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Tag:Chris Carpenter
Posted on: August 18, 2010 9:11 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 9:18 pm
 

8/18 - Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues

Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard Nine


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

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

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

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

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

Whew.  I was worried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WG



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

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

Road Warriors...At Least Tonight


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, please enjoy a quick edition of...


The Hard (Seven)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just something to keep an eye on. 



WG











Posted on: 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 24, 2010 11:14 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2010 10:43 am
 

6/24 - The MLB All-Caveman Team

The MLB All-Caveman Team

Since Adam Wainwright got shelled up in Toronto, I don't get to blog about the Cardinals strong pitching and how they swept the Blue Jays.  And incidentally, the league needs to send Tony Randazzo a little memo reminding him that home plate is only 17 inches wide - not 3 feet as he appeared to give Brandon Morrow.  But I understand his incompetence - he's from Chicago so he grew up watching poorly played baseball.  Also, Randazzo looks like a meathead, which must mean something.  As an ex-baseball player himself, had he made the majors he might have made the MLB All-Caveman Team!

This is a list of some of THN's favorite Neanderthals, both past and present.  Pitchers who screamed battle cries from the mound, hitters who would have looked more comfortable swinging tree trunks at the plate, all with plenty of gnarly hair over their face and chest (and we presume, their back). 

RHP - Pete Vuckovich - Any pitcher that can play a terrifying Yankee slugger in a movie is nothing if not imposing.  He was much scarier as a Brewer than a Cardinal.  That's probably why the Redbirds traded him - not cuddly enough.

LHP - Randy Johnson - After he killed a poor bird in spring training with a 95-mph heater, rumor is he ate it for lunch.

Relief - Rod Beck - One of the most colorful personalities to grace the diamond.  Stories of his exploits in the minor leagues after his major league career was over are legendary with local fans.

OF - John Kruk - It's doubtful there has ever been a worse physical specimen squeezed into tight baseball polyester.  Also makes sensekruk he couldn't stick in San Diego, but was adored in Philadelphia.

OF - Colby Rasmus - A young knuckle-dragger in training, he's a mouth-breather through and through, but some of the deadliest warriors are like that.  They look innocent, you lower your defense and them BOOM - they strike.

OF - Jay Buhner - Bald-headed and crushing 40 homers a year using the most intimidating batting stance in baseball history: he held the bat directly in front of himself as if about to enter a gang fight.  He dared the pitcher to throw a fastball, and then pulling the bat BACK and THEN swinging, would connect, sending the ball into orbit.  Awesome.

SS - Gary Gaetti - For some reason, the vast majority of shortstops throughout history have been excellent athletes, good-looking, more or less stars on their teams.  So it was hard to find a true caveman, but luckily Gaetti logged some time at short, and for a guy that played into the 90s, none were more "old school" than him.

3B - Dave Kingman - One of the most feared sluggers of the 70s and 80s both on and off the field.  The only thing that could make the guy smile was seeing sports writers tortured, but fortunately for them, it was the 20th Century - not the 5th.

2B - Jeff Kent - Few players combined such extremely high talent with amazing ambivalence to what they did for a living, and that kind of attitude toward something 99.9% of the population would consider a dream come true, is quite scary.  Plus he was a jerk.

dunn 1B - Adam Dunn - Dunn is the ultimate barbarian the clan sends to the plate with the game on the line.  The pitcher is too busy watching the way his 6'7" frame is blocking out the sun to focus on throwing the ball properly.

C - Darrell Porter - The MVP of the Cardinals' 1982 World Series victory, he literally looked like Quasimodo at the plate, hunched over, almost crippled - until he unleashed his wicked swing.  The man was nails, cold-blooded when it counted, like any good warrior.

Well that was cathartic.  So let's savagely sink our teeth into...


