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August 2009

Brooms Work Fine On Nats

Posted on August 31, 2009 at 7:07 AM
For the third time in August, a weekend series resulted in a clean sweep by the Cardinals.  This sweep gave you some of everything--the dramatic walk off win, the explosive offense win, the Cy Young candidate win.  How can you ask for more?

Friday (4-3 win)
Hero: Khalil Greene.  Albert Pujols got the big, game-winning, ninth-inning blast, but he might not have been in the position to do that if it weren't for Greene's pinch-hit home run.  I sometimes  think the announcers and commentators go too far in "being nice" to Khalil due to his anxiety and everything, but there's little doubt that they were correct in saying that was huge for him.  Nice to see the curtain call as well.
Goat: Colby Rasmus.  An 0-3 with at least one really rough AB.  In the eighth, with the Cards down one (and, as such, needing baserunners) he swings at the first pitch that was in on him and hits a little dribbler to the pitcher.  Greene cleared that up with the next swing, but it still wasn't good baseball.
Notes: Another strong outing by John Smoltz.  Like I said last week, the Nationals did have some offensive pop.  Smoltz looked a little shaky early but settled in.  Be interesting to see how he continues to gain strength in his next start....Blake Hawksworth had a rough outing, giving up back to back doubles to put the Cards in the hole.  At least he was able to limit the damage...Didn't you just know that AP was going deep?  Strangely, I was pretty sure Khalil was but wasn't as confident about Albert.  Maybe his "slump" is over.

Saturday (9-4 win)
Hero: Colby Rasmus.  Sure, Matt Holliday hit the first three-run bomb, but the game was still pretty close when Rasmus went yard.  Add to that the fact that it was off a lefty reliever and was a complete bomb, mix in another hit and a stolen base and you've got to go with the rookie.
Goat: Kyle McClellan.  Most everyone did their job on Saturday.  The offense was clicking, with numerous hitters having a multi-hit game.  Mitchell Boggs basically held the Nationals in check for a while, especially after getting his lead.  However, McClellan did his best to give it all back to Washington, getting only one out but allowing a run and putting two on before exiting the game.  He was better Sunday and perhaps has had a reminder of what he needs to do, but it's still just a little dicey when he comes into a game.
Notes: Nice to see the Cards hit multiple home runs in a game that weren't solo shots....Jason Motte came a tough situation and made good.  He pitched over an inning and only allowed one hit, one that actually stayed in the park.

Sunday (2-1 win)
Hero: Adam Wainwright.  The offense wasn't there and Wainwright did only go six, but he picked up his 16th win on his birthday with another stellar outing.  It's a shock to the system when Wainwright or Carpenter don't go seven or more, but it was enough yesterday as the bullpen did its job.  He kept those Cy Young chances alive, which is a big thing.
Goat: Matt Holliday.  When only Rasmus and Pujols have hits in the game, you are probably going to find your goat on the offensive side.  Holliday wasn't the only one with 0 hits, of course, but he did leave three men on.
Notes: The Cubs losing gave the team the 10-game cushion I mentioned on Friday.  Cubs do play this evening vs. Houston, so they could get it back into single digits....Back to back good games for Colby Rasmus.  He's become the heir apparent to Jim Edmonds, not just because he plays center at a Gold Glove level, but because he's about as streaky as anyone.

The Cards get the day off to reflect on an August that saw them go 20-6 and go from tied to up 10.  There may have been better months in Cardinal history, but it's tough to beat both of those facts.  A 20 win September (and early October) would have them finishing up with 97 wins.  While you'd think that back-to-back 20 win months would be touhg, look at the schedule.

You have Milwaukee nine times in that span, a team right at .500.  Three games with Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, which usually goes well for the Birds.  A tough stretch with back to back series with Atlanta and Florida, both of whom are contending for the wild card.  Three with Houston.  Three with Colorado, also working for the wild card.  Finally, another series with Cincy, who has bottomed out this year.

