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Tag:Yadier Molina
Posted on: April 26, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 10:32 am
 

THN 4/26 - Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?

Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?


Before we dive into some highlights of the first-place Cardinals' series win over the Reds this past weekend, I want to take you on a warm/fuzzy stroll down memory lane. 

I don't have tons and tons of memories of my dad, especially from when I was younger, but I do remember some things about him.  For instance, he always loved NFL football.  My dad adopted the Kansas City Chiefs pretty early after the Cardinals left St. Louis.  He also rooted for certain coaches - Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins and Tom Landry with the Cowboys are a couple.

But he loved football because every game had so much weight.  Three games out of first place in baseball?  That's nothing.  Three games out in football?  Better blow up your roster, try that new rookie quarterback, or fire the coach and bring in that hot college football coordinator.  Every game was almost as important as a playoff game.  My dad loved it.

And I see the attraction in that. 

As many say, "NFL" stands for "Not for long".  Seriously, when has an NFL coach actually fulfilled his entire contract before getting fired, quitting, or melting down in front of 39 reporters at a post-game press conference?  In a modern world that craves instant gratification, it's no wonder the NFL is King.  A team can go 15-1 as easily as 1-15.  Dynasties are built in a single off-season and collapse just as quickly.

So I don't mind sounding mushy when I confess: boy, I love baseball.

162 games is a beautiful thing.  A "good" team wins 55% of their games, a "bad" team 45%.  It's nice to have perpetual hope (or perpetual madness, right, Cub fans?).  There is no time limit.  There is no "running out the clock".  Baseball is almost eternal, for better or worse.  You gotta get 27 outs.  I believe I watched nearly all of the 20-inning marathon between the Cards and Mets last year even though I really knew we were going to lose.  As long as you have a strike left, you have a chance.

Insurmountable 10-game leads in September standings whittled away in just a week.
A batter's quest to lead the league in average, home runs and RBIs - the rarest of rare, the Triple Crown. 
Perfectly pitched contests broken-up by the last batter off the bench, pinch-hitting who's batting a measly .185.
A 100-year-old curse broken.

Football is fast food.  A can of cola.  You devour it and move on.  And that's fine.  But baseball - baseball you savor every minute of the season because you never know when you'll see history. 

So, I hope my six-year-old ends up sharing this passion with me more and more.  I hope I can give him a leg-up on what this baseball game is about.  I can't wait for the day when I have tell him to ease up on his throws - it's really starting to hurt my hand.  I can't wait for him to ask me to play some catch.



It is time, my fellow Cardinal-lovers (or haters) for...


The Hard Nine


1.  Molina Took My Lunchable, Yo!

Brandon Phillips is having a nice year so far and I'll be honest: he's growing on me.  He's having fun at the Cards' (and their fans') expense and, yes, true rivalries are good for the sport.  Plus, it's very unfortunate that the number of black players has been declining steadily for years.  And that's a lot of talent not being added to the league for fans to enjoy. 

One of my favorite Cardinal outfields in recent memory was in 1996 when Brian Jordan, Ray Lankford and Ron Gant roamed the Busch greenery.  My grandpa called them (probably a bit too tongue-in-cheekly) the "St. Louis Blackbirds".  I shake my head now and today we see so clearly, a diverse sport is a much richer sport.  Back then, I just knew we had a kick-butt outfield and those guys were a blast to watch. 

                             AVG    HR    RBI    SB
Brian Jordan     .310    17    104    22
Ray Lankford    .275    21    86     35
Ron Gant          .246    30    82     13

B.J. was the best clutch-hitter in baseball.  Ray Lankford, while whiffing too much, had a sweet lefty swing that could send the ball a mile and you can't forget he had speed, too.  He had 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season five times in his career.  Ron Gant's first year in St. Louis was terrific.  He had not yet become the whiff-machine that plagued him in later years and he led the club with 30 bombs.  What a trio of power, speed, and production. 

No wonder the Cards finished in first place that year. 

So, Brandon Phillips says that Nelly's cool in his book.  Well, BP is ok my book, too.  We need more characters with All-Star talent.  And besides, my homeboy, Yadier Molina took care of business on Sunday giving the Cards, yet another, series win over the Reds in St. Louis.  It's gonna be a fun year.


