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Tag:Angels
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







Posted on: June 5, 2010 8:38 am
Edited on: June 5, 2010 9:27 am
 

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

Willie's Bodacious Bonus Blog

It's tempting to do a regular blog entry, especially after the Cards thumped the Brewers 8-0 as Adam Wainwright pitched a two-hitter, Colby Rasmus hit a bomb off lefty Randy Wolf (Colby's first off a lefty this year) and Matt Holliday continues heating up.  But no, I shall resist to take a break and discuss past Cardinal pitching rotations.  Let's take a walk down memory lane.

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

I’m a stat fiend – I also am quite partial to nostalgia.  I love baseball because it so often allows me to combine the two.  For example, I have recently been thinking this has been the most effective starting pitching we’ve seen from the Redbirds in quite some time.  The Cards currently lead the league in ERA at 2.97.  Our pitchers are allowing the lowest on-base percentage in the NL as well (.304). 

I decided to look back on the La Russa Era at how effective Cardinal starting pitching has been.  I chose a cutoff of 14 wins – nice and simple.  Sabermetricians will laugh, but I don’t care – I also thought the Cy Young winner should have been Adam Wainwright last year.  Wins DO count for something.

Anyhow, a borderline starting pitcher can get 10-13 wins with some luck, a lot of offense, or both.  But at 14+ wins, I would have to say a pitcher probably has a good idea of what he is doing.  So in the past decade, roughly, how many “effective” starters (14+ wins) have the Cardinals had each season and what place did the team finish in?  I'll also throw out the team's ERA that year and the ERA in relation to the league average, which is ERA+.  100 is the league average.  This year's club is #1 with an ERA+ of 137.  In 2008, we were barely above average with an ERA+ of 102.  Let’s take a closer look:

Year - Quality Starters - Finish - ERA - ERA+
2010 – 3 – 1st place - 2.97 - 137

This year, is mirroring last year closely: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are co-aces.  We have an effective ground-ball machine (Jaime Garcia this year instead of Joel Pineiro).  Kyle Lohse is injured/ineffective.  So does that mean Brad Penny is this year's Todd Wellemeyer?  As harsh a comparison that is on Penny's behalf, it's actually pretty accurate, unfortunately.  I was hoping we were getting the nasty Penny that pitched for the Giants at the end of last year, but instead we appear to have a Wellemeyer clone - a very hard throwing, flyball-pitcher prone to giving up home runs.  Maybe during this downtime on the disabled list, Penny is able to soak up more of Dave Duncan's teachings before climbing the mound again.

But all in all, three effective pitchers should be enough to win the division and, again, a three-man rotation is fine for the playoffs in a short or long series, because, seriously, who really wants to see Penny in there against the Dodgers or Phillies?  Uhh...not me.  They can pay Lohse $10 million to cheer from the bench - again.

2009 – 3 – 1st place - 3.66 - 113

You will soon see having at least three effective starters is pretty good and fairly uncommon.  Last season, those three were Joel Pineiro, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  They fueled our 91-win season.  But the 4th and 5th starters were awful (Todd Wellemeyer and Lohse combined to go 13-20).  But we have to remember it was a fickle offense that went cold in the playoffs as we got swept by the Dodgers.

2008 – 1 (2) – 4th place - 4.19 - 102

Lohse won 15 games.  Todd Wellemeyer actually went 13-9 with a very nice 3.71 ERA.  The bullpen cost him a game or two and he could have easily had 15 wins.  The Cards finished 10 games over .500 but a disappointing 4th in the division where the Cubs and Brewers were both strong and the Astros finished a half game ahead of the Redbirds.

2007 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.65 - 95

Waino was 14-10 and that’s all we had to work with.  Kip Wells was 7-17 and Anthony Reyes was 2-14.  I remember this season well (no pun intended) because Kip Wells was stellar in spring training and I bet a buddy Wells would have an ERA under 4.00 at the end of the year.  Um, yeah, I was wrong.

2006 – 2 – 1st place - 4.54 - 98

Chris Carpenter was our only effective starter, going 15-8.  Jason Marquis somehow won 14 games with a hide-your-eyes-bad ERA of 6.02.  Can someone say "run support"???  Mark Mulder, Reyes, and Sidney Ponson were terrible.  If I was a Detroit Tigers fan, I would be throwing myself in front of a train to think that Anthony Reyes won Game One of the World Series that year.  How on Earth did he pull that off?

2005 – 4 (5) – 1st place - 3.49 - 122

The last “scary good” Cardinals team.  Three starters won 16+ games.  Mark Mulder had his only effective season with the Cards, Carp won the Cy Yound award, and Jeff Suppan was at his peak.  Matt Morris was our 5th starter and was good enough with 14 wins.  Marquis somehow went just 13-14 despite having a respectable 4.13 ERA.  He had some tough luck and lack of offense on his behalf, or we would have had our “perfect” starting rotation of 5 effective starters.  In reality, that is what we had.

2004 – 4 – 1st place - 3.75 - 115

What a fun year this was.  We actually had four 15 game winners that season.  ERAs were not especially good, but they didn’t have to be with the MV3 offense and the superb bullpen.  Carpenter was the 5th starter going 15-5 with the best ERA on the team at 3.46, the only starter under 3.50.  This was the closest we had to an AL team in recent memory.

2003 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.60 - 90

Woody Williams enjoyed his 18-9 All Star-caliber year, but that was it.  Brett Tomko somehow won 13 games, despite a 5.28 ERA.  Team ERA was 4.60, 11th in the NL.  Honestly, looking at Williams’ career numbers, I still don’t know what Walt Jocketty saw in him, when he traded for him from the Padres.  He morphed into an ace as soon as he put on the Cardinal red.

2002 – 1 – 1st place - 3.70 - 109

This was the year we lost Darryl Kile.  Matty Mo was still elite going 17-9.  Jason Simontacchi came out of nowhere to go 11-5.  The club had to be creative bringing in Chuck Finley who was good, going 7-4.  I had always wished we had resigned him.

