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Tag:Canadiens
Posted on: June 18, 2010 6:36 pm
Edited on: June 19, 2010 8:38 am
 

6/18 - Holliday and the Cardinals - A Love Story

Matt Holliday and the Cardinals - A Love Story

Following the 2005 season, the Cardinals began looking for the perfect 4th place hitter to bat behind Albert Pujols - to protect him, take care of him, and make sure he got lots of fat pitches to hit.  After Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen could no longer fill the position (due to injuries, old age, La Russa's whims) the team started giving a plucky outfielder with a reconstructed hip the chance.  Ryan Ludwick was with his third organization, a "bat", other organizations would call him, but nothing more and a guy with a bad hip can't be taken too seriously, right?  But Ludwick was anything if not determined and through some hard work, he hung around long enough in 2007 to hit 14 home runs and started getting some looks in the middle of the lineup. 

In 2008, Ludwick, the scrappy underdog put on an offensive show from start to finish, batting .299, clubbing 37 home runs, enjoying All-Star status and Silver Slugger recognition.  That season, batting fourth behind El Hombre, Luddy's line was a hefty .295-20-59.  But injuries came back to haunt Luddy in May 2009.  He finished the season with a more modest .265-22-97 line as he tried too hard to justify his big raise after his monster 2008 campaign.  The Cardinals' eyes still roamed for the one clean-up hitter that would make everyone's dreams come true. 

On July 24, 2009 the Cardinals went "all-in" at the trade deadline to acquire Matt Holliday, the beefy Oklahoman that Tony La Russa and the rest of the organization had been dreaming of for years.  He was immediately inserted into the clean-up spot and hit .353-13-55 in 63 games.  Most cheered for our new heart-throb, but a small few of us felt bad for the rough-around-the-edges Ludwick, who despite the injuries in '09 still batted .278-14-55 in 62 games behind Pujols.  Aside from the average, his clean-up numbers were not much different from the club's new pretty boy and this even in a "down" year for Luddy.  Personally, I thought the tough-minded Ludwick deserved a little more consideration.

As it was, not since Paul McCartney paired with Michael Jackson was there such combined star-power as with Pujols and Holliday and for the most part last year, everything worked like a charm until things got serious: the playoffs.  The team crashed and burned unceremoniously, with Holliday making a major gaffe in the outfield to seal the team's fate (maybe those possible commitment jitters).  But Holliday and the Cards decided to get hitched anyway to the tune of a 7-year/$120 million contract - the best friend, Albert Pujols, approved.  The Cards got their man and kept him.  There was even a big announcement in the newspaper and everything.

Today is a new day, however.  Today is 2010.  Today is the "morning after" and the Cardinals just rolled over to see the studly Holliday isn't as studly as they thought.  With only 23 RBI in 53 games from their hero, what could the team do?  They saw the light and turned to Ol' Faithful, Ryan Ludwick, who already has 5 RBI in 4 games batting clean-up.  Things seem right again, in Cardinal Nation - we just have to find ways to keep our new boy toy happy while we pay him to NOT bat clean-up anymore.  Oh well.


It's time for...


The Hard Nine



1.  The "Morning After" - No words are needed.  Just check out Holliday's numbers so far in comparison to last year:

Year     Games     AB     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG     OPS
2009     63          235    .353    13      55      .604    1.023
2010     64          243    .284     6       25      .423     .795

Holliday's near MVP season was 2007 at age 27.  Why do baseball execs not understand that a player's peak years are typically during ages 24-28?  In retrospect, it's unfortunate that Holliday did so well last year, when he was obviously energized by the trade, by the huge fanbase, and by being in playoff contention.  He played way over his head and now we pay for two months in 2009 for the next seven years.  Hooray.

2.  Prodigal Sons Return -
We certainly had flashbacks to four years ago as Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan have recently returned to the flock.  Even Tony La Russa was getting misty-eyed watching Soup deal to the (albeit) punchless Mariners.  But in a start in which he was shaking off rust as much as trying to give the Cards a chance to win a game (a chance they essentially NEVER had when P.J. Walters, Blake Hawksworth or Adam Ottavino took the hill) he made some great pitches that reminded us of the guy that confounded the New York Mets in the 2006 NLCS with an 88-mph fastball, a slow curve and a tantalizing change-up.  He even struck out the mighty Ichiro on a high hard one and doubled and scored for himself.  Welcome back, Soup.

3.  Take THAT, Sabermetrics Dorks - I love when the Cards play the Arizona Diamondbacks because I often get to hear the Dbacks color analyst, Mark Grace.  For me, he was one of the quintessential late 80s ballplayers in the vein of Will Clark or Tony Gwynn - not the ideal physical specimen but had just a sweet swing that stroked hit after hit.  And he is a fun TV analyst who calls things like they are, good or bad, for the home team or the visitors - he doesn't discriminate.  I would love to hear Mark and Ex-Blue Kelly Chase do a sports talk show - it would be hilarious. 

