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June 2009

Cardinals Still Searching

Posted on June 30, 2009 at 9:17 AM
After a weekend (and a Monday) where the Cardinals scored eight runs in four games, it's obvious that there are still some issues.  A quick rundown of the games, in the typical style:

Friday vs. Minnesota (3-1 loss)
Hero: Rick Ankiel.  Two hits and drove in the only run.  You know it's probably been a rough day when Rick's almost all the offense you can muster.
Goat: Ryan Ludwick.  Zero for four and left three on.  To be fair, there were a number that contended for this.
Notes: Adam Wainwright pitched better than he has in some outings this year, but he still walked too many people and, unfortunately, the smallest glitch and the Cards are in trouble.  There have been too many games where the Cards are down after one and you don't feel like they can come back.

Saturday vs. Minnesota (5-3 win)
Hero: Albert Pujols.  The only thing keeping the Cards from being in the midst of a six-game losing streak.
Goat: Todd Wellemeyer.  When you get the hook after 2.1 innings when you know your job is on the line, it's not a good day.
Notes: Lost in the Pujols furor was the fact that Skip Schumaker was on both times Pujols went yard as part of his three for four day.  Lost in the Wellemeyer furor was the fact that Colby Rasmus went 0 for 5 and left 6 on.

Sunday vs. Minnesota (6-2 loss)
Hero: Jason LaRue.  Two hits and an RBI.  If he was just a little faster, he could have probably scored a run as well.
Goat: Joel Pineiro.  You hate to give it to a guy who basically made one mistake, but when the Cards have only come back from three down twice this season, being down 3-0 before they get an at-bat makes for a long afternoon.
Notes: Neither ends of the lineup were very good.  Skip as leadoff was 0-4 and Tyler Greene at the 9 hole was 0-3.  So that doesn't really help the lineup turn over when those guys aren't getting on.  Nice to see a solid inning out of Blake Hawksworth.

Monday vs. San Francisco (10-0 loss)
Hero: Albert Pujols, basically by default.  He got one of two hits and the only extra-base hit.
Goat: Chris Duncan, who had two of the eight strikeouts.  But it was Tim Lincecum--the whole team looked bad.
Notes: What can you say besides glad they didn't get no-hit?  I didn't get to see Clayton Mortensen's debut, but it sounds like there were some positives out of it.

Of course, the biggest news from the weekend was the trade for Mark DeRosa.  While it's obvious that it wasn't an immediate impact on the offense (he's 0-7 since slipping on the Birds on the Bat), it was a pretty nice move for John Mozeliak.  The team may regret losing Chris Perez in the future (though, perhaps, not as much as a couple of White Sox batters regret the Indians getting him) but it was a move that needed to be done and right-handed relief pitching is one of the strengths of the organization.  If Jason Motte ever develops a good secondary pitch, chances are he'll take over that closer of the future designation anyway.  I will say I am a bit concerned about the player to be named later, though.

Khalil Greene returned to the disabled list just a little over a week after he was activated from it.  Those that said that he wasn't ready, that the team was rushing him, definitely have more ammunition now.  After that Kansas City series, things looked pretty good, but apparently something triggered a relapse. I would hope that they will be a little more cautious in his return next time.  It's possible, though I expect unlikely, that we won't see him again this season.

So what is it about this offense?  Like I've noted above (and many other times), they've rallied from three runs down twice this season and none since April.  The Cards are 2-19 (.095) when they are behind at the start of the second inning.  Compare that to the other NL Central teams:

Milwaukee 9-12 (.429)
Chicago 7-13 (.350)
Cincinnati 4-20 (.167)
Houston 6-16 (.273)
Pittsburgh 6-16 (.273)

All the teams have roughly 20-25 games like this, where they've trailed going into the second.  Yet all the other teams, even Pittsburgh, are able to at least occasionally make a run and come back in the game.  The Cards have really struggled in this regard.

When the offense is clicking, the team is good.  If they score the serious number or more, they are 18-3.  But the Brewers are 21-3, the Cubs 24-3, the Reds 19-5 in those situations, again showing that they are able to put up the runs on a more consistent basis.

I don't know what the answer is.  I do think that perhaps the aggressive approach isn't quite cutting it.  I know Tim Lincecum is good, but to throw a complete game in 95 pitches?  The Cardinals have seen the fourth-fewest pitches in the National League.  Houston, Atlanta and the Giants are the only teams below them, and only the Giants are being very successful, which is because of their dominating pitching, not their offensive prowness (last night's result notwithstanding).

When you break it down into pitches per plate appearance, it gets even worse, as only the Giants have seen fewer than the 3.63 St. Louis has.  Obviously, that's not necessarily the be-all and end-all since Washington leads the pack, but the second and third teams are the Rockies and Dodgers, two teams that have had quite a bit of success this year.

I understand the theory about being aggressive and you may only get one pitch, but on the whole, the pitches that the Cardinals are facing aren't necessarily that good.  Just because you take one good pitch doesn't mean you won't be getting another one.  Last night, with Lincecum, OK, but people like Francisco Liriano, who has struggled so much this season?  Tim Redding, who held the Cards in check during the Mets series?