2001 – 3 – 2nd place - 3.93 - 110

Ah, the roid-fueled offenses were still beating up pitching staffs as the Cards 3.93 ERA was 3rd-best in the league.  We were “co-champions” with the Houston Astros.  Morris had his best season ever going 22-8.  The immortal Bud Smith threw a no-hitter going 6-3 and getting some Rookie of the Year votes out of it.  Woody Williams was acquired by Jocketty and coolly went 7-1.

2000 – 3 – 1st place - 4.38 - 107

Kile was 20-9 and was my favorite Cardinal that year.  What a curveball.  Rick Ankiel had the best ERA in the rotation at 3.50.

Other seasons

1999 – Kent Bottenfield was the only bright spot on a terrible pitching staff going 18-7 and making the All Star team.  The bullpen was a horror film.

1998 – The staff “ace” was Kent Mercker, who was only 11-11.  We had the Mark McGwire home run show, but the team, overall, stank.

1997 – Rookie Matt Morris went 12-9 and gave Cardinal fans some hope for the future despite a fourth-place finish.

1996 – Andy Benes was a horse going 18-10 as the Cards made the playoffs in La Russa’s first year as manager.

One of the fascinating things is seeing how the evolution of the starting rotation continually has an impact on the entire roster.  Careers are forged and ruined by who is pegged to toe the rubber.

In 1999, the starting pitching situation was so desperate, the club decided to try middle reliever Kent Bottenfield in the rotation – with smoke and mirrors he won 18 games and made the All Star team.  The next year, the club traded Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy for Jim Edmonds, a borderline Hall of Fame center fielder and major cog in the Cards dominance in the 2000s.

In 2000, rookie Rick Ankiel was the most effective starter the Cardinals had (in terms of shutdown talent).  He led the club in ERA which led to the decision for him to pitch game 1 of the playoffs against Atlanta which led to his famous meltdown of wild pitches on the mound which put him on the road to never again pitching in the majors.  Now he’s a borderline outfielder for the Royals.  Did that one rash decision spell his doom?

In 2002, little Bud Smith was a key piece in the trade that brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis.  His six wins and no-hitter his rookie year were still fresh on the Phillies' minds.  Sadly, he was out of the majors by age 23 as he won just one more game and finished his career with a 7-8 record.  But as with the Edmonds trade, this one fueled the Cards offense for years and gave us ever-sparkling defense at third base in Rolen.

In 2006, the rotation was in shambles, which led to the club picking up a pitcher left for dead, Jeff Weaver.  One could argue his acquisition was the primary reason the Cards won the World Series that year.

It’s also amazing to see how many mediocre pitchers found great success as Cardinals: Bottenfield, Garrett Stephenson, Jeff Suppan, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Woody Williams.  The team doesn’t have much success drafting and grooming pitchers (hopefully Shelby Miller will change all that) but they sure know how to take rejects and turn them into winners.

For now, we can enjoy this brilliant rotation knowing it's one of the finest we've seen in a while.

Thanks for reading.



WG



















Posted on: June 1, 2010 11:45 am
Edited on: June 1, 2010 6:04 pm
 

6/1 - Burning Up The Clutch (Hitting)

Burning Up The Clutch (Hitting)

I have been looking forward to writing a blog like this for a while.

Cardinal pitchers finally got a chance to exhale this Memorial Day weekend (except for tough-luck starter Adam Ottavino who was fairly valiant in his major league debut in hostile Wrigley Field).  The Redbirds actually appeared to be swinging wood bats instead of over-sized icicles as they scored 36 runs in their last four wins, vaulting them back into a first place tie with the Reds

Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter both held serve against the Cubbies.  P.J. Walters looked like a keeper in San Diego giving up only 6 base runners in 5 innings.  I'll take a right-hander that only tops out at 88 MPH when he throws a sweet change-up like the one Walters possesses and Jaime Garcia continues to handle himself like a veteran coming back from a rain delay yesterday to settle down and earn a win against the hot-hitting Reds.  Garcia is on pace for 16 wins.  Unless Heyward hits 30+ homers, how can Garcia not be in the NL Rookie of the Year discussion with numbers like this?

On the back-end, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan have been lights out and Mitchell Boggs has made definite progress this year.  Motte has become a shutdown fireman with a 2.61 ERA and a nice 23-5 K/Walk ratio.  McClellan has also cranked up the Ks and reduced the walks to go along with a stellar ERA (2.01, 22-7) and while Boggs has shown some vulnerability he continues to get better and better (3.57, 18-9). 

But enough about pitching - let's talk hitting. 

Of the 36 runs scored in the four wins, 15 came with two outs.  All NINE runs of the 9-1 win over the Cubs came with two outs.  You also may have heard that Albert finally looked like Albert by blasting three home runs in a game for the first time since 2006 (honestly, I'm shocked it had been that long).  Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are both warming up.  Ludwick looks great in the two-hole and Holliday is working his way into that "protect Albert" mode - he had the big two-out hit yesterday, making the Reds pay for an intentional walk to Pujols to load the bases. 

Holliday has hits in 9 of the last 12 games, Pujols, 5 of the last 7, and what a month for David Freese.  Batman hit in 21 of the 28 games and currently leads the Cards with his .318 average.  He crushed - CRUSHED - a homer onto Waveland Avenue this weekend and we know his power is only going to get more consistent.  How is he going to look when his 13-homer pace starts creeping toward a 20-homer line?  He better win Rookie of the Month, no disrespect to the devastatingly talented Jason Heyward.  What a trade this turned out to be for John Mozeliak (Jim Edmonds for Freese).  The only bittersweet part of the story was that Freese didn't get his major league career on track last year due to injury.

If Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina can return to .300-form and Colby Rasmus can learn to be more consistent, I think we will have achieved St. Louis Cardinal Nirvana.  As it stands, with the Phillies recent offensive struggles the Cards now have the best run-differential in the NL at +51. 

No need to be sneaky in moving to the Hard Nine this time.  What a weekend of MLB action. 