As I've said, I'm a stat fiend (but I'm NOT a Sabermetrics worshiper) and neither is "Gracie" as he talked about there being too many stats in today's game in a local Phoenix newspaper:

"The biggest stats for me were runs scored and RBIs.  If those are both up, that means you're driving them in when they're out there and you're out there to be driven in...But instead, it's this guy sees 4.7 pitches per at bat. How about hit the first one and knock the (bleep) out of it, you know?"

Amen.  Eloquently put, Mark.

4.  NL Comeback Player of the Year - THN has been following Troy Glaus closely this year as the Ex-Card is having the season this year the Cardinals wished he had last year.  In fact, Glaus has all but sewn up the NL Comeback Player of the Year award considering he leads the NL in RBI and has carried the Braves to their first place standing in the NL East.  Glaus is on pace for 31 homers and 128 RBI which would be his highest total ever by a mile (his career high is 111 RBIs in 2002).  And while he strikes out as much as ever, he still has a stout .380 on base percentage.  Atlanta's sports writers have already come to terms that Troy has played himself into a big contract and probably right out of Atlanta. 

5.  Better Late Than Never -
And speaking of resurrections, what on earth has gotten into Alex Rios of the White Sox?  At age 29, it seems he is finally figuring out how to put his otherworldly talent to good use and that is an understatement.  He's having an MVP-type year that has stunned pretty much everyone that laughed at the Sox for taking him (and his massive salary) off Toronto's hands.  But maybe it isn't all that shocking - he wasn't even an All-Star until 2007 and that was only his third full season.  The Blue Jays gave up on him in 2009 when he was batting .247, and he completely tanked after going to Chicago batting .199.  Today he's hitting .313 and is on pace for 33 homers, 85 RBI and 49 steals!  The difference?  How about plate discipline?  After striking out over 100 times in four of his six full seasons, he is on pace for just 77 Ks, which in this day and age is stellar for a guy with 30-homer power. 

6.  "Big Sweat" Hits the Big Wall - In my last entry, I wrote about my distaste for our lefty relievers efficiency.  My distaste has turned to disgust, at least where Dennys "Big Sweat" Reyes is concerned.  In May he was immaculate (unrealistically so, in fact), and in June he is paying for it.  In four June appearances he has recorded just two outs, both on strikeouts.  Reyes has allowed 10 baserunners (9 hits, 1 BB) and six earned runs in those four appearances and his ERA has ballooned from 1.59 to 3.63.  He's given up seven consecutive hits to  LEFTHANDERS.  The only appearance of the four where he didn't give up a run he came in, gave up a hit, and left the game without getting an out.  Tough day like that has got make you want to pop open a hard-earned Dos Equis. 

7.  Look Me In The Eye and Tell Me You Can't Score Two Runs -
Jaime Garcia, while being a little less stellar lately, has still been hugely effective overall for the Cardinals.  In his last outing, he lost 2-1 to Seattle (as Holliday, once again, failed to deliver a runner from third) and as in all 13 of his starts, he has yet to give up more than two earned runs which is explains his 1.59 ERA, still second in the NL.  The Cardinals' record in his 13 starts: a pitiful 6-7.  Aye caramba...

8.  Blues Go Into "Halak-down" Mode - Ok, if you don't know how to pronounce "Halak" it's (ha-LOCK) - there, now my headline makes sense, right?  Oh well.  Really, this is the news of the week for THN.  I fell out of my chair to hear my St. Louis Blues traded for 25-year-old Jaroslav Halak, the Montreal Canadiens playoff hero this past spring, and focus of my adoration in my April blogs as he helped the outgunned Habs knock off the powerful Capitals and Penguins in two seven-game series.

He was going to be a free agent soon and will need a massive raise from his $800k salary, but the Blues finally made a smart, strong, gutsy move to acquire a young budding star goaltender, a position the Blues (since the departure of Curtis Joseph) have seemingly always filled with a "wily veteran". Take your pick: Grant Fuhr, John Casey, Pat Lalime, Manny Legace, Chris Osgood, Chris Mason, Tom Barrasso.  That list right there makes me want to put a bag over my head (except for Fuhr, who was exceptional when not injured).  The last talented young goalie the Blues traded for (Roman Turek) blew up on them spectacularly in the playoffs so we have reserved excitement about this trade of course.  The Blues did give up their #1 forward prospect in Lars Ellar, but seriously, he's Danish - he's only in the States to pick up girls, so the Blues sold high (as did Montreal). 

But there is a good omen here: Halak is a Slovak - not a Czech (like Turek) - and the Blues have had some terrific luck with Slovaks over the past 15 years: Pavol Demitra (one of my all-time favorite Blues who was simply the best hockey player in the 2009 Winter Olympics), Michal Handzus (the bruising power center) and Ladislav Nagy to name a few.  Hopefully, in ten years we'll be adding Halak to this list. Maybe even less.

9.  Still Nailing those Calls -
I was watching a Nationals game on MLB.TV and with my basic package I can't choose whether to get the home or away broadcast.  On this occasion it was the Nationals' broadcast I was listening to and the play-by-play man's voice immediately brought back a flood of Cardinal memories.  It was none other than Bob Carpenter, the St. Louisan who called the Cardinal games from 1993-2005.  How many "See...you...LATER!" calls did he get to make in 1998?  I'm going to be tuning into some Nats games more and more just for the walk down memory lane.



