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Tag:Jaime Garcia
Posted on: August 18, 2010 9:11 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 9:18 pm
 

8/18 - Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues

Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard Nine


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

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

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

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

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

Whew.  I was worried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WG



Posted on: August 10, 2010 5:14 pm
 

8/10 - Brandon Phillips: Respect Your Elders

Brandon Phillips: Respect Your Elders


Let me make this clear: I am a Brandon Phillips fan.  Watching him play my Cardinals the last five years with the Reds in the NL Central, how can you not appreciate his talent? 

He's going to bat about .280 with 20+ homers and 20+ steals virtually every year which is tremendous production from a second baseman.  He's not a big guy, but he takes entertaining, vicious hacks a-la Prince Fielder which means he hits some real bombs from time to time.  Yet he doesn't strike out a whole lot - he's only reached the 100 K mark once and that in a year he hit 30 home runs.  He's a tough out, he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, and you have a to love a guy with no shortage of confidence.  Phillips will be the first to tell you he feels he should be an All-Star every year.

All that said, his proclaimed hatred of the Cardinals prior to the Cards-Reds series this week shows the young man has a lot learn about respect. 

Phillips told the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy, "I'd play against these guys with one leg.  We have to beat these guys. ... All they do is b---- and moan about everything, all of them, they're little b----es all of 'em.  I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."

Mmmkay.  Message received.

I assume Phillips was referring to the Cardinals' complaints about slick baseballs at Great America Ballpark last year (from John Smoltz and Chris Carpenter) and this year in the Cards' first series in Cincy in April again from Carpenter.  In response, Reds' starter Aaron Harang has noted that no other teams have complained.

It's not a huge deal.  So apparently, the Reds' clubhouse staff doesn't rub the baseballs as well as the Cardinals like.  Call it home field advantage or something.  Big deal.

What IS disturbing is while Tony La Russa can play head-games with the best of them, two Cy Young Award winners like Smoltz and Carpenter?  These guys have always been all-business.  They don't play games, period.  I think it's fair to say that 99.9% of all major-leaguers that have played with or against these two pitchers hold them both in the highest regard as competitors and how they respect the game.

Which is everyone except for Brandon Phillips, I guess.

Now, Phillips has never played for a winning Reds team in his life so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe all this Reds postseason talk is making him forget what's going on with his own team.  That the architect is former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty.  That guys like Scott Rolen and (now Jim Edmonds) bring a wealth of experience that he doesn't have. 

Was Phillips insulting former Cardinals on his team now?  Of course not.  Was he even really insulting the current Cards?  Doubtful.  Most other teams feel the same way he does about La Russa and Duncan.  The problem is he's too dense to realize that his Reds are winning because they are playing baseball the "right way" this year - and more consistently than any time in recent memory.  Sorry to say, Brandon: your Reds are learning to play "the Cardinal Way". 

Guess you'll have to hate yourself now.



Time for...

The Hard Nine



1.  Worst Everyday Player in the Majors - One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, recently examined ten candidates for "Worst Everyday Player" in the majors and justifiably, Skip Schumaker was on the list.  Skip is a below average defender at second base with no power and no speed and if he doesn't hit .300, he really brings no benefit to a baseball team, except for his positive attitude and team-first approach.  He's only batting .260 this year after three straight .300 campaigns so he has been a disappointment to say the least. 

So it was thrilling to see him drill the first pitch he saw from Mike Leake with the bases loaded last night in Cincinnati for a Grand Slam to deep center field.  He was looking for a pitch to hit at least a sacrifice fly off of and hit a big fly instead.  Bravo, Skip.  Now, try to get that average and defense back up to par, okay?

2.  Houston, We Have Liftoff -
The Astros are still dead last in runs scored in the Nation League, but they are sure doing what they can to make up ground in that department.  After pulverizing the Cardinals bullpen last week, they continued last night with a 10-4 thrashing of Atlanta, who like St. Louis, has one of the best pitching staffs in the league. 

Michael Bourn continues to be a pest on the base paths, Jeff Keppinger is one of the best offensive second baseman around, and Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are still steady producers.  But the real excitement is coming from new blood in Brett Wallace (yes, the former Cardinals first-round draft pick) and third baseman Chris Johnson who is simply raking (and I'm quite thankful seeing as I grabbed him in my fantasy league!).  Wallace's call up to Houston was rather remarkable.  The Astros sent Lance Berkman to the Yankees, traded for Wallace from Toronto and then immediately called him from AAA Round Rock to install him as their everyday first baseman.  After bouncing around, "Thunder Thighs" Wallace has a home and in our division no less. 

3.  Trading For a Royal Is Probably A Bad Sign - Now, trading for TWO of them?  Royals GM Dayton Moore must have some interesting dirt on Braves GM Frank Wren.  Yes ,the Braves big trade deadline acquisitions included not one, but TWO Kansas City Royals and neither player is anywhere near as talented as Carlos Beltran.  If I was a Braves fan, I'd feel queezy about what that says about my team.  Naturally, in the 10-4 loss to the Astros, ex-Royals Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel performed to their typical standards.  Ankiel was 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts and Farnsworth got just one out while yielding four earned runs while taking the loss.

4.  Worth the Price of Admission - The Tampa Bay Rays' David Price won his 15th game last night to set a Rays' team record and take the lead in the AL in pitcher wins.  The Rays are just a game and a half behind the Yankees and solidly in the driver's seat for the Wild Card.  It doesn't get any sweeter than seeing the Rays playing in October and the Red Sox not.

