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Tag:Rick Ankiel
Posted on: August 10, 2010 5:14 pm
 

8/10 - Brandon Phillips: Respect Your Elders

Brandon Phillips: Respect Your Elders


Let me make this clear: I am a Brandon Phillips fan.  Watching him play my Cardinals the last five years with the Reds in the NL Central, how can you not appreciate his talent? 

He's going to bat about .280 with 20+ homers and 20+ steals virtually every year which is tremendous production from a second baseman.  He's not a big guy, but he takes entertaining, vicious hacks a-la Prince Fielder which means he hits some real bombs from time to time.  Yet he doesn't strike out a whole lot - he's only reached the 100 K mark once and that in a year he hit 30 home runs.  He's a tough out, he plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, and you have a to love a guy with no shortage of confidence.  Phillips will be the first to tell you he feels he should be an All-Star every year.

All that said, his proclaimed hatred of the Cardinals prior to the Cards-Reds series this week shows the young man has a lot learn about respect. 

Phillips told the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy, "I'd play against these guys with one leg.  We have to beat these guys. ... All they do is b---- and moan about everything, all of them, they're little b----es all of 'em.  I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."

Mmmkay.  Message received.

I assume Phillips was referring to the Cardinals' complaints about slick baseballs at Great America Ballpark last year (from John Smoltz and Chris Carpenter) and this year in the Cards' first series in Cincy in April again from Carpenter.  In response, Reds' starter Aaron Harang has noted that no other teams have complained.

It's not a huge deal.  So apparently, the Reds' clubhouse staff doesn't rub the baseballs as well as the Cardinals like.  Call it home field advantage or something.  Big deal.

What IS disturbing is while Tony La Russa can play head-games with the best of them, two Cy Young Award winners like Smoltz and Carpenter?  These guys have always been all-business.  They don't play games, period.  I think it's fair to say that 99.9% of all major-leaguers that have played with or against these two pitchers hold them both in the highest regard as competitors and how they respect the game.

Which is everyone except for Brandon Phillips, I guess.

Now, Phillips has never played for a winning Reds team in his life so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe all this Reds postseason talk is making him forget what's going on with his own team.  That the architect is former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty.  That guys like Scott Rolen and (now Jim Edmonds) bring a wealth of experience that he doesn't have. 

Was Phillips insulting former Cardinals on his team now?  Of course not.  Was he even really insulting the current Cards?  Doubtful.  Most other teams feel the same way he does about La Russa and Duncan.  The problem is he's too dense to realize that his Reds are winning because they are playing baseball the "right way" this year - and more consistently than any time in recent memory.  Sorry to say, Brandon: your Reds are learning to play "the Cardinal Way". 

Guess you'll have to hate yourself now.



Time for...

The Hard Nine



1.  Worst Everyday Player in the Majors - One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, recently examined ten candidates for "Worst Everyday Player" in the majors and justifiably, Skip Schumaker was on the list.  Skip is a below average defender at second base with no power and no speed and if he doesn't hit .300, he really brings no benefit to a baseball team, except for his positive attitude and team-first approach.  He's only batting .260 this year after three straight .300 campaigns so he has been a disappointment to say the least. 

So it was thrilling to see him drill the first pitch he saw from Mike Leake with the bases loaded last night in Cincinnati for a Grand Slam to deep center field.  He was looking for a pitch to hit at least a sacrifice fly off of and hit a big fly instead.  Bravo, Skip.  Now, try to get that average and defense back up to par, okay?

2.  Houston, We Have Liftoff -
The Astros are still dead last in runs scored in the Nation League, but they are sure doing what they can to make up ground in that department.  After pulverizing the Cardinals bullpen last week, they continued last night with a 10-4 thrashing of Atlanta, who like St. Louis, has one of the best pitching staffs in the league. 

Michael Bourn continues to be a pest on the base paths, Jeff Keppinger is one of the best offensive second baseman around, and Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are still steady producers.  But the real excitement is coming from new blood in Brett Wallace (yes, the former Cardinals first-round draft pick) and third baseman Chris Johnson who is simply raking (and I'm quite thankful seeing as I grabbed him in my fantasy league!).  Wallace's call up to Houston was rather remarkable.  The Astros sent Lance Berkman to the Yankees, traded for Wallace from Toronto and then immediately called him from AAA Round Rock to install him as their everyday first baseman.  After bouncing around, "Thunder Thighs" Wallace has a home and in our division no less. 

