Tag:Cubs
Posted on: April 26, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 10:32 am
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THN 4/26 - Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?

Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?


Before we dive into some highlights of the first-place Cardinals' series win over the Reds this past weekend, I want to take you on a warm/fuzzy stroll down memory lane. 

I don't have tons and tons of memories of my dad, especially from when I was younger, but I do remember some things about him.  For instance, he always loved NFL football.  My dad adopted the Kansas City Chiefs pretty early after the Cardinals left St. Louis.  He also rooted for certain coaches - Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins and Tom Landry with the Cowboys are a couple.

But he loved football because every game had so much weight.  Three games out of first place in baseball?  That's nothing.  Three games out in football?  Better blow up your roster, try that new rookie quarterback, or fire the coach and bring in that hot college football coordinator.  Every game was almost as important as a playoff game.  My dad loved it.

And I see the attraction in that. 

As many say, "NFL" stands for "Not for long".  Seriously, when has an NFL coach actually fulfilled his entire contract before getting fired, quitting, or melting down in front of 39 reporters at a post-game press conference?  In a modern world that craves instant gratification, it's no wonder the NFL is King.  A team can go 15-1 as easily as 1-15.  Dynasties are built in a single off-season and collapse just as quickly.

So I don't mind sounding mushy when I confess: boy, I love baseball.

162 games is a beautiful thing.  A "good" team wins 55% of their games, a "bad" team 45%.  It's nice to have perpetual hope (or perpetual madness, right, Cub fans?).  There is no time limit.  There is no "running out the clock".  Baseball is almost eternal, for better or worse.  You gotta get 27 outs.  I believe I watched nearly all of the 20-inning marathon between the Cards and Mets last year even though I really knew we were going to lose.  As long as you have a strike left, you have a chance.

Insurmountable 10-game leads in September standings whittled away in just a week.
A batter's quest to lead the league in average, home runs and RBIs - the rarest of rare, the Triple Crown. 
Perfectly pitched contests broken-up by the last batter off the bench, pinch-hitting who's batting a measly .185.
A 100-year-old curse broken.

Football is fast food.  A can of cola.  You devour it and move on.  And that's fine.  But baseball - baseball you savor every minute of the season because you never know when you'll see history. 

So, I hope my six-year-old ends up sharing this passion with me more and more.  I hope I can give him a leg-up on what this baseball game is about.  I can't wait for the day when I have tell him to ease up on his throws - it's really starting to hurt my hand.  I can't wait for him to ask me to play some catch.



It is time, my fellow Cardinal-lovers (or haters) for...


The Hard Nine


1.  Molina Took My Lunchable, Yo!

Brandon Phillips is having a nice year so far and I'll be honest: he's growing on me.  He's having fun at the Cards' (and their fans') expense and, yes, true rivalries are good for the sport.  Plus, it's very unfortunate that the number of black players has been declining steadily for years.  And that's a lot of talent not being added to the league for fans to enjoy. 

One of my favorite Cardinal outfields in recent memory was in 1996 when Brian Jordan, Ray Lankford and Ron Gant roamed the Busch greenery.  My grandpa called them (probably a bit too tongue-in-cheekly) the "St. Louis Blackbirds".  I shake my head now and today we see so clearly, a diverse sport is a much richer sport.  Back then, I just knew we had a kick-butt outfield and those guys were a blast to watch. 

                             AVG    HR    RBI    SB
Brian Jordan     .310    17    104    22
Ray Lankford    .275    21    86     35
Ron Gant          .246    30    82     13

B.J. was the best clutch-hitter in baseball.  Ray Lankford, while whiffing too much, had a sweet lefty swing that could send the ball a mile and you can't forget he had speed, too.  He had 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season five times in his career.  Ron Gant's first year in St. Louis was terrific.  He had not yet become the whiff-machine that plagued him in later years and he led the club with 30 bombs.  What a trio of power, speed, and production. 

No wonder the Cards finished in first place that year. 

So, Brandon Phillips says that Nelly's cool in his book.  Well, BP is ok my book, too.  We need more characters with All-Star talent.  And besides, my homeboy, Yadier Molina took care of business on Sunday giving the Cards, yet another, series win over the Reds in St. Louis.  It's gonna be a fun year.


2.  Not-So Saint Valentine Hates the Cards

Cardinal fans have learned to dislike certain opposing managers over the years.  And some of the dislike is tinged with a bit of respect.  There's Dusty Baker's "stick up for my family" thuggery.  Bobby Cox, whom you simple could not rattle...and that just ticked you off. 

But I don't think the Cards ever faced a slimier opposing manager than Bobby Valentine.  (The 2000 NLCS between the Cards and Mets was NOT FUN for Redbird fans.)  And today, if you listen to Valentine's commentary on ESPN's TV broadcast, you quickly pick up that he simply knows more than...well, just about anyone else on earth. 