5.  And Down the Stretch They Come - In five of the six divisions the first and second-place teams are separated by just 1 1/2 games or less.  It seems baseball has more parity now than even the NFL.  What a great month this is going to be. 

The Reds-Cardinals race will be a showdown in the NL Central but I expect the Cardinals' veteran experience will carry them to yet another division title. 

The Twins and White Sox are tied in the AL Central. Those two teams are so evenly matched, it's a coin-toss.  But while I'm a bit of Twins fan, I feel the ChiSox deeper rotation is going to win them the division. 

The Phillies and Braves can't seem to decide who should win the division.  The Phillies have been decimated by injuries all year, but the Braves (like the Cards) are a very flawed "good" team.  If the Braves don't put some real distance between them and the Phillies, they may lose their lead if the Phils get hot when Ryan Howard and (later this month) Chase Utley return.  Still, I think the Phils will come up short.

The truly scary NL teams, for me, are fighting in the NL West - the Padres and Giants.  Both teams have elite pitching.  Both teams have managed to maintain enough offense to keep the wins coming (the Giants, in fact, have the same run-differential as the Cards).  The Wild Card team could definitely be one of these teams and I think they both make the playoffs. 

The AL East is also far from determined.  The Rays have a less consistent offense than the Yankees, but thier pitching has more upside.  But as is the case in the NL West, it doesn't matter - both will be playing in October.

6.  Rockies Have Some Valuable "CarGo" - Usually the Oakland A's are known for trading away pending free-agents for high-quality prospects, but, the Rockies appeared to have gotten the best of the A's in the Matt Holliday trade two years ago.  In that deal, the Rox got Carlos Gonzalez, who at 24 years of age is on pace for 38 homers and 117 RBI while leading the league with a .327 average - MVP numbers to be sure in this so-called Year of the Pitcher.  His splits greatly favor him at home (as always with Rockies players) but the scary thing about CarGo is as a lefty batter, he actually hits left-handed pitchers better than righties - .329 to .326 and 11 of his 25 homers have been off lefties in nearly half the at bats he's had against righties.  I hope La Russa remembers that the next time he brings in Trever Miller to face this dude.

7.  St. Louis Rams Finally On The Rebound - The heretofore St. Louis "Lambs" are making progress which is nice for borderline NFL fans like myself.  After watching Sam Bradford destroy the Mizzou Tigers for years, it's nice to be able to root FOR the guy, and nicer still to hear that he's been very good in team scrimmages this week.  Hopefully, he will stay upright long enough to earn some of that $50 million guaranteed money he got in his first contract.

8.  Going For A Perfect Ten - As my wife will tell you, I have been waiting and praying for Jaime Garcia to get his 10th win for a while now.  He's had some recent inconsistency.  The offense has often let him down as well as the spotty bullpen.  But tonight wouldn't been any more perfect a time for that to happen as a win will give the Cards a win over the Reds and a tie in the standings atop the NL Central.

9.  When a Cardinal No-No is a Good Thing - Finally, I've been thinking recently: the Cards had two pitchers in the CY Young vote last year.  We will have another this year in Adam Wainwright, barring injury or meltdown.  But with all this dominant Cardinals starting pitching, we've not had a no hitter thrown by a veteran in as long as I can remember.  Why do I say veteran?

The last two no-nos have been thrown by Cardinal rookies (Bud Smith in 2001 and Jose Jimenez in 1999) both would hardly qualify as being expected.  And prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1983 to see a veteran (Bob Forsch) throw a Cardinals no-hitter.  It's all fun and interesting when a rookie does it, but it's not the same.  They don't know what is going on - they can't fully enjoy it.  Heck, Bud Smith won SEVEN GAMES in his career, one of them was the no-no, of course.  Those are freaks of nature.  Those kids got lucky, in a way.  When a veteran does it, there may be some luck involved, but for the most part it is a pitching performance that is meticulously crafted from start to finish like a chess match.

So for me, it's far more exciting when a veteran does it.  They know how difficult it is and how rare.  It's time for Waino or Carp to make some history.



WG

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

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

Goodbye, Luddy - Hello, Pujol$$$

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** wiping eyes **

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


The Hard Nine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




WG











Posted on: July 7, 2010 2:02 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2010 2:13 pm
 

7/7 - La Russa's Cardinal Sins

La Russa's Cardinal Sins

According to many end-times "enthusiasts" the end of the world is going to come in 2012.

Apparently, that wasn't soon enough for Tony La Russa as he personally summoned the Four Horseman of the Apocalyptic Bullpen last night in Denver to turn a towering 9-2 Cardinal lead into a 12-9 life-stealing loss.  Collectively, Blake Hawksworth, Trever Miller, Dennys Reyes and Ryan Franklin crafted quite the pitching line against the Rockies: 6 2/3 innings, 23 baserunners and all 12 runs allowed.

I've already spent enough time bashing Miller and Reyes for being ineffective lefty specialists and last night Miller had another mind-boggling outing by giving up two hits to left-handed hitters, recording no outs , and and then leaving the game.  This clunker put us directly on the path to losing - why?  Because it forced La Russa to bring in our best "closer", Jason Motte, and with just six pitches, Motte recorded three outs and allowed just one inherited runner to score.  The damage wasn't the single run - it was the Cards having to use Motte so early.

Hawksworth has been allowing baserunners galore this year and last night was no exception.  It was a miracle that the Rox had only scored 2 runs considering the 8 hits and 4 walks Hawksworth allowed in five innings of work.

