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August 2007

The Big Red Machine

Posted on August 31, 2007 at 9:17 AM

The Reds have never bothered me.  I've appreciated their tradition and always, if not cheered for them, at least didn't cheer against them.  Then I married into the fandom.  My father-in-law is a big Reds fan, so we talk baseball a lot.  Since then, I've tried to keep an eye on the Reds, and them being in the same division has helped out as well.

Suddenly, though, the Reds are, if not in the race, at least within sight of it.  With the right combination of events, Labor Day could see the Reds within 4 games of the lead.  Who'd have seen that when the managerial change went through?  (Probably the same people that saw the Cardinals within 3 right now.)

A quick scan of the schedule shows the Cards are 6-3 against the Reds, winning 2 of 3 in each series.  In tonight's opener, the Reds go straight for the Cardinals' weakness by throwing a guy we've never seen before.  Tom Shearn was the oldest starting pitcher to make his first major league start for the Reds in around 50 years (according to my father-in-law, who was actually at the game) when he pitched against the Marlins Sunday.  He is a righty, so that hopefully will help out some.

The Cardinals send Anthony Reyes to the bump.   Right now, with Reyes, it seems if he could get past the one big inning, he'd be all right.  Hopefully he doesn't make it three starts in a row with a grand slam.

Scoreboard watching:  Chicago hosts Houston this afternoon, so we'll know before the game if St. Louis can make up ground or must win just to keep pace.  Milwaukee hosts Pittsburgh in a game that will run alongside the Cardinal contest.

Superman No More?

Posted on August 30, 2007 at 5:29 PM

As Albert struck out in the top of the fifth with two runners on, a friend of mine IMd to say "Typical of the Pujols of 2007".

I responded, "What, just superhuman not perfect?"

However, it struck a chord with me. Pujols seems to have been a little less reliable in big situations this year than in the past. Before, it was almost automatic that he was going to get a run in, now you aren't as surprised when it doesn't happen. But was this true or more of a subjective issue?

I hunted back through some stats on ESPN's player page. The stats went back to 2002, which is pretty much the length of his career. So what do we see? Let's take it bit by bit.

  Continue Reading

A Bump In the Road

Posted on August 30, 2007 at 9:26 AM

I'm a fan of Harry Turtledove's alternative history books. (In fact, I'm reading The Grapple right now.) In those, as in most military books I'd assume, you get the feeling of the pushes of the lines into enemy territory and the falling back when the resistance is too much.

The Cards have been pushing, rolling through the NL Central to get to within two games, but last night they ran into the immovable object. After running those numbers yesterday, I was pretty sure that the game was over after one run in the first. After Houston was up 4-0, then you had to know it was fight again another day.

Kip Wells had another fairly rough start, though if the Cardinals had been facing a normal pitcher, he might have been able to hang in there and keep the team in the game. He's been shaky the last two games, though, which is an area of concern. If the Cardinals are going to overtake the Cubs, the pitching has to be on a level with how it was most of August. It cannot revert to the mid-season ugliness.

Along with the loss, there was news out of St. Louis that Scott Rolen could be done for the year. That could be a blow since there's no obvious long-term replacement. Brendan Ryan has played some good games over there, but I'm not sure that you want him there on a full-time basis. And there's not much at Memphis to call up on Saturday when rosters expand. Excuse me if I'm not that excited about Miguel Cairo. Rolen's bat has been shaky most of the year, but it has produced in spots. The defense, though, will be sorely missed. You can only hope that it's not going to come back to haunt the team.

  Continue Reading

.500 At Last

Posted on August 29, 2007 at 9:52 AM

Hard to believe that this team hasn't had an equal number of wins and losses since the 12th game of the year. It's been a long year, when they've been left for dead so many times, but here we are just over a month from the finish line, and not only to they return to .500 (which would be a minor achievement no matter what the standings), but they move into second place. Granted, I'd rather be in third place and one game out than second and two out, but it's still nice to have only one team ahead of them.

I plan to continue to give Braden Looper a hard time, because maybe if I do he'll keep throwing games like he did last night. As I talked about yesterday, I really didn't know what to expect out of him, but a traditional quality start (3 runs in 6 innings) would have been great in my book. To get seven scoreless out of him, at a time when we will need to be conserving the bullpen anyway--just priceless. To be able to step up and produce these kind of games this late in the season after being a reliever for so long, well, I find that amazingly impressive. I still don't trust him and I'd consider resting him more once Mark Mulder makes the team, but he's doing his best to make that a tough decision and you have to respect that.