Some links and a preview of today's matchup of Cy Youngs after the jump.   
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UCB June Project: Cardinal Memories

Posted on June 26, 2009 at 7:49 AM
Today, that intrepid group known as the United Cardinal Bloggers are coordinating again to have a "theme of the day", as it were.  This time, we are all talking about our personal Cardinal memories.  Whether they were watching on TV, where we were when, or just our own times at the ball park, they are entries worth reading and give you a glimpse of what your favorite blogger is like behind the scenes, as it were.  You can check out this post at our official site for links to all that are participating.

I guess I should try to do these in some sort of order, I will try not to ramble on too long for you, but the Cardinals have been a major part of my life ever since I started really following them in 1987 (one of my earliest memories is seeing a bit of the '85 series, but collecting baseball cards in '87 is where I mark my "obsession" beginning) so there may be quite a few to go through.

One of my earliest memories is a personal one.  In both 1988 and 1989, the family vacation was to St. Louis, where we took in a series of games.  When we were there in '89, one of the promotions was camera day.  This is where fans can get on the field (the old astroturf, so they had us right off the infield dirt on the outfield side) as the players come out and get their picture taken.  I've got numerous pictures of Fredbird, Red Schoendienst, Tom Brunansky and others as they made their rounds.

When Ozzie Smith came by, though, kids ignored the rope and hurried to him.  Even though I was almost 14 and the others were seven or eight, that didn't stop me from getting over to Ozzie as well.  I still remember him asking, "Where're we looking?"  I don't think I said anything, just pointed to where my mother was taking the picture.  So Ozzie and I are looking in the same direction and these other kids probably have pictures at home going "who was that goofy kid?"  That picture is still around here somewhere.  I'm a little surprised I couldn't lay my hands on it this morning.

The early '90s didn't really allow for many memories.  After that '89 series, I didn't get back to Busch until 2002 (more on that one in a while) and there wasn't much on the field until the Mark McGwire home run chase in 1998.

Say what you will about the chase in hindsight, but at the time it was the most gripping thing in America, much less baseball.  I honestly had thought '98 was going to be the year after seeing him hit 58 in 1997, with more hit in the National League after the trade than before.

I still remember the first home run of that year.  I was "working" (it's a long story) at Deloitte and Touche in Little Rock, about three months into the job.  I was in the office, having little to do, and watching the old version of ESPN's GameTracker.  I remember seeing the bases loaded with McGwire up and, after an interminable wait, seeing the bases empty.  It was a taste of things to come.

As he got closer and closer to the mark, I noted the number of the home run on my desk calendar at work, by this time the firm I'm with now.  I remember the series in Florida where he hit four of them, bringing his total to 59.  Then came the historic weekend.

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Cardinals Get Ugly

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 8:04 AM
Hopefully they were just saving it for today's matchup of Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana.  Because last night's effort, if you can call it that, for the Cardinals was sorely lacking.  I think Nick said it best last night on the UCB Radio Hour when he said that Trever Miller's outing was the highlight of at least the pitching, if not the whole game.  Miller, as is his wont, got out the one guy he faced.

I don't know when I've seen two hits in the same game where the runner beat the pitcher to the bag.  Both of those balls weren't hit hard, but still seemed like they should have gotten the guy out.  Two errors out of a team that seems to have improved on the field recently.  I think the most obvious indication of the team having checked out was the fact (and I missed seeing this, just saw it in the game story) was the fact that the whole team stayed on the field after Brendan Ryan turned an inning-ending double play.  Granted, you'd rather them forget the outs in that manner than, say, this one, but that just doesn't happen from a Tony LaRussa team.

Seriously, there's not much to say about last night's game.  Brad Thompson took all those glowing words about how he should stay in the rotation and replace Todd Wellemeyer when Kyle Lohse returned and reminded people that, hey, he's still Brad Thompson.  Rick Ankiel struck out once with the bases loaded and went 0-2 after walks to Albert Pujols, which is one reason he has no business being in the four slot.  I've been an Ankiel fan since he was in the minors as a pitcher, but right now I've got no confidence in him.  Or rather, almost complete confidence that, if there are runners on, he's going to wind up striking out.  And that's not good.

With a game like that, it's tough to pick a Goat, but I think we'll have to go with Colby Rasmus.  0-4, continuing his rough patch at the plate, left five on base, and made an error to boot.  I'm pretty sure that game doesn't go in the personal scrapbook.

The bright spot last night was Brendan Ryan, who not only turned three double plays but also got two of the Cardinals' four hits. Ryan's done a much better job than I expected at that position and I hope that he's not really a one year wonder.

Let's do a little housekeeping before we get to talking about today's incredible pitching matchup.  First off, Jose Oquendo and Ozzie Smith were selected as managers for the Futures Game, held the Sunday before the All-Star Game in St. Louis. (Man, wish I known that was coming when I talked to Ozzie--that would have led to some good questions.)  Everyone is saying this is a great opportunity for Oquendo and, for the most part, I think I agree, but I just wonder how seriously this was taken? 