The Hard Nine


1.  Welcome to the No-Run Support Club, Rook!   I really hope Adam Ottavino's parents left Wrigley Field proud of their son who made his major league debut and lost 5-0 to Carlos "Cy Young" Silva.  I guess the boys didn't want to show favoritism to the rookie and actually give Silva some kind of challenge when they've been short-changing the entire staff all year.  But seriously, it has not been easy road for Ottavino.  The big guy was a first-round draft pick in 2006 and really never got on track in the minors until the end of last year.  He has taken his licks and persevered. 

And in his debut, he came within one out of a quality start but instead walked the pitcher, Silva, to load the bases.  And here is my only gripe on the weekend for Tony La Russa - he sends in Mitchell Boggs who, himself, is still very green and does not possess pinpoint control.  Boggs walks the first guy he faces to force in a run and tack on a fourth earned run to Ottavino's ledger, denying him the quality start.

Obviously, the game was lost already, but Ottavino battled some flighty control problems and still did an admirable job and he deserved better.  Maybe I'm also warming up to the kid so quickly because I swear he looked like old Matty "Mo" Morris up there on the mound, wearing Morris' old #35.  Both guys have a similar build and a similar hitch in their delivery.  Sue me: I get crushes easily.   I will be very excited if Adam can develop his control to go along with his 95 MPH fastball. 

2.  Fantasy and Reality Collide at Home Plate - I have a love-hate relationship with fantasy sports games.  I used to be a diehard fantasy football player, then I saw the error of my ways and quit, but then I picked up fantasy baseball this year just so I could build up my CBS account rating enough so I could write these stupid blogs.  So here I am, back in it. 

On my fantasy team, I picked my first baseman late, which is a very common (and smart) strategy as the pool of good offensive first baseman is very deep and once you get past Albert Pujols, you really don't need to stress picking your corner power hitter.  I made a great pick - Kendry Morales in the sixth round, right after another player took Joey Votto of the Reds (either would have been fine).  Morales was the clear MVP of the Angels so far this year and this past week hit a walk-off game-winning grand slam.  As he reached home plate, he lept in the air and landed awkwardly, breaking his leg.  He is now essentially out for the entire regular season.

Someone explain to me how bigger men in the NBA can jump up and down all day and not have the same thing happen.  Well, ok, it DOES happen to them on rare occasion, but, DUDE - I just lost my first baseman for the year and so did the Angels fans!

3.  Lost and Found - How nice was it to see Albert Pujols smile again?  Has he found his stroke?  I don't think so - he's been limping noticeably for the past month.  And as one scout said recently about Pujols, "Take a big man's legs from him and you take away his power".  But for one game, he found his smile and that's enough.  This is a game, after all.

4.  Left-handed Windmills - Pujols spoiled about three or four borderline pitches from Ryan Dempster before hitting his second home run onto Waveland Avenue, which got me thinking: I really never see left-handed power hitters do the same, as a rule.  Slap-hitting lefties do it all the time (like Ichiro Suzuki or Wade Boggs for old farts like me), but the thumpers just pile up Ks without a thought (Adam Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard).  The Cardinals have had some lefty boppers that could whiff with the best of them.  Jim Edmonds, J.D. Drew and Ray Lankford come to mind.  What with enduring Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay's all-or-nothing approaches, I've wondered when was the last time we had a regular lefty that was tough to strike out?

Last year, Skip Schumaker struck out 69 times in 586 plate appearances which is about standard for a lefty slap-hitter.  I wouldn't say that is an overly tough guy to strikeout.  Back in 2004, Tony Womack had 60 Ks in 606 PAs.  You have to go all the way back to 2001 when Fernando Vina struck out only 35 times in a whopping 690 plate appearances.

Of course, it helped that Vina always stuck his elbow over the inside third of the strikezone.  Ah, I loved Vina.  He'd get hit by a pitch and run down to first, grinning, every time.  What a pest.

5. D-Train Gets Derailed - The Tigers designated Dontrelle Willis for assignment this past week due to ineffectiveness that really has plagued him since 2007.  Even now he is only 28 years old.  What a sad story and one Cardinal fans can reflect on as Willis arguably was the better pitcher in 2005 when Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young and Willis finished second.  Dontrelle was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2003 at age 21.  He's a World Series Champion.  He lead the league in wins with 22 in that '05 season with a 2.63 ERA.  The two-time All Star was one of the most popular, marketable, and happiest guys you'd seen in those MLB commercials.

But maybe something happened in that big season, because the following two years he became extremely hittable (475 hits allowed in 428 innings in '08 and '09).  Perhaps too many innings pitched too young.  There were also some anxiety problems mentioned at times.  Here's to hoping the D-Train gets back on track.

6.  Stop Reading My Mind - I love Joe Posnanski's baseball columns.  Do yourself a favor and read him if you love the game at all.  He's a purist and also a Mid-Coast-er (you know, near the banks of the Mighty Mississippi).  The first thing I thought when I saw Roy Halladay had thrown a perfect game against the Marlins was, "Another perfecto?  What is going on?"  And apparently, so did Posnanski, as he wrote a great blog about that very subject.  Here are my thoughts on it - read Joe's if you like a "professional" opinion.

There have been 20 perfect games and over 200 no-hitters thrown in baseball history (obviously, all perfect games are no-hitters as well).  But three of the last four no-hitters have been perfect games.  Two of the 20 were thrown THIS MONTH.  What the what?!

I recall beginning in the 90s there were a rash of no-hitters - even pitchers who LOST no-hitters (due to the pitcher's own team committing errors, allowing unearned runs) which happened to Andy Hawkins on September 4, 1991.  A later rule-change took his no-hitter away completely, so at least he received that "consolation".

Teams have thrown COMBINED no-hitters as the Houston Astros did to the Yankees on June 11, 2003 using six pitchers to accomplish the feat.  A combined no-hitter?  Sounds like really boring Olympic event. 

So maybe this is just the natural evolution of pitching.  If you're going to throw a no-hitter yourself, and actually win it, you may as well throw a perfect game. 

