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Tag:Penguins
Posted on: June 18, 2010 6:36 pm
Edited on: June 19, 2010 8:38 am
 

6/18 - Holliday and the Cardinals - A Love Story

Matt Holliday and the Cardinals - A Love Story

Following the 2005 season, the Cardinals began looking for the perfect 4th place hitter to bat behind Albert Pujols - to protect him, take care of him, and make sure he got lots of fat pitches to hit.  After Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen could no longer fill the position (due to injuries, old age, La Russa's whims) the team started giving a plucky outfielder with a reconstructed hip the chance.  Ryan Ludwick was with his third organization, a "bat", other organizations would call him, but nothing more and a guy with a bad hip can't be taken too seriously, right?  But Ludwick was anything if not determined and through some hard work, he hung around long enough in 2007 to hit 14 home runs and started getting some looks in the middle of the lineup. 

In 2008, Ludwick, the scrappy underdog put on an offensive show from start to finish, batting .299, clubbing 37 home runs, enjoying All-Star status and Silver Slugger recognition.  That season, batting fourth behind El Hombre, Luddy's line was a hefty .295-20-59.  But injuries came back to haunt Luddy in May 2009.  He finished the season with a more modest .265-22-97 line as he tried too hard to justify his big raise after his monster 2008 campaign.  The Cardinals' eyes still roamed for the one clean-up hitter that would make everyone's dreams come true. 

On July 24, 2009 the Cardinals went "all-in" at the trade deadline to acquire Matt Holliday, the beefy Oklahoman that Tony La Russa and the rest of the organization had been dreaming of for years.  He was immediately inserted into the clean-up spot and hit .353-13-55 in 63 games.  Most cheered for our new heart-throb, but a small few of us felt bad for the rough-around-the-edges Ludwick, who despite the injuries in '09 still batted .278-14-55 in 62 games behind Pujols.  Aside from the average, his clean-up numbers were not much different from the club's new pretty boy and this even in a "down" year for Luddy.  Personally, I thought the tough-minded Ludwick deserved a little more consideration.

As it was, not since Paul McCartney paired with Michael Jackson was there such combined star-power as with Pujols and Holliday and for the most part last year, everything worked like a charm until things got serious: the playoffs.  The team crashed and burned unceremoniously, with Holliday making a major gaffe in the outfield to seal the team's fate (maybe those possible commitment jitters).  But Holliday and the Cards decided to get hitched anyway to the tune of a 7-year/$120 million contract - the best friend, Albert Pujols, approved.  The Cards got their man and kept him.  There was even a big announcement in the newspaper and everything.

Today is a new day, however.  Today is 2010.  Today is the "morning after" and the Cardinals just rolled over to see the studly Holliday isn't as studly as they thought.  With only 23 RBI in 53 games from their hero, what could the team do?  They saw the light and turned to Ol' Faithful, Ryan Ludwick, who already has 5 RBI in 4 games batting clean-up.  Things seem right again, in Cardinal Nation - we just have to find ways to keep our new boy toy happy while we pay him to NOT bat clean-up anymore.  Oh well.


It's time for...


The Hard Nine



1.  The "Morning After" - No words are needed.  Just check out Holliday's numbers so far in comparison to last year:

Year     Games     AB     AVG     HR     RBI     SLG     OPS
2009     63          235    .353    13      55      .604    1.023
2010     64          243    .284     6       25      .423     .795

Holliday's near MVP season was 2007 at age 27.  Why do baseball execs not understand that a player's peak years are typically during ages 24-28?  In retrospect, it's unfortunate that Holliday did so well last year, when he was obviously energized by the trade, by the huge fanbase, and by being in playoff contention.  He played way over his head and now we pay for two months in 2009 for the next seven years.  Hooray.

2.  Prodigal Sons Return -
We certainly had flashbacks to four years ago as Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan have recently returned to the flock.  Even Tony La Russa was getting misty-eyed watching Soup deal to the (albeit) punchless Mariners.  But in a start in which he was shaking off rust as much as trying to give the Cards a chance to win a game (a chance they essentially NEVER had when P.J. Walters, Blake Hawksworth or Adam Ottavino took the hill) he made some great pitches that reminded us of the guy that confounded the New York Mets in the 2006 NLCS with an 88-mph fastball, a slow curve and a tantalizing change-up.  He even struck out the mighty Ichiro on a high hard one and doubled and scored for himself.  Welcome back, Soup.

3.  Take THAT, Sabermetrics Dorks - I love when the Cards play the Arizona Diamondbacks because I often get to hear the Dbacks color analyst, Mark Grace.  For me, he was one of the quintessential late 80s ballplayers in the vein of Will Clark or Tony Gwynn - not the ideal physical specimen but had just a sweet swing that stroked hit after hit.  And he is a fun TV analyst who calls things like they are, good or bad, for the home team or the visitors - he doesn't discriminate.  I would love to hear Mark and Ex-Blue Kelly Chase do a sports talk show - it would be hilarious. 

As I've said, I'm a stat fiend (but I'm NOT a Sabermetrics worshiper) and neither is "Gracie" as he talked about there being too many stats in today's game in a local Phoenix newspaper:

"The biggest stats for me were runs scored and RBIs.  If those are both up, that means you're driving them in when they're out there and you're out there to be driven in...But instead, it's this guy sees 4.7 pitches per at bat. How about hit the first one and knock the (bleep) out of it, you know?"