But that wasn't all.  La Russa once again displayed his irrational love for veterans by putting (literal) castoffs Aaron Miles and Randy Wynn into the fray (Wynn was a late "defensive" replacement for the young, talented Jon Jay).  Miles and Wynn took turns looking like Hungry Hungry Hippos, voraciously attacking baseballs with little success, first Miles early in the game on some grounders to second and then Wynn later during the catastrophic ninth inning in right field.

And what can be said about Ryan Franklin?  It's hard to blame him.  He's a 37-year-old "closer" with below average stuff for a middle-reliever whom the Cardinals got lucky with as a closer last year.  But instead of the Cardinals organization being realistic about the gamble, cashing out their "winnings" and getting a real closer, they give Franklin a two year extension in the off-season.  Um, what??  It's really odd that our closer is the guy with only the sixth-best stuff in our bullpen.

The worst thing of all though, in the aftermath, is the realization that the Cards just don't play a "hard nine" anymore.  Not this year.  Not for the last half of last year.  Really the only Cardinal veteran that is still on the "upswing" is Adam WainwrightChris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are all in decline.  The future is bright in Jason Motte, Colby Rasmus, David Freese and Jaime Garcia but these kids are still getting established.  This team is just too flawed to truly compete and in a year where too many pieces are fitting into place for the up-and-coming Reds.  It's clear the Cards will not get to coast to another NL Central title.

Consider, the Cardinals:
  • are 33-19 when Carpenter, Waino or Garcia start and just 12-19 playing behind another starter
  • have four players with 10+ home runs while the Reds have a staggering six, led by NL MVP front-runner Joey Votto
  • are in good company with a poor road record of 18-23 but when contrasted with the Reds' 21-18 road record, its clear which team has been more tough-minded
At the beginning of the year most of us had doubts about La Russa's young bench - that Tony would stick with the youth movement - and those doubts were confirmed by last month's dumpster dive into the waiver wire.  Brad Penny has had a recent rehab setback and who knows when Kyle Lohse will return.  With a true pennant race at hand let's see if Tony will see the error of his ways and bring back some old school intensity.  And maybe even let the kids play a bit.

Well, we are long overdue for an another installment of...

The Hard Nine

1.  The Ghost of Rick Ankiel - Back in 2000, Rick Ankiel finished second to Rafael Furcal of the Atlanta Braves in the Rookie of the Year voting, which I always thought was a travesty.  Everyone forgets that Ankiel was the "Stephen Strasburg" of his day.  At age 20 he went 11-7 with an ERA of 3.50 and 194 strikeouts.  His Ks per 9 innings was 9.98 second only to Randy Johnson who was at the height of his dominance.

Maybe this year, Jamie Garcia brings the ROY to St. Louis to right Ankiel's snub.  After a terrible outing against the Royals (of all teams), Garcia was brilliant in his last outing going seven shutout innings and allowing just five baserunners against a tough Brewers team (who, incidentally, roughed up Chris Carpenter in the same series).  Garcia is on pace for a 16-8 record, a win total the Cardinals haven't had from a lefty since Mark Mulder's only good season with the Cards in 2005, and if that's not a bittersweet thought, I don't know what is.

It's interesting to think that if all the right decisions had been made the Cardinals today could have had a starting rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Ankiel, Danny Haren, and Garcia.

2.  All-Star Caliber Belly-Aching - This has been an odd year for All-Star voting, partly because so many usual suspect baseball stars are having down offensive years.  And it doesn't help that Charlie Manuel put Atlanta's Omar Infante on the NL squad as a utility player, a move some writers are saying could be the strangest pick in the history of the Midsummer Classic.  But I'm tired of people ripping the fan's choice of Yadier Molina at catcher over journeyman Miguel Olivo of the Rockies, who is having a terrific offensive year.

Molina?  Well Yadi is batting .230.  BUT, he's batted .293 and .304 the last two years so the precedent is well-established that Yadi is a fine offensive player as well.  That, along with Yadi's clutch playoff performance and his years of stellar defense makes him a star in this league.  And sometimes, the fans want to see the stars play - even if they are batting .230.  So get over it, pundits.

3.  Blues Lock Up Halak - Earlier this summer the Blues made a bold trade for Canadiens playoff hero Jaroslav Halak and this week they locked him up to a four-year $15 million deal.  After years and years of stop-gap solutions between the pipes, here's hoping that the Blues have finally found a long-term solution.

4.  What, Me Intimidating?   Joe Posnanski recently posted a terrific piece on Bob Gibson that is a must-read for any Cardinal fan or anyone that loves the history of baseball.  And it is fascinating how truth becomes legend and men become heroes.  Which brings us to Gibby.  In the story, Posnanski explains how Gibson has learned to enjoy fans comments like "Oh do I remember the way you pitched.  I remember all those batters you hit.  They were so scared of you!"  Privately, Gibson wonders, "Is that all I did?  Hit batters?  Is that really all they remember?"  The Glare, that Gibson was so well known for?  "I just couldn't see the catcher's signals", he explains.  Google and read this piece today.

5.  No Hall of Fame For You!  It's very strange to see a ballplayer with 2,000 hits, 300 career homers, and a lifetime .325 batting average hitting just .246 and slugging the same as Yadier Molina this year (.310).  Strange, but also satisfying.  Why?  Come with me on a journey.