Low-lights from Sunday night's game:

Cardinal shot #1:
"When I managed against Tony, I used to love it when he would bat the pitcher eighth!" (Valentine laughing hysterically, crew also chuckling)

Cardinal Shot #2
"The Cardinals have some major bullpen issues."

Thank goodness we couldn't see his trademark used-car salesman cheesy grin while he made those comments.

All I know is, there's a reason you are no longer a manager, Bobby.  The Cards bullpen finished off the shutout that night.  And Tony La Russa is going into the Hall of Fame, not you.  But you can buy tickets and visit whenever you want.


3.  I Need Some Stats, Stat!

So far this year, McGwire's Mashers are 1st in the National League with a .293 team batting average, 2nd in runs (114), 2nd in home runs (24), and Dunc's Dealers are 4th in pitching ERA (3.19).

Something tells me the Reds are NOT running away with the division this year.


4.  Ex-Cardinal Update

Former THN-Favorite Player Ryan Ludwick finally had a game he could feel good about.  He hit two homers yesterday, the second of which was a game-winning walk-off job in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Padres a 5-3 win.  After his monstrous game, he's still batting just .195 with .378 slugging percentage.  .378 slugging - that's like David Eckstein weak.  I hope Luddy's bat comes back, for his own sanity's sake. 

I also must admit that it's become apparent to me that Cards general manager John Mozeliak just might know a little more about running a major league baseball team than I do.  If I had it my way, the Cards would be running Brendan Ryan (.220) and Luddy (.195) out there instead of Ryan Theriot (.311) and Lance Berkman (.377).

Um, yeah.  Whoops.


5.  With Apologies to Bob Marley

Remember when Franklin, used to get outs
In da top o' da Ninth
We observed his smoke and mirrors
He was like da good voodoo doctor, mon

But den he mixed in some knuckleballs
And good pitching was not his ting no more
Now da future is bright, with Boggs and Sanchez
Dry your tears with Motte and Salas

No Franklin, No Cry
No blown saves, No Cry
Carp and Garcia, shed no tears
No Franklin, No Cry


6.  Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Wherever it is, Andre Ethier is trying to follow Joltin' Joe there.  Ethier, after going 0 for 4 in the Dodgers first game of the season has now hit in 22 straight games - four of those, of course, coming against the Cards.  He's also been a little lucky as in almost half those games (nine of the 22, to be exact) he's only gone 1 for 4, barely keeping the streak alive. 


7.  SWING...and a miss? 
                                      IP   H    BB  K    R    ERA
Fernando Salas (H,2)    1    0    0    2    0    1.50
Eduardo Sanchez (H,3)  1    0    0    2    0    0.00
Mitchell Boggs (S,3)      1    1    0    2    0    1.46

The knock on Ryan Franklin?  Terrible swing and miss rate from opposing batters.  More balls in play means more chances for bad things to happen.  On Sunday night, the Cardinals' suddenly youthful bullpen threw three shutout innings giving up just one hit and striking out 6 of 9 batters.  Needless to say, we've not seen many innings like that from venerable relievers like Franklin.  Perhaps my nails will finally grow back this year.


8.  Do They Want ANYONE To Survive the Season?

The Rams won the Super Bowl the year my family moved from St. Louis.  Great timing, yes, I know.  We did go back for the obligatory Super Bowl party and yes, the game was quite the thriller.  The Titans and Rams were both up-and-coming teams.  One coach weeping over greeting card commercials and the other telling players to tuck their spleens back in and get back out on the field.  It was probably a once in a lifetime year for Ram fans and I basically missed it.

But, I like football very much.  Living down in SEC country now (an adopted Auburn fan in Crimson Tide country) I'm following the college game more, too.  Since relocating to Huntsville we've seen both Alabama and Auburn take the national titles in the BS bowl system.  (Oh, sorry, typo...)

But as far as the NFL goes, for the love of Pete, when the NFL collective bargaining lockout is finally over, they better not increase the regular season from 16 games to 18.  It doesn't sound like much, but I will be sorely tempted to boycott the NFL if they do that.  The players break down enough as it is.  They end up nearly crippled in retirement.  The line has to be drawn somewhere.  Just my two cents. 


9.  NHL Ramblings

Congrats to the Nashville Predators who finally won their first playoff series in their 12-year history.  The team that has closely emulated the Blues for so long in construction, after taking years of lumps by my Blues, and the finally surpassing them the past few years have moved on in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  After knocking out the Anaheim Ducks, they'll face a much taller task in round two, whoever the opponent is.

And the Canucks and Cheatin'hawks have gone to Game Seven.  After leading the series 3 games to none, the Canuckleheads are on the verge of completing one of the greatest choke jobs in NHL history.  The Hawks didn't just scrap and claw back.  They DESTROYED Vancouver in games 4 and 5, and then did squeak by in overtime in game 6. 