2.  Not-So Saint Valentine Hates the Cards

Cardinal fans have learned to dislike certain opposing managers over the years.  And some of the dislike is tinged with a bit of respect.  There's Dusty Baker's "stick up for my family" thuggery.  Bobby Cox, whom you simple could not rattle...and that just ticked you off. 

But I don't think the Cards ever faced a slimier opposing manager than Bobby Valentine.  (The 2000 NLCS between the Cards and Mets was NOT FUN for Redbird fans.)  And today, if you listen to Valentine's commentary on ESPN's TV broadcast, you quickly pick up that he simply knows more than...well, just about anyone else on earth. 

Low-lights from Sunday night's game:

Cardinal shot #1:
"When I managed against Tony, I used to love it when he would bat the pitcher eighth!" (Valentine laughing hysterically, crew also chuckling)

Cardinal Shot #2
"The Cardinals have some major bullpen issues."

Thank goodness we couldn't see his trademark used-car salesman cheesy grin while he made those comments.

All I know is, there's a reason you are no longer a manager, Bobby.  The Cards bullpen finished off the shutout that night.  And Tony La Russa is going into the Hall of Fame, not you.  But you can buy tickets and visit whenever you want.


3.  I Need Some Stats, Stat!

So far this year, McGwire's Mashers are 1st in the National League with a .293 team batting average, 2nd in runs (114), 2nd in home runs (24), and Dunc's Dealers are 4th in pitching ERA (3.19).

Something tells me the Reds are NOT running away with the division this year.


4.  Ex-Cardinal Update

Former THN-Favorite Player Ryan Ludwick finally had a game he could feel good about.  He hit two homers yesterday, the second of which was a game-winning walk-off job in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Padres a 5-3 win.  After his monstrous game, he's still batting just .195 with .378 slugging percentage.  .378 slugging - that's like David Eckstein weak.  I hope Luddy's bat comes back, for his own sanity's sake. 

I also must admit that it's become apparent to me that Cards general manager John Mozeliak just might know a little more about running a major league baseball team than I do.  If I had it my way, the Cards would be running Brendan Ryan (.220) and Luddy (.195) out there instead of Ryan Theriot (.311) and Lance Berkman (.377).

Um, yeah.  Whoops.


5.  With Apologies to Bob Marley

Remember when Franklin, used to get outs
In da top o' da Ninth
We observed his smoke and mirrors
He was like da good voodoo doctor, mon

But den he mixed in some knuckleballs
And good pitching was not his ting no more
Now da future is bright, with Boggs and Sanchez
Dry your tears with Motte and Salas

No Franklin, No Cry
No blown saves, No Cry
Carp and Garcia, shed no tears
No Franklin, No Cry


6.  Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Wherever it is, Andre Ethier is trying to follow Joltin' Joe there.  Ethier, after going 0 for 4 in the Dodgers first game of the season has now hit in 22 straight games - four of those, of course, coming against the Cards.  He's also been a little lucky as in almost half those games (nine of the 22, to be exact) he's only gone 1 for 4, barely keeping the streak alive. 


7.  SWING...and a miss? 
                                      IP   H    BB  K    R    ERA
Fernando Salas (H,2)    1    0    0    2    0    1.50
Eduardo Sanchez (H,3)  1    0    0    2    0    0.00
Mitchell Boggs (S,3)      1    1    0    2    0    1.46

The knock on Ryan Franklin?  Terrible swing and miss rate from opposing batters.  More balls in play means more chances for bad things to happen.  On Sunday night, the Cardinals' suddenly youthful bullpen threw three shutout innings giving up just one hit and striking out 6 of 9 batters.  Needless to say, we've not seen many innings like that from venerable relievers like Franklin.  Perhaps my nails will finally grow back this year.