3.  Trading For a Royal Is Probably A Bad Sign - Now, trading for TWO of them?  Royals GM Dayton Moore must have some interesting dirt on Braves GM Frank Wren.  Yes ,the Braves big trade deadline acquisitions included not one, but TWO Kansas City Royals and neither player is anywhere near as talented as Carlos Beltran.  If I was a Braves fan, I'd feel queezy about what that says about my team.  Naturally, in the 10-4 loss to the Astros, ex-Royals Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel performed to their typical standards.  Ankiel was 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts and Farnsworth got just one out while yielding four earned runs while taking the loss.

4.  Worth the Price of Admission - The Tampa Bay Rays' David Price won his 15th game last night to set a Rays' team record and take the lead in the AL in pitcher wins.  The Rays are just a game and a half behind the Yankees and solidly in the driver's seat for the Wild Card.  It doesn't get any sweeter than seeing the Rays playing in October and the Red Sox not.

5.  And Down the Stretch They Come - In five of the six divisions the first and second-place teams are separated by just 1 1/2 games or less.  It seems baseball has more parity now than even the NFL.  What a great month this is going to be. 

The Reds-Cardinals race will be a showdown in the NL Central but I expect the Cardinals' veteran experience will carry them to yet another division title. 

The Twins and White Sox are tied in the AL Central. Those two teams are so evenly matched, it's a coin-toss.  But while I'm a bit of Twins fan, I feel the ChiSox deeper rotation is going to win them the division. 

The Phillies and Braves can't seem to decide who should win the division.  The Phillies have been decimated by injuries all year, but the Braves (like the Cards) are a very flawed "good" team.  If the Braves don't put some real distance between them and the Phillies, they may lose their lead if the Phils get hot when Ryan Howard and (later this month) Chase Utley return.  Still, I think the Phils will come up short.

The truly scary NL teams, for me, are fighting in the NL West - the Padres and Giants.  Both teams have elite pitching.  Both teams have managed to maintain enough offense to keep the wins coming (the Giants, in fact, have the same run-differential as the Cards).  The Wild Card team could definitely be one of these teams and I think they both make the playoffs. 

The AL East is also far from determined.  The Rays have a less consistent offense than the Yankees, but thier pitching has more upside.  But as is the case in the NL West, it doesn't matter - both will be playing in October.

6.  Rockies Have Some Valuable "CarGo" - Usually the Oakland A's are known for trading away pending free-agents for high-quality prospects, but, the Rockies appeared to have gotten the best of the A's in the Matt Holliday trade two years ago.  In that deal, the Rox got Carlos Gonzalez, who at 24 years of age is on pace for 38 homers and 117 RBI while leading the league with a .327 average - MVP numbers to be sure in this so-called Year of the Pitcher.  His splits greatly favor him at home (as always with Rockies players) but the scary thing about CarGo is as a lefty batter, he actually hits left-handed pitchers better than righties - .329 to .326 and 11 of his 25 homers have been off lefties in nearly half the at bats he's had against righties.  I hope La Russa remembers that the next time he brings in Trever Miller to face this dude.

7.  St. Louis Rams Finally On The Rebound - The heretofore St. Louis "Lambs" are making progress which is nice for borderline NFL fans like myself.  After watching Sam Bradford destroy the Mizzou Tigers for years, it's nice to be able to root FOR the guy, and nicer still to hear that he's been very good in team scrimmages this week.  Hopefully, he will stay upright long enough to earn some of that $50 million guaranteed money he got in his first contract.

8.  Going For A Perfect Ten - As my wife will tell you, I have been waiting and praying for Jaime Garcia to get his 10th win for a while now.  He's had some recent inconsistency.  The offense has often let him down as well as the spotty bullpen.  But tonight wouldn't been any more perfect a time for that to happen as a win will give the Cards a win over the Reds and a tie in the standings atop the NL Central.

9.  When a Cardinal No-No is a Good Thing - Finally, I've been thinking recently: the Cards had two pitchers in the CY Young vote last year.  We will have another this year in Adam Wainwright, barring injury or meltdown.  But with all this dominant Cardinals starting pitching, we've not had a no hitter thrown by a veteran in as long as I can remember.  Why do I say veteran?

The last two no-nos have been thrown by Cardinal rookies (Bud Smith in 2001 and Jose Jimenez in 1999) both would hardly qualify as being expected.  And prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1983 to see a veteran (Bob Forsch) throw a Cardinals no-hitter.  It's all fun and interesting when a rookie does it, but it's not the same.  They don't know what is going on - they can't fully enjoy it.  Heck, Bud Smith won SEVEN GAMES in his career, one of them was the no-no, of course.  Those are freaks of nature.  Those kids got lucky, in a way.  When a veteran does it, there may be some luck involved, but for the most part it is a pitching performance that is meticulously crafted from start to finish like a chess match.