I don't know who to root for.  Vancouver would be logical since I must hate Chicago but the Canucks had the best record in hockey during the regular season.  The mighty must fall, no?




Next Time: Pujols' hammy will be cooled off, but hopefully the birds bats will not.  Stay tuned...

As always, thanks for reading.










Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:47 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 9:17 am
 

THN 4/16 - And On The Last Out, Bob Rested

And On The Last Out, Bob Rested


In Arizona this week, umpire Bob Davison was in mid-season form.  Working home plate between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, he must have called four or five check-swing strikes, himself , which would be quite unusual for a typical umpire, but not "Balkin'" Bob.  

You know - a check-swing where typically, the catcher asks the plate ump to appeal to the third base or first base ump to verify if the batter actually checked his swing or not since THEY HAVE A MUCH BETTER VIEWING ANGLE THAN THE HOME PLATE UMP?  Ha ha, ye mere mortals.  "Balkin'" Bob needs no help making the right call.  And Arizona's rookie manager Kirk Gibson finally had enough when Davidson called a checked swing strike on Miguel Montero in the third inning after doing the same thing to Montero in the first to set the tone of incompetent umpiring. 

TV replays showed Montero's bat wasn't even close to breaking the plane of the plate.  Gibson sure got his money's worth going nose-to-nose with Bob "The Show" Davidson before getting ejected.

And "The Show" continued, as later in the game, Davidson was calling checked swing strikes if the batters even FLINCHED at incoming pitches.  One can only surmise his mommy didn't hug him enough as a boy because he's one of the few garbage umps that seem to dare you say something about his incompetence. 

Remember, he's the guy that threw a fan out of game in Milwaukee last year, even though there isn't one MLB rule allowing an ump that power.  Maybe he should have his name legally changed to "Zeus" and be done with it.

Any chance someone can blindfold him, throw a Giants jersey on him and drop him off in Chavez Ravine around 2 a.m.?  Ohhh....I hear the groans from here.

On to the first regular season edition of...



The Hard Nine




1.  Breathe Again, Breathe Again...Cardinal Fans


Hear that?  

That was the sound of a couple million Cardinal fans all exhaling at once this week as the Redbirds finally remembered how to hit during this current road trip out west.  And at 7-7, with a major-league lead in runs scored, things suddenly don't look so bleak for our beloved birds on the bat.

The Cards' front office really needs to send the schedule-makers a gift basket for sending the boys out to Arizona early in the season where they have the highest visting home run rate of any team that has played the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

Suddenly, our lineup looks pretty imposing:

Theriot     .298
Rasmus    .397
Pujols       .241
Holliday    .393
Berkman   .327
Freese      .372
Schumaker .241
Molina      .268

The Good:
Matt Holliday looks much more comfortable at the plate this year than last year where through May he was still on a paltry home run pace of 15 dingers and I was calling his the worst contract in Cardinals history.  Allow me to revise that: he looks like one of the top three outfielders in baseball.  Period. 

Albert Pujols is finally finding his timing, hitting two homers last night.  He still is pulling off waaaaaaaay too many pitches and I really have doubts he'll ever approach a .330 batting average again (it's hard to get a ton of hits when you refuse to use half the baseball field by pulling everything to the left side). 

Last year Colby Rasmus had a fabulous spring training and many of us were Predicting his breakout season was at hand.  Turned out he was still a little green as was very much vexed by strikeouts.  Well this could be the year - he looks comfortable at the plate and locked in on the strikezone.  My favorite online fan comment regarding Rasmus is "Looks like he's this year's Carlos Gonzalez".  Hopefully, hopefully not.  The Cards still need to lock him up on a long-term deal before he becomes an MVP, eh?

The Bad:
Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina still worry me.  After both having multi-year periods of at or near .300 batting, Skip seems lucky to ever bat .275 again and Molina - well, remember Tony La Russa's famous words about Yadi: if he never gets another hit again as a Cardinal he would still be an asset to the team?  I think Yadi decided finally decided to take TLR up on that "offer". 

The Surprising:
I absolutely hated how the Cards' got rid of Brendan Ryan and brought in Ryan Theriot.  Nothing against either guy, but Theriot simply looked done last year - just nothing like the Cub player a few years ago that was a tough out, get-under-your-skin-type. Yet two weeks in, he's carrying a .386 OBP which ranks right up there with his career best.  His defense is still atrocious, as is Skip's and Colby's and Lance's, but that's a topic for another blog.  By comparison, Brendan Ryan is still apparently helpless at the plate, so this "trade" appears to be a wash, which is more than I expected.

Speaking of Berkman, Big Puma is on pace for 69 homers and 150 RBIs.  

(Pause for effect.)