I mean, I've never heard Ozzie ever talk about wanting to manage.  He seems much more at ease in the promotional/marketing arm of baseball.  Oquendo, on the other hand, has worked his way up, he's managed teams, he's interviewed for major league jobs, this is something he really wants.  So, while it's another mark on the resume, I guess, it really seems more of a ceremonial job than anything.  Look at it this way, don't you think they'd have gotten someone like Bruce Sutter or Lou Brock to be the manager if Oquendo had bowed out?  So how much of an opportunity can this really be?

Our friends over at Fox Sports Midwest (I can say that because they said it first, at least in regard to the UCB) are having another live blog during today's game.  They've continually been working the kinks out and they seem to have a nice interaction going over there.  So if you can't watch the game today (or if you can and chat at the same time), give them a visit.

Cards and Mets finish up the series with a duel of aces in the daytime.  Chris Carpenter goes for the Cardinals.  As you know, he's been outstanding this season, not at all missing a beat from where he was in 2005 and 2006 before his extensive injury downtime.  Luis Castillo is actually one of the few Mets on the roster that has hit Carpenter with any regularity, but Castillo is not what he used to be, so we'll see how that pans out today.  If everything's clicking for Carp, it could be a quick game.

It'll need to be clicking because the Mets counter with Johan Santana.  Due to Santana's lengthy time in the AL, the Cards haven't faced him all that often, but they've not been able to figure him out when they have.  Ryan Ludwick, from his time in the AL, has the most at-bats against him, for all the good that does.  He has gone yard once, though.  And Pujols is two for four with a homer against Santana, which is nice to see.

Santana hasn't looked quite himself lately, raising his ERA from 0.78 on May 11 to 3.22 going into today's game and there has been unsubstaniated talk about his health.  If he's 100% and Carpenter's 100%, with the two offenses as struggling/beat up as they are, this could be a scoreless game going into extras.  But it should be wonderfully fun to watch--my DVR is already set.

Before I finish up today, I want to take a moment to recommend a book to Cardinal fans who are parents of young (2-5) children.  Last year, I purchased For the Love of the Cardinals to help introduce my then three year old to some of Cardinal history.  It has quickly become one of his favorites and now he can "read" almost the whole thing.  Which means he knows the names of Dean and Musial and Slaughter.  He has seen the statues outside the ballpark before, but I look forward to him seeing them this year with more of an understanding of who these players are.

So if you are looking for a way to really introduce the rich history of the Cardinals to the next generation, I strongly recommend picking up this book.  Besides, it's a nice refresher for some of us as well.  It's a little dated now--came out after 2006, so the "I is for Isringhausen" and references to Scott Rolen don't work as well--but it's still a wonderful book.

Remember the live blog and there's always a game thread going at CardsClubhouse as well.  Enjoy today's game!

Taking Advantage

Posted on June 24, 2009 at 8:12 AM
You know, when the total active roster of the New York Mets has just one more home run than Albert Pujols has by himself, games like last night should be the rule, not the exception.

No matter who was on the field, though, Joel Pineiro did a masterful job on the mound.  Getting 23 of 27 outs on the ground (when you count the double play) is incredible.  Pineiro has really stepped up this year by throwing that sinker more often.  The comment was made at VEB, I believe, how Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer have kinda switched places this year.  It's a good thing someone has stepped up to cover Wellemeyer's failings!

Kudos again to Albert Pujols as well.  You have to wonder what Livan Hernandez was thinking walking Chris Duncan on five pitches with runners at second and third with just one out.  I know that AP grounded into a key double play in Monday night's game, but do you really want to count on that happening again, especially with his success with the bases loaded this season?  Hernandez is probably lucky it was just a hard single that scored two.

That said, what the heck was Joe Thurston and then Albert thinking after that?  Two on with one out and Ryan Ludwick, who followed AP in the lineup, never gets to actually hit.  I really don't know what Thurston was doing, though he almost caught a break with both the shortstop and second baseman covering.  If they'd have run into each other, he might have made it back.

As soon as he was picked off, I said, "Now Albert's going to have to steal second."  He gave it his best try and if Hernandez had actually gone to the plate, it'd have been a heck of a jump.  Being that he didn't, though, it was pretty easy to throw to second and catch him.

The Goat of the game is probably Ludwick, who went 0 for 4 and left five men on base, not counting the two baserunning blunders mentioned above.  Striking out after Hernandez had intentionally walked Pujols won't give Albert more pitches to hit for the most part.  It wasn't necessarily a bad at-bat, but getting something there, even a fly ball, would have been helpful.

Off the field, Troy Glaus has popped up in the news again.  The story goes that he's starting to get some hitting in, but he still can't throw.  Being that the Cardinals are a National League team with a fairly tolerable first baseman, that doesn't leave him a lot of options with the club, leading to some trade speculation.  I'd think, though, he'd have to be back playing first in the minors on a rehab assignment around the All-Star Break for the Cards to have a legitimate chance of moving him, something I don't expect will happen.  He may wind up as an expensive bench guy and caddy for Pujols.

In better injury news, Kyle Lohse threw a bullpen session and the biggest complaint was not his arm, but his command.  Sounds like a step forward to me.  I would hope/expect that this time, the Cardinals would see fit to have their injured player get a rehab start or so in the minors, so seeing him before the All-Star Game would be pretty surprising.