8.  Do They Want ANYONE To Survive the Season?

The Rams won the Super Bowl the year my family moved from St. Louis.  Great timing, yes, I know.  We did go back for the obligatory Super Bowl party and yes, the game was quite the thriller.  The Titans and Rams were both up-and-coming teams.  One coach weeping over greeting card commercials and the other telling players to tuck their spleens back in and get back out on the field.  It was probably a once in a lifetime year for Ram fans and I basically missed it.

But, I like football very much.  Living down in SEC country now (an adopted Auburn fan in Crimson Tide country) I'm following the college game more, too.  Since relocating to Huntsville we've seen both Alabama and Auburn take the national titles in the BS bowl system.  (Oh, sorry, typo...)

But as far as the NFL goes, for the love of Pete, when the NFL collective bargaining lockout is finally over, they better not increase the regular season from 16 games to 18.  It doesn't sound like much, but I will be sorely tempted to boycott the NFL if they do that.  The players break down enough as it is.  They end up nearly crippled in retirement.  The line has to be drawn somewhere.  Just my two cents. 


9.  NHL Ramblings

Congrats to the Nashville Predators who finally won their first playoff series in their 12-year history.  The team that has closely emulated the Blues for so long in construction, after taking years of lumps by my Blues, and the finally surpassing them the past few years have moved on in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  After knocking out the Anaheim Ducks, they'll face a much taller task in round two, whoever the opponent is.

And the Canucks and Cheatin'hawks have gone to Game Seven.  After leading the series 3 games to none, the Canuckleheads are on the verge of completing one of the greatest choke jobs in NHL history.  The Hawks didn't just scrap and claw back.  They DESTROYED Vancouver in games 4 and 5, and then did squeak by in overtime in game 6. 

I don't know who to root for.  Vancouver would be logical since I must hate Chicago but the Canucks had the best record in hockey during the regular season.  The mighty must fall, no?




Next Time: Pujols' hammy will be cooled off, but hopefully the birds bats will not.  Stay tuned...

As always, thanks for reading.










Posted on: April 16, 2011 7:47 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 9:17 am
 

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

And On The Last Out, Bob Rested


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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the first regular season edition of...



The Hard Nine




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


Hear that?  

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

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

Suddenly, our lineup looks pretty imposing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Pause for effect.)

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

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


2.  Beware of the Blue Crew

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

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

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

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

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


3.  Too Manny Roids?

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

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


4.  Red Sox Look a Little Threadbare

The Boston Red Sox are 2-10.   

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

Maybe.


5.  You Gotta Tag the Runner, Kid!

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


7.  The Chicago Cheatin'hawks

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

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

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

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


8.  Bizarro MLB Standings

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

The Royals and Indians are 10-4.

Awesome.

9.  Tall Order

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



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

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










Posted on: August 18, 2010 9:11 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 9:18 pm
 

8/18 - Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues

Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues


It probably shocks no Cardinal fan that after sweeping the Reds IN CINCINNATI (in a year where the Cards have been pretty bad on the road and extremely good at home) they turn around and embark on their first four-game losing streak of the season that saw Carpenter and Wainwright both get beaten - at HOME. 

On the bright side, they certainly didn't get shelled like has happened on occasion.  The dark side?  Once again a feckless offense is to blame.  As stated in this space recently, the Cardinals have decided to be a team with a handful of super-salaried stars fortified with a whole bunch of cheap fill-ins. 

Can the Cards AFFORD to have a shortstop and second baseman that can actually hit?  Nope. 

Are Jon Jay and Allen Craig legitimate major-leaguers?  They haven't been the past four years but suddenly, this year they are?  That seems fishy. 

One of the biggest concerns many experts had with the Cards when the season began was a lack of depth and a lack of veteran experience and the team has been exposed in both categories.  The only veterans they can afford to pick up are only those that have literally been thrown out with the trash.  Guys like Randy Winn, Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan.  Super-sub Felipe Lopez could have been very effective as a part time guy, but has been overwhelmed as a starter.

The number of guys on this team that are borderline major leaguers is staggering.  Those I'd put in that category?  Tell you what.  It's easier to state those NOT in that category and we're talking position players (pitchers are a different animal).  Strictly limited to position players, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, and...that's about it.