Dial the Way Back Machine to 2003.  Albert Pujols won the batting title with a .359 batting average - Todd Helton finished a tick behind at .358.  This was during the height of offensive baseball lunacy in Denver.  Helton already won the batting title in 2000 with a .372 average.  Why did he need another thin air-inflated accolade?  Pujols' and Helton's home/away splits tell the whole story:

Pujols     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG
Home       .388    21     66      .713
Away        .331    22     58      .623

Helton     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG
Home       .391    23     72      .739
Away        .324    10     45      .514

Albert was the model of consistency, of course.  He enjoyed a definite comfort level at home, but was equally devasting on the road.  Helton?  Helton was a completely different player away from Coors Field.  At home he was Babe Ruth.  Everywhere else he was Mark Grace with a little more pop.  For his career he has a home OPS+ of 120 and 80 when away.  That is essentially the difference between All-Star and Average Joe.

Today, making roughly $18 million a year, Helton is on pace for four homers and has only averaged 15 a year the past four years.  I'm not trying to kick a guy while he's down.  Todd Helton was an extremely fine ballplayer and would have been a borderline All-Star annually had he played in any other city (it's doubtful his power numbers would have been consistent enough).

Baseball writers have always understood Helton's true value.  He's only finished as high as 5th in the MVP vote once.  And there is no chance he is going into the Hall of Fame.  Which is to also say, it's a good thing juiced Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols never played full-time in Denver in the late 90s and early 2000s or we may have seen records set that would never be touched.

6.  Ex-Cardinal Update - After a rocky patch, Joel Pineiro has channeled his inner Dave Duncan and has won his last six starts.  He now sits at 9-6 with a 3.96.  Yes, Joel would have been a much, MUCH better signing than Brad Penny.  Troy Glaus, of course, fell back to earth and batted .237 in June plus he's been recently slowed by a knee injury.  Scott Rolen has been so fantastic this year, I finally added him to my fantasy league and he's been about as steady this year as he was in 2004 (.300-17-57 so far).

7.  The Grass Is Greener - The Cardinals' middle infield has been a wasteland for the most part this year, both offensively and defensively.  Aaron Miles never really excited me even when we he was "good" but Tyler Greene, on the other hand, has some real upside.  And I can't think of anything that could give this club a more positive jolt than if he grabbed this shortstop gig and ran with it for the rest of the year.  It's easy to like Brendan Ryan, but there is no room in the majors for all-field/no-hit shortstops - and Ryan isn't even fielding all that well anyway.  Maybe Greene and pull a David Freese and own shortstop for a while.

8.  Quotes From Ground Zero -
          Ryan Franklin: "That's my game -- making the hitters hit balls.  They just hit it kind of hard."
          Tony La Russa: "That loss wasn't on Ryan Franklin.  It was on everybody who wore the gray, including the manager."
          Forum post at StlToday.com: "Maybe Franklin can throw to Holliday in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby..."

9.  Nationals Crisis Averted - Stephen Strasburg won't be representing the Nationals in the All-Star game and it is confirmed: he is ok with this.  "I'm sure I'll have opportunities somewhere down the road.  Right now, it was never a goal of mine", said the young hurler.  Whew.  You may now continue with your lives. 



WG







Posted on: June 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: June 5, 2010 8:38 am
Edited on: June 5, 2010 9:27 am
 

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

Willie's Bodacious Bonus Blog

It's tempting to do a regular blog entry, especially after the Cards thumped the Brewers 8-0 as Adam Wainwright pitched a two-hitter, Colby Rasmus hit a bomb off lefty Randy Wolf (Colby's first off a lefty this year) and Matt Holliday continues heating up.  But no, I shall resist to take a break and discuss past Cardinal pitching rotations.  Let's take a walk down memory lane.

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

I’m a stat fiend – I also am quite partial to nostalgia.  I love baseball because it so often allows me to combine the two.  For example, I have recently been thinking this has been the most effective starting pitching we’ve seen from the Redbirds in quite some time.  The Cards currently lead the league in ERA at 2.97.  Our pitchers are allowing the lowest on-base percentage in the NL as well (.304). 

I decided to look back on the La Russa Era at how effective Cardinal starting pitching has been.  I chose a cutoff of 14 wins – nice and simple.  Sabermetricians will laugh, but I don’t care – I also thought the Cy Young winner should have been Adam Wainwright last year.  Wins DO count for something.

Anyhow, a borderline starting pitcher can get 10-13 wins with some luck, a lot of offense, or both.  But at 14+ wins, I would have to say a pitcher probably has a good idea of what he is doing.  So in the past decade, roughly, how many “effective” starters (14+ wins) have the Cardinals had each season and what place did the team finish in?  I'll also throw out the team's ERA that year and the ERA in relation to the league average, which is ERA+.  100 is the league average.  This year's club is #1 with an ERA+ of 137.  In 2008, we were barely above average with an ERA+ of 102.  Let’s take a closer look:

Year - Quality Starters - Finish - ERA - ERA+
2010 – 3 – 1st place - 2.97 - 137

This year, is mirroring last year closely: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are co-aces.  We have an effective ground-ball machine (Jaime Garcia this year instead of Joel Pineiro).  Kyle Lohse is injured/ineffective.  So does that mean Brad Penny is this year's Todd Wellemeyer?  As harsh a comparison that is on Penny's behalf, it's actually pretty accurate, unfortunately.  I was hoping we were getting the nasty Penny that pitched for the Giants at the end of last year, but instead we appear to have a Wellemeyer clone - a very hard throwing, flyball-pitcher prone to giving up home runs.  Maybe during this downtime on the disabled list, Penny is able to soak up more of Dave Duncan's teachings before climbing the mound again.

But all in all, three effective pitchers should be enough to win the division and, again, a three-man rotation is fine for the playoffs in a short or long series, because, seriously, who really wants to see Penny in there against the Dodgers or Phillies?  Uhh...not me.  They can pay Lohse $10 million to cheer from the bench - again.