7.  Somewhere, Bill Veeck is Smiling - Speaking of the Marlins, you gotta hand it to their marketing department.  That cheapskate team never misses a beat.  They have announced that they will sell the rest of the unsold tickets at full face value to the game in which Roy Halladay threw the perfect game against them .  That's like a circus promoting their lion for eating the ringmaster.  Classy.

8.  The St. Louis Blues, the Cubs of the NHL - I am grudgingly happy for Chicago as they are about to drink from Lord Stanley's Cup - something the Blues are not likely to do in my lifetime.  Let us remind the readers (yet again) that the Philadelphia Flyers had 88 points in the regular season and at least get to play in the Stanley Cup Finals while the Blues, who earned 90 points, missed the playoffs entirely.  But just like the difference between the NL and AL, the NHL Western Division the Blues play in is much tougher than the east and it is showing.  The Blackhawks lead the finals 2 games to none.  Hey, at least Detroit can't win it again.

9.  The Epic Quest For Hit #2 - Former Cardinals organizational Player of the Year, Allen Craig, is back up with the big club as they sent Joe Mather down (good riddance).  Craig, has one hit in 19 at bats for a .053 average.  He's not batting his weight.  He's not even batting my five-year-old's weight.  This can't last forever, can it?  Just one of those minor dramas I take sick pleasure in. 

Epic Quest Update: "Outfielder Allen Craig was optioned to Triple-A Memphis, one day after being recalled."  Well, hit #2 will have to wait...



WG











Posted on: May 26, 2010 5:50 pm
Edited on: May 26, 2010 7:20 pm
 

5/26 - I Just Felt Like Runnin'

I Just Felt Like Runnin'

I am a Colby Rasmus fan, no question.  I'll just be a much bigger fan in a couple years when he's an All-Star.  But at the moment, he's one of the lowest-rated center fielders in the league, defensively.  He's been much better at the plate as far as drawing walks this year, but he still strikes out a ton.  When he swings, he misses a lot and I mean even on pitches right down the middle.  And since day one that I've watched Colby play, I've had this nagging feeling that he's running about 15 Watts through a 75-watt bulb - yeah, it's pretty dim in there.

Case in point, in the Cardinals loss to the Angels this past Saturday David Freese was on third, Rasmus was at first, with Brendan Ryan at the plate with one out.  Ryan hit a chopper that was on the first base side of second that was fielded cleanly by Howie Kendrick.  Colby ran straight into the tag and then Kendrick threw to first to nearly complete the double play.  Luckily Ryan was hustling and was safe so the run scored from third.  This irked me.

Did the play have to be that close?

Now, I didn't get a good look at the replay and I am trying to give Rasmus the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe Colby thought the ball was going through for a hit.  Maybe he thought he could slip past Kendrick to second before the tag.  Maybe he was blinded temporarily by the scorching sun.  But most likely he was just not thinking at all.  The ball was not hit hard.  It was hit right at a defender.  The odds were high there would be a play at second.  If Colby simply stops running, it forces Kendrick to either run to second or throw to the shortstop Aybar at second before they can attempt to complete the double play.  But no, Colby made it as easy on Kendrick as he possibly could by running right...into...the tag.

Rasmus will be a good one, there's little doubt of that, but we are probably going to have to deal with his Forest Gump impersonations for a long time, I'm guessing.

You know what they say: Life (and the MLB Draft) is like a box of chocolates.  And so is...

The Hard Nine


1.  Right-brained...hitting - David Freese did it again Sunday. Facing a tough reliever in the Angel's Fernando Rodney, he hung in there against 97 mph heaters and 85 mph change-ups before driving a hit through the right side of the infield to score two runs and tie the game at 5 setting up the Cardinals' win in the bottom of the 10th.  I looked up Freese's hit chart at Busch this year and it is remarkable:
8 hits to left, 8 to center, 15 to right.  6 of his 7 doubles are to right and right-center.  Awesome.

Conversely, Albert Pujols' Busch hit chart is rather depressing.  He has ONE HIT, period, to right field - a double, near the line and not deep, probably a "blooper".  The cluster of outs made at shortstop is massive and his flyball outs are literally all over short and medium outfield (i.e.: popups).  If this chart is correct, Albert has not hit a grounder to the right side at Busch yet this year.

Until Albert resumes staying with those outside pitches and hitting them to right with authority, he will continue to be "Chopper-Popper".

2.  No Balls to Call Strikes - Poor Wade Davis of the Tampa Bay Rays.  I watched him pitch a couple nights ago against the Red Sox and I can confirm the Sox have officially been added to my Axis of Evil which includes the Cubs, Patriots, and Red Wings.  Davis wasn't sharp but the home plate ump sure didn't help matters.  He threw a low, but clear strike to Kevin Youkilis with two strikes and didn't get the call.

Instead "Youk" walked to load the bases with one out when Davis should have had a far more manageable two on-two out situation.  Eventually, 3 runs came in that inning and that was the game.  Just as the Red Wings are among the least penalized teams year after year, the Red Sox hitters enjoy one of the smallest strike zones in baseball.  (Also, the Patriots are cheaters - period.  Just needed to toss that in there.  I'm not bitter or anything...Rams 2001...)

3.  Your AL Middle Reliever is My NL Cy Young - I think I am ready for the NL to adopt the designated hitter rule just to help mitigate the offensive differences between the NL and AL which will in turn reduce the times I get whiplash doing double-takes looking at the stats of a guy who has switched leagues while simultaneously saying "WHAT THE WHAT!?".