The Cards have 30 games left.  20-10 would be a pretty strong stretch with this schedule. 18-12 would be .600 ball, which since they've played at a .735 clip since acquiring Holliday, seems to be doable. St. Louis right now has the second best record in the National League, just a game and a half behind the Dodgers.  So we'll have to do some West Coast scoreboard watching this September.

Of course, the big off-the-field "news" this weekend was the rift between Dave Duncan and the front office.  Anyone who has been following the Cardinals knows that Dunc was ticked at the time of the Chris Duncan trade.  Which, as a father, there is going to be some of that anger there, especially if you think your child isn't being treated fairly. 

That said, if Joe Strauss is right in his article, the more immediate problem for Duncan would likely be the lack of impact he's allowed to have at the minor league levels.  I can see where he'd want to have input on the pitching philosophy at those levels, because those are the players he'll have to deal with if they make it to the bigs, and if they've already got that background, it helps a lot.  However, you don't necessarily want to remake the whole organization in the image of one man that may or may not be around a few years from now, at best.  VEB has a better breakdown of the whole situation.

I got to do a little minor league watching yesterday, taking the family down to Little Rock to see the Arkansas Travelers take on the Springfield Cardinals.  Now, if you actually want to do scouting, you don't take a 4 1/2 year old and a 2 year old.  Just a tip to the wise.  I did get to see some of the game, though.

Lance Lynn was the starting pitcher and I was interested to see how he'd do, but he moved through the first three innings without getting a hit.  He seemed to be getting a good number of swinging strikes and left with the lead.  Pete Kozma went yard, taking one just over the wall to get the baby birds on the board.

Eduardo Sanchez, the topic of promotion talk before the John Smoltz deal, came in to pitch the eighth with a one run lead and was not impressive.  He gave up a towering home run to tie the game and a well-struck double down the left-field line in the same inning.  He did get out of a first-and-third jam to keep it tied and looked better in the ninth, but the Cardinals gave it away in the 10th, hitting a batter with the bases loaded and no outs.  (Which was fine with me by that time, because I had been standing in line so the boy could run the bases since the top of the 9th.)

Troy Glaus looks to return to St. Louis this week, though he did tweak his ankle during Saturday night's game.  It's amazing to think that, just a couple of weeks before spring training, we were counting on Glaus to be a huge part of a successful Cardinal season.  Now he's been out all year and the Cards haven't missed a beat.  You'd think people on the internet didn't know what they were talking about at times.

Someone who does know what's he's talking about is Jason from It's About The Money.  One of the members of the continually-growing Baseball Bloggers Alliance (as you can see from my blogroll, and more on the BBA later in the year), he had a great experience during the Cards/Pads series, even though he's a Yankees blogger.

Another link for you to consider is this site's Top Athlete Tourney.  Eugene was writing the Cardinal blog Riding The Pine until getting involved at this general sports site.  Check it out and I know they'd love to have your input.

We'll take a look at the Milwaukee series tomorrow.  Today, enjoy being 10 up!

Offense, Bullpen Lets Down Carpenter

Posted on August 28, 2009 at 9:14 AM
While Chris Carpenter wasn't the pitching Jedi yesterday that we in Cardinal Nation have come to expect, you have to think that in most times, with most bats, two runs in six innings is likely enough to get you a win.  Even if a guy walks the last two guys in the order, that's not sin enough for penalty, is it?

Yet it almost turned out that way for him yesterday.  Though he left with a 3-2 lead, it seemed a struggle for the offense to even get that much.  So when Kyle McClellan gave up the tying run, things looked dark.  When he allowed the go-ahead run, it was time to put away the brooms.

Those two runs were the first charged to McClellan in August.  He's only allowed one of eight inherited runners to score in that time.  Yet, for some reason, I still don't have a world of confidence when he's on the hill.  I guess the 4.15 ERA for July probably has something to do with it.  I would have rather seen Blake Hawksworth get more than one inning, but on the whole, with Ryan Franklin out of the picture, it was probably the best move Tony LaRussa could have made.