It was nice to see Rick Ankiel get three hits last night. The more singles and doubles he gets, the more I think he can make it as a regular outfielder in the coming years. If he was just HR or nothing, well, those kind of guys get run out of the league pretty quickly (unless they are real big HR hitters, like Adam Dunn). I was really hoping that he'd get a hit his last time up, because having a four-hit game would be really big for him, I think. Still, he's hitting over .300, playing pretty good defense, and showing power. And when you think that he's basically learning this at the major league level, it's obvious to see the talent that Walt Jocketty didn't want to give up on. I'm looking forward to seeing him play on a regular basis next year, though the movie script would be for him to make an impact on the same postseason stage that the demons that unraveled him before first appeared.

Tonight is a tough matchup, as one of our recent favorites around these parts, the resurgent Kip Wells, takes on another stud in Roy Oswalt. We've rehashed Kip a number of times, and we know that, save the last outing, he's been pretty spectacular down the stretch with an ERA in the low 2.00 range. Roy Oswalt is always a tough pitcher to face, so let's mine the stats and see if there are any glimmers of hope.

On the face of it, not so much. He's got a 2.17 ERA at home, a 1.46 ERA in August and a 1.13 ERA against the Cardinals in 2007. ERA doesn't tell us everything, right? I think it gives us a darn good story there, though. His BAA/OPSA at home is .241/.634, which is very impressive when you consider that bandbox they play in. In the last three years, he has a 3.12 ERA against the Birds, though only a 5-3 record, so he can be beaten, as they've hit him for a .267 average over that span.

It's not going to be the blowout last night was, for sure. Here's the history of Oswalt vs. Cardinal batters. As you can see, Eckstein has hit him at the best clip (of anyone with an significant AB), while Pujols has a nice .290 average with 3 HR. Unfortunately, the averages plummet from there, though Edmonds and Duncan (wasn't it nice to finally see him go deep again!) have home runs against him.

If the Cards play like they've been playing, they may pull tonight's game out, but it's going to be a battle. Hopefully they can get Oswalt's pitch count up and get into the bullpen early. And maybe the Brewers can get a lead and hold on to it tonight, moving the Cards ever closer to that top slot.

Yet Another Hurdle

Posted on August 28, 2007 at 10:59 AM

OK, don't you think the Astros could have waited until after the Cardinals got out of town before they fired their manager and GM?  Because you know that now the Astros get that "new manager boost" that seems to happen so often, where a team wins the first game after their manager is fired.  Sometimes they win two or three, which gives the press a fun angle to play with.  At least the Astros won Garner's last game, so it's not like they have a long losing streak that they need breaking as well.  Otherwise, the Cards might as well not show up tonight.

Tonight the Cardinals run out Braden Looper in a park that is not exactly pitcher friendly.  Of course, looking at the stats, there aren't too many road parks that are friendly to Mr. Looper.  He's got a 6.51 ERA on the road this year, with BAA/OPSA of .302/.820.  His last three starts have been pretty good, though (ERA of 2.50 with three straight games of 6-innings, four hits) and he has a 3.00 ERA against Houston this year in two starts.  So while he probably won't be around to start the seventh, hopefully he can keep the team in the game.

The Cardinals get to face an old friend in Woody Williams.  Woody had a great run in St. Louis after being acquired for Ray Lankford in a waiver deal five years ago.  And when I look at the stats, I'm surprised that he's had a solid, if not spectacular, season for the Astros this year as well.  His ERA is 4.84 (which looks a lot better than some of the ERAs the Cardinal starters have sported this year) and that ERA has dropped almost 60 points since a 7-run blowup against the Nationals five starts ago.  He has a 4.54 ERA at home, so the Crawford boxes aren't getting to him too much.  If he were left-handed, I'd really say the Cards were in trouble.

So tonight's matchup should be a good one.  Jim Edmonds has traditionally torn up Houston pitching, Scott Rolen has shown that a day off does wonders for him, and if Albert's rolling, there could be a lot of runs put up tonight.  With the Cubs and Brewers facing off, tonight's a game they really need to win.

On a side note, today is the fifth anniversary of the forum known as CardsClubhouse.   Congrats to Roark and the crew over there on a great five years!


Posted on August 27, 2007 at 5:55 PM

For a time this weekend, I thought the Cards really were done.  My father has often pointed out in basketball where a team gets down 20 or so points, makes a big run, but if they don’t actually take the lead somewhere along the way, they tend to fade and give back a lot of their gains.  I was afraid Saturday evening that was going to be the story of the 2007 Cardinals. 

It was a tough few days for 70ATB favorites, as Anthony Reyes again had a rough inning and then Kip Wells self-destructed.  A two-game losing streak, one of which was coming against the kind of good team the Cardinals have to start winning against, and they were 4 games out and looking bad.