Case in point: Carlos Silva is 6-0 for the Cubs.  Carlos "let- us-take- Milton- Psycho- Bradley- off- your- hands- if- you- take- this- hopeless- batting- practice- pitcher- from- us" Silva is 6 and 0.  Here are some notable (and some not-so notable) pitchers along with their career ERAs by league:

Player                NL ERA    AL ERA    Diff

Silva                  3.76    4.88           1.12
Carl Pavano        4.21    4.93          0.72
Javier Vasquez    4.02    4.61          0.59
Doug Davis         4.15    5.08          0.93
Andy Pettitte       3.38    3.99          0.61
Randy Johnson    2.92    3.60          0.68
Roger Clemens    2.40    3.21          0.81
Jose Lima            4.74    6.17         1.43
Pedro Martinez     2.52    3.32         0.80
Johan Santana     2.87    3.22         0.35
Jeff Weaver         4.17    4.91          0.74

Average difference for this eclectic sample of pitchers is a healthy 0.80 - nearly a full run higher in the AL which is what most would guess, I would think.  Bad pitchers become average and the good become great when moving from the AL to NL - reverse that if going to the AL.  What is interesting to me is that the Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers have less variance between leagues, when I might think the difference would be even greater for them - for example, Randy Johnson had a 3.60 ERA in the AL.  I would expect him to have a 1.80 ERA in the NL or thereabouts.

But the opposite is true.  The mediocre pitchers have the greater variance.  Basically, good pitching "stuff" is effective in any league.  Pedestrian stuff is punished consistently in the AL but not necessarily so in the NL.

4.  Let's Raise a Glass of Molson - The plucky Montreal Canadiens finally succumbed to a tougher foe in the NHL playoffs.  The Stanley Cup playoffs will feature the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackahawks.  Let the battery-throwing and drunken brawls begin.

5.  Hitting Into Double Plays Doesn't Reduce Your LOB Total - In the Cardinals 1-0 loss to the Padres on Tuesday night, Colby Rasmus was 0-4 with a double play and two strike outs - 5 runners left on base.  With a kid so prone to strikeouts why put Colby in the 5th slot, Tony?  Why?  Another brilliant outing by a St. Louis starter wasted.

6.  Not Just a River In Egypt - The Associated Press has picked up on my recently-forged nickname for Albert as seen (sorta) in a story from May 24:  "Albert Pujols has no RBIs in nine games and he's just a few more towering pop-ups or infield choppers from having his average drop below .300."  There!  You see it from the nationally respected Associated Press: CHOPPER-POPPER!

I shall continue to bash Albert until he finally admits he is struggling, which of course he has not and, likely, will not admit.  The month of May has been very tough for El Nino: one homer, 10 RBI, a .256 average and .385 slugging percentage.  If you're a three-time MVP who slugs under .400 for a whole month, you either admit you're struggling or continue to swim in denial.

7.  Indecent Exposure While Flashing Your Leather - Ah, I love mixed metaphors.  Anyway, I get the feeling that Ryan Ludwick is not beloved by the baseball world at-large and even among Cardinal fans, he doesn't get enough love.  But I think he is a heart-and-soul Cardinal on par with Albert Pujols or Chris Carpenter.  And he is slowly getting more exposure for his defense and if he's not careful, may end up with a Gold Glove at the end of the year.  While unscientific, he is fifth in baseball in ESPN's Web Gems ratings.  He has been heroic in taking hits away in right field this year and sacrificing the body on numerous occasions.  Last night he ran about 40 yards and crashed into the chain link video scoreboard wall at Petco Park to take extra bases away from Will Venable.

8.  Big Fish, Little Pond - It is a metaphysical law of nature that the NL Central Division champ must beat up on the other teams in the division.  While the Reds and Cardinals are tied for first place, the Reds are a hefty 17-11 within the division while the Cards are only 11-10. 

9.  The All-Phillies All-Star Team - Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina should rest for this year's All-Star game.  Not just because they will both be gassed by the time the break arrives and will need the rest, but also because it will place eight Phillies starting the All-Star game for the National League.  EIGHT!  The entire infield, possibly the battery if Roy Halladay gets picked to start, and two of the three outfielders.  That would be Phunny and Phabulous at the same time.



WG









Posted on: May 21, 2010 3:20 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2010 3:51 pm
 

5/21 - On Second Thought, Let's Nix That

On Second Thought, Let's Nix That

Ok, maybe the Reds aren't ready to be NL Central Division champs just yet. 

As the Birdos were behind early yesterday to the Marlins 2-0, the Reds were pasting the Braves 8-0 in the second inning.  Joey Votto hit an opposite field BOMB for a grand slam that was simply awe-inspiring and the Redlegs were off to the races.  Hey, I will not pretend to hide my jealousy of the Reds' offense.

The Reds' young players are starting to figure this game out and they are simply an exciting ballclub.  Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, and Jonny Gomes in the outfield will be downright scary in two years - each guy probably has more actual power than Matt Holliday

Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen are more than veteran stopgaps.  They are also teaching the young guys how a major leaguer should do his job day in and day out and Rolen, in particular, is having a revival year so far.

The Reds have some great hurlers.  Rookie Mike Leake is a stud already.  Bronson Arroyo is a poor man's Adam Wainwright and I really mean that as a compliment.  He's lanky, is a great athlete and can beat you in a number of ways.  Arroyo can have a one bad inning and then shut a team down the rest of the way.  Edison Volquez is electric if he can stay healthy and Johnny Cueto is coming along very nicely and is still only 24. 

Cueto's only problem, historically, is he's a flyball pitcher in a homer-friendly home park.  His ERA last year was a mediocre 4.41 but he was very effective on the road (away ERA 3.83, home 5.16).  He was very hard to hit as he only gave up 172 hits in 171 innings.   This year, Cueto has really reigned in those issues with a home ERA of 3.96 (away, still great at 3.38).  He has 40 Ks against 13 walks in 49 innings and he's only given up 5 homers so far, 4 of those, of course, coming at Great America Ballpark.

And you know with Walt Jocketty at the helm, the Reds are going to stop doing what nearly all the teams in the NL Central do: two steps forward, three steps back, repeat forever. 

All that said, let's go back to the Reds' blowout of the Braves that was in process in Atlanta yesterday.  It's was 9-3 still in the bottom of the ninth when the Reds started choking some fielding chances, turning outs into errors. 

With the Reds' lead now trimmed to 9-6 and the bases loaded, somebody named Brooks Conrad hit a fly ball to the wall in left, and outfielder Laynce Nix had a bead on it.  Or so he thought.  Perhaps thinking he had less room than he did, Nix did a little hop in front of the wall as he reached up to make the catch and the ball bounced off his glove and over the wall for a game-winning grand slam for the Braves.  Conrad was already in lament at first base, his hands on his head as if to say "Ohhh so close".  Lament turned to shock and then jubilation as he found out what had actually happened.