The Hard Nine


1. Towers of Power - For the first time in a while the Cardinals have three regular outfielders who are a threat to go deep.  With Matt Holliday's recent power surge, each member of our current trio is on pace for 25+ home runs: Colby Rasmus (34), Ryan Ludwick (25) and Holliday (26).  Holliday, until very recently, was on pace for just 15 dingers.  The last time the Cardinals had three outfielders all finish with 25+ homers was 1998 when Ron Gant (26), Ray Lankford (31) and Brian Jordan (25) brought the thunder, which, with just a little help from Mark McGwire's 70 homers, led the NL in big flies.  Too bad our pitching was as bad as our slugging was good that year. CBSsports.com currently shows the Cards' outfield rated 2nd in the majors to the Texas Rangers' thumpers.

In fact, since 1985 the Cardinals have had just five seasons where even TWO outfielders hit 25+ homers in the same season with Jim Edmonds factoring in three of those five seasons.  With Holliday locked up for a very...long...time and Colby Rasmus still pre-arbitration, if we can sign Ludwick to a reasonable multi-year deal, we could be set for a long time, which is fairly critical since we don't have any impact outfielders in the minors at the moment.

2. Not So Lone Ranger -
Speaking of the Rangers, Josh Hamilton was one of the most inspiring stories of the 2008 season.  After a long journey back from substance abuse and finding peace as a born-again Christian, Hamilton had a successful comeback season with the Reds in 2007.  He was then traded to Texas for promising pitcher Edison Volquez.  Hamilton promptly became an All-Star with Texas in 2008 with a season that was highlighted  by an incredible power display in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby that left everyone in awe.  But 2009 was not so kind and while battling injuries and some off-field regression, Hamilton hit only 10 home runs.

Happily, (excluding the Rangers' opponents in the AL West, of course) Hamilton has rebounded with his best season yet, hitting .339 with 17 home runs so far.  But more importantly, he's serious about his new life.  Josh doesn't go out alone.  He stays at home with the family during home game stretches and hangs out with his mentor, Johnny Narron, on the road at all times.  He never has more than $10 on him.  That's humility.  It's a joy to cheer about things greater than baseball - like a changed life.

3. Yadi! Yadi! Ya...Oh Nevermind -
Um yeah, so I've stopped with the Yadi 100-RBI pace updates, if you haven't noticed.  Yadier Molina hasn't simply hit the wall - the wall seems to have snuck up on him and knocked the snot out of him upside the head with a two-by-four.  Get this man a medic!

His average is down to .242, his lowest since 2006 when he batted .216.  And what is really discouraging is how completely disinterested he looks at the plate.  Chris Carpenter is giving a better effort at the dish and that's not saying much.  After giving us batting averages of .275, .304, and .293 the last three seasons, it certainly seemed like Yadi had "figured it out".  I don't think he's regressing, technically.  I just think he's beat up - I've seen him take some nasty pitches off the body this year and those things add up.  I really hope he doesn't make the All-Star team.  He needs a break.

4. He Must REALLY Like Football - I do not come to bury Steve Smith, but to praise him.  We've heard plenty of freak injury stories that have befallen professional athletes over the years.  A lot of the times the accident leads to lies, a cover-up, and finally the embarrassing truth.  The St. Louis Blues' own star defenseman Erik Johnson lost his entire sophomore season to a golf cart knee injury.  Players ride motorcycles without helmets.  They cut themselves with hunting knife birthday presents (yeah, Mike Matheny wasn't an All-Star, but that one STILL hurts us Card fans).

But at least Steve Smith hurt himself actually playing flag football.  He was apologetic, but defiant: "I wish I could take it back," Smith said. "But I am a regular guy outside of football. I mow my grass, too. I can get my finger chopped off fixing my lawnmower. I could roll my ankle playing tag or slip-n-slide with my kids. In hindsight, yeah, I won't do it again. But I was just having fun, playing with some guys."

