Thanks For The Memories, Albert
Just as soon as we think the Cardinal bats have finally thawed out, they run into a team that can actually pitch well. The Dodgers swept us and exposed our lineup as a bit fraudulent.
Just as the Giants did. Just as the Phillies did. Just as the Padres did.
Obviously, the team is dealing with some nasty injuries - Brad Penny, Colby Rasmus and David Freese are all major cogs in the Cardinals machine (I guess you can call it that: a machine that produces pop-ups and double-play grounders, anyway). Kyle Lohse, when healthy, is better than any of the other #4 and #5 hurlers we have currently, but he is out indefinitely.
Even at 100%, the Cardinals are really only the sixth best team in the NL. As usual, if the Cards make the playoffs, it will only be as the NL Central "default" playoff entry who will scare no legitimate team.
What a terrific feeling of deja vu Tony La Russa must have had this week in L.A. It was the 2009 NLDS all over again, but at least in that series we scored a few runs and lost one game due to a Holliday fielding gaffe. This time around we simply got beat. First the bloodbath provided by sacrificial lambs Blake Hawkesworth and PJ Walters. Then the offense went to sleep for Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright - again.
Our least-heralded player has been our best all season: Ryan Ludwick, who is now THN's Official Favorite Cardinal. Luddy hit his 10th homer last night and has played the best defensive right field of anyone in the NL with flair and abandon that Aaron Rowand would admire.
But looking at the bigger picture, I think it's time to go on record and say the Cardinals need to seriously consider trading Albert Pujols after next year. The Matt Holliday contract is terrible - he has borderline 20-homer power, whether he's hot or cold. There's nothing we can do about that, except to not make the same mistake with Albert.
As incredulous as it sounds, the club needs to let Albert play out his option next year and see how much he has left in the tank. To me, he appears to be on the verge of becoming "just" a .300-25-100 first baseman. Is that terrible production? Of course not. Is that worth $30 million a year? OF COURSE NOT.
These are the Cardinals - not the Mets, Yankees or even the Cubs. Albert is going to tie up over 30% of the team payroll for the rest of his career if he remains with the Cards, and as with all the other wonderful companies in the Good Ol' U.S. of A, you think Bill DeWitt and Company is going to increase team payroll to stay in step with inflation? Yeah right.
Do I want Albert to be traded? Of course not. I want him to remain a .330-40-120 guy for the rest of his career and retire as the greatest right-handed hitter baseball ever saw (and he still might) but that's not realistic. I love Albert but I love the Cardinals more and his trade value will never be higher. The Cardinals could pick up two cheap top everyday players, two or three great minor league prospects and a bunch of high draft picks in such a deal.
We've had the one-in-a-lifetime privilege of cheering for a player who won the Decade Triple Crown for the 2000s (in only nine years, at that) but that era is over. The Cardinals got the best bargain in baseball out of Pujols - it's time to take that profit and invest it into the future of the team.
Albert won't be able to force those sore legs to keep chugging much longer.
Well, a ton has happened in the MLB since the last regular THN entry, so let's dive right into...
The Hard Nine
1. The 28-Out Perfect Game - I'm sure you all are slightly sick of this story by now. It's been hashed, re-hashed, re-fried, and served with a side of feel-good moments a hundred time already.
But I didn't get my say yet.
In the aftermath, I actually respect Commissioner Bud Selig more after he made the decision not to overturn umpire Jim Joyce's missed call. In my mind, this was a slam dunk - the final out of the game, completely missed by the ump and no one else on earth. In this fallen world, there are so few moments in life when something that was wrong could truly be made 100% right and not one person could argue against it. And Bud didn't do it. He must have bigger cajones than anyone thought.
This is a game of human decisions and judgments, right and wrong. Armando Galarraga lost the 21st perfect game in history. He lost his first no-hitter. But baseball lore gained the first 28-Out Perfect Game ever and probably the only we'll ever see. It's something we won't forget.