On the upside, I'm going to give the Hero tag to Julio Lugo.  He had two hits and beat out one potential double-play ball.  Nice way to break out of an ofer slump.  Hopefully that'll trigger him and, in turn, some of the rest of the offense.

Brian Burwell has a great article up about the group side sessions that go on with Cardinal starters.  I'm kinda surprised that more teams don't do something like that.  Maybe that's why the Cardinals always talk about "tipping pitches", because when so many eyes of your peers are on you, mistakes are easier to find.  It'll be interesting to see if that continues if there is a managerial or pitching coach change in the next few years.

After putting out a huge offer to Brian Fuentes last off-season, it looks like the Cardinals are going to appreciate their good fortune in not getting him by locking up Franklin to an extension.  It doesn't appear to be a bank-breaker, which is good, but since you had an option on him for 2010, why not wait and see what kind of season he has then?  I'm not too worried about more than the natural regression, but if he blows up next year, that 2011 year could be an albatross, though hopefully not an Albertross, keeping the team from signing Pujols.

It is a little interesting that the Cards are already looking to start solving next year's problems.  With so many free agents and moving pieces, they probably had to get a head start on it, though having a 9 game lead helps out in the fact they don't have to worry about it really being a distraction to the team.

Kyle Lohse is apparently doing much better and sounds like he'll be ready to come off the DL when the 15 days are up.  Sounds like the club is really going to scramble to get him and Todd Wellemeyer minor league starts.  I'm considering heading to the Arkansas Travelers game this Sunday when they play Springfield--wouldn't mind seeing either one of them there.

Cards open up with the Nationals tonight, as John Smoltz tries to keep the hype machine going against the NL's worst team.  While they may the worst team, that is more on the pitching side of things than anything else.  The team stands sixth in the NL in runs, eighth in home runs (just 4 shy of the Cardinals), and fifth in batting average.  So while the Cardinals are going to be favored in this game, it should tell us more about Smoltz when it is done.  Smoltz has already faced them once this year with disastrous results, so if the changes have paid off, we should really know.

The Cardinals face John Lannan.  None of the Cardinals have seen him much (Albert's 0-2 against him) but it's not completely a fresh slate. He's been a middle of the road starter this year with an ERA just over 4 and an ERA+ of 107.  Hopefully the Cards can get untracked against him, but it's no sure thing.

The Cubs host the Mets, which as beat up as the Mets are, may make for a good weekend on the North Side.  Then again, it is the Cubs.  We'll see if, come Monday, the Cards have a double-digit lead on the last day of the month. 

Oh, That Cardinal Pitching

Posted on August 27, 2009 at 9:00 AM
I'm a pitching fan.  I love seeing dominant pitching performances, low-hit games, games where you know that early runs will hold up and the game moves briskly along.

That's why this incarnation of the St. Louis Cardinals is so much fun for me.  When you've got a group of starters that have gone 28-3 with a 1.89 ERA since July 1, you know that night in and night out, you are getting ridiculously good pitching.

That held up last night as Joel Pineiro kept the run alive.  Save for a spell in the fourth where the ground balls actually made it through for hits, Pineiro kept the Astros off the basepaths, usually by getting them to hit the ball right back to him.  I don't think I've seen a pitcher make so many plans in one game in a long time.  It's a good thing Pineiro is a heck of a fielder, because he got plenty of action last night.

With the fact that he'd thrown only 87 pitches, I really wanted to see him come back out for the ninth.  I'm thinking that, if Brendan Ryan had reached leading off the bottom of the eighth, Pineiro might have stayed in to sacrifice.  Still, the bullpen is well-rested, something that's likely to continue today with Chris Carpenter going.  By Friday, if John Smoltz isn't ready to go over five innings, it won't be an issue because the bullpen guys are going to need work anyway.

