Road Warriors...At Least Tonight
There are so many holes to plug in the Cardinals' roster that it's easy to overlook the single most pressing issue with the club (and quite a few other NL contenders this year, as we talked about last entry) and it has NOTHING to do with player personnel - who's hurt, who's under-performing, who do we need to trade for: the Cards simply need to be more competitive on the road.
It's hard to call the Cardinal's 4-2 home stand a "success" when they beat up on the woeful Pirates and got torched by the suddenly potent Houston Astros. But hey, someone had to stop the bleeding and Chris Carpenter answered the call in the last game of the Houston series.
And darn it, somebody had to stop the bleeding on the road and who better than Adam Wainwright? Ok, so his last road outing (against the Mets) was a clunker, but no matter. This team has to find some kind of traction on the road if they are to do anything meaningful this season. The division is there for the taking. The NL Central is weak. They need to pull their heads out, grab their lunch pails, and get to work on the road.
Wainwright pitched an absolute gem tonight - a two-hit, complete game shutout and miracle of miracles: Tony La Russa didn't feel the need to bring in Trever Miller to face a right-hander.
The boys need to remember that Cardinal Nation is still watching - home or away - and even if they are wearing road grays, we're all wearing Cardinal red and cheering them on, 24/7.
If the Redbirds can remember how to impose their will on other teams as visitors, they can do some serious mental damage to the Reds' playoff hopes in addition to reclaiming first place in the division. The rumble in Cincy starts Monday and I can't wait to see how it unfolds.
Now, please enjoy a quick edition of...
The Hard (Seven)
1. Just A Bit Outside - Tonight's home plate umpire, Laz Diaz, seems to be a classy ump. He picked up Brendan Ryan's bat on his double and handed it to Aaron Miles as he crossed the plate. But his strike zone extended 8 inches off the plate. He called a clear inside pitch a strike on Pujols (which Albert nearly spit out his gum in reaction). Luckily AP hit the next inside pitch into the left field corner for an RBI double. Later, poor Colby Rasmus took a called third strike on a curve that was a good half foot outside. The MLB should be embarrassed.
2. Beethoven's Third...Base - I enjoy listening to most opposing team TV commentators. As some of you know, I really like the Diamondbacks crew with Mark Grace and Bob Carpenter with the Nationals is, for my money, one of the best. Conversely, the Cubs, Phillies and White Sox inferiority complexes seem to come through loud and clear via their TV broadcasts (which are, then, about as enjoyable as Vogon poetry).
Tonight I heard the Marlin's enjoyable duo of Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton. They were laid back and knowledgeable but I have to complain about one tiny thing: the Cardinals traded Ryan "Lud-WICK" - not "Ludwig". He's not deaf and he once won a Silver Slugger Award, you know.
3. Bob Davidson Strikes Again - There are a handful of really arrogant, bad umpires who think the term "The Show" refers to the fat guys officiating the ballgame and Balkin' Bob is certainly one of them. He robbed the Marlins of a ninth-inning, come-from-behind win last night when he called a certain double down the line, a foul ball.
The ball landed fair down the line AFTER it had already been called foul, with Davidson not even following the path of the ball. Slow motion replays show the ball landed on the edge of the foul line right before it bounced over the third base bag, and then landed six inches fair in the outfield, making it virtually impossible to call the ball foul at any point.
The MLB needs to give each manager one "challenge" per game and if the manager wants a call reviewed by replay, Boob Davidson can cross his arms all he wants, but he's still going to have to check that replay.
4. Shame on Them? Maybe Shame on Us - If you feel really passionate about steroids in competitive sports (especially baseball) you owe it to yourself to read an essay on the subject at steroids-and-baseball.com, which is written by MLB analyst Eric Walker. He argues (pretty convincingly) that our condemnation of doping athletes has been blown way out of proportion - basically, every argument we have against PEDs has been overblown. Seriously. Every one.
In reality, it seems our anger about 'roids has more to do with our feeling foolish about blindingly putting faith in fallible human beings. It doesn't at all discount that illicit steroid use is illegal, but it sure didn't alter the history of the game as much as we think - not nearly as much as when the balls manufactured in a given year seem to have more "jump" in them than in the previous ten years. Not as much as the sudden prevalence of "intimate" bandbox stadiums that seem designed to allow cheap homers. Not as much as the batters' mindsets changing over the past 15 years so they simply don't care about striking out anymore - they swing for the fences with no, one or two strikes on them.
Self-righteous indignation is a terrible filter to view such a beautiful sport with.
5. The New Big Red Machine - I wasn't kidding when I said that Bronson Arroyo of the is a poor-man's Adam Wainwright. Arroyo led the Reds over the Cubs today 3-0 by throwing seven shutout innings with 7 Ks against just one walk. He is now 12-6 with a tidy ERA of 3.83.
6. Is "Lohse" French for "Loser"? I don't mean to burn any bridges but, Kyle Lohse appears to be Mark Mulder all over again. The injuries are totally different. They throw differently. But, every time they are actually able to climb the mound, they stink up the joint. The fifth spot may be a black hole in the rotation for the entire year, but Lohse hasn't show anything to suggest he should get that opportunity. Except his ridiculously overpriced contract.
7. Back When .300 Meant Something - You faithful Cardinal fans remember Terry Pendleton, right? In 1991, he won the batting title with a fairly low .319 batting average as he helped usher in the new era of Braves' dominance. He wasn't an All-Star, but he won the MVP Award that year. Were the season to end today Joey Votto of the Reds would win the batting title with a .322 average, which would be the lowest batting title since Pendleton's in 1991.
Which is all kind of surreal, seeing as Albert Pujols is a lifetime .332 hitter and in any "normal" season would typically be batting about .340 or .350 right now and would have a comfortable 20-point lead in the batting race. Albert finished second in the batting race in 2005 to Derek Lee's career-high .335 average and he was second in 2008 to .305 lifetime batter Chipper Jones who decided to bat a career-high .364 at age 36. So of course Albert is batting just .309 (and below .300 just last week).
But this may be the perfect climate to see the first batter's Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. In a down offensive year, maybe the NL's most consistent offensive force will rise to the top.
.326, 44 HR, 121 RBI
.316, 49 HR, 122 RBI
.327, 47 HR, 135 RBI
Pretty tough to tell the last two Triple Crown seasons (by Yaz and Frank Robinson) from Pujols' MVP campaign last year.
Just something to keep an eye on.