Amen.  Eloquently put, Mark.

4.  NL Comeback Player of the Year - THN has been following Troy Glaus closely this year as the Ex-Card is having the season this year the Cardinals wished he had last year.  In fact, Glaus has all but sewn up the NL Comeback Player of the Year award considering he leads the NL in RBI and has carried the Braves to their first place standing in the NL East.  Glaus is on pace for 31 homers and 128 RBI which would be his highest total ever by a mile (his career high is 111 RBIs in 2002).  And while he strikes out as much as ever, he still has a stout .380 on base percentage.  Atlanta's sports writers have already come to terms that Troy has played himself into a big contract and probably right out of Atlanta. 

5.  Better Late Than Never -
And speaking of resurrections, what on earth has gotten into Alex Rios of the White Sox?  At age 29, it seems he is finally figuring out how to put his otherworldly talent to good use and that is an understatement.  He's having an MVP-type year that has stunned pretty much everyone that laughed at the Sox for taking him (and his massive salary) off Toronto's hands.  But maybe it isn't all that shocking - he wasn't even an All-Star until 2007 and that was only his third full season.  The Blue Jays gave up on him in 2009 when he was batting .247, and he completely tanked after going to Chicago batting .199.  Today he's hitting .313 and is on pace for 33 homers, 85 RBI and 49 steals!  The difference?  How about plate discipline?  After striking out over 100 times in four of his six full seasons, he is on pace for just 77 Ks, which in this day and age is stellar for a guy with 30-homer power. 

6.  "Big Sweat" Hits the Big Wall - In my last entry, I wrote about my distaste for our lefty relievers efficiency.  My distaste has turned to disgust, at least where Dennys "Big Sweat" Reyes is concerned.  In May he was immaculate (unrealistically so, in fact), and in June he is paying for it.  In four June appearances he has recorded just two outs, both on strikeouts.  Reyes has allowed 10 baserunners (9 hits, 1 BB) and six earned runs in those four appearances and his ERA has ballooned from 1.59 to 3.63.  He's given up seven consecutive hits to  LEFTHANDERS.  The only appearance of the four where he didn't give up a run he came in, gave up a hit, and left the game without getting an out.  Tough day like that has got make you want to pop open a hard-earned Dos Equis. 

7.  Look Me In The Eye and Tell Me You Can't Score Two Runs -
Jaime Garcia, while being a little less stellar lately, has still been hugely effective overall for the Cardinals.  In his last outing, he lost 2-1 to Seattle (as Holliday, once again, failed to deliver a runner from third) and as in all 13 of his starts, he has yet to give up more than two earned runs which is explains his 1.59 ERA, still second in the NL.  The Cardinals' record in his 13 starts: a pitiful 6-7.  Aye caramba...

8.  Blues Go Into "Halak-down" Mode - Ok, if you don't know how to pronounce "Halak" it's (ha-LOCK) - there, now my headline makes sense, right?  Oh well.  Really, this is the news of the week for THN.  I fell out of my chair to hear my St. Louis Blues traded for 25-year-old Jaroslav Halak, the Montreal Canadiens playoff hero this past spring, and focus of my adoration in my April blogs as he helped the outgunned Habs knock off the powerful Capitals and Penguins in two seven-game series.

He was going to be a free agent soon and will need a massive raise from his $800k salary, but the Blues finally made a smart, strong, gutsy move to acquire a young budding star goaltender, a position the Blues (since the departure of Curtis Joseph) have seemingly always filled with a "wily veteran". Take your pick: Grant Fuhr, John Casey, Pat Lalime, Manny Legace, Chris Osgood, Chris Mason, Tom Barrasso.  That list right there makes me want to put a bag over my head (except for Fuhr, who was exceptional when not injured).  The last talented young goalie the Blues traded for (Roman Turek) blew up on them spectacularly in the playoffs so we have reserved excitement about this trade of course.  The Blues did give up their #1 forward prospect in Lars Ellar, but seriously, he's Danish - he's only in the States to pick up girls, so the Blues sold high (as did Montreal). 

But there is a good omen here: Halak is a Slovak - not a Czech (like Turek) - and the Blues have had some terrific luck with Slovaks over the past 15 years: Pavol Demitra (one of my all-time favorite Blues who was simply the best hockey player in the 2009 Winter Olympics), Michal Handzus (the bruising power center) and Ladislav Nagy to name a few.  Hopefully, in ten years we'll be adding Halak to this list. Maybe even less.

9.  Still Nailing those Calls -
I was watching a Nationals game on MLB.TV and with my basic package I can't choose whether to get the home or away broadcast.  On this occasion it was the Nationals' broadcast I was listening to and the play-by-play man's voice immediately brought back a flood of Cardinal memories.  It was none other than Bob Carpenter, the St. Louisan who called the Cardinal games from 1993-2005.  How many "See...you...LATER!" calls did he get to make in 1998?  I'm going to be tuning into some Nats games more and more just for the walk down memory lane.



WG
















Posted on: 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