La Russa's Cardinal SinsAccording 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 Wainwright. Chris 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
Well, we are long overdue for an another installment of...
The Hard Nine1. 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.