He's even running down pretty much every thing hit to him in right field.  He's slimmed down, moving well on the bases and in the field, and looks re-focused and re-energized.  And contrasting his production to how far Ryan Ludwick has fallen - suddenly we all wish we had
signed Berkman to a two year deal instead of just one.

In general, it's exciting that you can pick any guy from 2-6 in our lineup and you could theoretically see him batting 3rd for just about any NL team.  Barring injury, this is a pretty deep lineup.  With health and continued effective pitching, the Cardinals only issues are a terrible closer and terrible defense.  But the guys just might overcome those to make some noise this year.


2.  Beware of the Blue Crew

"The Blues were right there," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "They were as good as anybody in our division, our conference. It just went the wrong way, and I think it's all because of the injuries. You can certainly see that now ... they're just about healthy and look how well they're playing."

The Blues had a very disappointing season missing the playoffs yet again.  And despite the fact that they lost their most talented forward (David Perron) to a Joe Thornton blindside hit, the future is bright for the young club, despite their cloudy ownership situation.

Doug Armstrong absolutely fleeced the Colorado Avalanche in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement.  David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini, and Alex Pietrangelo made massive strides forward this year.  Backes and Berglund came back strong from down seasons and Pietrangelo and D'Agostini blossomed beyond all expectations. 

(By the way, it was ridiculously stupid for fans to boo Johnson in St. Louis.  He never loafed, was always a stand up kid who happened to hit the wall developmentally.  We sure don't need to give him more incentive to beat us in the future.) 

At any rate, if the Blues can stay healthy and learn some consistency next season, the league better watch out.


3.  Too Manny Roids?

Sometimes aging stars hang on longer than they should.  Sometimes they suddenly fall apart and quit.  And for the first time ever a player failed a ped test and decided to retire rather than face the 100 game suspension music.  

Classy exit, manny Ramirez.  The once sure-fire Hall of Famer "retires"as a cheating idiot savant.  As Boston writer Dan Shaughnessy wrote, "Manny doesn't care.  So why should fans care?".  Well put.  In fact, who were we talking about again?


4.  Red Sox Look a Little Threadbare

The Boston Red Sox are 2-10.   

(/Me sighs happily).  And the Yankees look like anything but world beaters at 8-5.  I bet it's almost safe to turn on ESPN again.  We just might hear something about one of the 28 other teams.  

Maybe.


5.  You Gotta Tag the Runner, Kid!

We must pile on the Red Sox when we can.  It was great seeing Sox catcher Jason Varitek allow a runner to score at home uncontested while he stood there holding the ball.  

The Indians had the bases loaded and third baseman Kevin Youkilis dropped a liner at third.  He scrambled and stepped on the third to force the runner from second, then threw home for a possible double play.  Problem was the runner from third was no longer forced at home and had to be tagged.  

Varitek caught the ball while stepping on the plate, assuming the force-out, apparently.  The runner stepped on home.  The ump, almost incredulously, of course called him safe.  

The moral of the story: I'll be a little more calm in the future with my six year old when I say, "You gotta tag the runner, son!  But don't worry.  Even big leaguers forget sometimes."


6.  The Best Player in Baseball is Troy, Troy, Troy!


Hopefully, fans of NBC's "Community" will get the reference.  

Anyway, Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop for the Rockies, is the new "best player in baseball".  Nice work by Colorado to lock him up long term.  If he can stay healthy all year, this is your 2011 NL MVP.  The guy is amazing playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond.


7.  The Chicago Cheatin'hawks

On April 7th, the Blues were leading the Cheatin'hawks 2-0 when all world winger Marian Hossa kicked the puck toward the Blues net while standing in the crease.  

While the puck rolled along the goal line but never in the net the overzealous goal judge lit the goal lamp and the overzealous referee signaled goal as well.  The Cheatin'hawks celebrated around Hossa as he sheepishly looked like he had just robbed a 7-Eleven.  

After a 10 minute review the goal stood since, apparently, the video didn't prove it WASN'T a goal.  And the kicking motion was never even questioned.  Shockingly the NHL remains a joke, third-rate league with horrendous officiating and laughable match penalty suspensions for illegal hits that would probably warrant jail time if they happened in your neighborhood.  

Anyway, enjoy getting knocked out in the first round, Cheatin'hawks.


8.  Bizarro MLB Standings

The Red Sox are 2-10 (third shot in the column -- it never gets old).

The Royals and Indians are 10-4.

Awesome.

9.  Tall Order

If the Cards want to continue their 14-hit per game attacks (now five straight games and counting) they'll have To go through Clayton Kershaw - one of the toughest lefties today and a strikeout machine.  I'm curious to see how well they grind out at bats against the toughest pitcher they'll face on this road trip.



Sorry for the Extra Large edition of THN, everyone.  Thanks for reading.

