Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
 
Tag:Lance Berkman
Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:47 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 9:17 am
 

THN 4/16 - And On The Last Out, Bob Rested

And On The Last Out, Bob Rested


In Arizona this week, umpire Bob Davison was in mid-season form.  Working home plate between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, he must have called four or five check-swing strikes, himself , which would be quite unusual for a typical umpire, but not "Balkin'" Bob.  

You know - a check-swing where typically, the catcher asks the plate ump to appeal to the third base or first base ump to verify if the batter actually checked his swing or not since THEY HAVE A MUCH BETTER VIEWING ANGLE THAN THE HOME PLATE UMP?  Ha ha, ye mere mortals.  "Balkin'" Bob needs no help making the right call.  And Arizona's rookie manager Kirk Gibson finally had enough when Davidson called a checked swing strike on Miguel Montero in the third inning after doing the same thing to Montero in the first to set the tone of incompetent umpiring. 

TV replays showed Montero's bat wasn't even close to breaking the plane of the plate.  Gibson sure got his money's worth going nose-to-nose with Bob "The Show" Davidson before getting ejected.

And "The Show" continued, as later in the game, Davidson was calling checked swing strikes if the batters even FLINCHED at incoming pitches.  One can only surmise his mommy didn't hug him enough as a boy because he's one of the few garbage umps that seem to dare you say something about his incompetence. 

Remember, he's the guy that threw a fan out of game in Milwaukee last year, even though there isn't one MLB rule allowing an ump that power.  Maybe he should have his name legally changed to "Zeus" and be done with it.

Any chance someone can blindfold him, throw a Giants jersey on him and drop him off in Chavez Ravine around 2 a.m.?  Ohhh....I hear the groans from here.

On to the first regular season edition of...



The Hard Nine




1.  Breathe Again, Breathe Again...Cardinal Fans


Hear that?  

That was the sound of a couple million Cardinal fans all exhaling at once this week as the Redbirds finally remembered how to hit during this current road trip out west.  And at 7-7, with a major-league lead in runs scored, things suddenly don't look so bleak for our beloved birds on the bat.

The Cards' front office really needs to send the schedule-makers a gift basket for sending the boys out to Arizona early in the season where they have the highest visting home run rate of any team that has played the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

Suddenly, our lineup looks pretty imposing:

Theriot     .298
Rasmus    .397
Pujols       .241
Holliday    .393
Berkman   .327
Freese      .372
Schumaker .241
Molina      .268

The Good:
Matt Holliday looks much more comfortable at the plate this year than last year where through May he was still on a paltry home run pace of 15 dingers and I was calling his the worst contract in Cardinals history.  Allow me to revise that: he looks like one of the top three outfielders in baseball.  Period. 

Albert Pujols is finally finding his timing, hitting two homers last night.  He still is pulling off waaaaaaaay too many pitches and I really have doubts he'll ever approach a .330 batting average again (it's hard to get a ton of hits when you refuse to use half the baseball field by pulling everything to the left side). 

Last year Colby Rasmus had a fabulous spring training and many of us were Predicting his breakout season was at hand.  Turned out he was still a little green as was very much vexed by strikeouts.  Well this could be the year - he looks comfortable at the plate and locked in on the strikezone.  My favorite online fan comment regarding Rasmus is "Looks like he's this year's Carlos Gonzalez".  Hopefully, hopefully not.  The Cards still need to lock him up on a long-term deal before he becomes an MVP, eh?

The Bad:
Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina still worry me.  After both having multi-year periods of at or near .300 batting, Skip seems lucky to ever bat .275 again and Molina - well, remember Tony La Russa's famous words about Yadi: if he never gets another hit again as a Cardinal he would still be an asset to the team?  I think Yadi decided finally decided to take TLR up on that "offer". 