On the down side, the offense still needs to get on track.  It looked like things were going to be better last night with that first inning explosion, but for the second night in a row, that's all she wrote.  It's not like they didn't have their chances, leaving numerous runners on.  However, it seemed like most of those situations came up with two outs, needing a hit to get it done.  That hit didn't come.  (BTW, check out this trivia Tweet from Fox Sports Midwest about winning games by just scoring in the first.)

The worst of the offense last night had to be Rick Ankiel, in my book.  Not only was he the only person in the lineup not to get a hit, but he had the most miserable at-bat I've seen in a while in the 7th.  He took two fastballs that were right there without even looking like he was going to offer at them.  If he looked that lost after a strong batting practice, it may be time to keep him off the field for a while.

I talked some about the National League Cy Young race here yesterday.  There's a better breakdown at Viva El Birdos today that comes to the same conclusion that Tim Lincecum will win it.  However, Rob Neyer thinks one of the Redbird hurlers will get the hardware.

Afternoon game today, pitting Chris Carpenter against Brian Moehler as the Cardinals look for the sweep.   Carp's done pretty good against the 'Stros this year, giving up two runs in eight innings in a no decision and one run over nine in a win.  His career numbers are favorable as well, as long as he keeps Lance Berkman in the park.  And, as hard as it is to believe, he's been more dominanting in the day games (1.69 ERA) than night ones (2.36).  If he's the regular Carpenter today, the Cards aren't going to be giving Houston much of a chance.

Moehler, though his total numbers don't look impressive, was able to limit St. Louis to two runs over six and two-thirds back in July.  If his career numbers are any indication, though, it would be a good day for the offense to get rolling.  You can see there that Albert Pujols has some strong power numbers against Moehler.  Looking at AP's splits, he's hit 16 of his 40 homers in day games, even though he's played 40 fewer games under the sun.  Put all that together, and #41 might be coming today.

Lots of places to follow along, from Twitter to CardsClubhouse to the FSN Live Blog.  Let's see if we can't use the brooms today! 

Something Special

Posted on August 26, 2009 at 8:39 AM
While Adam Wainwright may not get his own MLB "Beyond" commercial like his first baseman did, but the Cardinal right-hander is producing some living history of his own.

Wainwright stretched his streak of going at least six innings (which is serious stuff, of course) to 25 straight games while running another streak, of giving up two runs or less, out to 12.  The note from the game story really puts in into perspective:

During his mind-bending season of 1968, Bob Gibson had a run of 11 such starts. Since 1954, only John Tudor's streak of 15 in 1987-88 is longer.
You pass Bob Gibson on a list like this, especially something he did in '68? You've done something remarkable.

Being able to see Wainwright and Chris Carpenter continue to go out there and put up zeros is incredible, something that we'll be talking about for years to come, I expect.  When was the last time there were two serious contenders for the Cy Young going on the Redbird staff?  There are years where the season Joel Pineiro is having would be leaps and bounds the highlight of the pitching staff.  Now, it's an afterthought.

I'm sure the advanced metrics still go toward Tim Lincecum and I'm not like Al, who said on the broadcast last night that he'd go with Wainwright "because he has 15 wins" and indicated he'd change his mind if Carpenter had more wins.  That said, there has to be at least an argument to give the award to one of these guys, doesn't there?

I never have figured out a way to do a table on this blog, so bear with me as I put out some numbers and look at Tim Lincecum as he stacks up to our two guys.

Wins: TL 12, CC 14, AW 15*
IP: TL 185.1, CC 145.2, AW 187.0*
ERA: TL 2.43, CC 2.16*, AW 2.50
K: TL 214*, CC 111, AW 157
WHIP: TL 1.041, CC 0.961, AW 1.209
BAA: TL .210, CC .223, AW
K/BB: TL 4.20, CC 4.83, AW 2.91
HR: TL 8, CC 7, AW 15
(*--league leader)

Looking at those numbers, it looks like Wainwright lags behind the other two in most categories, meaning the race would be between Lincecum and Carpenter.  Which is probably what it is going to come down to.  But let's factor out the early season glitches of Wainwright and see what the lines look like since June 1.

