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Tag:Dodgers
Posted on: April 26, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 10:32 am
 

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: 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



















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.





Posted on: May 13, 2010 1:12 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2010 4:11 pm
 

5/13 - Regression Toward the (That's Just) Mean

Regression Toward the (That's Just) Mean

My, how 1st place predictions, 100-win hopes, and postseason dreams come crashing back to earth. 

While other teams abuse the dredges of the NL Central, the Cards are squeezing sawdust from their bats and kicking balls all over the infield.  The Pirates had to work very hard to hand a series win to the Redbirds last week and so far, the Astros have not been as accommodating.  In nine away games coming into this series, the 'Stros had just one dinger, but our bullpen was the cure for that power outtage as we've given up 3 homers in two days - one in each game to the lovable Lance Berkman.

The plucky Reds sit just one game out of first, and seriously, what self-respecting Cardinal fan is pulling against Scott Rolen and Walt Jocketty over there?  The Cardinals used to struggle with playing well against the better teams yet playing down to their lesser opponents level.  Uh, can we call those the "Golden Years"?  Today's Cards are barely hanging in there against bad teams and against better teams, they are completely shut down. 

Recently, I took exception to one opposing fan saying the Cards choke "every year" they make the playoffs.  Oh, contraire mon frere. 

During the La Russa Era in St. Louis, the Cards have made it to the NLCS SIX TIMES in eight playoff appearances.  That is no fluke.  That is NOT "choking".  But lets be blunt: Pujols' individual greatness has covered many, MANY holes in this team over the past 5 years and I'm afraid his best years are suddenly in the rear-view mirror. 

When Pujols had consistent, supporting talent (The "MV3" is an obvious example), the Cardinals were a juggernaut.  If he is truly entering a new stage where he is merely good, the Cards are much more vulnerable as they appear this year.

I think most Cardinal fans were terrified of the Holliday signing - I know I was.  Historically, we have had much better success acquiring "damaged", "problem", or "under-achieving" players on the cheap who still had a lot of upside as opposed to signing big time free agents - Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Woody Williams, Gregg Jefferies, Mark Whiten are just a few examples of guys who all had career years wearing the Birds on the Bat.

What upside does Holliday bring?  None, really.  He's being paid 40-homer money but he won't even hit 30.  He may not hit 20!  Are you telling me that the Cards could not find a cheap OF to hit 20 home runs?  (Hello, Garret Jones!  Holliday and Jones both have 4 homers so far.  Jones salary: $425,000).  I mean, that plan worked with Ryan Ludwick, and he's still not very expensive for a 25-homer, above-average defensive outfielder with a Silver Slugger award on his resume.

At any rate, I think we all knew we were going to regret the Holliday contract.  That was pretty much assumed (though no one thought it would be THIS SOON).  What I'm really worried about is how crippling Albert Pujols' new contract will be for us.  I do NOT want the Cardinals to become the Mets of the NL Central - a dysfunctional team with mega-paid, aging "superstars" aided by fringe prospects and "four A" players we must rely on to lug an everyday load who end up over their heads. 

And speaking of "four-A" players who are over their head in the bigs, lets take a look at...

The Hard Nine

1.  Ryan's Hope(less?) - Brendan Ryan was the #2 defensive shortstop in the majors last year and if you followed the Cardinals at all, you heard how the team raved about his defense and saw plenty of spectacular plays made by him.  But right now, someone needs to throw a life-preserver onto the field between 2nd and 3rd base because Ryan is drowning this year. 
     The kid had just 8 errors in 105 games at short last year.  This year, he has 7 errors already in just 31 games.  And then there is the little matter of his batting average dropping from .292 to .173.  Moreover, (and this surprises me as I just look at his stats) he actually slugged .400 last year.  His was not a "light" .292.  Not with 19 doubles and 7 triples in only 390 at bats.  Plenty of guys can bat .300 with a very weak .330 slugging percentage - think Luis Castillo or Aaron Miles.  But no, Ryan was one of the most exciting players on the team - period - in 2009. 
     Tony La Russa clearly saw Ryan as our "Yadi" at shortstop - Gold Glove-caliber defense with a .300 bat.  But really, Tony?  After three-quarters of a full season?  Talk about heavy expectations.  But when a mid-market team forces their own hand regarding payroll by diving into free agent waters, they end up being forced to use cheap players who may not be ready for the big-time. 
     The fringe guy drowns in responsibility, the team drowns in salary commitment, the "star" signee drowns in expectations, and the fans drown watching it all.  **GASP** I need some air!