The Surprising:
I absolutely hated how the Cards' got rid of Brendan Ryan and brought in Ryan Theriot.  Nothing against either guy, but Theriot simply looked done last year - just nothing like the Cub player a few years ago that was a tough out, get-under-your-skin-type. Yet two weeks in, he's carrying a .386 OBP which ranks right up there with his career best.  His defense is still atrocious, as is Skip's and Colby's and Lance's, but that's a topic for another blog.  By comparison, Brendan Ryan is still apparently helpless at the plate, so this "trade" appears to be a wash, which is more than I expected.

Speaking of Berkman, Big Puma is on pace for 69 homers and 150 RBIs.  

(Pause for effect.)

He's even running down pretty much every thing hit to him in right field.  He's slimmed down, moving well on the bases and in the field, and looks re-focused and re-energized.  And contrasting his production to how far Ryan Ludwick has fallen - suddenly we all wish we had
signed Berkman to a two year deal instead of just one.

In general, it's exciting that you can pick any guy from 2-6 in our lineup and you could theoretically see him batting 3rd for just about any NL team.  Barring injury, this is a pretty deep lineup.  With health and continued effective pitching, the Cardinals only issues are a terrible closer and terrible defense.  But the guys just might overcome those to make some noise this year.


2.  Beware of the Blue Crew

"The Blues were right there," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "They were as good as anybody in our division, our conference. It just went the wrong way, and I think it's all because of the injuries. You can certainly see that now ... they're just about healthy and look how well they're playing."

The Blues had a very disappointing season missing the playoffs yet again.  And despite the fact that they lost their most talented forward (David Perron) to a Joe Thornton blindside hit, the future is bright for the young club, despite their cloudy ownership situation.

Doug Armstrong absolutely fleeced the Colorado Avalanche in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement.  David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini, and Alex Pietrangelo made massive strides forward this year.  Backes and Berglund came back strong from down seasons and Pietrangelo and D'Agostini blossomed beyond all expectations. 

(By the way, it was ridiculously stupid for fans to boo Johnson in St. Louis.  He never loafed, was always a stand up kid who happened to hit the wall developmentally.  We sure don't need to give him more incentive to beat us in the future.) 

At any rate, if the Blues can stay healthy and learn some consistency next season, the league better watch out.


3.  Too Manny Roids?

Sometimes aging stars hang on longer than they should.  Sometimes they suddenly fall apart and quit.  And for the first time ever a player failed a ped test and decided to retire rather than face the 100 game suspension music.  

Classy exit, manny Ramirez.  The once sure-fire Hall of Famer "retires"as a cheating idiot savant.  As Boston writer Dan Shaughnessy wrote, "Manny doesn't care.  So why should fans care?".  Well put.  In fact, who were we talking about again?


4.  Red Sox Look a Little Threadbare

The Boston Red Sox are 2-10.   

(/Me sighs happily).  And the Yankees look like anything but world beaters at 8-5.  I bet it's almost safe to turn on ESPN again.  We just might hear something about one of the 28 other teams.  

Maybe.


5.  You Gotta Tag the Runner, Kid!

We must pile on the Red Sox when we can.  It was great seeing Sox catcher Jason Varitek allow a runner to score at home uncontested while he stood there holding the ball.  

The Indians had the bases loaded and third baseman Kevin Youkilis dropped a liner at third.  He scrambled and stepped on the third to force the runner from second, then threw home for a possible double play.  Problem was the runner from third was no longer forced at home and had to be tagged.  

Varitek caught the ball while stepping on the plate, assuming the force-out, apparently.  The runner stepped on home.  The ump, almost incredulously, of course called him safe.  

The moral of the story: I'll be a little more calm in the future with my six year old when I say, "You gotta tag the runner, son!  But don't worry.  Even big leaguers forget sometimes."


6.  The Best Player in Baseball is Troy, Troy, Troy!


Hopefully, fans of NBC's "Community" will get the reference.  