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 3, 2010 9:21 am
Edited on: May 3, 2010 9:51 am
 

5/4 - Batman is Freesing Hot

Batman is Freesing Hot

I am really trying hard to not be horribly complacent or obnoxiously cocky about the Cards’ good start but as “colleague” Bernie Miklasz pointed out today, who is going to challenge us in the Central?  No one, really – we have the best pitching in the division.

For me, the Cubs seem to have the most upside – Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, and even Tom Gorzelanny have been pretty effective.  Carlos Zambrano will pull his head out of his nether regions probably sooner rather than later.  Their offense is really starting to heat up so I expect the Cubbies to be playing some .550 ball for a good portion of the summer.  Alfonso Soriano is having a big rebound year so far (hitting homers five and six on the season today).  Fukudome and Marlon Byrd are raking (but how can that last).  Anyway, the pieces are there and they’ll make some noise.  The comment that scared me the most about the Cubs this spring was, everything went wrong for them last year and they still won 83 games.

The Reds series opener was an exercise in frustration.  The Reds continually were given a strike six inches outside to lefties meanwhile, pitches at the knees and over the plate were called low, apparently, for Brad Penny.  Despite this, the Cards held a lead until the rain started coming down in earnest, and even though Penny stood on the mound shrugging his shoulders to the umps (i.e.: “What do you want me to do – I can’t even grip the ball”) play continued until the Reds were allowed to take the lead in a downpour.

Penny deserved better as did Kyle Lohse who had his first truly brilliant start of the season, but a blown save denied him a win.  The rubber-match of the series between Aaron Harang and Chris Carpenter was fairly predictable – a 6-0 win by the good guys.

Colby Rasmus cooled off so fast this week that I was afraid he would shatter like the T-1000 from Terminator 2.  On the flip side, David Freese more or less carried the offense for the club and we’ll start there on…

The Hard Nine

   1. I’m…Batman – So Freese is slightly superstitious.  He puts on a lucky Batman mask before the games.  Let us bask in that weirdness for a bit.  Meanwhile, he’s a man on a mission – his six-RBI game this weekend was a wakeup call for the league.  If Matt Holliday ever gets on track, this train will really pick up steam.

   2. “Yes, officer, that’s my Kryptonite.” – I hope this is what Jaime Garcia’s answer would be if pulled over by one of Philadelphia’s finest as the Cards visit to begin a four-game set with the Phillies.  He starts opposite enigmatic lefty Cole Hamels.  I really think Garcia has what it takes to stymie this scary-offensive club.  But enough about their hygiene, those guys can also hit the baseball very well.  I will giggle like a little girl if the over-paid, over-rated Ryan Howard strikes out 3 or 4 times tonight.

   3. Mr. Rolen, Professional Baseball Player – There was a really interesting tidbit shared during the game yesterday; a quote by Dusty Baker that Scott Rolen has changed the way the Reds take batting practice.  They’ve adopted a more business-like approach and that seems to be carrying over into the games.  My question is: the idea of showing up and doing your job as a ballplayer has been absent from the Reds clubhouse until now?  That might explain your last 10 years of futility.

   4. ROY Garcia or ROY Freese?    Maybe neither in a league that includes Braves phenom Jason Heyward who, at 20, is easily Atlanta’s #1 offensive threat.  But Freese and Garcia will give Rookie of the Year voters something to think about at the end of this year.

   5. Quote Quotient - "I don't direct anything to anybody unless they disrespect me, my teammates or the game, but this game is really, really important to me. It's done a lot for me. It's done a lot for my family. As much as I've been through, I don't take any start for granted, 'cause I never know when it's going to end. And I love doing it. I really do. And I love everybody in this clubhouse and I don't like anybody I play against when I'm between the lines. That's just the way it is. It's super, super important to me."  - Chris “Mad Dog” Carpenter

   6. Power Up – The Cards are #1 on ESPN’s Relative Power Index.  They are also the #1 rated team on CBS Sportsline’s player rankings.  Infield is 8th, Outfield is 4th, Starting Pitching 1st, and Relief is 9th.  Top ten in all categories in all of baseball.

   7. Law of Averages – The Cubs team batting average is a robust .278; The “offensively challenged” Giants, .277; St. Louis, .260, but climbing.  Just to further point out, the Cubs and Giants are scary as well as Philadelphia and Arizona for their pure slugging prowess.

   8. Les Canadiens de Montréal – I’m on the bandwagon.  Halak, Montreal’s goalie, has been incredible.  I don’t even want to know his first name.  I just want him to go by “Halak” from now on.  They have evened their series with the talented Pittsburgh Penguins at one game each.

   9. My Neuroses – The first half of last year, Pujols was the Cards’ offense.  Then we picked up Holliday.  This year third base is no longer a waste of an at bat.  I often wonder if Albert prefers having the entire offense rest on his shoulders or if he truly likes the balanced attack.



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