2009 – 3 – 1st place - 3.66 - 113

You will soon see having at least three effective starters is pretty good and fairly uncommon.  Last season, those three were Joel Pineiro, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  They fueled our 91-win season.  But the 4th and 5th starters were awful (Todd Wellemeyer and Lohse combined to go 13-20).  But we have to remember it was a fickle offense that went cold in the playoffs as we got swept by the Dodgers.

2008 – 1 (2) – 4th place - 4.19 - 102

Lohse won 15 games.  Todd Wellemeyer actually went 13-9 with a very nice 3.71 ERA.  The bullpen cost him a game or two and he could have easily had 15 wins.  The Cards finished 10 games over .500 but a disappointing 4th in the division where the Cubs and Brewers were both strong and the Astros finished a half game ahead of the Redbirds.

2007 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.65 - 95

Waino was 14-10 and that’s all we had to work with.  Kip Wells was 7-17 and Anthony Reyes was 2-14.  I remember this season well (no pun intended) because Kip Wells was stellar in spring training and I bet a buddy Wells would have an ERA under 4.00 at the end of the year.  Um, yeah, I was wrong.

2006 – 2 – 1st place - 4.54 - 98

Chris Carpenter was our only effective starter, going 15-8.  Jason Marquis somehow won 14 games with a hide-your-eyes-bad ERA of 6.02.  Can someone say "run support"???  Mark Mulder, Reyes, and Sidney Ponson were terrible.  If I was a Detroit Tigers fan, I would be throwing myself in front of a train to think that Anthony Reyes won Game One of the World Series that year.  How on Earth did he pull that off?

2005 – 4 (5) – 1st place - 3.49 - 122

The last “scary good” Cardinals team.  Three starters won 16+ games.  Mark Mulder had his only effective season with the Cards, Carp won the Cy Yound award, and Jeff Suppan was at his peak.  Matt Morris was our 5th starter and was good enough with 14 wins.  Marquis somehow went just 13-14 despite having a respectable 4.13 ERA.  He had some tough luck and lack of offense on his behalf, or we would have had our “perfect” starting rotation of 5 effective starters.  In reality, that is what we had.

2004 – 4 – 1st place - 3.75 - 115

What a fun year this was.  We actually had four 15 game winners that season.  ERAs were not especially good, but they didn’t have to be with the MV3 offense and the superb bullpen.  Carpenter was the 5th starter going 15-5 with the best ERA on the team at 3.46, the only starter under 3.50.  This was the closest we had to an AL team in recent memory.

2003 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.60 - 90

Woody Williams enjoyed his 18-9 All Star-caliber year, but that was it.  Brett Tomko somehow won 13 games, despite a 5.28 ERA.  Team ERA was 4.60, 11th in the NL.  Honestly, looking at Williams’ career numbers, I still don’t know what Walt Jocketty saw in him, when he traded for him from the Padres.  He morphed into an ace as soon as he put on the Cardinal red.

2002 – 1 – 1st place - 3.70 - 109

This was the year we lost Darryl Kile.  Matty Mo was still elite going 17-9.  Jason Simontacchi came out of nowhere to go 11-5.  The club had to be creative bringing in Chuck Finley who was good, going 7-4.  I had always wished we had resigned him.

2001 – 3 – 2nd place - 3.93 - 110

Ah, the roid-fueled offenses were still beating up pitching staffs as the Cards 3.93 ERA was 3rd-best in the league.  We were “co-champions” with the Houston Astros.  Morris had his best season ever going 22-8.  The immortal Bud Smith threw a no-hitter going 6-3 and getting some Rookie of the Year votes out of it.  Woody Williams was acquired by Jocketty and coolly went 7-1.

2000 – 3 – 1st place - 4.38 - 107

Kile was 20-9 and was my favorite Cardinal that year.  What a curveball.  Rick Ankiel had the best ERA in the rotation at 3.50.

Other seasons

1999 – Kent Bottenfield was the only bright spot on a terrible pitching staff going 18-7 and making the All Star team.  The bullpen was a horror film.

1998 – The staff “ace” was Kent Mercker, who was only 11-11.  We had the Mark McGwire home run show, but the team, overall, stank.

1997 – Rookie Matt Morris went 12-9 and gave Cardinal fans some hope for the future despite a fourth-place finish.

1996 – Andy Benes was a horse going 18-10 as the Cards made the playoffs in La Russa’s first year as manager.

One of the fascinating things is seeing how the evolution of the starting rotation continually has an impact on the entire roster.  Careers are forged and ruined by who is pegged to toe the rubber.

In 1999, the starting pitching situation was so desperate, the club decided to try middle reliever Kent Bottenfield in the rotation – with smoke and mirrors he won 18 games and made the All Star team.  The next year, the club traded Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy for Jim Edmonds, a borderline Hall of Fame center fielder and major cog in the Cards dominance in the 2000s.

In 2000, rookie Rick Ankiel was the most effective starter the Cardinals had (in terms of shutdown talent).  He led the club in ERA which led to the decision for him to pitch game 1 of the playoffs against Atlanta which led to his famous meltdown of wild pitches on the mound which put him on the road to never again pitching in the majors.  Now he’s a borderline outfielder for the Royals.  Did that one rash decision spell his doom?

In 2002, little Bud Smith was a key piece in the trade that brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis.  His six wins and no-hitter his rookie year were still fresh on the Phillies' minds.  Sadly, he was out of the majors by age 23 as he won just one more game and finished his career with a 7-8 record.  But as with the Edmonds trade, this one fueled the Cards offense for years and gave us ever-sparkling defense at third base in Rolen.