And yeah, that's a huge loss for Smith, personally, and for the Carolina Panthers organization and the fans, but for a while, how cool was it for those "other guys" to get to play football with a Pro Bowler?  Forget the autograph, wanna play catch, Albert?  Uh, was that your elbow that just popped??

5. Protecting the World's Jewels Since 1930 - Dear World: we get it.  You dislike us evil, greedy, lazy, overweight, spoiled Americans.  That's fine.  But there are still things we really suck at and soccer is one of them.  So if we score a legitimate goal, can you at least feign impartiality and allow the goal to count?  I promise, we are sure not going to win the "World's Cup"...whatever that is.  I'm not sure we even want to win it.  Hygiene and all...

6. Stephen Strasburg's Debut Revisited - I finally took an hour this week to watch most of Stephen Strasburg's debut against the Pirates a couple weeks ago.  Simply put, he has video-game-set-on-cheat-mode stuff.  His high-90s fastball starts right down the middle and then runs to the corner causing lefties to flail and righties to get sawed off, assuming they even make contact.  And this is what's really sick: his change up is 90-mph.  Ninety-miles per hour change up.  What a laugh.  His change up smokes probably 50% of the veteran fastballs in the majors right now.  But the difference between 90 and 99 is lethal.  You swing to hit 99, you won't hit a ball coming in at 90 and vice versa.  And the icing on the cake is his circus breaking ball that drops down an in to lefties - he can throw it for strikes or down out of the zone like a splitter.  Curt Schilling knows a few things about stuff and he says he's never seen anything like what Strasburg can do.  Like I said, I'm really looking forward to this young man setting the single-game strikeout record against us and whadayaknow - the Cards are in D.C. for a four-game set starting August 26th.

7. My Slumping AL Teams -
I don't think any baseball fan over the age of six thought the Tampa Bay Rays were going to lead the AL East wire-to-wire and they can officially be re-classified as underdogs again.  They are just a half game out of third place and both the Yankees and Red Sox are streaking by.  The Twins were solid favorites in the AL Central but the resurgent Tigers are not laying down as they are just 1 1/2 games back and are 7-3 over their last 10 while Minnesota is 4-6.  The Twins main problems?  Like most teams, inconsistent offence is to blame.  But the back end of the rotation has been mediocre, further complicating things - Kevin Slowey (4.58), Scott Baker (4.61) and Nick Blackburn (5.80)?  Eeesh.  Cliff Lee, anyone?
 
8. Step Right Up and Wreck Your Season! - Something has to be done about the All-Star Home Run Derby - namely, dropping it, forevermore.  PLEASE, MLB: NO ONE CARES.  A great majority of ballplayers who have participated in the derby have had bad second halves of the season and/or a down year entirely the next season.  Many articles have been written about it already.  The players are wising up.  Albert seemed terribly gassed the second half of 2009 and had a big power outage.  Jim Edmonds removed all guesswork by getting injured DURING the derby in 2005.  More and more sluggers are bowing out.  I'd rather see Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome and Barry Bonds have a "Bring Back the Juice!" home run derby promotion.  Now THAT would create some interest.

9. Vogon Poetry or Watching the Cardinals Hit - I told my wife that it was a very, VERY good thing that I didn't watch the Cardinals' 1-0 win over the Blue Jays last night.  Only after the game was over did I realize that Chris Carpenter got the well-earned win when the Cards scored in the top of the NINTH.  Nothing like waiting to the last minute, boys!  I'm sure I would have had to go to drastic measures to keep from spontaneously combusting had I watched the game live - the Cards left 11 men on base.  Last night, at least, the culprits were Colby Rasmus and David Freese (two guys who have been positive contributors for the most part) instead of the usual suspects, Pujols and Holliday.  Of course, the Cards got shutout completely tonight.  Time to gnaw off a leg to maintain my sanity.



WG









Posted on: June 10, 2010 5:21 pm
Edited on: June 11, 2010 11:23 am
 

6/10 - Thanks for the Memories, Albert

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. 



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 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









 
 
 
 
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