The Cards have literally only four everyday major league quality position players.  That's barring injury, the Cards' lineup is only comprised of 50% quality bats (not counting the pitcher, of course).  That's four legit bats out of eight in the lineup for those who are bad at math like me.  And you can almost not count Molina as he is not in for his bat, but his defense.  Certainly, that's been the case this year.

I mean, who is afraid of (deep breath)...Skip Schumaker or Brendan Ryan or Felipe Lopez or Jon Jay or Randy Winn or Nick Stavinoha or Aaron Miles or Allen Craig?  Right.  No one.

At our best, our offensive lineup is going to be 50% effective.  That's an "F" in my book - and probably any book.  And as I said before, this is the path John Mozeliak and the Cards have committed to for the next five+ years, assuming the contract Pujols will get this off-season. 

For comparison sake, in 2004 the Cards had one automatic out in the lineup in Mike Matheny.  This year, we have four or five every night. 

Here's to hoping Jay and Craig morph in players they've never been before.  Here's to hoping David Freese can stay healthy next year. 

Here's to a LOT of hoping for next year.

And now, with a bitter taste in my mouth after a Brewers two-game sweep...

The Hard Nine


1.  When Quality Starts Become "Quality" Losses -
I hope our top three pitchers don't lose their sanity this year.  According to Baseball-Reference.com's team neutral pitching stats this year Chris Carpenter should have 15 wins, Jaime Garcia 13, and (drum roll) Adam Wainwright 19 (instead of the 13, 10 and 17 they currently have).  Each of their last starts were quality starts - and they all took the loss.  Jake Westbrook is fast joining them.  He is only 1-0 in three starts even though he's been plenty good in all of them. 

2.  Worst Contract in Club History - I was feeling nostalgic about the "good old days" when Kyle Lohse was actually a decent pitcher and something occurred to me: he has never been a decent pitcher.  Ever.

In his best season in 2008 he was 15-6 but his team neutral pitching record that year says he should have been just 11-10.  That means he got lucky (everyone is entitled once a decade, right?).  But even without sabermetrics, he had absolutely no track record of success in his career.  Really, 11-10 IS a good year for Lohse, which is sad, of course and a record of 15-6 was a mirage.

He's never - NEVER - allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in a season.  His career batting average allowed against is .283 (and was a slightly better .272 in 2008).  A pitcher that allows a .280 batting average doesn't seem like he would be worth $10 million a year.

And of course, Lohse is not worth it.  Which is why he has the distinction of being the beneficiary of the worst contact in Cardinals history and Mozeliak has the distinction of giving it to him.  Congrats to both.  How fun it will be to see the Cards throw games away by giving the ball to Lohse every fifth day through 2012.  Wait, I forgot - he'll probably be hurt half the time.

Whew.  I was worried.

3.  Get Out Of Jail Free, Derek - I am happy for Derek Lee who has finally been granted his release from Cubs-Purgatory (though he could have left earlier for the Angels).  He was traded to the Braves today and he should probably send the Cards a thank you gift for allowing him to hit four homers in three days off of us, which probably sealed the deal.  But seriously, DLee has always been a real classy guy and I hope he can give the Bravos a jolt and help them hold the NL East lead over the Phillies.  And maybe old friend Troy Glaus will feel more like a real ballplayer moving back over to 3rd base, which might wake up his long-dormant bat.

4.  Year of the Pitcher?  Try Year of the Wierd Injury -
Kendry Morales of the Angels broke his leg running out a walk-off home run.  Super Sophomore Mat Latos of the Padres landed on the DL holding back a sneeze.  2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan of the Marlins tore up his knee giving a celebratory shaving cream pie in the face to teammate Wes Helms during his post-game interview.  He's out for the year.  And this week, the weirdest and saddest: Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod) of the Mets injured his finger punching his girlfriend's father in front of other players' family and kids and had season-ending surgery. 