If Nix doesn't touch the ball, it's probably just a double.  If he doesn't hop, maybe he catches the ball cleanly.  At any rate, the Braves, shockingly, scored 7 runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 10-9. 

Too bad there probably were only 5,000 or so fans left in the park to see the drama unfold. 

Too bad for the Reds they still have some growing to do.  Hopefully the Cards will figure out how to fix their offensive woes in the meantime. 

At any rate, this is what I really want to know: is it IMPOSSIBLE to give an outfielder an error on a ball he touches that goes off him and over the wall for a home run?  Enlighten me after...

The Hard Nine


1.  Service with a...Scowl
- I think it goes without saying that Chris Carpenter is a warrior.  He is the model starting rotation ace.  He's a hard-working New England-er and ex-hockey player with a bulldog mentality.  You could easily imagine him and Chris Pronger patrolling a blue line together and doing some head-hunting of any forwards that dare enter their end of the ice.

But I wonder if Chris is starting to go off the deep end a bit.  When his stuff was top-shelf, his performance could stay ahead of his insanely competitive intensity.  But at age 35 now, his stuff is falling off ever so slightly which has brought some occasional ineffectiveness which has lead to more screaming by Carpenter on the mound.  Here's to hoping we get Carp some run support.  We don't want him to succumb to those voices in his head.

2.  Hits, Errors, and Other Mysteries of the Universe - Official baseball scoring can be more art than science when it comes to errors.  What I need to know right now (before my brain explodes) is why a misplayed fly ball that ends up over the wall is a home run and not an error?  This ranks right up there with the Theory of Relativity, Nuclear Fission and Ryan Seacrest's sexual ambiguity.

If an outfielder simply stands and does nothing and the ball falls in 1 foot from him, it's a hit and not an error.  Why isn't that hit taken away for "fielder indifference"?  If the ball glances off his glove and falls its an error , UNLESS the outfielder ran a really long way and it becomes a "tough play", you can't assume the out, so they say.  So a dropped ball in that case is a hit

But you ask any outfielder that has played a ball off their glove or head over the wall accidentally for a home run (that would not have been otherwise, of course) they will say its an error !  I did extensive research online for about 5 minutes today and I found no good explanations.  Some said it has to be a home run because the ball is now out of play.  What?  If you drop a foul ball it is out of play, but can still be ruled an error if they say you should have caught it.  So it seems to me that the home run is a special case.  If an outfielder accidentally or even purposefully deflects a fly ball over the fence it's ruled a home run - period.  Someone please explain this to me!

3.  Rolen Right Along - Great interview on SI.com of Scott Rolen.  I'd have to say if guys like Grady Sizemore or Hanley Ramirez have the perfect ballplayer's body, Scott Rolen has the perfect ballplayer's soul.

"In 2004 I played on the best team I've ever played on'' in St. Louis, says Rolen. "We got swept (by Boston) in the World Series. Stars all over the field, and we got pounded. I told my wife after that, 'I'll never win a World Series.' That was the best team I'll ever play on.  A couple years later, we back into the playoffs'' with 83 wins. "We were probably the worst team in the postseason that year. And we win the World Series in a walk'' over Detroit.

I'm just happy that man does have a ring. 

4.  Missing 100% of the Shots You Don't Take - I realized this week that it seems to me the Cardinals aren't taking good, hard rips at 2-0 or 2-1 pitches.  And poof, like magic, another column appears confirming this has been a problem for us.  We're doing fine on 1-0 and 3-1 counts, but the Cards are batting only .244 on 2-0 counts and .231 on 2-1 counts.  This also explains our power outage somewhat as well.  2-0 and 2-1 are your meatball/fastball/Tball home run-eligible offerings and we're batting under .250 on those pitches?  That's just awful, and right now I'm regularly seeing Holliday and Pujols not even swinging at 2-0 pitches.  Why?  If you're not comfortable with a pitch, even if it's a fat strike, you don't swing.  And here's the problem: right now, Albert and Matt aren't comfortable with ANY PITCHES.

5.  Ex-Cards Update - I should wait until after the Cards-Angels game tonight, but I'm fairly confident Joel Piniero will do just fine against us.  Scott Rolen is up to 8 home runs on the year and is on pace to top 20 bombs for the first time since 2006.  Troy Glaus finally came around and he's batting .289 with six homers.  His OBP is a healthy .374.  I miss greasy-haired Chris Perez sometimes.  He's been doing pretty well in Cleveland with a 1.98 ERA, 5 saves and only one homer given up in 13 innings of work.  I was not happy to see Mark DeRosa move on in the off-season but Giants news sources say he's still struggling with his wrist injury from last year.  So maybe we dodged DeBullet.

6.  Blue Cat People are Neat-o - Finally saw Avatar last night.  Not much to say, except, I just don't get excited about movies anymore and this is more proof why.  When a super mega blockbuster movie that garners multiple Academy Award nominations and wins and breaks all kinds of box office income records is merely "good", its time to move on.  The magic is gone.  The effects clearly out-shined the acting and story - it really felt like I was watching a two-hour cut scene in the middle of a Halo video game.  Not that that's a bad thing - it just is what it is.

7.  Put Your Head Between Your Legs and Walk Backwards - Hindsight is 20/20 they say.  I say the Cards should have re-signed Joel Piniero and let Brad Penny tease some other team's fans.  I also say the Cards should have waited to see if Kyle Lohse could repeat his lucky 2008 season before throwing $40 million dollars at him.

8.  Lack of Roids Rage - Runs and home runs are down all over baseball.  The per-game home run rate is at 1993 levels.  I wonder if fans like the "pure" game it is now or miss the "WWF" MLB of the 1995-2005 "juiced" era. 