Anyway, Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop for the Rockies, is the new "best player in baseball".  Nice work by Colorado to lock him up long term.  If he can stay healthy all year, this is your 2011 NL MVP.  The guy is amazing playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond.


7.  The Chicago Cheatin'hawks

On April 7th, the Blues were leading the Cheatin'hawks 2-0 when all world winger Marian Hossa kicked the puck toward the Blues net while standing in the crease.  

While the puck rolled along the goal line but never in the net the overzealous goal judge lit the goal lamp and the overzealous referee signaled goal as well.  The Cheatin'hawks celebrated around Hossa as he sheepishly looked like he had just robbed a 7-Eleven.  

After a 10 minute review the goal stood since, apparently, the video didn't prove it WASN'T a goal.  And the kicking motion was never even questioned.  Shockingly the NHL remains a joke, third-rate league with horrendous officiating and laughable match penalty suspensions for illegal hits that would probably warrant jail time if they happened in your neighborhood.  

Anyway, enjoy getting knocked out in the first round, Cheatin'hawks.


8.  Bizarro MLB Standings

The Red Sox are 2-10 (third shot in the column -- it never gets old).

The Royals and Indians are 10-4.

Awesome.

9.  Tall Order

If the Cards want to continue their 14-hit per game attacks (now five straight games and counting) they'll have To go through Clayton Kershaw - one of the toughest lefties today and a strikeout machine.  I'm curious to see how well they grind out at bats against the toughest pitcher they'll face on this road trip.



Sorry for the Extra Large edition of THN, everyone.  Thanks for reading.

Next time: THN predicts the Cards will be either above .500 or below it.  Stay tuned...










Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:26 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2011 3:28 pm
 

THN 1/12 - Put Hoffman in the HOF

Put Hoffman in the HOF

Yesterday, Trevor Hoffman, baseball's all-time career saves leader, announced his retirement.  Probably one year too late as he absorbed a 5.89 ERA even in a year where baseball offense was knocked back to the Stone Age*.

(*That would be 1992 in modern terms.)

But the Brewers stuck with him enough times that he added ten final saves to his resume and finished his career with a highly memorable total of 601.  So today we consider his Hall of Fame worthiness and with joy we can do this without discussing those nasty performance-enhancing substances - that dirty word that rhymes with Altoids and hemorrhoids - mostly because it's pretty clear Hoffman's career was the product of high-durability, incredible consistency, and one of the best change-ups ever unfurled on a baseball diamond.

As it has been said many times in the past, a save in Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage's eras were not what they are today, which would explain why those two are in the Hall of Fame and great closers like Lee Smith and John Franco haven't even gotten a sniff.  But I think Hoffman is rare in that he had a more transcendent career than Smith or Franco. 

Let's look at these guys' career stats (and we'll throw in another modern HOF-worthy closer for good measure).  In parenthesis is the number of times they were an All-Star. 

Name (AS)      Games    ERA    Innings    H       BB       K         HRs    Saves

Hoffman (6)    1035       2.87    1089    846      307    1133    100      601
Smith (7)        1022       3.03    1289    1133    486    1251     89       478
Sutter (6)        661        2.83    1042    879      309    861       77       300
Gossage (9)    1002       3.01    1809    1497    732    1502     119     310
Rivera (11)     978         2.23    1150    887      267    1051     62       559
Franco (4)       1119       2.89    1245    1166    495    975       81       424

What sticks out to me (and this is no revelation) is that Mariano Rivera is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.  He made one pitch famous: the cutter (as Sutter did with the split-fingered fastball).  He has always been money in the regular season, but incredibly, even more so in the playoffs.  He is a legend.

