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

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

Matt Holliday and the Cardinals - A Love Story

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

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

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

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

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


It's time for...


The Hard Nine



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.  Eloquently put, Mark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WG
















Posted on: May 13, 2010 5:04 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2010 4:35 pm
 

Reorganizing the Divisions by Team Salary

Willie's Bodacious Bonus Blog

Reorganizing the Divisions by Team Salary

Every so often I like to think about the aspects of baseball not tied specifically to how teams are playing or how players are doing (especially when the Cards are stinking it up or my favorite players are going 0 for 20). 

Today I pondered: everyone wants parity in baseball, but parity is not based on talent (at least not in this league) - it's based on the almighty dollar.  So if you want true parity, we need to divide the teams by salary.  I have set up the divisions according to team salary and it jumps out pretty quickly how much more interesting baseball would be this way.  Team salary had slightly more weight than geographic location and the cutoff between the "Haves" and "Havenots" is about $90 million.

Honestly, how have die-hard (if they exist) Blue Jay and Oriole fans not killed themselves yet?  You wake up on Opening Day and your team's forums and blogs hot topic is "Will we finish 4th or 5th?".  "You kidding?  We're gonna be awesome this year - I'm saying FOURTH!!"
    
So many casual fans stay away because of such scenarios.  They know the playing surface isn't level and they are correct.  This remedies that problem.  In a more fair division their team's record will be more representative of their team's actual talent.  The Blue Jays could very well win the "Havenots" Central every year.  Their biggest competition is the Reds and Brewers.  That sounds familiar.  Who did they essentially replace in that division?

Oh yes - my Cardinals.  Not to pick on them, but how can you not: they are a big fish in a little pond, relatively.  Put them in the "Haves" Central Division with the Twins, Tigers, White Sox and Astros and they would finish 3rd every year - maybe.

And lets be honest: a "Haves" East Division with the Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Cubs would be a media circus all unto its own.  The Cubs would continue to stink which is always fun.  The Phillies would get some actual competition.  And we'd at least get some national baseball coverage variety as opposed to seeing Red Sox/Yankees 24/7.

And if the biggest argument is that a weak "Nots" team would meet a powerful "Haves" team in the World Series every year, fine - seed all eight teams against each other and guarantee the best two teams meet for the title.  And put the DH in across the board for all teams and put that argument to rest - finally.

Let's take a look at the new divisions and how the standings would look (keeping everyone's existing records) and who I predict would make the playoffs.

Haves East - Imagine the TV revenue!  Are youse kiddin' me?  Tell Guido: dis division is weh its at! Tawk about braggin' rights - Fuggeddaboudit!  Seriously, let the rich kids beat up on each other.  How is that not ultimately fair for all?  There would be so much drama, even folks that live west of the Mississippi or south of D.C. would pay attention.  The games will average four and half hours, though.  The Yankees will still outspend their rivals here and the Phillies will muscle their way to the wildcard.
Average team payroll in the division: a wallet-busting $158 million.

Yankees        206M    22-11    Champ       
Phillies          142M    20-13    Wildcard
Mets              133M    18-16
Red Sox         162M    18-17
Cubs              147M    15-20

Haves Central - A fine division here.  All have made World Series appearances recently except for the Twins and they could certainly make an appearance at any time now, considering their talent.  The Cards would battle the Tigers all year long and relieve the glorious 2006 World Series (or gory-est, depending on your tastes).  If the Rangers jacked up their payroll, we could put them here and give the Astros a geographic rival.  The Twins are the class of the this division now and for the foreseeable future. 
Average team payroll in the division: a healthy "middle class" $103 million.

Twins           98M     22-12    Champ       
Cardinals     94M     20-14
Tigers          123M   19-15
White Sox    108M   14-20
Astros          92M     12-21

Haves West - Why does a West division always get to have just four teams in it?  Historically, the NL West division title is up for grabs (while the Angles typically dominate the AL West) but the Angels have slid so this title is again, a toss-up.  The Giants pitching will probably carry them to a title.  Boy are the team salaries evenly matched here. 
Average team payroll in the division: a cool $99 million.

Giants           98M       18-14    Champ
Dodgers        95M       17-17
Angels           105M    15-21
Mariners        98M       13-20

Nots East - Can you hear the fans from this division just cheering all over the eastern time zone?  The spending "bullies" are the thrifty Braves, followed closely by the Orioles.  The Rays, though, would probably have 30 wins already if they played in this division so everyone else will have to fight for the wildcard.  The surprising Nationals could be up to the task as the Marlins and Braves, while usually competive, have struggled.  The Orioles' record won't be as bad here, but - yeah - they'll still be bad.
Average team payroll in the division: a modest $69.3 million.

Rays            72M    24-10    Champ       
Nationals    61M    19-15    Wildcard
Marlins        56M    16-18
Braves         84M    16-18
Indians        61M    13-18
Orioles        82M    10-24

Nots Central - Boy, does Toronto feel good about their chances in this division?  Perhaps, but the Reds are on the right track and may give the Jays a run for their money.  The Royals and Pirates can fight head-to-head to see who is the worst in baseball.  See?  Rivalries EVERYWHERE! 
Average team payroll in the division: a bargain at $64.6 million.

Blue Jays    63M    20-16   
Reds            72M    19-15    Champ       
Brewers       81M    15-19
Pirates        35M    14-20
Royals         72M    11-23

Nots West - Quite the low-rent district here, but some compelling baseball would be played.  These teams for the most part all have very similar philosophies about building a baseball team - heavy emphasis on drafting and player development.  The Rockies are the big spenders and more able to keep their talent longer, but this year the low-budget Padres are playing the best. 
Average team payroll in the division: a Blue Light Special of $58 million.

Padres                38M    21-12    Champ
Rangers              55M    19-15
Athletics             52M    18-16
Rockies               84M    16-17
Diamondbacks    61M    14-21

Whether we keep an 8-seed format or the current two league playoff format (Haves vs. Havenots), the Rays meet the Yankees in the World Series and...


lose. 

So, in the end, I spent a few hours on this blog and the Steinbrenners still win in the end. 

Is there no justice?  Oh well.





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