Next time: THN predicts the Cards will be either above .500 or below it.  Stay tuned...










Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:26 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 3:28 pm
 

THN 1/12 - Put Hoffman in the HOF

Put Hoffman in the HOF

Yesterday, Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time career saves leader, announced his retirement.  Probably one year too late as he absorbed a 5.89 ERA even in a year where baseball offense was knocked back to the Stone Age*.

(*That would be 1992 in modern terms.)

But the Brewers stuck with him enough times that he added ten final saves to his resume and finished his career with a highly memorable total of 601.  So today we consider his Hall of Fame worthiness and with joy we can do this without discussing those nasty performance-enhancing substances - that dirty word that rhymes with Altoids and hemorrhoids - mostly because it's pretty clear Hoffman's career was the product of high-durability, incredible consistency, and one of the best change-ups ever unfurled on a baseball diamond.

As it has been said many times in the past, a save in Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage's eras were not what they are today, which would explain why those two are in the Hall of Fame and great closers like Lee Smith and John Franco haven't even gotten a sniff.  But I think Hoffman is rare in that he had a more transcendent career than Smith or Franco. 

Let's look at these guys' career stats (and we'll throw in another modern HOF-worthy closer for good measure).  In parenthesis is the number of times they were an All-Star. 

Name (AS)      Games    ERA    Innings    H       BB       K         HRs    Saves

Hoffman (6)    1035       2.87    1089    846      307    1133    100      601
Smith (7)        1022       3.03    1289    1133    486    1251     89       478
Sutter (6)        661        2.83    1042    879      309    861       77       300
Gossage (9)    1002       3.01    1809    1497    732    1502     119     310
Rivera (11)     978         2.23    1150    887      267    1051     62       559
Franco (4)       1119       2.89    1245    1166    495    975       81       424

What sticks out to me (and this is no revelation) is that Mariano Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.  He made one pitch famous: the cutter (as Sutter did with the split-fingered fastball).  He has always been money in the regular season, but incredibly, even more so in the playoffs.  He is a legend.

Another item is that Lee Smith was an All-Star more times than Sutter or Hoffman.  That surprised me.  And honestly as a Cardinal fan, I've always wondered why Lee didn't get more support for the Hall.  Lest anyone forget, Smith WAS at one time baseball's all-time saves leader as Hoffman is now.  In the mid-90s he was our "game over" guy.  He took eight and half minutes to lumber to the mound when called on.  He menacingly threw only from the stretch, which was particularly heart-warming for Cardinal fans since that was also how former Cardinal Rookie of the Year closer Todd Worrell threw.  And like an Al MacInnis slap-shot, Smith simply brought the gas.  He blew guys away.  (In fact, I'm getting queasy even now thinking about Ryan Franklin throwing 85 MPH frisbees in the ninth in comparison.)

Finally, I've always had a hard time accepting Bruce Sutter as a Hall of Famer.  But in looking at the numbers, we see he threw almost as many innings as a "horse" like Hoffman in about 60% the amount of games Hoffman appeared in.  So in that context, the fact that Sutter had exactly half as many saves as Hoffman in (roughly) half as many games played speaks well of Sutter. 

All of this, of course, leads us to the fact that Hoffman is wholly Hall-worthy.  In 200 fewer innings than Lee Smith he ends up with 123 more saves??  Not three saves difference.  Not 23 saves.  A HUNDRED and twenty-three saves more.  Smith is not even in the same universe as Hoffman.

And we can't ignore the fact that Hoffman was not an upper-90s flame-thrower like Smith, Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner and other "sexier" closers that have come and gone.  It's not too hard to get outs when you can come in throwing 98-99 MPH in the ninth when the opposing batters have been seeing 90-94 all game.  But for 22 years Hoffman relied on an 85-MPH fastball and the most devastating change-up in history.  Hoffman was the Greg Maddux of relievers, which is probably the highest compliment I can give the guy. 

And if an 85 MPH fastball is good enough to make the Hall of Fame, then maybe there is hope for Ryan Franklin and all us Cardinal fans who no longer have finger nails left to nibble. 

Yeah, not gonna hold my breath on that.

It's time for a snow-covered, long-overdue, hot-stove edition of...


The Hard Nine



1.  Gee, I Guess We're Not a Forgiving Nation After All - Ken Caminiti apologized for steroid use.  So did Jason Giambi.  Alex Rodriguez, check.  And the world allowed them to move on.  So Mr. PED-Era Litmus Test himself, Mark McGwire, went on the apology circuit before spring training last year to pave the way for him to join the Cardinals' team as the hitting coach.  He said all the right things. (Except that he insisted the drugs didn't help him hit homeruns.   Apparently, McGwire wouldn't be a good politician.)  But despite all that, sports columnists said, "Oh if McGwire confesses and apologizes, he will get a fair shake for Hall of Fame consideration." 

