run - it was the Cards having to use Motte so early.

Hawksworth has been allowing baserunners galore this year and last night was no exception.  It was a miracle that the Rox had only scored 2 runs considering the 8 hits and 4 walks Hawksworth allowed in five innings of work.

But that wasn't all.  La Russa once again displayed his irrational love for veterans by putting (literal) castoffs Aaron Miles and Randy Wynn into the fray (Wynn was a late "defensive" replacement for the young, talented Jon Jay).  Miles and Wynn took turns looking like Hungry Hungry Hippos, voraciously attacking baseballs with little success, first Miles early in the game on some grounders to second and then Wynn later during the catastrophic ninth inning in right field.

And what can be said about Ryan Franklin?  It's hard to blame him.  He's a 37-year-old "closer" with below average stuff for a middle-reliever whom the Cardinals got lucky with as a closer last year.  But instead of the Cardinals organization being realistic about the gamble, cashing out their "winnings" and getting a real closer, they give Franklin a two year extension in the off-season.  Um, what??  It's really odd that our closer is the guy with only the sixth-best stuff in our bullpen.

The worst thing of all though, in the aftermath, is the realization that the Cards just don't play a "hard nine" anymore.  Not this year.  Not for the last half of last year.  Really the only Cardinal veteran that is still on the "upswing" is Adam WainwrightChris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are all in decline.  The future is bright in Jason Motte, Colby Rasmus, David Freese and Jaime Garcia but these kids are still getting established.  This team is just too flawed to truly compete and in a year where too many pieces are fitting into place for the up-and-coming Reds.  It's clear the Cards will not get to coast to another NL Central title.

Consider, the Cardinals:
  • are 33-19 when Carpenter, Waino or Garcia start and just 12-19 playing behind another starter
  • have four players with 10+ home runs while the Reds have a staggering six, led by NL MVP front-runner Joey Votto
  • are in good company with a poor road record of 18-23 but when contrasted with the Reds' 21-18 road record, its clear which team has been more tough-minded
At the beginning of the year most of us had doubts about La Russa's young bench - that Tony would stick with the youth movement - and those doubts were confirmed by last month's dumpster dive into the waiver wire.  Brad Penny has had a recent rehab setback and who knows when Kyle Lohse will return.  With a true pennant race at hand let's see if Tony will see the error of his ways and bring back some old school intensity.  And maybe even let the kids play a bit.

Well, we are long overdue for an another installment of...

The Hard Nine

1.  The Ghost of Rick Ankiel - Back in 2000, Rick Ankiel finished second to Rafael Furcal of the Atlanta Braves in the Rookie of the Year voting, which I always thought was a travesty.  Everyone forgets that Ankiel was the "Stephen Strasburg" of his day.  At age 20 he went 11-7 with an ERA of 3.50 and 194 strikeouts.  His Ks per 9 innings was 9.98 second only to Randy Johnson who was at the height of his dominance.

Maybe this year, Jamie Garcia brings the ROY to St. Louis to right Ankiel's snub.  After a terrible outing against the Royals (of all teams), Garcia was brilliant in his last outing going seven shutout innings and allowing just five baserunners against a tough Brewers team (who, incidentally, roughed up Chris Carpenter in the same series).  Garcia is on pace for a 16-8 record, a win total the Cardinals haven't had from a lefty since Mark Mulder's only good season with the Cards in 2005, and if that's not a bittersweet thought, I don't know what is.

It's interesting to think that if all the right decisions had been made the Cardinals today could have had a starting rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Ankiel, Danny Haren, and Garcia.

2.  All-Star Caliber Belly-Aching - This has been an odd year for All-Star voting, partly because so many usual suspect baseball stars are having down offensive years.  And it doesn't help that Charlie Manuel put Atlanta's Omar Infante on the NL squad as a utility player, a move some writers are saying could be the strangest pick in the history of the Midsummer Classic.  But I'm tired of people ripping the fan's choice of Yadier Molina at catcher over journeyman Miguel Olivo of the Rockies, who is having a terrific offensive year.

Molina?  Well Yadi is batting .230.  BUT, he's batted .293 and .304 the last two years so the precedent is well-established that Yadi is a fine offensive player as well.  That, along with Yadi's clutch playoff performance and his years of stellar defense makes him a star in this league.  And sometimes, the fans want to see the stars play - even if they are batting .230.  So get over it, pundits.