Then they go out and get down 3-0 to Tim Hudson.  Horton and Shannon were discussing on the radio that Hudson had won his last 76 games staked to a three run lead.  Shannon said, “Gotta end sometime!”  I really thought that was hometown optimism speaking, but apparently, it was a little prophetic as the Cards scored 5 in that inning, won the game, and cut a game off the Cubs’ lead.

After that rally on Saturday, it’d been really disappointing if they’d lost a game with their current ace starting.  Wainwright continued to be very impressive, the bats scored enough, and both of the teams in front of the Cards fell.  So, starting the last week of August, it’s:

Chicago            ---

Milwaukee       1.5

St. Louis           2.0

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cards have a 19% chance of making the playoffs.  Just three weeks ago, that was down around 3%

Today is the final day off for the Cardinals in 2007, as they now have 35 games in 34 days.  Though that’s a daunting task, it’s not quite as bad as you might think.

First off, the rosters expand Saturday, so that will help with the fatigue factor.  Mark Mulder is looking sharp in his minor league rehab, though he’s only thrown in Single A so far.  He should get another start probably Friday, then be activated soon after.  Having a fresh arm like his in the rotation should be helpful, especially with all the games coming up.

So let’s look at that schedule.  The Cards head off to Houston for a three game set there before returning to Busch for games against the Reds and Pirates.  In fact, the NL Central comprises most of the remainder of the games (28 of the 35).  The Cardinals have had success against their division mates this year, playing over .500 ball against them.  In fact, in comparison to the other divisions, they’ve dominated the Central, going 30-22 against those teams.  For comparison, the Cubs are just 27-26 and the Brewers 28-27.

The Cardinals also don’t draw too many strong games.  The next 10 games are against teams under .500.  In fact, based on the standings as of today, only 15 of the 35 games are against teams at .500 or over, and 8 of those are against the Cubs and the Brewers, who barely qualify.  The others are three games in Arizona, three games hosting Philadelphia, and the makeup game at Shea Stadium.

The games are pretty evenly split between home and away.  The Cards are a solid 34-29 at home (though obviously a reverse of 29-35 on the road).

As for the other teams, Chicago has a similar focus on the NL Central remaining, only facing the Dodgers and Florida outside of the division.  The Brewers probably have the roughest road, facing Atlanta on the road and San Diego at home amongst the Pirates, Astros, and Reds.

Milwaukee and Chicago start off against each other tomorrow night, so if the Cardinals continue to play winning ball, they’ll make up ground against someone.  The schedule is in their favor to do just that.

Missed Opportunities

Posted on August 24, 2007 at 9:37 AM

With the Cubs losing earlier in the day and the Brewers off, yesterday would have been the best of times for a Cardinal win. Sadly, Anthony Reyes again caught slam-itis and the Marlins were off and running. Still, it was somewhat to be expected. The Marlins had lost eight in a row--it was about time for that streak to end. The Cards had won three in a row, and they've not shown they can put together much of an extended winning streak.

So the Atlanta Braves come into town tonight for a weekend set. The Cardinal pitchers are going to have to figure out a way to contain Mark Teixeira. Ever since he left Texas for a pennant race, the man has been energized, hitting 10 home runs since the beginning of the month. Add him to the Jones boys and Brian McCann and that offense can get running in a hurry.

The Braves pitching staff is solid as well, and the Cards get the unlucky draw by not missing either of the Atlanta aces. Tonight, Kip Wells matches up against future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Wells must be wondering what's going on here, having faced Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano last time out (in a game that got rained out). Eventually you think age will get to Smoltz, but he's not showing it this year.

Tomorrow night, newbie Cardinal Joel Pineiro gets Tim Hudson. It looked like Billy Beane had fleeced two teams in two days after the results of Hudson and Mark Mulder the last couple of years. However, Hudson has rebounded to his Oakland levels and could create a long night for the Birds.

Sunday, you get Reyes vs. Wainwright. No, not the general discussion around Cardinal Nation. This is Jo-Jo Reyes, so at least this pitching matchup, on paper, would go to the Cards. Though Reyes is a lefty with a high ERA that the Cards haven't seen before, basically a recipe for a two-hit shutout.

If the Cards can take two of three and stay within a couple of games of the Cubs and Brewers, it's a successful weekend. How they do in the next three days may let us know whether our optimism for September is warranted.

Playing a Hard 9

Posted on August 23, 2007 at 9:28 AM

One of the trademarks of a Tony LaRussa team, especially since he's been in St. Louis, has been the concept of a "hard 9".  Playing until the final out, never giving up, never giving away at bats.  The team, in the past, has responded to this idea and really come up with some remarkable wins.