5.  What If The Reds Were Even Better? - The Reds showed their commitment to build a quality pitching staff three years ago which led them to trade Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for talented starter Edison Volquez.  Volquez had a stellar year in 2008 going 17-6 and was an All-Star.  But this year he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for PEDs.  But even beyond him, suddenly, the Reds seem to have plenty of pitching.  Bronson Arroyo, we've talked about before.  He's solid.  Mike Leake is a great young talent with lots of upside.  Jonny Cueto is a tough pitcher (and a pretty good kicker, too).  Homer Bailey just came back from the minors and pitched a great game on Sunday tossing six shutout innings allowing just three hits and no walks. 

Meanwhile, Hamilton has emerged as an AL MVP candidate this year.  He's having an Albert Pujols-type year (.359 average, 26 homers, 80 RBIs).  Drew Stubbs, Jonny Gomes, and Jay Bruce may all develop into everyday outfielders but for now they are all very inconsistent which has stunted Cincy's attack.  If the Reds still had Hamilton, I'd wager they'd be the best team in the NL, period. 

6.  The Cards' Last Hope This Year - The Cardinals are about to embark on an epic road trip and their only hope is to continue the success they found in Cincinnati and since they apparently have lost their mojo at home maybe this is the best scenario.  Can they somehow summon a grinding offense in San Francisco this week?  Can they return the favor in Houston sweep the Astros?  They do have a ton of games left with the Pirates at PNC Park where Pujols is a monster so that bodes well too.  But, if they can't get it done on the road the rest of this season, they will finish second - or worse.

7.  God Bless Us, Everyone -
Christmas has come early for NL batters this year.  Tiny Tim Lincecum of the Giants has been a lot less like Scrooge and been more generous with opponents.  Hopefully that also means the door is finally open for Adam Wainwright to win a Cy Young Award.  His ERA has ballooned to 3.62 and he's almost given up as many hits this year as all of last year (in 80 less innings).  Adam should send him a fruit basket or something.

8.  We're Having Twins - For the postseason!  The Twins are proving me wrong in fending off the Chicago White Sox.  They are first in the AL with a team batting average of .282 and fourth in ERA (3.88).  The only thing that disturbs me about them is Carl Pavano.  He's tied for the league lead in wins (15) and has been sharp all year, but especially recently.  His ERA of 3.27 is fantastic (especially for the AL) and a full run lower than his career ERA of 4.31.  That dude sure gets motivated for his next contact don't he?  At least the Twins are the beneficiaries and his next team will be the chumps who sign him.

9.  Going to Confession - Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants (along with every other baseball "expert" that dissed the Pads) needs to finally confess that the Padres are legit and headed to the postseason.  Sanchez, if you didn't know, said the Giants would sweep the Padres in their most recent series.  But a funny thing happened: the Padres swept THEM and the Giants are now 5 1/2 games out of first place.  The Pads (now with one of my favorites, Ryan Ludwick) will be one of the "underdogs" I'll be rooting for.  But anyone will tell you they are anything but.



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: May 18, 2010 11:03 am
Edited on: May 18, 2010 2:13 pm
 

5/18 - Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

The relationship between the sports media and sports participants is fascinating to me - always has been.  In many ways it's a rocky relationship.  The media is paid to have a home team bias, of course, so they praise when things are good and critique when things are not so good.  And sometimes things are too coincidental. 

In St. Louis, the media writes about what fans are wringing their hands over: the Cardinals feckless offense.  Monday morning we read that Albert Pujols needs to bat fourth and Matt Holliday, third.  It makes perfect sense.  Holliday has been good with no runners on and terrible when he's had the weight of RBI opportunities on his shoulders.  Conversely, Pujols' intensity at the plate dials down about six notches when no one is on base, but finds focus when runners are on in front of him.  The Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz figured there was some Missouri law banning Pujols from ever batting fourth again since the odds of stubborn old dog Tony La Russa making such a move were slim to none.

Lo and behold, Monday night, La Russa switches Pujols and Holliday in the batting order and it could not have worked out more perfectly for the Birds.  With two out and no one on base, Holliday took a walk.  Albert promptly, and simply, singled up the middle.  Colby Rasmus singled to score Holliday and David Freese then tripled to right to score two more.  Finally, Yadier Molina hit a flare to right to score Freese and the Cards get all the offense they needed for the night. 

All in one inning.  All with two outs. 

