Old Dog, New TricksThe 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.