Yesterday, Mike from Stan Musial's Stance had a great interview with Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter.  In fact, we thought the UCB was breaking some news when Sutter mentioned that he and the other living Cardinal Hall of Famers were throwing out the first pitch at the game.  However, as if to spite us, the news then comes out that President Obama is apparently going to have the honor.  I guess they may have a couple of different "first pitches", I don't know.  I'm sure that's something we'll talk about on tonight's regular UCB Radio Hour.

Speaking of internet radio shows, if you are interested in listening in I talked about the Cardinals and the upcoming series with SethSpeaks.net's weekly podcast last night.  It was good to talk to some fans of another team and Seth will return the favor tonight on our show.  And while I'm self-promoting, you can read my June recap up now at Baseball Reflections.

Tonight, the Cardinals throw Brad Thompson while the Mets counter with Fernando Nieve.  Thompson has been pretty solid since joining the rotation, much to my surprise, and is making a bid to keep his spot there even when Lohse returns.  Historically, the Mets have done pretty well against Thompson, but with their depleted lineup, I would think he could limit the damage and keep the team in the game.

Nieve is basically a blank slate to the Cards, as it looks like he's pitched an inning against them in his career.  He's only made two starts this season, though he's been very impressive in both.

Should be a good game, a game the Cards really would like to win.  Having the series split guaranteed before heading into the stellar Chris Carpenter vs. Johan Santana matchup Thursday afternoon would make for a good road trip.

Cardinals Struggle In Big Apple

Posted on June 23, 2009 at 8:03 AM
Well, the offense seemed to make it to New York, at least in some fashion. On a good night, especially against a banged up Mets team, four runs would have been enough.  However, more and more frequently, that's not enough with Todd Wellemeyer on the hill.

While the Post-Dispatch story indicates that Wellemeyer may not be long for the rotation, Matthew Leach twitters that Dave Duncan says no changes are imminent, mainly because they don't feel like there are a whole lot of other options.  Wellemeyer's numbers are really getting ugly to look at, as his good starts have been much more rare this season and overwhelmed by his mediocre to bad ones.

He's been bad at home, bad away.  Bad in the day, bad at night.  And for all the talk that he was having trouble in the early going overthrowing his fastball, right now his BAA for his first 15 pitches is now the lowest BAA against him at .278.  Every other breakdown, people are hitting .300 or more off of him.

He can occasionally tantalize (two runs in 5.1 against Detroit, six shutout innings against Kansas City) but it's just becoming too rare to count on.  With an offense that appears to be coming out of the doldrums, he may get some more wins, but the odds of him regaining the confidence of Cardinal Nation is pretty slim.

While Wellemeyer has to bear the brunt of the blame for last night's loss, the offense isn't completely without fault.  Four runs is much better than Cardinal fans were used to earlier in the month, of course, and they seemed poised to get back into it after Ryan Ludwick's home run cut the lead to one.  However, again a pitcher with terrible numbers, a pitcher the Cardinals on paper should have dominated, held the offense basically in check.  It would be an interesting project to see what St. Louis has done against pitchers that had an ERA over 5 when they faced the Redbirds.  I would suspect it wouldn't be all that great.

In other news, Khalil Greene has expressed his appreciation to his teammates for their support during his mental crisis.  Greene, who got another hit last night and is hitting .500 since he returned, credits the organization for trust and positive reinforcement, something that he doesn't feel like he got in San Diego.  Hopefully this will result in a strong second half for Greene.

Joel Pineiro goes for the Cardinals tonight vs. Livan Hernandez.  Pineiro is probably glad that Carlos Beltran is on the disabled list, but still will have to deal with David Wright. Hernandez has done fairly well against St. Louis, though Albert Pujols does have three home runs off of him.  (By the way, you know how old Hernandez is?  He's 206.)  The Cardinals beat up on Hernandez to the tune of seven earned in 4.1 back in April, so they'll be looking for a repeat performance tonight.

Remember that at 10:30 Central time, Mike from Stan Musial's Stance will be interviewing 1982 World Series closer Bruce Sutter.  If you can't listen live, you'll be able to listen at Blog Talk Radio, any UCB member site that has a player (such as this one) or download it off iTunes.

Many of you know that this blog gets syndicated in numerous places around the internet.  I wanted to point out that now Seamheads has picked up this blog to supplement their content.  I would think it's possible that there will be an occasional original article from me over there, though nothing is in the works.  Also, the blog roll has been updated with some new sites, so be sure to check that out as well!

Where Have These Bats Been?

Posted on June 22, 2009 at 9:47 AM
The On The Run people were probably pretty busy this weekend as the Cards really got serious in Kansas City.

When the Cards wind up scoring 29 runs in the three game set, there are a lot of offensive heroes.  Let's break down the series game by game.

Friday, while you have to love what Khalil Greene did in his first game back, smacking two extra-base hits, I think I want to give the Hero tag to Ryan Ludwick for making Kansas City pay for walking Albert Pujols.  Ludwick's grand slam may have helped lead to Pujols's big weekend, as it made KC gun-shy about walking him.