Or not.  This year's Hall of Fame vote saw McGwire actually drop below 20%, his lowest support ever, AFTER fessing up.  It seems writers instead chose to say "I knew it!" and voted accordingly, even though 15 years ago McGwire and Sammy Sosa essentially brought the fans back and saved baseball, helped sports writers sell millions of newspapers and books, and captured our imaginations like only Hall of Famers can.

Sorry, but I don't see how we can blame players for doing what fallible human beings do when given license.  The Players' Association, the MLB, the commissioner, agents, fans, the media, team owners, hot dog vendors, ticket scalpers, taxi drivers, stadium janitors, homeless people living on steam grates outside the stadium - NO ONE CARED about players taking PEDs and in most cases they probably encouraged it. 

The Hall of Fame voting quagmire we are in now is the bed that baseball, itself, made and they must now lay in it.  No one can say any one player was clean or dirty unless they, themselves, come forward to admit guilt.  Either way, the playing field was level - PEDs were available. 

But instead, baseball writers are embracing their role as morality police and stats and accomplishments on the field don't really matter any more.  Their "gut feeling" - dirty or not - is all that matters now.  What joy.

2.  NL Central Arms Race - This coming season is going to be exciting for NL Central fans as the Brewers, Cubs and  to a lesser extent, Cardinals, all worked to solidify their pitching staffs.  The Brewers made the most noise trading for Shaun Marcum from Toronto and more impressively, picking up former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Royals.  Every team in the division (save the Pirates, of course, and the rebuilding Astros) has the pitching talent, now, to take the division pennant.  Not sure if I'll ever see the Cards with a comfortable 15-game lead by June ever again.

3.  Boston Could Win It All - No really, the city could literally win EVERYTHING this year.  The Patriots win the Super Bowl next month, the Bruins take the Stanley Cup this Spring, and the Red Sox, now that they've added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, win about 140 games out of the 162 game regular season schedule on their way to a World Series crown. 

I just threw up in my mouth a little. 

4.  The Halak-ness Monster Is Already Just a Myth - I blogged quite a bit about the Blues' trade for Jaroslav Halak late last year and early on, the move looked beyond brilliant.  The Blues had the best start in the NHL going 9-1 and Halak was the main reason.  Then reality had to set in.  The team got decimated by injuries, the defense suffered, and suddenly Halak looks human.  If the team can somehow make the playoffs, maybe we will see the Monster surface again.  Here's hoping.

5.  War Eagle!  Fight Chickenhawk!  Attack Buzzard!   That was a pretty incredible BCS Championship game Monday as "my" Auburn Tigers beat Oregon.  Now I get to be obnoxious to the Alabama fans at work - yes, more obnoxious than usual. 

6.  $100 Million and Happy or $126 Million and Miserable?   I hope Albert Pujols doesn't try to get every dollar possible in his upcoming mega-contract.  Jason Werth did the money grab thing and ended up with the Nationals, who are not contending for an NL East title any time soon.  Then his buddy, Cliff Lee, returned to the Phillies where that team appears poised to run roughshod over the National League and Werth could have been joining in the fun. 

So hopefully Albert accepts a merely obscene amount of money to stay in St. Louis rather than a "gross-domestic-product-of-a-me
dium-sized-country" type deal that will simply give him more money than he needs and make it it difficult for us as fans to continue to care about the great game of baseball.

7.  Sam Bradford Hit the Lottery, So Did Rams - Despite the Rams disappointing finale against the Seahawks last week, the bigger picture is that the Rams found a bonafide franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, who took every snap of every play for the Rams this year and broke some rookie records in the process, including one held by Peyton Manning.  In an era where 9 out of 10 first round pick QBs ends up being a complete bust and considering the Rams have squandered too many early picks the past few years, they finally hit pay dirt. 

8.  On the Other Hand, Pujols in Pinstripes?   For the sake of seeing Cardinal Nation as a whole hyperventilate in unison, it would be entertaining to see the Cards NOT SIGN Pujols before spring training.  The Cubs would be drooling to give AP a lifetime contract - upgrading Carlos Pena for Pujols.  And the Yankees could be too, even to throw him in left field or make him DH.  At any rate, it would be a nice distraction from the fact the Cards are not winning the division this year.

9.  I Guess Herzog's Opinion Don't Count For Much - I can't close this Hard Nine without mentioning other moves the Cardinals made this off-season, namely ending their relationship with Brendan Ryan, who was arguably the best glove man at shortstop in the majors.

We have now lost two Gold Glove-caliber defenders in Ryan and Ryan Ludwick and replaced them with not even average defensive players (Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman).  In fact, Berkman could blow a knee with the first step he takes in right at Busch.  And if scrappy, tough, in-the-LaRussa-mold-but-not-real-ta
lented Theriot is good enough to be our starting shortstop, then why on EARTH did we ever let World Series MVP David Eckstein go??? 