Another item is that Lee Smith was an All-Star more times than Sutter or Hoffman.  That surprised me.  And honestly as a Cardinal fan, I've always wondered why Lee didn't get more support for the Hall.  Lest anyone forget, Smith WAS at one time baseball's all-time saves leader as Hoffman is now.  In the mid-90s he was our "game over" guy.  He took eight and half minutes to lumber to the mound when called on.  He menacingly threw only from the stretch, which was particularly heart-warming for Cardinal fans since that was also how former Cardinal Rookie of the Year closer Todd Worrell threw.  And like an Al MacInnis slap-shot, Smith simply brought the gas.  He blew guys away.  (In fact, I'm getting queasy even now thinking about Ryan Franklin throwing 85 MPH frisbees in the ninth in comparison.)

Finally, I've always had a hard time accepting Bruce Sutter as a Hall of Famer.  But in looking at the numbers, we see he threw almost as many innings as a "horse" like Hoffman in about 60% the amount of games Hoffman appeared in.  So in that context, the fact that Sutter had exactly half as many saves as Hoffman in (roughly) half as many games played speaks well of Sutter. 

All of this, of course, leads us to the fact that Hoffman is wholly Hall-worthy.  In 200 fewer innings than Lee Smith he ends up with 123 more saves??  Not three saves difference.  Not 23 saves.  A HUNDRED and twenty-three saves more.  Smith is not even in the same universe as Hoffman.

And we can't ignore the fact that Hoffman was not an upper-90s flame-thrower like Smith, Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner and other "sexier" closers that have come and gone.  It's not too hard to get outs when you can come in throwing 98-99 MPH in the ninth when the opposing batters have been seeing 90-94 all game.  But for 22 years Hoffman relied on an 85-MPH fastball and the most devastating change-up in history.  Hoffman was the Greg Maddux of relievers, which is probably the highest compliment I can give the guy. 

And if an 85 MPH fastball is good enough to make the Hall of Fame, then maybe there is hope for Ryan Franklin and all us Cardinal fans who no longer have finger nails left to nibble. 

Yeah, not gonna hold my breath on that.

It's time for a snow-covered, long-overdue, hot-stove edition of...


The Hard Nine



1.  Gee, I Guess We're Not a Forgiving Nation After All - Ken Caminiti apologized for steroid use.  So did Jason Giambi.  Alex Rodriguez, check.  And the world allowed them to move on.  So Mr. PED-Era Litmus Test himself, Mark McGwire, went on the apology circuit before spring training last year to pave the way for him to join the Cardinals' team as the hitting coach.  He said all the right things. (Except that he insisted the drugs didn't help him hit homeruns.   Apparently, McGwire wouldn't be a good politician.)  But despite all that, sports columnists said, "Oh if McGwire confesses and apologizes, he will get a fair shake for Hall of Fame consideration." 

Or not.  This year's Hall of Fame vote saw McGwire actually drop below 20%, his lowest support ever, AFTER fessing up.  It seems writers instead chose to say "I knew it!" and voted accordingly, even though 15 years ago McGwire and Sammy Sosa essentially brought the fans back and saved baseball, helped sports writers sell millions of newspapers and books, and captured our imaginations like only Hall of Famers can.

Sorry, but I don't see how we can blame players for doing what fallible human beings do when given license.  The Players' Association, the MLB, the commissioner, agents, fans, the media, team owners, hot dog vendors, ticket scalpers, taxi drivers, stadium janitors, homeless people living on steam grates outside the stadium - NO ONE CARED about players taking PEDs and in most cases they probably encouraged it. 

The Hall of Fame voting quagmire we are in now is the bed that baseball, itself, made and they must now lay in it.  No one can say any one player was clean or dirty unless they, themselves, come forward to admit guilt.  Either way, the playing field was level - PEDs were available. 

But instead, baseball writers are embracing their role as morality police and stats and accomplishments on the field don't really matter any more.  Their "gut feeling" - dirty or not - is all that matters now.  What joy.

2.  NL Central Arms Race - This coming season is going to be exciting for NL Central fans as the Brewers, Cubs and  to a lesser extent, Cardinals, all worked to solidify their pitching staffs.  The Brewers made the most noise trading for Shaun Marcum from Toronto and more impressively, picking up former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Royals.  Every team in the division (save the Pirates, of course, and the rebuilding Astros) has the pitching talent, now, to take the division pennant.  Not sure if I'll ever see the Cards with a comfortable 15-game lead by June ever again.