Wainwright: 10-4, 115 IP, 106 H, 8 HR, 1.96 ERA, .241 BAA, WHIP 1.15, WPA 3.14
Carpenter: 11-3, 116.2 IP, 101 H, 7 HR, 2.55 ERA, .239 BAA, WHIP 1.02, WPA 3.17
Lincecum: 8-3, 120 IP, 83 H, 7 HR, 2.10 ERA, .193 BAA, WHIP 0.96, WPA 2.64

Even factoring that in, Lincecum is the leader for the award.  However, the margin is fairly slim, and he's been a little more human in August, so if he slips much further, a continued press by either of the Cardinal hurlers might sneak them in there.  If the Giants miss the playoffs, that might skew some voters to the Redbirds as well.

Nice to see Albert Pujols at least partially solve one of his long-time tormentors.  He may have had only one hit, but when it's a game like last night, you take what you can get, plus one run may make the difference.  We'll see if he can bring a little more thunder in the next couple of games.

Tough to really name a Goat last night, because you have to give so much credit to the way Wandy Rodriguez was pitching.  I guess we'll give it to Mark DeRosa, because while he wasn't the only person to go hitless, he was the only one to strike out twice.

Lot of hoopla before the game as Shelby Miller got his formal introduction to the life of a Cardinal.  Now he moves from the realm of this blog and those like it to more of a regular Future Redbirds content provider as he heads down to Quad Cities to get started.  It'll be interesting to see how his couple of appearances in the next week or so pan out. I hope that he'll be all they expect him to be, because having a dominant pitching prospect to keep an eye on is something that's been lacking in the past few years.

It's another fun pitching matchup tonight as Pineiro takes on Roy Oswalt.  Oswalt's numbers against the Cardinals this year are skewed by the Easter weekend beatdown he took, giving up six runs in six innings.  His last time was much closer to the Oswalt we've come to expect, though St. Louis still hung three on him in seven innings.

In his career, he's done OK, though those batting averages on the whole are higher than I would have expected.  Pujols has done pretty well against him, smoking five homers, and newcomers DeRosa and Matt Holliday aren't that mystified by him either.  It might be that the offense could get a bit more on track tonight after all.

Pineiro has only faced the Astros once in 2009, way back in his first start of the year.  He allowed two runs in just under seven innings to sent the tone for what has been an amazing season for him.  The Astros have good career numbers against him, but we've seen time and time again this year that the past seems to have no impact on the present Joel Pineiro.

Remember tonight that dangerously dynamic duo from Pitchers Hit Eighth host the UCB Radio Hour.  9:30 Central time and they will have as a guest the writer covering the Springfield Cards.  You can find an interview with her here.  Come and join us!

Off Day Miscellany

Posted on August 25, 2009 at 8:29 AM
No major moves.  No breaking stories.  Just a quiet, ho-hum off day.  Which means there's not too much to write about.  So let's just hit a few links before we take a look at the series that starts tonight vs. Houston.

Matthew Leach has another of his mailbags up.  Possibly the most interesting point was that Jamie Garcia is now off rehab and is pitching for Memphis, but he likely won't get much of a look in the bigs this year.  You'd think that they might want to see him in September, get him a few innings more of work, but I can understand the desire to not press their luck.

Josh at Redbirds Row does a quick recap of where we stand now, then announces his move to Pitchers Hit Eighth.  Which means tomorrow night's UCB Radio Hour will be basically sponsored by PH8, since Josh and founder Nick will be hosting.

Cardinal John has a little fun with his Red Sox-loving cousin.  Like La Beisbolista said on her Facebook page, wouldn't it be ironic if John Smoltz got the win and Julio Lugo a key hit in a 2004 Series rematch?  While Boston is paying both of those guys to beat them?