All I know is that left-handed batters (which we don't neutralize very well to begin with) are going to be amped to see a right-side defense of Skip Schumaker and Berkman.  Pujols is going to have to play tight to the first bast bag, too, just to guard against hits down the line which will get played into triples by the Big Puma. 

Yes "Big Puma", St. Louis. 

Actually, is there a fatter cat species we can give him a new nickname for? 


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: August 2, 2010 5:46 pm
Edited on: August 2, 2010 10:07 pm
 

8/2 - Goodbye, Luddy - Hello Pujol$$$

Goodbye, Luddy - Hello, Pujol$$$

Compared to most MLB trade deadlines, this season was a whirlwind of activity.  Former CY Young winners and All-Star caliber pitchers were dealt (Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt), some plucky utility infielders changed hands (Blake DeWitt, Ryan Theriot), and even former "franchise" cornerstones were moved (Lance Berkman). 

But it has been the Cardinals' major trade this year that has instantly ranked among the top head-scratchers: the Indians' Jake Westbrook to the Cards for Ryan Ludwick, who was sent to San Diego.  A #3 starter (at best) for the Cardinals' best clutch hitter - a hitter that instantly adds meaningful depth to the Padres lineup that desperately needs offense, a Padres team the Cards could very well meet this fall in the playoffs.

On the surface, it's easy to second-guess John Mozeliak.  Ludwick was arguably the Cardinals best clutch RBI man.  He is the best defensive right-fielder in the National League.  He was, in so many ways, the heart and soul of the Cardinals offense.  When Ludwick was hot, it didn't matter if the pitcher was Tim Lincecum or Tim Conway - he would smoke extra base hits and drive in runs.  And the Cardinals would just win (baby). 

He was the quintessential Cardinal and this was only echoed by the comments from his stunned, former teammates upon hearing of the trade.  Jon Jay and Allen Craig are on the cusp of being permanent fixtures in St. Louis but neither can be classified as an everyday player - not like Ludwick was.  Even my 93-year-old grandmother knows that Jon Jay will not bat .400...like, ever.

Luddy brought his bat, his glove, and his positive attitude to the club every day.  But he also brought a surgically repaired hip and a $5 million price tag (due to increase to $7 or $8 million this off-season).  So, like every decision made in professional baseball, it's all about money. 

So we bear witness to another phase in the evolution of the Cardinals franchise.  Like wealth distribution in the U.S., the Cardinals, too, are becoming a team of haves (Hollidays and Pujolses) and have-nots (Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Colby Rasmus).  The middle class is disappearing everywhere - even middle class baseball players like Ludwick. 

The trade the Cardinals really made was Ludwick for Pujols.  Warm clubhouse, ditch-digging Average Joe for grouchy, cliquish superstar who has "spoiled" us with his brilliance and will be paid $30 million a year for the rest of his life to be a slightly above average first baseman. 

The die has been cast.  We're crossing the Rubicon.  The bridge is aglow with flames.

I'm not saying that when the Cardinals sign Albert to his next extension it will be an event on par with Truman signing the order to bomb Hiroshima.  I'm not saying that at all (though, someone in St. Louis tell me if a dark cloud and/or lightning appears over Busch Stadium that same hour the signatures are scribbled). 

I'm just saying the Cards have decided to take a dangerous road, one lined with a few monumental All-Stars yet littered with cheap talent to balance the budget.  We better start drafting gems like never before.  We have to find SOME way to plug 20 roster spots with guys who only make $400k.

Best of luck to you, Luddy.  Hope you win a ring in San Diego.  I hope you get a standing ovation when you return to St. Louis.  You always bled Cardinal red.

** wiping eyes **

Ok, Back from hiatus, it's time for...


The Hard Nine


1.  The MLB: Every Game is Homecoming - I suspect part of Bud Selig's grand master plan is unfolding this year: keep the stands filled by keeping the home team fans happy.  There are just three teams in baseball that are five games above .500 or better on the road (The Rays, Yankees and Padres).  There is only one truly awful home team this year (Baltimore - surprise, surprise). 

But aside from those 127 poor Oriole fans, every home team's crowd has a good chance of seeing a decent ballgame.  Even gawdawful teams like Pittsburgh (23-26), Seattle (24-28), and Arizona (24-29) aren't totally helpless at home.  Heck, the Nationals are in last place with a 29-23 home record. 

The flip side is that many contenders (even division leaders) have been terrible on the road.  Collectively, the Braves, Phillies, Dodgers and Cardinals are 92-122 on the road for an anemic .429 win percentage. 

Good thing the NL finally won the All-Star game, eh? 