Add on to the fact that Pujols drove in two runs anyway early in the game, Skip Schumaker went three for four, Colby Rasmus four for five and Rick Ankiel even went yard and suffice it to say it was a great Friday night in Kansas City.

Finding a downside is pretty tough, but Chris Duncan did go 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.  That and Tyler Greene's hitless night could be overlooked, though, when you have everyone else clicking.

Saturday wasn't quite as explosive, but still was more offense than we have been used to seeing out of the Cardinals.  With Chris Carpenter on the mound, it's not like they needed a ton of it, anyway.  Carpenter was, well, Carpenter, and he pretty much had to be until the Cards put up a couple in the sixth then tagged Royals relief pitching in the ninth.

Pujols went yard again.  He's been on such a tear since I hinted he was slumping.  (You're welcome.)  Khalil Greene went yard for the second straight day, helping provide a lot of that ninth-inning insurance.  Yadier Molina and Ludwick had two hits and Ryan Franklin continued his All-Star year (he has to go, right?  17 saves and an ERA of 1.00?) with another save of longer than one inning.

I love this quote from Royals pitcher Brian Bannister:

"And when he gets in the batter's box, if you pray, then you start praying. And if you don't pray, you think about starting."
About the only downside to that game, besides the inexplicable decision by Fox not to return to it after the rain delayed the start, instead leaving us in this area with Detroit and Milwaukee (which was nice, being that the Brewers lost and the Cards moved into first), was the fact that Rasmus went 0-4.

Then we get to Sunday's gamePujols.  Need we say more?

Actually, apparently we do, since now we know that Pujols called his shot on Sunday, a story that is making the rounds.  Not that he would hit a home run next time up.  Not that he'd hit it to center field, but that he'd hit the Royals HOF, which he did.  In case you ever wondered just how special that guy is.....  Perhaps Bernie Mikalsz is right, Pujols needs to be walked all the time.  Just hope people don't actually start doing that.

So, besides hitting a called-shot grand slam, he follows up with another solo shot after driving in two runs in the first inning.  Not hard to find a hero in that one, though you have to also like Khalil going deep yet again and Duncan and Ankiel getting two hits.

The downside was Adam Wainwright.  I know he got the win.  I know he got 8 strikeouts and didn't walk a batter.  But eight hits and two homers?  Five runs?  Not exactly what we need to see out of the "co-ace".

You have to think Pujols was also very happy to help Tony LaRussa win his 2500th game.  Can you imagine that we'll ever see this again?  TLR started managing so young and has never taken a full year off.  The one year he was fired, he had another job within weeks.  He left Oakland in an offseason and was in St. Louis by the next opening day.  30 straight years, basically, and having very good ball clubs in that span as well.

He's 263 wins from second place.  Figure that he gets another 43 wins (just a guess--I could easily see them winning more) by the end of this year, he sits 220 behind John McGraw.  That's just three more solid years.  Would he stick around that long, especially since he'd have the best player in baseball on his team?  You'd like to think so.

The key now is to see if this offensive renassiance can be carried into the new Citi Field.  Todd Wellemeyer goes tonight, which is always a gamble.  His numbers against the Mets don't inspire a lot of confidence either, as David Wright (.700) is probably looking forward to getting jump-started.

The Mets counter with Tim Redding, who hasn't exactly been a Cardinal killer in his career either.  Albert's got a home run off of him before and, the way he's swinging the bat now, Redding might want to be very concerned.

Most of you know that last week, I had the chance to interview Ozzie Smith.  In the same contact, the opportunity to interview Bruce Sutter was extended.  Being that Sutter was gone from St. Louis before I really got started following the Cards (and wanting to spread the wealth, as it were), I put this out to the other UCB members.  Mike at Stan Musial's Stance jumped at the chance, so you will be able to hear him talk to Sutter tomorrow morning on Blog Talk Radio at 10:30 Central.  It should be a great listen!

Also, a note of remembrance that today is the 7th anniversary of Darryl Kile's tragic passing.  The anniversary of Jack Buck's passing last week slipped past me and, honestly, Kile's might have as well without a Facebook status reminder.  So hard to believe that much time has passed.

Finishing Up With Detroit

Posted on June 19, 2009 at 8:48 AM
You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have a series win, a series win.

What's up with Adam Wainwright getting so much run support lately?  The Cards bust out 13 for him in Florida, then follow that up with 11 against the Tigers.  There's a lot of possible Heroes in that game.  Albert Pujols hit #23, taking over the major league lead in home runs.  Chris Duncan had three hits, including a home run.  However, like Jeff Gordon wrote, the game may have turned on Yadier Molina's first-inning at-bat.  Molina battled and battled, then dropped the two-run single into left and the Cards were bursting Justin Verlander's invincible bubble.  It was interesting, though, that later in the game Molina got a taste of his own medicine, getting picked off first by the catcher.

On the flip side, it's tough to come up with a Goat, but I guess you go with Colby Rasmus.  One hit in five at bats is OK, but he struck out twice and left four on, so in a game where everything was clicking, that's enough to slap the tag on you.

