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Tag:Nationals
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 7, 2010 1:46 am
Edited on: August 7, 2010 2:05 am
 

8/6 - Road Warriors...At Least Tonight

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. 



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 24, 2010 11:14 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2010 10:43 am
 

6/24 - The MLB All-Caveman Team

The MLB All-Caveman Team

Since Adam Wainwright got shelled up in Toronto, I don't get to blog about the Cardinals strong pitching and how they swept the Blue Jays.  And incidentally, the league needs to send Tony Randazzo a little memo reminding him that home plate is only 17 inches wide - not 3 feet as he appeared to give Brandon Morrow.  But I understand his incompetence - he's from Chicago so he grew up watching poorly played baseball.  Also, Randazzo looks like a meathead, which must mean something.  As an ex-baseball player himself, had he made the majors he might have made the MLB All-Caveman Team!

This is a list of some of THN's favorite Neanderthals, both past and present.  Pitchers who screamed battle cries from the mound, hitters who would have looked more comfortable swinging tree trunks at the plate, all with plenty of gnarly hair over their face and chest (and we presume, their back). 

RHP - Pete Vuckovich - Any pitcher that can play a terrifying Yankee slugger in a movie is nothing if not imposing.  He was much scarier as a Brewer than a Cardinal.  That's probably why the Redbirds traded him - not cuddly enough.

LHP - Randy Johnson - After he killed a poor bird in spring training with a 95-mph heater, rumor is he ate it for lunch.

Relief - Rod Beck - One of the most colorful personalities to grace the diamond.  Stories of his exploits in the minor leagues after his major league career was over are legendary with local fans.

OF - John Kruk - It's doubtful there has ever been a worse physical specimen squeezed into tight baseball polyester.  Also makes sensekruk he couldn't stick in San Diego, but was adored in Philadelphia.

OF - Colby Rasmus - A young knuckle-dragger in training, he's a mouth-breather through and through, but some of the deadliest warriors are like that.  They look innocent, you lower your defense and them BOOM - they strike.

OF - Jay Buhner - Bald-headed and crushing 40 homers a year using the most intimidating batting stance in baseball history: he held the bat directly in front of himself as if about to enter a gang fight.  He dared the pitcher to throw a fastball, and then pulling the bat BACK and THEN swinging, would connect, sending the ball into orbit.  Awesome.

SS - Gary Gaetti - For some reason, the vast majority of shortstops throughout history have been excellent athletes, good-looking, more or less stars on their teams.  So it was hard to find a true caveman, but luckily Gaetti logged some time at short, and for a guy that played into the 90s, none were more "old school" than him.

3B - Dave Kingman - One of the most feared sluggers of the 70s and 80s both on and off the field.  The only thing that could make the guy smile was seeing sports writers tortured, but fortunately for them, it was the 20th Century - not the 5th.

2B - Jeff Kent - Few players combined such extremely high talent with amazing ambivalence to what they did for a living, and that kind of attitude toward something 99.9% of the population would consider a dream come true, is quite scary.  Plus he was a jerk.

dunn 1B - Adam Dunn - Dunn is the ultimate barbarian the clan sends to the plate with the game on the line.  The pitcher is too busy watching the way his 6'7" frame is blocking out the sun to focus on throwing the ball properly.

C - Darrell Porter - The MVP of the Cardinals' 1982 World Series victory, he literally looked like Quasimodo at the plate, hunched over, almost crippled - until he unleashed his wicked swing.  The man was nails, cold-blooded when it counted, like any good warrior.

Well that was cathartic.  So let's savagely sink our teeth into...


The Hard Nine


1. Towers of Power - For the first time in a while the Cardinals have three regular outfielders who are a threat to go deep.  With Matt Holliday's recent power surge, each member of our current trio is on pace for 25+ home runs: Colby Rasmus (34), Ryan Ludwick (25) and Holliday (26).  Holliday, until very recently, was on pace for just 15 dingers.  The last time the Cardinals had three outfielders all finish with 25+ homers was 1998 when Ron Gant (26), Ray Lankford (31) and Brian Jordan (25) brought the thunder, which, with just a little help from Mark McGwire's 70 homers, led the NL in big flies.  Too bad our pitching was as bad as our slugging was good that year. CBSsports.com currently shows the Cards' outfield rated 2nd in the majors to the Texas Rangers' thumpers.

In fact, since 1985 the Cardinals have had just five seasons where even TWO outfielders hit 25+ homers in the same season with Jim Edmonds factoring in three of those five seasons.  With Holliday locked up for a very...long...time and Colby Rasmus still pre-arbitration, if we can sign Ludwick to a reasonable multi-year deal, we could be set for a long time, which is fairly critical since we don't have any impact outfielders in the minors at the moment.

2. Not So Lone Ranger -
Speaking of the Rangers, Josh Hamilton was one of the most inspiring stories of the 2008 season.  After a long journey back from substance abuse and finding peace as a born-again Christian, Hamilton had a successful comeback season with the Reds in 2007.  He was then traded to Texas for promising pitcher Edison Volquez.  Hamilton promptly became an All-Star with Texas in 2008 with a season that was highlighted  by an incredible power display in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby that left everyone in awe.  But 2009 was not so kind and while battling injuries and some off-field regression, Hamilton hit only 10 home runs.

Happily, (excluding the Rangers' opponents in the AL West, of course) Hamilton has rebounded with his best season yet, hitting .339 with 17 home runs so far.  But more importantly, he's serious about his new life.  Josh doesn't go out alone.  He stays at home with the family during home game stretches and hangs out with his mentor, Johnny Narron, on the road at all times.  He never has more than $10 on him.  That's humility.  It's a joy to cheer about things greater than baseball - like a changed life.