2. A Zit, a Geo Metro, and Stephen Strasburg - I'm calling it right now: Stephen Strasburg will break the single game strikeout record (which is 20 set by Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens) for a pitcher this year and he will do it against the Cardinals who are turning every pitcher they face into some mutated combination of Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan.
Every other game, it seems an opposing pitcher is setting or tying their personal high in strikeouts against us this season. Such luminaries include:
Manny Parra 10 Ks
Bud Norris 9 Ks
Carlos Silva 11 Ks
This, against guys who are getting knocked around the rest of the league (aside from Silva, which is a totally separate weird occurrence, one that makes me wonder if we have not actually crossed over into the Twilight Zone).
3. Congrats to the Blackhawks - The Stanley Cup once again resides in the NHL's mighty Central Division. Even though only 87 people watched the games on T.V., it still counts, and it's yet another Chicago championship not won by the Cubs. (Sorry, obligatory Cubs shot. It's in my contract.)
4. Soft-Tossing (My Cookies) - At times it seems the Cardinals go out of their way to maintain old and out-dated baseball stereotypes: shortstops that can't hit for power, catchers that can't hit their weight, and left-handed relievers that can't touch 90 on a gun unless they happen to be holding a Ruger P90 pistol.
This last phenomena has been really grating on my nerves lately. Now, hear me, we typically always have very effective left-handed relief, but they are specialists in every sense of the word and I'm getting a little tired of watching Tony leave Dennys Reyes and Trever Miller in against too many righties and get knocked around. But what I want to know is, why do we have to settle for these guys? I mean, a 95+ mph fastball is hard to hit whether it comes from a lefty or righty, is it not? Yet our lefties hum it in there at a blistering 87! Ricky Horton, Randy Flores, Jeff Fassero, Kent Mercker, TONY FOSSAS, JUAN A"BUST"O - I mean Agosto?! I'm in the fetal position, even now thinking back on these jokers.
This week we saw what the Dodgers' Hong-Chih Kuo can do (1.06 ERA). Or what about the timeless Arthur Rhodes (0.36 ERA) of the Reds who is blowing guys right out of the batters box? Even Billy Wagner is still bringing it (4-0, 1.54 ERA, 10 saves) for the Braves. But no, we get to watch Miller and Reyes toss frisbees up there to righties night after night. Tony has more faith than I do, I guess.
5. Youth Baseball League - The NL East suddenly has a plethora of baseball prodigies. Mike Stanton of the Marlins got 3 hits in his major league debut. Jason Heyward, at 20, is the Braves best player and probably headed to the All Star Game. Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 batters in 7 innings in his major league debut this week. Has there ever been more evidence that teams need to focus on the draft and groom their own stars?
6. Draft Horses - Speaking of the draft, it's good to see that if the Cardinals plan to pay a huge portion of the team salary to a few veterans, they also understand that they HAVE to take highly talented players in the draft regardless of signability issues to fill out the rest of the roster and they did just that. Zack Cox was rated in the top 5 fell to the Cards at #25 and he very well could be their second baseman of the future. It appears, that their cheap-drafting ways are over (No more "Pete Kozmas"? Hallelujah).
7. The Big Flop - And still speaking of the draft, it's always fun to look back on past drafts and what might have been. For instance, in the late 80s and early 90s we suffered through some very bad Cardinal teams. The reward for some of this misery was the sixth overall pick in the 1989 draft. The Cards picked Paul Coleman, a power-hitting highschooler who never made it past A ball. With the very next pick that year the White Sox took "The Big Hurt", the "Pujols" of the 90s and future Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas. Uh, whoopsy.
8. I Can See Clearly Now the Ks are Gone - Ok, not completely, but since Colby Rasmus went to the eye doctor a couple weeks ago to get new contacts, he has been on a tear. And then he tore his calf. Man, that's like...Cubs luck (sorry, can't help it).
9. Bye, Bye, Big 12 - It looks like the Big 12 is going to fall apart and it is all over money. I enjoy college sports, but I am not a fanatic. College sports fanatics typically say to me that it's the purest form of competition, untouched by big contracts and endorsement deals. No, my friends, it's still all about the money.