So the Cardinal offense has shown that it can turn up on occasion and that it's a pretty fearsome thing when it is completely clicking.  The problem is, it doesn't click on those cylinders very often.  I don't know how many times this week I've looked up, seen Rick Ankiel at the plate with runners on, and assumed a strikeout, an assumption that was usually fulfilled in the next few moments.

Wednesday's game, though, showed that even with reasonable offense, the Cards can win.  Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina both had three hits, Molina with a home run that started the scoring, Rasmus with two hits (including a triple) that drove in a run.  It was nice to see a solid outing by Todd Wellemeyer as well, though as we noted on the UCB Radio Hour, Wellemeyer can do that, but you don't know anymore that he can do it consistently. 

On the down side, Kyle McClellan did give up a run in his over an inning of work, but it didn't tie the game, so I'll go with Joe Thurston, who went 0-4 and left two on base.  There weren't a lot of negative performances to choose from, however.

Thursday, the Cards had a chance for a sweep and to maybe quiet the local talk about not taking Rick Porcello a couple of years ago.  However, neither of those happened as the Cards lost a game that, statistically, was over in the first and Porcello was able to work out of jams to put up a solid line.

It's tough to know who to put the Goat tag on.  Thurston's error in the first led aided in the four-run inning, a gap that the Cards have only come back from once this year.  Given the way the team tried to battle back, though, I think you have to give the Goat tag to Jason Motte for serving up back-to-back home runs in the eighth, turning a one-run game into a three-run bulge.  I'm guessing Fernando Rodney wouldn't have been in the game in the ninth with one run, but seeing the Cards load the bases really made you wish it was still 4-3.

On the plus side, Duncan had an RBI, Molina had two hits, but let's go with Tyler Greene, who had a double among his two hits and drove in a run.  The offense wasn't spectacular last night, but it was respectable.  You also have to credit Joel Pineiro for pitching a very good game after the first inning, a first that wasn't completely his fault.

The Cardinals made some moves yesterday.  One was pretty expected, bringing Khalil Greene back.  However, the flip side of that was not Blake Hawksworth going down, which was rumored earlier in the week, but PJ Walters.  Nice to see Hawksworth getting a chance to hang around.  The other side of this was sending down Nick Stavinoha and bringing back up Josh Kinney, because we can't bear to be without 13 pitchers nowadays.

Kinney seems to have made strides in Memphis, so I look forward to seeing him back here in the bigs.  Greene is going to cause a lot of debate until he proves he's mentally healthy and is back to hitting.  It seems like a very quick turnaround for someone with his mental condition, though it may be that something flipped a switch for him or there was some medication he could take that would help ease his anxiety.  I expect he'll be starting tonight vs. Kansas City so we'll start seeing whether this is the case.

The Cards head across state this weekend for a rematch with the Royals.  Again, the Cardinals miss Zach Greinke, though that's not quite the relief that it was last time around.  The series opens with Kyle Davies, who did a solid job against the Cardinals in the last series, allowing only two runs in six innings.  However, that was during that extremely good stretch of pitching and so the Cardinals won that game 5-0.  None of the Cardinals have seen him all that often, though there are some good numbers in there.

The Cardinals counter with Brad Thompson.  I've been pretty vocal that I'm not a huge Thompson fan anymore, but he's definitely done the job since being pressed into service.  His 2.93 June ERA, though, is really weighed down by the zero earned in six innings in his last start.  Whether that is the trend now that he's getting used to the rotation or a fluke still remains to be seen.  He's really going to have to watch Mark Teahen, but the rest of the Royals haven't been that tough on him.

Should be an interesting series.  There have been some TV changes to the schedule which affect this series.  Saturday's game was planned for FSMW, but has been picked up as a Fox Game of the Week.  Other changes include the July 23 makeup game against the Nationals will be on FSMW, the August 1 game against Houston has been taken off the Fox Game of the Week schedule, given to FSMW, and has a time change to 6:15.  Finally, the Saturday, October 3 game (the next to last game of the year) has moved from FSMW to KSDK.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wrapping Up The Road Trip

Posted on June 16, 2009 at 8:08 AM
OK, where were we?  Ah, yes, catchup time.  Let's just hit the highlights, since you all know what's happened.

Thursday at Florida (6-5 win)
Hero: Ryan Franklin.  Rick Ankiel was close with three hits and three runs, but having Franklin go almost two innings and lock down a come-from-behind game was huge.

Goat: Todd Wellemeyer.  Two home runs to Ross Gload?  Really?  Close second was Brendan Ryan, with his 0-5 in the leadoff slot.

Notes: I'm glad to know that Colby Rasmus actually had a physical reason for not starting this game, but I'm also glad that it wasn't enough to keep him out of the game entirely.  Nice bit of pinch-hitting for the rookie.

Friday at Cleveland (7-3 loss)
Hero: Albert Pujols.  Two hits, including a home run.

Goat: Dennys Reyes.  It's hard to pick a bullpenner to take the tag, but Reyes had a hit, a walk, and a run in zero innings pitched.  Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan did their best to put the game out of reach as well.