3.  Boston Could Win It All - No really, the city could literally win EVERYTHING this year.  The Patriots win the Super Bowl next month, the Bruins take the Stanley Cup this Spring, and the Red Sox, now that they've added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, win about 140 games out of the 162 game regular season schedule on their way to a World Series crown. 

I just threw up in my mouth a little. 

4.  The Halak-ness Monster Is Already Just a Myth - I blogged quite a bit about the Blues' trade for Jaroslav Halak late last year and early on, the move looked beyond brilliant.  The Blues had the best start in the NHL going 9-1 and Halak was the main reason.  Then reality had to set in.  The team got decimated by injuries, the defense suffered, and suddenly Halak looks human.  If the team can somehow make the playoffs, maybe we will see the Monster surface again.  Here's hoping.

5.  War Eagle!  Fight Chickenhawk!  Attack Buzzard!   That was a pretty incredible BCS Championship game Monday as "my" Auburn Tigers beat Oregon.  Now I get to be obnoxious to the Alabama fans at work - yes, more obnoxious than usual. 

6.  $100 Million and Happy or $126 Million and Miserable?   I hope Albert Pujols doesn't try to get every dollar possible in his upcoming mega-contract.  Jason Werth did the money grab thing and ended up with the Nationals, who are not contending for an NL East title any time soon.  Then his buddy, Cliff Lee, returned to the Phillies where that team appears poised to run roughshod over the National League and Werth could have been joining in the fun. 

So hopefully Albert accepts a merely obscene amount of money to stay in St. Louis rather than a "gross-domestic-product-of-a-me
dium-sized-country" type deal that will simply give him more money than he needs and make it it difficult for us as fans to continue to care about the great game of baseball.

7.  Sam Bradford Hit the Lottery, So Did Rams - Despite the Rams disappointing finale against the Seahawks last week, the bigger picture is that the Rams found a bonafide franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, who took every snap of every play for the Rams this year and broke some rookie records in the process, including one held by Peyton Manning.  In an era where 9 out of 10 first round pick QBs ends up being a complete bust and considering the Rams have squandered too many early picks the past few years, they finally hit pay dirt. 

8.  On the Other Hand, Pujols in Pinstripes?   For the sake of seeing Cardinal Nation as a whole hyperventilate in unison, it would be entertaining to see the Cards NOT SIGN Pujols before spring training.  The Cubs would be drooling to give AP a lifetime contract - upgrading Carlos Pena for Pujols.  And the Yankees could be too, even to throw him in left field or make him DH.  At any rate, it would be a nice distraction from the fact the Cards are not winning the division this year.

9.  I Guess Herzog's Opinion Don't Count For Much - I can't close this Hard Nine without mentioning other moves the Cardinals made this off-season, namely ending their relationship with Brendan Ryan, who was arguably the best glove man at shortstop in the majors.

We have now lost two Gold Glove-caliber defenders in Ryan and Ryan Ludwick and replaced them with not even average defensive players (Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman).  In fact, Berkman could blow a knee with the first step he takes in right at Busch.  And if scrappy, tough, in-the-LaRussa-mold-but-not-real-ta
lented Theriot is good enough to be our starting shortstop, then why on EARTH did we ever let World Series MVP David Eckstein go??? 

All I know is that left-handed batters (which we don't neutralize very well to begin with) are going to be amped to see a right-side defense of Skip Schumaker and Berkman.  Pujols is going to have to play tight to the first bast bag, too, just to guard against hits down the line which will get played into triples by the Big Puma. 

Yes "Big Puma", St. Louis. 

Actually, is there a fatter cat species we can give him a new nickname for? 


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

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

Regression Toward the (That's Just) Mean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




WG










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