3.  Blues Lock Up Halak - Earlier this summer the Blues made a bold trade for Canadiens playoff hero Jaroslav Halak and this week they locked him up to a four-year $15 million deal.  After years and years of stop-gap solutions between the pipes, here's hoping that the Blues have finally found a long-term solution.

4.  What, Me Intimidating?   Joe Posnanski recently posted a terrific piece on Bob Gibson that is a must-read for any Cardinal fan or anyone that loves the history of baseball.  And it is fascinating how truth becomes legend and men become heroes.  Which brings us to Gibby.  In the story, Posnanski explains how Gibson has learned to enjoy fans comments like "Oh do I remember the way you pitched.  I remember all those batters you hit.  They were so scared of you!"  Privately, Gibson wonders, "Is that all I did?  Hit batters?  Is that really all they remember?"  The Glare, that Gibson was so well known for?  "I just couldn't see the catcher's signals", he explains.  Google and read this piece today.

5.  No Hall of Fame For You!  It's very strange to see a ballplayer with 2,000 hits, 300 career homers, and a lifetime .325 batting average hitting just .246 and slugging the same as Yadier Molina this year (.310).  Strange, but also satisfying.  Why?  Come with me on a journey.

Dial the Way Back Machine to 2003.  Albert Pujols won the batting title with a .359 batting average - Todd Helton finished a tick behind at .358.  This was during the height of offensive baseball lunacy in Denver.  Helton already won the batting title in 2000 with a .372 average.  Why did he need another thin air-inflated accolade?  Pujols' and Helton's home/away splits tell the whole story:

Pujols     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG
Home       .388    21     66      .713
Away        .331    22     58      .623

Helton     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG
Home       .391    23     72      .739
Away        .324    10     45      .514

Albert was the model of consistency, of course.  He enjoyed a definite comfort level at home, but was equally devasting on the road.  Helton?  Helton was a completely different player away from Coors Field.  At home he was Babe Ruth.  Everywhere else he was Mark Grace with a little more pop.  For his career he has a home OPS+ of 120 and 80 when away.  That is essentially the difference between All-Star and Average Joe.

Today, making roughly $18 million a year, Helton is on pace for four homers and has only averaged 15 a year the past four years.  I'm not trying to kick a guy while he's down.  Todd Helton was an extremely fine ballplayer and would have been a borderline All-Star annually had he played in any other city (it's doubtful his power numbers would have been consistent enough).

Baseball writers have always understood Helton's true value.  He's only finished as high as 5th in the MVP vote once.  And there is no chance he is going into the Hall of Fame.  Which is to also say, it's a good thing juiced Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols never played full-time in Denver in the late 90s and early 2000s or we may have seen records set that would never be touched.

6.  Ex-Cardinal Update - After a rocky patch, Joel Pineiro has channeled his inner Dave Duncan and has won his last six starts.  He now sits at 9-6 with a 3.96.  Yes, Joel would have been a much, MUCH better signing than Brad Penny.  Troy Glaus, of course, fell back to earth and batted .237 in June plus he's been recently slowed by a knee injury.  Scott Rolen has been so fantastic this year, I finally added him to my fantasy league and he's been about as steady this year as he was in 2004 (.300-17-57 so far).

7.  The Grass Is Greener - The Cardinals' middle infield has been a wasteland for the most part this year, both offensively and defensively.  Aaron Miles never really excited me even when we he was "good" but Tyler Greene, on the other hand, has some real upside.  And I can't think of anything that could give this club a more positive jolt than if he grabbed this shortstop gig and ran with it for the rest of the year.  It's easy to like Brendan Ryan, but there is no room in the majors for all-field/no-hit shortstops - and Ryan isn't even fielding all that well anyway.  Maybe Greene and pull a David Freese and own shortstop for a while.

8.  Quotes From Ground Zero -
          Ryan Franklin: "That's my game -- making the hitters hit balls.  They just hit it kind of hard."
          Tony La Russa: "That loss wasn't on Ryan Franklin.  It was on everybody who wore the gray, including the manager."
          Forum post at StlToday.com: "Maybe Franklin can throw to Holliday in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby..."

9.  Nationals Crisis Averted - Stephen Strasburg won't be representing the Nationals in the All-Star game and it is confirmed: he is ok with this.  "I'm sure I'll have opportunities somewhere down the road.  Right now, it was never a goal of mine", said the young hurler.  Whew.  You may now continue with your lives. 



WG







 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com