Notes: Mark DeRosa really wanted to showcase himself in this series, it seems like, and it started early....you know the game is changing when you have two steals, from Pujols and Ryan Ludwick.

Saturday at Cleveland (3-1 win)
Hero: Albert Pujols.  Two homers will do that.  Brad Thompson had a strong outing as well, which always is good (and, in my mind, surprising) to see.

Goat: Rick Ankiel.  Not the day to go 0-4 in front of Pujols.

Notes: What's up with Yadier Molina?  His fourth steal of the year.

Sunday at Cleveland (3-0 loss)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  Kept the Cards from being no-hit.

Goat: Nick Stavinoha.  Lots of people went zero for Sunday, but Nick left four on base while he was doing it.  Ankiel didn't do much either, striking out three times.

Notes: What can you really say about an almost no-hitter?

So now what?  The Cardinals sit a game out of first place and could have been tied for the top slot had the Cleveland bullpen been able to, I don't know, get someone out last night against Milwaukee.  That said, there are few in Cardinal Nation that feel extremely strongly that this is a playoff team.

I mean, DeRosa would be nice, but would that really be the missing piece of the puzzle, when Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer are in the rotation?  I hate to lump Wellemeyer in that group, but it's starting to look like he's not going to revert to the 2008 form for any long stretch of time, for whatever reason.

We've seen a little more offense in the last few days, but does anyone think that April's returning?  Pujols is Pujols, of course, and Rasmus has looked pretty good.  You still have the fact that Ludwick's BABIP is so low, which means he should be primed for a bounce, and Ankiel has looked a little better recently.  Still, even if those four get going white-hot, you have to have people getting on for them.

Skip Schumaker isn't helping out as much as I was thinking in the leadoff slot.  Brendan Ryan has shown some life, but you can't completely count on him yet.  We know that third base has been such a void that the front office is moving Khalil Greene over there (more on that in a bit).  Molina's settled into the .260 range instead of the .300 range.  Where do you start fixing?

Not that this season is over by any stretch, don't get me wrong.  With a healthy Chris Carpenter and an effective Adam Wainwright, the Cards shouldn't go too long between wins.  The problem is going to be figuring out just what can get them into position and if the front office has enough bullets to make it all happen.

Khalil Greene to third, huh?  I wouldn't have thought it, though I see where he was a third baseman in college, so it's not a complete shock.  And with the Cardinal propensity to move anything that's not nailed down (i.e. Pujols), you had to guess something like this would happen.  It does seem strange to give a guy with anxiety issues something new to do in front of a huge fanbase, but maybe if he's having to think more about what he's doing he'll be less worried about how he's doing it.  I also think this should be an effort to keep the Cards from appearing desparate in trade talks.  Whether either will work, I don't know.

Of course, with an off-day yesterday, it gives time for a topic to be fleshed out.  This time, as it will be often in the next couple of years, it's Pujols.  Bernie Mikalsz says sign him already, Brian Burwell says, hey, maybe he doesn't want to sign right now, ever think of that?

What there needs to be is honest dialogue between Pujols and his representatives and the front office.  Even if they aren't talking specific terms, they need to be letting him know this is what they are trying to do, this is why they think it'll work.  Pujols has been adamant about wanting to win, but he wants to do it in St. Louis if at all possible.  I think if the front office keeps him in the loop, as it were, it'll bode well for them when it's time to talk numbers.

Today, 1:30 Central, Blog Talk Radio, Ozzie Smith and I talk a little bit.  I plan to ask him about Khalil's move as well as if he's glad he played before bloggers!

Big (Personal) News

Posted on June 15, 2009 at 7:03 AM
We need to talk.

We need to talk about Albert Pujols hitting four home runs since I mentioned someone tell him he's slumping, just proving that he reads this blog.  We need to talk about another decent offensive showing in Florida.  We need to talk about the offense then declining as the Cards moved north, to the point that they almost got no-hit last night.  We need to talk about whether this ultra-aggressive approach is working.  We need to talk about Chris Carpenter not being completely Chris Carpenter, but Brad Thompson getting the job done.

We need to talk about all of that and more, but unfortunately my time this morning is limited, so those discussions will have to wait for a while.  However, I've got good news, everyone (said Professor Farnsworth) and it has nothing with switching my car insurance to GEICO.

Somehow, in all this blogging, my e-mail address has popped up to some interesting people.  I've had a chance to review books (I still need to comment on Rob Rains's Tony LaRussa book, that'll come soon.) and interact with people at FSMW, not to mention more regular discussions with people like Derrick Goold and Matthew Leach.  So when I had an e-mail from an account coordinator talking about scheduling interviews for some people, it wasn't a huge surprise, but it was an amazing opportunity.

After some back and forth, tomorrow, at 1:30 pm Central time, I will be talking to none other than Ozzie Smith, my childhood Cardinal hero.  He is doing some promotional work for Bank of America and their MLB Checking program.

(I'm sure we'll talk about the details of that tomorrow, but this is a pretty interesting program besides the whole "Cardinals on your debit card" thing.  I mean, they increase their regular match from the "Keep The Change" program to 10% and you accumulate points toward things like game-used memorabilia or possibly even participating in pre-game activities.  How cool is that?)