9.  Mt. Carmel Wildcats Team Update - I help coach my 5-year-old son's T-ball team.  We've worked hard coaching them in the fundamentals of the game and they've come a long way this year.  We had a four-game winning streak end this week.  The other team was better - our best players are in the infield and the kids that like to play with the dirt are generally in the outfield.  As long as the infielders can stop the ball, we do well.  This was not the case this past Tuesday as we got beat 21-9.

I just want to say to other T-ball coaches out there: I understand teaching kids to play 100% hard the entire time.  Play a HARD NINE, right?  This is the right thing to do.  But when you send a runner from first to second every time the fielding team runs to third to tag the runner, that's just a little bit obnoxious.  You're not teaching the kids good base running.  You're sending them to second because the fielders can't cover two bases at the same time - not because the play dictates they should take an extra base.  Besides, you're wining by 10 runs anyway...



WG




Posted on: May 18, 2010 11:03 am
Edited on: May 18, 2010 2:13 pm
 

5/18 - Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

The relationship between the sports media and sports participants is fascinating to me - always has been.  In many ways it's a rocky relationship.  The media is paid to have a home team bias, of course, so they praise when things are good and critique when things are not so good.  And sometimes things are too coincidental. 

In St. Louis, the media writes about what fans are wringing their hands over: the Cardinals feckless offense.  Monday morning we read that Albert Pujols needs to bat fourth and Matt Holliday, third.  It makes perfect sense.  Holliday has been good with no runners on and terrible when he's had the weight of RBI opportunities on his shoulders.  Conversely, Pujols' intensity at the plate dials down about six notches when no one is on base, but finds focus when runners are on in front of him.  The Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz figured there was some Missouri law banning Pujols from ever batting fourth again since the odds of stubborn old dog Tony La Russa making such a move were slim to none.

Lo and behold, Monday night, La Russa switches Pujols and Holliday in the batting order and it could not have worked out more perfectly for the Birds.  With two out and no one on base, Holliday took a walk.  Albert promptly, and simply, singled up the middle.  Colby Rasmus singled to score Holliday and David Freese then tripled to right to score two more.  Finally, Yadier Molina hit a flare to right to score Freese and the Cards get all the offense they needed for the night. 

All in one inning.  All with two outs. 

Everyone is a "La-genius"! La Russa, the media - and we eat it all up.  I can't help but feel this is a "Chicken or the egg" moment.  Did the media know La Russa was close to making this change or did the media pressure Tony into doing it?  Tony will deny everything but don't tell me that media can't pressure managers and players because they do.  Just ask Milton Bradley - at your own risk.

On that cheery note, let's turn to...

The Hard Nine


1. Mirror Image -  I routinely watch my Cardinal games on my wireless laptop and what with my slow DSL connection, I typically keep the resolution low to minimize lag in the game playback.  This tends to make the players look a bit blurry and it can be difficult to recognize who is who.  But it also allows me to "see" things I had not noticed before - kind of like staring at clouds in the sky.  For example, last night, I realized Matt Holliday resembles Rick Ankiel in a lot of ways - batting stance, bat wiggle, sharp jawline, and of course the amazing ability to whiff in the clutch.  If you put them both at the plate at the same time, you'd swear there was a mirror between them.  Just another little fun observation that makes me hate the Holliday contract all the more.

2. This Means Something, I Just Don't Know What - In 2009, Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, Blake Hawksworth, and Kyle McClellan collectively had 4 at-bats in 227 games, 3 of those by McClellan alone.  This year these four Cardinal relievers already have 7 at-bats in 58 games.  Basically, once every 8 games, a middle reliever is getting an at-bat which is more often than I can recall in recent memory.  Someone please explain what is going on.

3. Don't Bash the Bash Brother - Many have already started grumbling about batting coach, Mark McGwire.  The Cards are showing little plate discipline, little patience, and terrible pitch selection.  I just hope everyone realizes this has been a problem since, oh, about 2005.  McGwire seems to have a good grasp of what the boys need to do: trust their talent more and look for hittable pitchers in certain parts of the strikezone.  Getting them to do it is up to them. 

4. The Power of Media - Less than a week after my blog post about Brendan Ryan's problems so far this year, he was benched last night.  Sorry, Brendan.

5. The Power of Media Part II - Holliday is on pace for 16 home runs this year and he's making $16 million in 2010.  Isn't it super-fun when you can divide two numbers without thinking hard?

6. New Kids on the Block - The kids are more then holding their own and that is the most encouraging aspect of this 2010 squad.  Colby Rasmus has had a rough May and is still on pace for 100 runs.  David Freese (as well as Yadier Molina) is on pace for 100 RBI.  Right now, Freese is the one batter I want to see at the plate with runners in scoring position.  My crush on Jaime Garcia continues - he is second in the National League in Earned Run Average with a cool 1.42.

7. I'm Okay, You're Okay - As the Reds took two of three against the Cards this week, Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (who pitched a complete game against us in the finale) said Pujols didn't look comfortable at the plate.  Albert's response: "I'm seeing the ball really good and I'm putting good swings on it.  I'm right where I want to be, like I told you last week ".  Uh, ok, Albert. 

8. Sense of Community - If you like sitcoms, paintball and one-liners from movies like Rambo, Terminator and any other 80's cliche war movie, for the love of Pete, please watch NBC's recent episode of Community: "Modern Warfare" on Hulu.  My wife and I have been hooked since the pilot and the show has taken on a wonderful Seinfeld-like absurdness already in the first season.  In this episode, the community college has a friendly campus-wide paintball war that quickly degrades into a post-apocalyptic, paint-splattered hell.  The war-movie parodies (as well as the bodies) pile up.

Jeff (Joel McHale) walks into the destroyed classroom.
Troy: "Jeff....Winger.  Haha!" (Hugs Jeff) "We thought you were dead, man!"
Jeff: (confused) "I was taking a nap in my car."

9. Home Cooking - The Cards really need to have a strong homestand this week.  They can sweep the Nationals today by beating lefty John Lannan.  Then the Marlins are in town for a two-game set.  The weekend brings the Angels and old friend Joel Pineiro who is still looking effective despite his move to the AL.  The Cards then head out to San Diego to take on the 1st place Padres and then it's on to Chicago to face the mangy Cubs who will be chomping at the bit to vent some frustration on us.