2.  Oh Look, We Got An All-Star for Free - As the Padre fans found out in Ryan Ludwick's very first game, the guy is a pretty complete ballplayer.  As a pinch hitter Sunday, Ludwick hit a single to left and then aggressively scored on a double on a close play at the plate.  Luddy made a beautiful slide to the back of the plate touching home with his left hand to avoid the tag and scored the winning run.  Fitting, too, that he caught the last out of the game to close out the Padre's win.  Dang it, there I go getting misty-eyed again.

3.  NL Rookie of the Year Update - The Cardinals' bullpen blew another win for Jaime Garcia who is still sitting pretty with a record of 9-4.  But he is now only on pace for 14 wins which should still be enough to take home the hardware, but we can't count out the fact that the club is limiting his innings to keep his young arm fresh and the fact that the bullpen has been far from airtight for him.  (Give me a second to put on my boxing gloves so I can write some more about stud lefties "I Spend Too Much Time At" Dennys Reyes and "Since I'm 37 Years Old Why Is My First Name" Trever Miller.)  This will all be a moot point, however, if Jason Heyward of the Braves regains his early-season form and ends up the season with 20+ homers and puts Atlanta in the playoffs.

4.  Thanks For The Stanley Cup, Seeya - Now with a team salary cap, the NHL is really starting to emulate the quirks of the National Football League.  For one, as soon as you win a championship, you have your free agents signed away.  And second, winning teams release perfectly good players because they can't afford them under the cap.  In this case, the Chicago Blackhawks did not re-sign 26-year-old Antti Niemi who went 16-6 in the playoffs this past spring and have instead signed 35-year-old Marty Turco, the longtime Dallas Star.  Jeez.  With 26-year-old Stanley Cup-winning goalies falling out of the sky, maybe former Blue Chris Mason shouldn't be so shocked he couldn't find a job this summer.

5.  More Signs of Armageddon - I read a great piece by Bill Simmons about how boring the Red Sox are now that they've won not just one, but two, recent World Series and it got me thinking: I think I'm ready to pull for the Cubs to win one too.  Our country is 234 years old - the Cubs are championship-less for 102 years.  In just 30 years, the Cubs' World Series drought will be HALF of our country's entire existence .  When Walt Jocketty is done rebuilding the Reds, he needs to move to Chicago and save the Cubs, make some shrewd deals and trades, and get them a World Series win.  Especially in this self-help, I'm damaged goods, pity me world we live in, this Cubbie fan torture has actually become a positive thing for them.  Enough!  Just let them win one so we can all stop talking (and writing) about it.  And they can gripe about something else, like the Bears.

6.  Daddy, the Cardinals Won't Let Me Start - As previously mentioned, John Mozeliak has already been second-guessed about the Ludwick trade and if the Padres knock us out in October this year, I will actually feel sorry for the man considering the wrath he will incur from us timid, faithful Cardinal fans (tee hee).  But its also possible that he may look like a new-age genius if he unlocks the hidden All-Star within Colby Rasmus.  He has everyday talent (and improving numbers against lefties), but was still platooned by Tony La Russa.  The Ludwick trade forces Tony's hand and makes Rasmus a true everyday player and maybe that is the kind of situation he needs to succeed.  He's always been "the guy" and with Ludwick gone he is definitely "the guy" in center field.  Maybe he will find sustained success where pressure to perform is absent.  That seems a better option than putting Tony Rasmus (Colby's dad and former(?) coach) on the payroll. 

7.  Taking a Holliday From Bashing Matt - It is official: Matt Holliday's FIRST season under his big new contract will not be a bust.  He's been the best hitter in the National League since mid-June and is on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBIs.  For $16 million a year, his numbers are adequate - barely.

8.  Jimmy's Still Got Game - THN wants to thank Jim Edmonds for his game-winning home run against the Reds on July 26th.  Jimmy Ballgame actually hit five home runs in July and is 10 away from 400 in his career.  Check out his video highlights on mlb.com and you'll see he's made a couple spectacular catches in center this year as well.  Unlike many stars that have taken too long to retire (ahem, Ken Griffey Jr., cough) Edmonds truly is still an entertaining ballplayer with a flair for the dramatic.  Don't know if he's a Hall-of-Famer, but he was the best Cardinal outfielder I ever saw.  Edmonds for Bottenfield will always be the signature trade of Walt Jocketty's amazing career.

9.  Trade Targets Collide Tonight At Busch - The Cardinals will send newly acquired Jake Westbrook to the mound to face another recent Cardinal trade target, Brett Meyers of the Astros.  The 30-year-old Meyers has pitched like an ace this year.  He's definitely got better stuff than Westbrook so tonight will be the first litmus test of John Mozeliak's player personnel savvy.  After Houston traded Roy Oswalt to the Phillies, the asking price for Meyers became prohibitively high.  The 'Stros then locked up the hurler to a three-year contract extension.  Did we get the right guy?  We shall see.




WG











Posted on: 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



















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