Anyway, you can hear this interview at Blog Talk Radio tomorrow, just like our regular UCB Radio Hour.  If you can't make it live, this will be available via iTunes, on BTR, or on any of the UCB sites that have a BTR player soon afterwards.  To say I'm looking forward to it is an understatement and I hope that you will enjoy it as well.

Cardinal Bats Make Up For Lost Time

Posted on June 11, 2009 at 7:10 AM
Not much time this morning, but when the Cardinals score 13, you've got to take notice.  So here we go now!

In a game where the bats were working to that extent, it's harder to find a Hero, but it's such a wonderful chore to have.  I think with Rick Ankiel falling a single short of the cycle, you have to give it to him.  Brendan Ryan had four hits and Tyler Greene three.  Colby Rasmus having a three-run shot to get the Cards on the board helped as well.

You have to like Rasmus's attitude about hitting in the cleanup slot.  "The ball still has to come over the plate."  Right now, he's keeping it pretty simple and it's working for him.  He's got to be the early leader for Rookie of the Year, doesn't he?

All this offense helped get some of the heat off of Hal McRae.  I was starting to wonder when the idea of firing him was going to get floated.

On the down side, Adam Wainwright still wasn't back to that level he showed a couple of weeks ago.  I've not traced it back to see if this coincides with that 120 pitch game he had or not.  It's possible he's still a little tired and not getting his release point where it should be.  Like I said, I've not looked back at the numbers, though I know Pip at Fungoes has kept up with the data points on Wainwright's release.

Still, you can't give a guy a Goat tag when he strikes out a tough hitter like Hanley Ramirez with the bases loaded when the game was still hanging in the balance.  That's one thing you can say about Wainwright--those kind of situations just don't seem to faze him.  (Ask Carlos Beltran.)

It's a tough call on the Goat, then, with both Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan going one for four.  Pujols also drew a walk, though, so we'll go with Duncan.  That said, it'd be nice for someone to tell Albert he's slumping.  That seems to always stir him up and get him on a tear.

This afternoon's game features Todd Wellemeyer vs. Andrew Miller.  Wellemeyer, a topic of conversation on last night's UCB Radio Hour (which actually turned into an hour and a half thanks to some great draft analysis by Erik from Future Redbirds), has had very good success against the Fish in his career.  However, his inconsistency this year doesn't mean that Cardinal fans are confident with his start.

Miller has only had 12 AB (16 PA) against the Cards, but the little they've seen of him the Redbird batters have liked.  Pujols is a perfect two for two against him, so maybe that'll get him jumpstarted.

We can only hope by the end of the afternoon we aren't wishing they saved some of those runs from last night!






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Heroes
Carlos Beltran (6)
Yadier Molina (5)
Matt Holliday (4)
Jon Jay (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Pete Kozma (3)
Shelby Miller (3)
Adam Wainwright (3)
Allen Craig (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Tyler Lyons (2)
Edward Mujica (2)
Jake Westbrook (2)
David Freese (1)
Joe Kelly (1)
Seth Maness (1)
Trevor Rosenthal (1)
Michael Wacha (1)
Ty Wigginton (1)

2012 Top Hero: Matt Holliday (17)
2011 Top Hero: Lance Berkman (24)
2010 Top Heroes: Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (24)
2009 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (28)
2008 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (25)

Goats
Jon Jay (6)
David Freese (5)
Mitchell Boggs (4)
Joe Kelly (4)
Pete Kozma (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Allen Craig (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Yadier Molina (3)
Matt Adams (2)
Carlos Beltran (2)
Matt Carpenter (2)
Matt Holliday (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Seth Maness (1)
Shane Robinson (1)
Fernando Salas (1)
Adam Wainwright (1)
Jake Westbrook (1)

2012 Top Goat: Rafael Furcal (11)
2011 Top Goat: Ryan Theriot (12)
2010 Top Goat: Brendan Ryan (14)
2009 Top Goats: Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer (13)
2008 Top Goat: Troy Glaus (13)

Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
Derrick Goold 89.1% (up 6.3%)
Matt Holliday 88.4% (up 0.9%)
Allen Craig 88.3%
Adam Wainwright 88.2% (down 3.7%)
Jose Oquendo 87.1% (up 2.4%)
Jason Motte 86.9%
John Mozeliak 86.5% (up 1.1%)
United Cardinal Bloggers 85.2% (up 6.3%)
Bill DeWitt 85.1% (up 5.3%)
Mike Shannon 85.1% (down 0.2%)
John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
David Freese 82.9% (down 2.6%)
Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
Lance Lynn 79.5%
Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
Jim Hayes 73.0% (up 1.1%)
Ricky Horton 65.5% (down 2.0%)
Jaime Garcia 64.1%
Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

2012
Tony La Russa 88.2% (up 17.4%)
Mark McGwire 82.6% (up 20.1%)
Skip Schumaker 73.3% (up 9.2%)
B.J. Rains 69.5% (down 0.9%)
Kyle Lohse 68.9% (up 13.8%)
Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
Colby Rasmus 46.5% (down 35.3%)

2011
Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

2009
Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%


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