WG





Posted on: May 13, 2010 5:04 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2010 4:35 pm
 

Reorganizing the Divisions by Team Salary

Willie's Bodacious Bonus Blog

Reorganizing the Divisions by Team Salary

Every so often I like to think about the aspects of baseball not tied specifically to how teams are playing or how players are doing (especially when the Cards are stinking it up or my favorite players are going 0 for 20). 

Today I pondered: everyone wants parity in baseball, but parity is not based on talent (at least not in this league) - it's based on the almighty dollar.  So if you want true parity, we need to divide the teams by salary.  I have set up the divisions according to team salary and it jumps out pretty quickly how much more interesting baseball would be this way.  Team salary had slightly more weight than geographic location and the cutoff between the "Haves" and "Havenots" is about $90 million.

Honestly, how have die-hard (if they exist) Blue Jay and Oriole fans not killed themselves yet?  You wake up on Opening Day and your team's forums and blogs hot topic is "Will we finish 4th or 5th?".  "You kidding?  We're gonna be awesome this year - I'm saying FOURTH!!"
    
So many casual fans stay away because of such scenarios.  They know the playing surface isn't level and they are correct.  This remedies that problem.  In a more fair division their team's record will be more representative of their team's actual talent.  The Blue Jays could very well win the "Havenots" Central every year.  Their biggest competition is the Reds and Brewers.  That sounds familiar.  Who did they essentially replace in that division?

Oh yes - my Cardinals.  Not to pick on them, but how can you not: they are a big fish in a little pond, relatively.  Put them in the "Haves" Central Division with the Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Astros and they would finish 3rd every year - maybe.

And lets be honest: a "Haves" East Division with the Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Cubs would be a media circus all unto its own.  The Cubs would continue to stink which is always fun.  The Phillies would get some actual competition.  And we'd at least get some national baseball coverage variety as opposed to seeing Red Sox/Yankees 24/7.

And if the biggest argument is that a weak "Nots" team would meet a powerful "Haves" team in the World Series every year, fine - seed all eight teams against each other and guarantee the best two teams meet for the title.  And put the DH in across the board for all teams and put that argument to rest - finally.

Let's take a look at the new divisions and how the standings would look (keeping everyone's existing records) and who I predict would make the playoffs.

Haves East - Imagine the TV revenue!  Are youse kiddin' me?  Tell Guido: dis division is weh its at! Tawk about braggin' rights - Fuggeddaboudit!  Seriously, let the rich kids beat up on each other.  How is that not ultimately fair for all?  There would be so much drama, even folks that live west of the Mississippi or south of D.C. would pay attention.  The games will average four and half hours, though.  The Yankees will still outspend their rivals here and the Phillies will muscle their way to the wildcard.
Average team payroll in the division: a wallet-busting $158 million.

Yankees        206M    22-11    Champ       
Phillies          142M    20-13    Wildcard
Mets              133M    18-16
Red Sox         162M    18-17
Cubs              147M    15-20

Haves Central - A fine division here.  All have made World Series appearances recently except for the Twins and they could certainly make an appearance at any time now, considering their talent.  The Cards would battle the Tigers all year long and relieve the glorious 2006 World Series (or gory-est, depending on your tastes).  If the Rangers jacked up their payroll, we could put them here and give the Astros a geographic rival.  The Twins are the class of the this division now and for the foreseeable future. 
Average team payroll in the division: a healthy "middle class" $103 million.

Twins           98M     22-12    Champ       
Cardinals     94M     20-14
Tigers          123M   19-15
White Sox    108M   14-20
Astros          92M     12-21

Haves West - Why does a West division always get to have just four teams in it?  Historically, the NL West division title is up for grabs (while the Angles typically dominate the AL West) but the Angels have slid so this title is again, a toss-up.  The Giants pitching will probably carry them to a title.  Boy are the team salaries evenly matched here. 
Average team payroll in the division: a cool $99 million.

Giants           98M       18-14    Champ
Dodgers        95M       17-17
Angels           105M    15-21
Mariners        98M       13-20

Nots East - Can you hear the fans from this division just cheering all over the eastern time zone?  The spending "bullies" are the thrifty Braves, followed closely by the Orioles.  The Rays, though, would probably have 30 wins already if they played in this division so everyone else will have to fight for the wildcard.  The surprising Nationals could be up to the task as the Marlins and Braves, while usually competive, have struggled.  The Orioles' record won't be as bad here, but - yeah - they'll still be bad.
Average team payroll in the division: a modest $69.3 million.

Rays            72M    24-10    Champ       
Nationals    61M    19-15    Wildcard
Marlins        56M    16-18
Braves         84M    16-18
Indians        61M    13-18
Orioles        82M    10-24

Nots Central - Boy, does Toronto feel good about their chances in this division?  Perhaps, but the Reds are on the right track and may give the Jays a run for their money.  The Royals and Pirates can fight head-to-head to see who is the worst in baseball.  See?  Rivalries EVERYWHERE! 
Average team payroll in the division: a bargain at $64.6 million.

Blue Jays    63M    20-16   
Reds            72M    19-15    Champ       
Brewers       81M    15-19
Pirates        35M    14-20
Royals         72M    11-23

Nots West - Quite the low-rent district here, but some compelling baseball would be played.  These teams for the most part all have very similar philosophies about building a baseball team - heavy emphasis on drafting and player development.  The Rockies are the big spenders and more able to keep their talent longer, but this year the low-budget Padres are playing the best. 
Average team payroll in the division: a Blue Light Special of $58 million.

Padres                38M    21-12    Champ
Rangers              55M    19-15
Athletics             52M    18-16
Rockies               84M    16-17
Diamondbacks    61M    14-21

Whether we keep an 8-seed format or the current two league playoff format (Haves vs. Havenots), the Rays meet the Yankees in the World Series and...


lose. 

So, in the end, I spent a few hours on this blog and the Steinbrenners still win in the end. 

Is there no justice?  Oh well.





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