3. Yadi! Yadi! Ya...Oh Nevermind -
Um yeah, so I've stopped with the Yadi 100-RBI pace updates, if you haven't noticed.  Yadier Molina hasn't simply hit the wall - the wall seems to have snuck up on him and knocked the snot out of him upside the head with a two-by-four.  Get this man a medic!

His average is down to .242, his lowest since 2006 when he batted .216.  And what is really discouraging is how completely disinterested he looks at the plate.  Chris Carpenter is giving a better effort at the dish and that's not saying much.  After giving us batting averages of .275, .304, and .293 the last three seasons, it certainly seemed like Yadi had "figured it out".  I don't think he's regressing, technically.  I just think he's beat up - I've seen him take some nasty pitches off the body this year and those things add up.  I really hope he doesn't make the All-Star team.  He needs a break.

4. He Must REALLY Like Football - I do not come to bury Steve Smith, but to praise him.  We've heard plenty of freak injury stories that have befallen professional athletes over the years.  A lot of the times the accident leads to lies, a cover-up, and finally the embarrassing truth.  The St. Louis Blues' own star defenseman Erik Johnson lost his entire sophomore season to a golf cart knee injury.  Players ride motorcycles without helmets.  They cut themselves with hunting knife birthday presents (yeah, Mike Matheny wasn't an All-Star, but that one STILL hurts us Card fans).

But at least Steve Smith hurt himself actually playing flag football.  He was apologetic, but defiant: "I wish I could take it back," Smith said. "But I am a regular guy outside of football. I mow my grass, too. I can get my finger chopped off fixing my lawnmower. I could roll my ankle playing tag or slip-n-slide with my kids. In hindsight, yeah, I won't do it again. But I was just having fun, playing with some guys."

And yeah, that's a huge loss for Smith, personally, and for the Carolina Panthers organization and the fans, but for a while, how cool was it for those "other guys" to get to play football with a Pro Bowler?  Forget the autograph, wanna play catch, Albert?  Uh, was that your elbow that just popped??

5. Protecting the World's Jewels Since 1930 - Dear World: we get it.  You dislike us evil, greedy, lazy, overweight, spoiled Americans.  That's fine.  But there are still things we really suck at and soccer is one of them.  So if we score a legitimate goal, can you at least feign impartiality and allow the goal to count?  I promise, we are sure not going to win the "World's Cup"...whatever that is.  I'm not sure we even want to win it.  Hygiene and all...

6. Stephen Strasburg's Debut Revisited - I finally took an hour this week to watch most of Stephen Strasburg's debut against the Pirates a couple weeks ago.  Simply put, he has video-game-set-on-cheat-mode stuff.  His high-90s fastball starts right down the middle and then runs to the corner causing lefties to flail and righties to get sawed off, assuming they even make contact.  And this is what's really sick: his change up is 90-mph.  Ninety-miles per hour change up.  What a laugh.  His change up smokes probably 50% of the veteran fastballs in the majors right now.  But the difference between 90 and 99 is lethal.  You swing to hit 99, you won't hit a ball coming in at 90 and vice versa.  And the icing on the cake is his circus breaking ball that drops down an in to lefties - he can throw it for strikes or down out of the zone like a splitter.  Curt Schilling knows a few things about stuff and he says he's never seen anything like what Strasburg can do.  Like I said, I'm really looking forward to this young man setting the single-game strikeout record against us and whadayaknow - the Cards are in D.C. for a four-game set starting August 26th.

7. My Slumping AL Teams -
I don't think any baseball fan over the age of six thought the Tampa Bay Rays were going to lead the AL East wire-to-wire and they can officially be re-classified as underdogs again.  They are just a half game out of third place and both the Yankees and Red Sox are streaking by.  The Twins were solid favorites in the AL Central but the resurgent Tigers are not laying down as they are just 1 1/2 games back and are 7-3 over their last 10 while Minnesota is 4-6.  The Twins main problems?  Like most teams, inconsistent offence is to blame.  But the back end of the rotation has been mediocre, further complicating things - Kevin Slowey (4.58), Scott Baker (4.61) and Nick Blackburn (5.80)?  Eeesh.  Cliff Lee, anyone?
 
8. Step Right Up and Wreck Your Season! - Something has to be done about the All-Star Home Run Derby - namely, dropping it, forevermore.  PLEASE, MLB: NO ONE CARES.  A great majority of ballplayers who have participated in the derby have had bad second halves of the season and/or a down year entirely the next season.  Many articles have been written about it already.  The players are wising up.  Albert seemed terribly gassed the second half of 2009 and had a big power outage.  Jim Edmonds removed all guesswork by getting injured DURING the derby in 2005.  More and more sluggers are bowing out.  I'd rather see Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome and Barry Bonds have a "Bring Back the Juice!" home run derby promotion.  Now THAT would create some interest.

9. Vogon Poetry or Watching the Cardinals Hit - I told my wife that it was a very, VERY good thing that I didn't watch the Cardinals' 1-0 win over the Blue Jays last night.  Only after the game was over did I realize that Chris Carpenter got the well-earned win when the Cards scored in the top of the NINTH.  Nothing like waiting to the last minute, boys!  I'm sure I would have had to go to drastic measures to keep from spontaneously combusting had I watched the game live - the Cards left 11 men on base.  Last night, at least, the culprits were Colby Rasmus and David Freese (two guys who have been positive contributors for the most part) instead of the usual suspects, Pujols and Holliday.  Of course, the Cards got shutout completely tonight.  Time to gnaw off a leg to maintain my sanity.



WG









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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
















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