In 2006, the rotation was in shambles, which led to the club picking up a pitcher left for dead, Jeff Weaver.  One could argue his acquisition was the primary reason the Cards won the World Series that year.

It’s also amazing to see how many mediocre pitchers found great success as Cardinals: Bottenfield, Garrett Stephenson, Jeff Suppan, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Woody Williams.  The team doesn’t have much success drafting and grooming pitchers (hopefully Shelby Miller will change all that) but they sure know how to take rejects and turn them into winners.

For now, we can enjoy this brilliant rotation knowing it's one of the finest we've seen in a while.

Thanks for reading.



WG



















Posted on: June 1, 2010 11:45 am
Edited on: June 1, 2010 6:04 pm
 

6/1 - Burning Up The Clutch (Hitting)

Burning Up The Clutch (Hitting)

I have been looking forward to writing a blog like this for a while.

Cardinal pitchers finally got a chance to exhale this Memorial Day weekend (except for tough-luck starter Adam Ottavino who was fairly valiant in his major league debut in hostile Wrigley Field).  The Redbirds actually appeared to be swinging wood bats instead of over-sized icicles as they scored 36 runs in their last four wins, vaulting them back into a first place tie with the Reds

Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter both held serve against the Cubbies.  P.J. Walters looked like a keeper in San Diego giving up only 6 base runners in 5 innings.  I'll take a right-hander that only tops out at 88 MPH when he throws a sweet change-up like the one Walters possesses and Jaime Garcia continues to handle himself like a veteran coming back from a rain delay yesterday to settle down and earn a win against the hot-hitting Reds.  Garcia is on pace for 16 wins.  Unless Heyward hits 30+ homers, how can Garcia not be in the NL Rookie of the Year discussion with numbers like this?

On the back-end, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan have been lights out and Mitchell Boggs has made definite progress this year.  Motte has become a shutdown fireman with a 2.61 ERA and a nice 23-5 K/Walk ratio.  McClellan has also cranked up the Ks and reduced the walks to go along with a stellar ERA (2.01, 22-7) and while Boggs has shown some vulnerability he continues to get better and better (3.57, 18-9). 

But enough about pitching - let's talk hitting. 

Of the 36 runs scored in the four wins, 15 came with two outs.  All NINE runs of the 9-1 win over the Cubs came with two outs.  You also may have heard that Albert finally looked like Albert by blasting three home runs in a game for the first time since 2006 (honestly, I'm shocked it had been that long).  Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick are both warming up.  Ludwick looks great in the two-hole and Holliday is working his way into that "protect Albert" mode - he had the big two-out hit yesterday, making the Reds pay for an intentional walk to Pujols to load the bases. 

Holliday has hits in 9 of the last 12 games, Pujols, 5 of the last 7, and what a month for David Freese.  Batman hit in 21 of the 28 games and currently leads the Cards with his .318 average.  He crushed - CRUSHED - a homer onto Waveland Avenue this weekend and we know his power is only going to get more consistent.  How is he going to look when his 13-homer pace starts creeping toward a 20-homer line?  He better win Rookie of the Month, no disrespect to the devastatingly talented Jason Heyward.  What a trade this turned out to be for John Mozeliak (Jim Edmonds for Freese).  The only bittersweet part of the story was that Freese didn't get his major league career on track last year due to injury.

If Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina can return to .300-form and Colby Rasmus can learn to be more consistent, I think we will have achieved St. Louis Cardinal Nirvana.  As it stands, with the Phillies recent offensive struggles the Cards now have the best run-differential in the NL at +51. 

No need to be sneaky in moving to the Hard Nine this time.  What a weekend of MLB action. 

The Hard Nine


1.  Welcome to the No-Run Support Club, Rook!   I really hope Adam Ottavino's parents left Wrigley Field proud of their son who made his major league debut and lost 5-0 to Carlos "Cy Young" Silva.  I guess the boys didn't want to show favoritism to the rookie and actually give Silva some kind of challenge when they've been short-changing the entire staff all year.  But seriously, it has not been easy road for Ottavino.  The big guy was a first-round draft pick in 2006 and really never got on track in the minors until the end of last year.  He has taken his licks and persevered. 

And in his debut, he came within one out of a quality start but instead walked the pitcher, Silva, to load the bases.  And here is my only gripe on the weekend for Tony La Russa - he sends in Mitchell Boggs who, himself, is still very green and does not possess pinpoint control.  Boggs walks the first guy he faces to force in a run and tack on a fourth earned run to Ottavino's ledger, denying him the quality start.

Obviously, the game was lost already, but Ottavino battled some flighty control problems and still did an admirable job and he deserved better.  Maybe I'm also warming up to the kid so quickly because I swear he looked like old Matty "Mo" Morris up there on the mound, wearing Morris' old #35.  Both guys have a similar build and a similar hitch in their delivery.  Sue me: I get crushes easily.   I will be very excited if Adam can develop his control to go along with his 95 MPH fastball. 

2.  Fantasy and Reality Collide at Home Plate - I have a love-hate relationship with fantasy sports games.  I used to be a diehard fantasy football player, then I saw the error of my ways and quit, but then I picked up fantasy baseball this year just so I could build up my CBS account rating enough so I could write these stupid blogs.  So here I am, back in it. 