Everyone is a "La-genius"! La Russa, the media - and we eat it all up.  I can't help but feel this is a "Chicken or the egg" moment.  Did the media know La Russa was close to making this change or did the media pressure Tony into doing it?  Tony will deny everything but don't tell me that media can't pressure managers and players because they do.  Just ask Milton Bradley - at your own risk.

On that cheery note, let's turn to...

The Hard Nine


1. Mirror Image -  I routinely watch my Cardinal games on my wireless laptop and what with my slow DSL connection, I typically keep the resolution low to minimize lag in the game playback.  This tends to make the players look a bit blurry and it can be difficult to recognize who is who.  But it also allows me to "see" things I had not noticed before - kind of like staring at clouds in the sky.  For example, last night, I realized Matt Holliday resembles Rick Ankiel in a lot of ways - batting stance, bat wiggle, sharp jawline, and of course the amazing ability to whiff in the clutch.  If you put them both at the plate at the same time, you'd swear there was a mirror between them.  Just another little fun observation that makes me hate the Holliday contract all the more.

2. This Means Something, I Just Don't Know What - In 2009, Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, Blake Hawksworth, and Kyle McClellan collectively had 4 at-bats in 227 games, 3 of those by McClellan alone.  This year these four Cardinal relievers already have 7 at-bats in 58 games.  Basically, once every 8 games, a middle reliever is getting an at-bat which is more often than I can recall in recent memory.  Someone please explain what is going on.

3. Don't Bash the Bash Brother - Many have already started grumbling about batting coach, Mark McGwire.  The Cards are showing little plate discipline, little patience, and terrible pitch selection.  I just hope everyone realizes this has been a problem since, oh, about 2005.  McGwire seems to have a good grasp of what the boys need to do: trust their talent more and look for hittable pitchers in certain parts of the strikezone.  Getting them to do it is up to them. 

4. The Power of Media - Less than a week after my blog post about Brendan Ryan's problems so far this year, he was benched last night.  Sorry, Brendan.

5. The Power of Media Part II - Holliday is on pace for 16 home runs this year and he's making $16 million in 2010.  Isn't it super-fun when you can divide two numbers without thinking hard?

6. New Kids on the Block - The kids are more then holding their own and that is the most encouraging aspect of this 2010 squad.  Colby Rasmus has had a rough May and is still on pace for 100 runs.  David Freese (as well as Yadier Molina) is on pace for 100 RBI.  Right now, Freese is the one batter I want to see at the plate with runners in scoring position.  My crush on Jaime Garcia continues - he is second in the National League in Earned Run Average with a cool 1.42.

7. I'm Okay, You're Okay - As the Reds took two of three against the Cards this week, Reds starter Bronson Arroyo (who pitched a complete game against us in the finale) said Pujols didn't look comfortable at the plate.  Albert's response: "I'm seeing the ball really good and I'm putting good swings on it.  I'm right where I want to be, like I told you last week ".  Uh, ok, Albert. 

8. Sense of Community - If you like sitcoms, paintball and one-liners from movies like Rambo, Terminator and any other 80's cliche war movie, for the love of Pete, please watch NBC's recent episode of Community: "Modern Warfare" on Hulu.  My wife and I have been hooked since the pilot and the show has taken on a wonderful Seinfeld-like absurdness already in the first season.  In this episode, the community college has a friendly campus-wide paintball war that quickly degrades into a post-apocalyptic, paint-splattered hell.  The war-movie parodies (as well as the bodies) pile up.

Jeff (Joel McHale) walks into the destroyed classroom.
Troy: "Jeff....Winger.  Haha!" (Hugs Jeff) "We thought you were dead, man!"
Jeff: (confused) "I was taking a nap in my car."

9. Home Cooking - The Cards really need to have a strong homestand this week.  They can sweep the Nationals today by beating lefty John Lannan.  Then the Marlins are in town for a two-game set.  The weekend brings the Angels and old friend Joel Pineiro who is still looking effective despite his move to the AL.  The Cards then head out to San Diego to take on the 1st place Padres and then it's on to Chicago to face the mangy Cubs who will be chomping at the bit to vent some frustration on us.



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