Earlier this year, that concept seemed to be lost somewhat.  The struggles of the team seemed to be reflected in some of the effort of the players.   This recent hot streak, though, has shown that while the idea may have been dormant, it hasn't left the building.

Last night was another indication of that.  Looper pitched a pretty solid game.   One run in six innings is about the best you can expect from him, and with Pujols hitting a home run in his fifth straight game (a personal record, plus it got him to his normal 30 per year), he had a 3-1 lead after six innings.

Unfortunately, that's when LaRussa got a little greedy and sent Looper out there for the seventh.  I noted in the past the stat that his BAA after 75 pitches was closing in on .400.  A leadoff double was enough to send Tony to the bullpen and bring in the normally reliable Ryan Franklin.

I'm not sure what was wrong with Franklin last night, but everything he threw seemed to get hit hard and, after a Jeremy Hermida home run, the Cards trailed 4-3.  After last night's rally, it looked like the Marlins were going to turn the table on us.

However, that pitching change was a double switch that brought Jim Edmonds into the game, and he smacked the home run that won it in the bottom of that inning.   If Edmonds and Rolen can get going like they've shown signs of doing, this offense is going to be good enough to hang with most anyone.  If the pitching staff holds up like they have been, the Central Division title is still possible, with October surprises within the realm of possibility, as well.

That is, of course, if the Big Guy is OK.  Apparently Pujols had some numbness in his leg last night and it caused some concern with him and especially the manager.   Of course, that was right before he hit the home run and he played the rest of the game, so maybe it's not as bad as some want to make it out to be.  But if we lose him even for a 15-day DL stint, that's a blow I'm not sure this suddenly resilient team can come back from.

Checking the scoreboard, Milwaukee lost and the Cubs won in extras.  So it looks like this:

Chicago       ---
Milwaukee 1.0
St. Louis     3.0

Cards go for the sweep tonight behind Anthony Reyes.  Should be a good game to watch.


Posted on August 23, 2007 at 9:09 AM

Hats off to the Rangers, who last night set a modern day record with 30 runs in a game. 30 runs! Heck, the Cardinals had trouble scoring 30 runs in two weeks earlier in the season.

They were down 3-0 in this game. When you think "comeback win", I'm not sure you expect to come back to +27.

Daniel Cabrera started for the Orioles. You figure he went into the clubhouse when he was pulled from the game and thought, "Man, another rough start, 6 runs in five innings, I suck." Then he saw the bullpen give up 24 in four innings and thought, "Dude, I'm way better than I thought."

The Rangers scored 10 in the eighth and sixth in the ninth. Jarrod Saltalamacchia raised his average 83 points, which is very good because he and Ian Kinsler are on my rotisserie team.

And, surprisingly enough, they weren't shut out in the second game of the doubleheader. You just had to figure the irony was there for the taking!

Changing the Script

Posted on August 22, 2007 at 9:14 AM

They play around with WPA a lot at places like VEB and Future Redbirds.  WPA, or Win Probability Added, can be found at a site called FanGraphs.  I can't find an official definition, so my crude understanding of it is that it takes the chances of winning before an AB and after an AB and the change is credited to the player.  I'm not sure exactly how they get to the chances of winning, but it seems all very scientific.  (I've told you before, this isn't a stats blog!)

Anyway, you could see the win expectancy dropping like a stone when that two-out grounder by Encarnacion headed to shortstop last night.  In fact, before that play, the Marlins had a 75% chance of winning the game.  (Oddly enough, probably because of the force and the slowness of Molina, even after the play the Marlins WE increased to 79.8%.)  This is where stats don't take into account the stubborness of a pitcher trying to get over an error, as Benitez really seemed to come unraveled by that slip.

Even without the hardheadness of the Florida pitcher, I felt really good about a tie game once Encarnacion was at second.  Molina is hitting the ball the way we thought he could, and it's nice to see that average in the .275 range instead of the .215 range.  I felt pretty confident he could get the tying run in.  If you'd told me he'd make it all the way to third, though, I'd have figured he hit a home run and then pulled up lame running the bases.  No way he could get there on a normal play!

It's just another sign that things perhaps have turned around for the Cardinals.  Earlier in the year, that was a very typical loss for them.  A great pitching performance, but tons of double plays and no runs could be scored.  But this new, improved Cardinal team played LaRussa's trademark "hard 9" and got the job done last night.   (Another difference between now and May--Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols again.  Four home runs in 4 games?  It's so wonderful to watch when El Hombre is clicking!)  The times, they are a-changin'.

Good thing they did, too, since Milwaukee and Chicago both won.  Still three games out with Looper going tonight.  Hopefully the bats will show up tonight--I'd be real impressed if Looper kept it to two runs.





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Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
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John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
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Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
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Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
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Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
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John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%

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