On my fantasy team, I picked my first baseman late, which is a very common (and smart) strategy as the pool of good offensive first baseman is very deep and once you get past Albert Pujols, you really don't need to stress picking your corner power hitter.  I made a great pick - Kendry Morales in the sixth round, right after another player took Joey Votto of the Reds (either would have been fine).  Morales was the clear MVP of the Angels so far this year and this past week hit a walk-off game-winning grand slam.  As he reached home plate, he lept in the air and landed awkwardly, breaking his leg.  He is now essentially out for the entire regular season.

Someone explain to me how bigger men in the NBA can jump up and down all day and not have the same thing happen.  Well, ok, it DOES happen to them on rare occasion, but, DUDE - I just lost my first baseman for the year and so did the Angels fans!

3.  Lost and Found - How nice was it to see Albert Pujols smile again?  Has he found his stroke?  I don't think so - he's been limping noticeably for the past month.  And as one scout said recently about Pujols, "Take a big man's legs from him and you take away his power".  But for one game, he found his smile and that's enough.  This is a game, after all.

4.  Left-handed Windmills - Pujols spoiled about three or four borderline pitches from Ryan Dempster before hitting his second home run onto Waveland Avenue, which got me thinking: I really never see left-handed power hitters do the same, as a rule.  Slap-hitting lefties do it all the time (like Ichiro Suzuki or Wade Boggs for old farts like me), but the thumpers just pile up Ks without a thought (Adam Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard).  The Cardinals have had some lefty boppers that could whiff with the best of them.  Jim Edmonds, J.D. Drew and Ray Lankford come to mind.  What with enduring Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay's all-or-nothing approaches, I've wondered when was the last time we had a regular lefty that was tough to strike out?

Last year, Skip Schumaker struck out 69 times in 586 plate appearances which is about standard for a lefty slap-hitter.  I wouldn't say that is an overly tough guy to strikeout.  Back in 2004, Tony Womack had 60 Ks in 606 PAs.  You have to go all the way back to 2001 when Fernando Vina struck out only 35 times in a whopping 690 plate appearances.

Of course, it helped that Vina always stuck his elbow over the inside third of the strikezone.  Ah, I loved Vina.  He'd get hit by a pitch and run down to first, grinning, every time.  What a pest.

5. D-Train Gets Derailed - The Tigers designated Dontrelle Willis for assignment this past week due to ineffectiveness that really has plagued him since 2007.  Even now he is only 28 years old.  What a sad story and one Cardinal fans can reflect on as Willis arguably was the better pitcher in 2005 when Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young and Willis finished second.  Dontrelle was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2003 at age 21.  He's a World Series Champion.  He lead the league in wins with 22 in that '05 season with a 2.63 ERA.  The two-time All Star was one of the most popular, marketable, and happiest guys you'd seen in those MLB commercials.

But maybe something happened in that big season, because the following two years he became extremely hittable (475 hits allowed in 428 innings in '08 and '09).  Perhaps too many innings pitched too young.  There were also some anxiety problems mentioned at times.  Here's to hoping the D-Train gets back on track.

6.  Stop Reading My Mind - I love Joe Posnanski's baseball columns.  Do yourself a favor and read him if you love the game at all.  He's a purist and also a Mid-Coast-er (you know, near the banks of the Mighty Mississippi).  The first thing I thought when I saw Roy Halladay had thrown a perfect game against the Marlins was, "Another perfecto?  What is going on?"  And apparently, so did Posnanski, as he wrote a great blog about that very subject.  Here are my thoughts on it - read Joe's if you like a "professional" opinion.

There have been 20 perfect games and over 200 no-hitters thrown in baseball history (obviously, all perfect games are no-hitters as well).  But three of the last four no-hitters have been perfect games.  Two of the 20 were thrown THIS MONTH.  What the what?!

I recall beginning in the 90s there were a rash of no-hitters - even pitchers who LOST no-hitters (due to the pitcher's own team committing errors, allowing unearned runs) which happened to Andy Hawkins on September 4, 1991.  A later rule-change took his no-hitter away completely, so at least he received that "consolation".

Teams have thrown COMBINED no-hitters as the Houston Astros did to the Yankees on June 11, 2003 using six pitchers to accomplish the feat.  A combined no-hitter?  Sounds like really boring Olympic event. 

So maybe this is just the natural evolution of pitching.  If you're going to throw a no-hitter yourself, and actually win it, you may as well throw a perfect game. 

7.  Somewhere, Bill Veeck is Smiling - Speaking of the Marlins, you gotta hand it to their marketing department.  That cheapskate team never misses a beat.  They have announced that they will sell the rest of the unsold tickets at full face value to the game in which Roy Halladay threw the perfect game against them .  That's like a circus promoting their lion for eating the ringmaster.  Classy.

8.  The St. Louis Blues, the Cubs of the NHL - I am grudgingly happy for Chicago as they are about to drink from Lord Stanley's Cup - something the Blues are not likely to do in my lifetime.  Let us remind the readers (yet again) that the Philadelphia Flyers had 88 points in the regular season and at least get to play in the Stanley Cup Finals while the Blues, who earned 90 points, missed the playoffs entirely.  But just like the difference between the NL and AL, the NHL Western Division the Blues play in is much tougher than the east and it is showing.  The Blackhawks lead the finals 2 games to none.  Hey, at least Detroit can't win it again.

9.  The Epic Quest For Hit #2 - Former Cardinals organizational Player of the Year, Allen Craig, is back up with the big club as they sent Joe Mather down (good riddance).  Craig, has one hit in 19 at bats for a .053 average.  He's not batting his weight.  He's not even batting my five-year-old's weight.  This can't last forever, can it?  Just one of those minor dramas I take sick pleasure in. 

