And On The Last Out, Bob Rested
In Arizona this week, umpire Bob Davison was in mid-season form. Working home plate between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, he must have called four or five check-swing strikes, himself , which would be quite unusual for a typical umpire, but not "Balkin'" Bob.
You know - a check-swing where typically, the catcher asks the plate ump to appeal to the third base or first base ump to verify if the batter actually checked his swing or not since THEY HAVE A MUCH BETTER VIEWING ANGLE THAN THE HOME PLATE UMP? Ha ha, ye mere mortals. "Balkin'" Bob needs no help making the right call. And Arizona's rookie manager Kirk Gibson finally had enough when Davidson called a checked swing strike on Miguel Montero in the third inning after doing the same thing to Montero in the first to set the tone of incompetent umpiring.
TV replays showed Montero's bat wasn't even close to breaking the plane of the plate. Gibson sure got his money's worth going nose-to-nose with Bob "The Show" Davidson before getting ejected.
And "The Show" continued, as later in the game, Davidson was calling checked swing strikes if the batters even FLINCHED at incoming pitches. One can only surmise his mommy didn't hug him enough as a boy because he's one of the few garbage umps that seem to dare you say something about his incompetence.
Remember, he's the guy that threw a fan out of game in Milwaukee last year, even though there isn't one MLB rule allowing an ump that power. Maybe he should have his name legally changed to "Zeus" and be done with it.
Any chance someone can blindfold him, throw a Giants jersey on him and drop him off in Chavez Ravine around 2 a.m.? Ohhh....I hear the groans from here.
On to the first regular season edition of...
The Hard Nine
1. Breathe Again, Breathe Again...Cardinal Fans
That was the sound of a couple million Cardinal fans all exhaling at once this week as the Redbirds finally remembered how to hit during this current road trip out west. And at 7-7, with a major-league lead in runs scored, things suddenly don't look so bleak for our beloved birds on the bat.
The Cards' front office really needs to send the schedule-makers a gift basket for sending the boys out to Arizona early in the season where they have the highest visting home run rate of any team that has played the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Suddenly, our lineup looks pretty imposing:
Matt Holliday looks much more comfortable at the plate this year than last year where through May he was still on a paltry home run pace of 15 dingers and I was calling his the worst contract in Cardinals history. Allow me to revise that: he looks like one of the top three outfielders in baseball. Period.
Albert Pujols is finally finding his timing, hitting two homers last night. He still is pulling off waaaaaaaay too many pitches and I really have doubts he'll ever approach a .330 batting average again (it's hard to get a ton of hits when you refuse to use half the baseball field by pulling everything to the left side).
Last year Colby Rasmus had a fabulous spring training and many of us were Predicting his breakout season was at hand. Turned out he was still a little green as was very much vexed by strikeouts. Well this could be the year - he looks comfortable at the plate and locked in on the strikezone. My favorite online fan comment regarding Rasmus is "Looks like he's this year's Carlos Gonzalez". Hopefully, hopefully not. The Cards still need to lock him up on a long-term deal before he becomes an MVP, eh?
Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina still worry me. After both having multi-year periods of at or near .300 batting, Skip seems lucky to ever bat .275 again and Molina - well, remember Tony La Russa's famous words about Yadi: if he never gets another hit again as a Cardinal he would still be an asset to the team? I think Yadi decided finally decided to take TLR up on that "offer".
I absolutely hated how the Cards' got rid of Brendan Ryan and brought in Ryan Theriot. Nothing against either guy, but Theriot simply looked done last year - just nothing like the Cub player a few years ago that was a tough out, get-under-your-skin-type. Yet two weeks in, he's carrying a .386 OBP which ranks right up there with his career best. His defense is still atrocious, as is Skip's and Colby's and Lance's, but that's a topic for another blog. By comparison, Brendan Ryan is still apparently helpless at the plate, so this "trade" appears to be a wash, which is more than I expected.
Speaking of Berkman, Big Puma is on pace for 69 homers and 150 RBIs.
(Pause for effect.)
He's even running down pretty much every thing hit to him in right field. He's slimmed down, moving well on the bases and in the field, and looks re-focused and re-energized. And contrasting his production to how far Ryan Ludwick has fallen - suddenly we all wish we had
signed Berkman to a two year deal instead of just one.