2.  CSPAN is Boring on the Big Screen, too - My wife and I went on an actual date recently and we saw Iron Man 2.  The movie didn't score well with critics, but that's not the point, is it.  I'm an old-school Marvel fanboy.  We love sober Robert Downey and he's beyond perfect in the role of ego- (and ecc) centric magnate Tony Stark.  An early scene in the film with Stark testifying before a congressional committee to refuse handing over the Iron Man suit to the government was dramatic, humorous, terrific - but you "watch" it on CSPAN and I kept wanting to CHANGE THE CHANNEL.

3.  Braunie - Ryan Braun of the Brewers has been on fire all year and he's doing a fairly good Pujols impersonation batting .359 with six homers and 28 RBI.  Andre Ethier of the Dodgers is not putting anyone to sleep in L.A.  The dude is batting .385 with 11 homers and 37 RBI.  37 RBI in 32 games, ya'll.

4.  Good, not Great - While some guys are terrorizing pitchers, others are simply terrible.  While Holliday has been letting us down on a nightly basis, other big-name thumpers are cold as well.  Ryan Howard (.333 OBP, .464 SLG), Mark Teixeira (.203 AVG, .391 SLG) and Prince Fielder (.254 AVG, .385 SLG) are all still trying to figure things out.  Maybe they actually want to get some rest during the All-Star break this year.

5.  Hab-itual Winners - My current NHL Hero, "Halak", and the Montreal Canadiens bounced the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins from the playoffs last night.  Like their series against the Capitals, the Habs were down 3 games to 2 and won the last two contests, taking each series in the final and seventh game, on the road.  Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he was "stunned" that he was called for a penalty just 10 seconds into the game.  I thought he was talking about the fact his mustache grew in by the second round of the playoffs instead of in the finals like last year.

6.  Wait, Maybe the Phillies ARE Classless - After the Cards-Phillies series, we found out that the Phillies front office petitioned the official scorer to change Ryan Ludwick's triple off of Jason Werth's glove to an error, which they did.  The Cardinals folks felt that was rather bush-league of the Phillies to do so.
     Now we have the Phillies bullpen coach getting caught with binoculars in the bullpen staring in on the Rockies catcher last night?  The Phillies coaches said they wouldn't be so obvious if they were actually stealing the Rockies catcher's signs.  Maybe he was just bird-watching, eh?  It's too bad they weren't playing the Cardinals at the time - he could have given that excuse and not be lying. 

7.  It's Always Hateful in Philadelphia - I sense a theme here. 
"With an hour to wait before the Flyers continued their quest to rebound from an 0-3 series hole, fans were given a glimpse of the first period of the Penguins-Canadiens. They roared with delight when Montreal took an early 1-0 lead against the team that knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs each of the past two years."
     Can't we all just get along?  Let's break a cheese steak sandwich together and give each other "ups" in the unemployment line.  Come on, guys.

8.  I Told You So, Even Though I Didn't! - I have to point out that when Jason Werth was coming back from major surgery in 2006, I remember admiring his talent when he was with the Dodgers and wishing the Cards had taken a chance on him in 2007.  In 2006 and 2007 we endured a host of flawed outfielders: So Taguchi, Juan Encarnacion, John Rodriquez, Preston Wilson, Chris Duncan, and Rick Ankiel to name a few.  I'm not saying how the fates might have turned out had we signed Werth, but for the club to put hopes in Rick Ankiel, of all people, and not sign a five-tool outfielder on the cheap says something to me.

9.  Call Me the Breeze - Why is THN longer than usual today?  Mostly because the Cardinals are letting me down.  But partly because I found out my office is closing here in Huntsville, Alabama and I'm being laid off in 60 days if I don't move to Utah.  So, if anyone has need of a software support team supervisor, please let me know!  (Unless, you're in Utah...)




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