Epic Quest Update: "Outfielder Allen Craig was optioned to Triple-A Memphis, one day after being recalled."  Well, hit #2 will have to wait...



WG











Posted on: May 18, 2010 11:03 am
Edited on: May 18, 2010 2:13 pm
 

5/18 - Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

The relationship between the sports media and sports participants is fascinating to me - always has been.  In many ways it's a rocky relationship.  The media is paid to have a home team bias, of course, so they praise when things are good and critique when things are not so good.  And sometimes things are too coincidental. 

In St. Louis, the media writes about what fans are wringing their hands over: the Cardinals feckless offense.  Monday morning we read that Albert Pujols needs to bat fourth and Matt Holliday, third.  It makes perfect sense.  Holliday has been good with no runners on and terrible when he's had the weight of RBI opportunities on his shoulders.  Conversely, Pujols' intensity at the plate dials down about six notches when no one is on base, but finds focus when runners are on in front of him.  The Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz figured there was some Missouri law banning Pujols from ever batting fourth again since the odds of stubborn old dog Tony La Russa making such a move were slim to none.

Lo and behold, Monday night, La Russa switches Pujols and Holliday in the batting order and it could not have worked out more perfectly for the Birds.  With two out and no one on base, Holliday took a walk.  Albert promptly, and simply, singled up the middle.  Colby Rasmus singled to score Holliday and David Freese then tripled to right to score two more.  Finally, Yadier Molina hit a flare to right to score Freese and the Cards get all the offense they needed for the night. 

All in one inning.  All with two outs. 

Everyone is a "La-genius"! La Russa, the media - and we eat it all up.  I can't help but feel this is a "Chicken or the egg" moment.  Did the media know La Russa was close to making this change or did the media pressure Tony into doing it?  Tony will deny everything but don't tell me that media can't pressure managers and players because they do.  Just ask Milton Bradley - at your own risk.

On that cheery note, let's turn to...

The Hard Nine


1. Mirror Image -  I routinely watch my Cardinal games on my wireless laptop and what with my slow DSL connection, I typically keep the resolution low to minimize lag in the game playback.  This tends to make the players look a bit blurry and it can be difficult to recognize who is who.  But it also allows me to "see" things I had not noticed before - kind of like staring at clouds in the sky.  For example, last night, I realized Matt Holliday resembles Rick Ankiel in a lot of ways - batting stance, bat wiggle, sharp jawline, and of course the amazing ability to whiff in the clutch.  If you put them both at the plate at the same time, you'd swear there was a mirror between them.  Just another little fun observation that makes me hate the Holliday contract all the more.

2. This Means Something, I Just Don't Know What - In 2009, Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, Blake Hawksworth, and Kyle McClellan collectively had 4 at-bats in 227 games, 3 of those by McClellan alone.  This year these four Cardinal relievers already have 7 at-bats in 58 games.  Basically, once every 8 games, a middle reliever is getting an at-bat which is more often than I can recall in recent memory.  Someone please explain what is going on.

3. Don't Bash the Bash Brother - Many have already started grumbling about batting coach, Mark McGwire.  The Cards are showing little plate discipline, little patience, and terrible pitch selection.  I just hope everyone realizes this has been a problem since, oh, about 2005.  McGwire seems to have a good grasp of what the boys need to do: trust their talent more and look for hittable pitchers in certain parts of the strikezone.  Getting them to do it is up to them. 

4. The Power of Media - Less than a week after my blog post about Brendan Ryan's problems so far this year, he was benched last night.  Sorry, Brendan.

5. The Power of Media Part II - Holliday is on pace for 16 home runs this year and he's making $16 million in 2010.  Isn't it super-fun when you can divide two numbers without thinking hard?

6. New Kids on the Block - The kids are more then holding their own and that is the most encouraging aspect of this 2010 squad.  Colby Rasmus has had a rough May and is still on pace for 100 runs.  David Freese (as well as Yadier Molina) is on pace for 100 RBI.  Right now, Freese is the one batter I want to see at the plate with runners in scoring position.  My crush on Jaime Garcia continues - he is second in the National League in Earned Run Average with a cool 1.42.

7. I'm Okay, You're Okay - As the Reds took two of three against the Cards this week, Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (who pitched a complete game against us in the finale) said Pujols didn't look comfortable at the plate.  Albert's response: "I'm seeing the ball really good and I'm putting good swings on it.  I'm right where I want to be, like I told you last week ".  Uh, ok, Albert. 

8. Sense of Community - If you like sitcoms, paintball and one-liners from movies like Rambo, Terminator and any other 80's cliche war movie, for the love of Pete, please watch NBC's recent episode of Community: "Modern Warfare" on Hulu.  My wife and I have been hooked since the pilot and the show has taken on a wonderful Seinfeld-like absurdness already in the first season.  In this episode, the community college has a friendly campus-wide paintball war that quickly degrades into a post-apocalyptic, paint-splattered hell.  The war-movie parodies (as well as the bodies) pile up.

Jeff (Joel McHale) walks into the destroyed classroom.
Troy: "Jeff....Winger.  Haha!" (Hugs Jeff) "We thought you were dead, man!"
Jeff: (confused) "I was taking a nap in my car."

9. Home Cooking - The Cards really need to have a strong homestand this week.  They can sweep the Nationals today by beating lefty John Lannan.  Then the Marlins are in town for a two-game set.  The weekend brings the Angels and old friend Joel Pineiro who is still looking effective despite his move to the AL.  The Cards then head out to San Diego to take on the 1st place Padres and then it's on to Chicago to face the mangy Cubs who will be chomping at the bit to vent some frustration on us.



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