In general, it's exciting that you can pick any guy from 2-6 in our lineup and you could theoretically see him batting 3rd for just about any NL team. Barring injury, this is a pretty deep lineup. With health and continued effective pitching, the Cardinals only issues are a terrible closer and terrible defense. But the guys just might overcome those to make some noise this year.
2. Beware of the Blue Crew
"The Blues were right there," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "They were as good as anybody in our division, our conference. It just went the wrong way, and I think it's all because of the injuries. You can certainly see that now ... they're just about healthy and look how well they're playing."
The Blues had a very disappointing season missing the playoffs yet again. And despite the fact that they lost their most talented forward (David Perron) to a Joe Thornton blindside hit, the future is bright for the young club, despite their cloudy ownership situation.
Doug Armstrong absolutely fleeced the Colorado Avalanche in getting Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement. David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini, and Alex Pietrangelo made massive strides forward this year. Backes and Berglund came back strong from down seasons and Pietrangelo and D'Agostini blossomed beyond all expectations.
(By the way, it was ridiculously stupid for fans to boo Johnson in St. Louis. He never loafed, was always a stand up kid who happened to hit the wall developmentally. We sure don't need to give him more incentive to beat us in the future.)
At any rate, if the Blues can stay healthy and learn some consistency next season, the league better watch out.
3. Too Manny Roids?
Sometimes aging stars hang on longer than they should. Sometimes they suddenly fall apart and quit. And for the first time ever a player failed a ped test and decided to retire rather than face the 100 game suspension music.
Classy exit, manny Ramirez. The once sure-fire Hall of Famer "retires"as a cheating idiot savant. As Boston writer Dan Shaughnessy wrote, "Manny doesn't care. So why should fans care?". Well put. In fact, who were we talking about again?
4. Red Sox Look a Little Threadbare
The Boston Red Sox are 2-10.
(/Me sighs happily). And the Yankees look like anything but world beaters at 8-5. I bet it's almost safe to turn on ESPN again. We just might hear something about one of the 28 other teams.
5. You Gotta Tag the Runner, Kid!
We must pile on the Red Sox when we can. It was great seeing Sox catcher Jason Varitek allow a runner to score at home uncontested while he stood there holding the ball.
The Indians had the bases loaded and third baseman Kevin Youkilis dropped a liner at third. He scrambled and stepped on the third to force the runner from second, then threw home for a possible double play. Problem was the runner from third was no longer forced at home and had to be tagged.
Varitek caught the ball while stepping on the plate, assuming the force-out, apparently. The runner stepped on home. The ump, almost incredulously, of course called him safe.
The moral of the story: I'll be a little more calm in the future with my six year old when I say, "You gotta tag the runner, son! But don't worry. Even big leaguers forget sometimes."
6. The Best Player in Baseball is Troy, Troy, Troy!
Hopefully, fans of NBC's "Community" will get the reference.
Anyway, Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop for the Rockies, is the new "best player in baseball". Nice work by Colorado to lock him up long term. If he can stay healthy all year, this is your 2011 NL MVP. The guy is amazing playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond.
7. The Chicago Cheatin'hawks
On April 7th, the Blues were leading the Cheatin'hawks 2-0 when all world winger Marian Hossa kicked the puck toward the Blues net while standing in the crease.
While the puck rolled along the goal line but never in the net the overzealous goal judge lit the goal lamp and the overzealous referee signaled goal as well. The Cheatin'hawks celebrated around Hossa as he sheepishly looked like he had just robbed a 7-Eleven.
After a 10 minute review the goal stood since, apparently, the video didn't prove it WASN'T a goal. And the kicking motion was never even questioned. Shockingly the NHL remains a joke, third-rate league with horrendous officiating and laughable match penalty suspensions for illegal hits that would probably warrant jail time if they happened in your neighborhood.
Anyway, enjoy getting knocked out in the first round, Cheatin'hawks.
8. Bizarro MLB Standings
The Red Sox are 2-10 (third shot in the column -- it never gets old).
The Royals and Indians are 10-4.
9. Tall Order
If the Cards want to continue their 14-hit per game attacks (now five straight games and counting) they'll have To go through Clayton Kershaw - one of the toughest lefties today and a strikeout machine. I'm curious to see how well they grind out at bats against the toughest pitcher they'll face on this road trip.
Sorry for the Extra Large edition of THN, everyone. Thanks for reading.
Next time: THN predicts the Cards will be either above .500 or below it. Stay tuned...