So for me, it's far more exciting when a veteran does it.  They know how difficult it is and how rare.  It's time for Waino or Carp to make some history.



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 5, 2010 8:38 am
Edited on: June 5, 2010 9:27 am
 

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

Willie's Bodacious Bonus Blog

It's tempting to do a regular blog entry, especially after the Cards thumped the Brewers 8-0 as Adam Wainwright pitched a two-hitter, Colby Rasmus hit a bomb off lefty Randy Wolf (Colby's first off a lefty this year) and Matt Holliday continues heating up.  But no, I shall resist to take a break and discuss past Cardinal pitching rotations.  Let's take a walk down memory lane.

Cardinal Pitching Staffs in the La Russa Era

I’m a stat fiend – I also am quite partial to nostalgia.  I love baseball because it so often allows me to combine the two.  For example, I have recently been thinking this has been the most effective starting pitching we’ve seen from the Redbirds in quite some time.  The Cards currently lead the league in ERA at 2.97.  Our pitchers are allowing the lowest on-base percentage in the NL as well (.304). 

I decided to look back on the La Russa Era at how effective Cardinal starting pitching has been.  I chose a cutoff of 14 wins – nice and simple.  Sabermetricians will laugh, but I don’t care – I also thought the Cy Young winner should have been Adam Wainwright last year.  Wins DO count for something.

Anyhow, a borderline starting pitcher can get 10-13 wins with some luck, a lot of offense, or both.  But at 14+ wins, I would have to say a pitcher probably has a good idea of what he is doing.  So in the past decade, roughly, how many “effective” starters (14+ wins) have the Cardinals had each season and what place did the team finish in?  I'll also throw out the team's ERA that year and the ERA in relation to the league average, which is ERA+.  100 is the league average.  This year's club is #1 with an ERA+ of 137.  In 2008, we were barely above average with an ERA+ of 102.  Let’s take a closer look:

Year - Quality Starters - Finish - ERA - ERA+
2010 – 3 – 1st place - 2.97 - 137

This year, is mirroring last year closely: Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are co-aces.  We have an effective ground-ball machine (Jaime Garcia this year instead of Joel Pineiro).  Kyle Lohse is injured/ineffective.  So does that mean Brad Penny is this year's Todd Wellemeyer?  As harsh a comparison that is on Penny's behalf, it's actually pretty accurate, unfortunately.  I was hoping we were getting the nasty Penny that pitched for the Giants at the end of last year, but instead we appear to have a Wellemeyer clone - a very hard throwing, flyball-pitcher prone to giving up home runs.  Maybe during this downtime on the disabled list, Penny is able to soak up more of Dave Duncan's teachings before climbing the mound again.

But all in all, three effective pitchers should be enough to win the division and, again, a three-man rotation is fine for the playoffs in a short or long series, because, seriously, who really wants to see Penny in there against the Dodgers or Phillies?  Uhh...not me.  They can pay Lohse $10 million to cheer from the bench - again.

2009 – 3 – 1st place - 3.66 - 113

You will soon see having at least three effective starters is pretty good and fairly uncommon.  Last season, those three were Joel Pineiro, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  They fueled our 91-win season.  But the 4th and 5th starters were awful (Todd Wellemeyer and Lohse combined to go 13-20).  But we have to remember it was a fickle offense that went cold in the playoffs as we got swept by the Dodgers.

2008 – 1 (2) – 4th place - 4.19 - 102

Lohse won 15 games.  Todd Wellemeyer actually went 13-9 with a very nice 3.71 ERA.  The bullpen cost him a game or two and he could have easily had 15 wins.  The Cards finished 10 games over .500 but a disappointing 4th in the division where the Cubs and Brewers were both strong and the Astros finished a half game ahead of the Redbirds.

2007 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.65 - 95

Waino was 14-10 and that’s all we had to work with.  Kip Wells was 7-17 and Anthony Reyes was 2-14.  I remember this season well (no pun intended) because Kip Wells was stellar in spring training and I bet a buddy Wells would have an ERA under 4.00 at the end of the year.  Um, yeah, I was wrong.

2006 – 2 – 1st place - 4.54 - 98

Chris Carpenter was our only effective starter, going 15-8.  Jason Marquis somehow won 14 games with a hide-your-eyes-bad ERA of 6.02.  Can someone say "run support"???  Mark Mulder, Reyes, and Sidney Ponson were terrible.  If I was a Detroit Tigers fan, I would be throwing myself in front of a train to think that Anthony Reyes won Game One of the World Series that year.  How on Earth did he pull that off?

2005 – 4 (5) – 1st place - 3.49 - 122

The last “scary good” Cardinals team.  Three starters won 16+ games.  Mark Mulder had his only effective season with the Cards, Carp won the Cy Yound award, and Jeff Suppan was at his peak.  Matt Morris was our 5th starter and was good enough with 14 wins.  Marquis somehow went just 13-14 despite having a respectable 4.13 ERA.  He had some tough luck and lack of offense on his behalf, or we would have had our “perfect” starting rotation of 5 effective starters.  In reality, that is what we had.

2004 – 4 – 1st place - 3.75 - 115

What a fun year this was.  We actually had four 15 game winners that season.  ERAs were not especially good, but they didn’t have to be with the MV3 offense and the superb bullpen.  Carpenter was the 5th starter going 15-5 with the best ERA on the team at 3.46, the only starter under 3.50.  This was the closest we had to an AL team in recent memory.

2003 – 1 – 3rd place - 4.60 - 90

Woody Williams enjoyed his 18-9 All Star-caliber year, but that was it.  Brett Tomko somehow won 13 games, despite a 5.28 ERA.  Team ERA was 4.60, 11th in the NL.  Honestly, looking at Williams’ career numbers, I still don’t know what Walt Jocketty saw in him, when he traded for him from the Padres.  He morphed into an ace as soon as he put on the Cardinal red.

2002 – 1 – 1st place - 3.70 - 109

This was the year we lost Darryl Kile.  Matty Mo was still elite going 17-9.  Jason Simontacchi came out of nowhere to go 11-5.  The club had to be creative bringing in Chuck Finley who was good, going 7-4.  I had always wished we had resigned him.

2001 – 3 – 2nd place - 3.93 - 110

Ah, the roid-fueled offenses were still beating up pitching staffs as the Cards 3.93 ERA was 3rd-best in the league.  We were “co-champions” with the Houston Astros.  Morris had his best season ever going 22-8.  The immortal Bud Smith threw a no-hitter going 6-3 and getting some Rookie of the Year votes out of it.  Woody Williams was acquired by Jocketty and coolly went 7-1.

2000 – 3 – 1st place - 4.38 - 107

Kile was 20-9 and was my favorite Cardinal that year.  What a curveball.  Rick Ankiel had the best ERA in the rotation at 3.50.

Other seasons

1999 – Kent Bottenfield was the only bright spot on a terrible pitching staff going 18-7 and making the All Star team.  The bullpen was a horror film.

1998 – The staff “ace” was Kent Mercker, who was only 11-11.  We had the Mark McGwire home run show, but the team, overall, stank.

1997 – Rookie Matt Morris went 12-9 and gave Cardinal fans some hope for the future despite a fourth-place finish.

1996 – Andy Benes was a horse going 18-10 as the Cards made the playoffs in La Russa’s first year as manager.

One of the fascinating things is seeing how the evolution of the starting rotation continually has an impact on the entire roster.  Careers are forged and ruined by who is pegged to toe the rubber.

In 1999, the starting pitching situation was so desperate, the club decided to try middle reliever Kent Bottenfield in the rotation – with smoke and mirrors he won 18 games and made the All Star team.  The next year, the club traded Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy for Jim Edmonds, a borderline Hall of Fame center fielder and major cog in the Cards dominance in the 2000s.

In 2000, rookie Rick Ankiel was the most effective starter the Cardinals had (in terms of shutdown talent).  He led the club in ERA which led to the decision for him to pitch game 1 of the playoffs against Atlanta which led to his famous meltdown of wild pitches on the mound which put him on the road to never again pitching in the majors.  Now he’s a borderline outfielder for the Royals.  Did that one rash decision spell his doom?

In 2002, little Bud Smith was a key piece in the trade that brought Scott Rolen to St. Louis.  His six wins and no-hitter his rookie year were still fresh on the Phillies' minds.  Sadly, he was out of the majors by age 23 as he won just one more game and finished his career with a 7-8 record.  But as with the Edmonds trade, this one fueled the Cards offense for years and gave us ever-sparkling defense at third base in Rolen.

In 2006, the rotation was in shambles, which led to the club picking up a pitcher left for dead, Jeff Weaver.  One could argue his acquisition was the primary reason the Cards won the World Series that year.

It’s also amazing to see how many mediocre pitchers found great success as Cardinals: Bottenfield, Garrett Stephenson, Jeff Suppan, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Woody Williams.  The team doesn’t have much success drafting and grooming pitchers (hopefully Shelby Miller will change all that) but they sure know how to take rejects and turn them into winners.

For now, we can enjoy this brilliant rotation knowing it's one of the finest we've seen in a while.

Thanks for reading.



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