While the Cardinals can be forgiven for looking to October, there's still a month of baseball to be played.  Stranger things have happened, and the team isn't getting ahead of itself.  You would expect a TLR-managed team to stay focused and continue to pile up the wins.

My monthly post is up today at Baseball Reflections, if you want to check that out.  August was a very good month to write about!

Tonight, the Cardinals have to take on one of their nemesises in Wandy Rodriguez, whom has provoked some dislike in quarters of Cardinal Nation. Rodriguez has moved onto the list of Cardinal killers, not in the least because he can shut down Albert Pujols as well as just about anyone.  The Cardinals can beat him--he's 1-1 in three starts against them this year--but it won't be a slugfest, as he's only allowed a 2.65 ERA against the Birds in 2009.

However, if you are going into a game that you don't expect to score much in, it's a good thing to be taking a Cy Young candidate into it with you.  If momentum means anything, Adam Wainwright has got it.  His combined ERA for the months of July and August?  1.34. He's given up 11 earned runs in the that span, which is fewer than he gave up in May and June each.  He's been particularly tough on the Astros as well this year, fashioning a 1.50 ERA with one win in two starts.  He lost a 2-0 game in his last start against them, but in his career he's done all right against people not named Hunter Pence.

Should be a good, quick, low-scoring game tonight and I'm looking forward to watching it.  If you missed James's take from the Houston side of things, you can find that post below.

Cubs host the Nationals tonight, so if the Cards want to keep that streak of not losing ground to the Baby Bears since July 30 (on days the Cards have played), they probably better find a way to win tonight.  Hate to see that eight game lead drop at all, wouldn't we?

The View From Houston

Posted on August 24, 2009 at 3:08 PM
Earlier this year, James from Astros County and I agreed to do something to note each series that Houston and St. Louis played against each other.  This time around, it's a blog swap.  You can see my comments over at his blog soon (edit--it's up now), but for now, read how a devoted Astros fan sees the upcoming series.

Alright, Cardinals fans, I hope you can put aside the fact that you're going to win the NL Central for a few minutes and listen to the grumblings of an Astros fan. The time before the last time we met, we Astros fans left feeling pretty good about ourselves. The Astros had just swept the Cardinals, and we were riding high - two one-run wins, and a game back of the NL Central lead. And then everything went to hell for the Astros. After that third game, the Astros were 49-46, and I was ready to send a steaming bag of poo to Baseball Prospectus (who predicted the Astros would go 66-96, finishing behind the Pirates for last place). But then age and injuries caught up with the Astros. Lance Berkman went on the DL and Roy Oswalt was dealing with back problems around the same time. Russ Ortiz would be released within a week of the sweep against the Cardinals; and the Astros are 12-17 since that sweep, including winning four of our last five games.
 
As far as I'm concerned, at least the Cubs are right there with us.
 
It's astonishing what Matt Holliday has done for you since that trade. Initially I was all for this trade, because Mozeliak was mortgaging the future for a guy who was hitting .286. Then you got Julio Lugo, and I was basically clapping with glee. I may have wet my pants - we'll never know as the evidence has been laundered. Now I'm scared to death that Holliday going to pull a McGwire and love St. Louis so much that he signs an extension. This is the one instance in which I hope he's a greedy SOB allows Boras to be his own personal Uncle Pennybags -as long as it's not St. Louis. And I'm equally scared that Lugo was just sand-bagging his career with the Astros, Rays, and Red Sox, and has decided to explode now. Because with Holliday in the lineup, there's just no comparing the Astros and Cardinals respective lineups. On paper, the Astros should be right there - but they're just...not. They're too old. And that's frustrating. But offense wasn't going to be a big problem for Houston, the question all along was the rotation. I said it before: If Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz are the answer, then Ed Wade is asking the wrong question. Now Ortiz is gone, and Mike Hampton's arm has predictably detached from his shoulder. So this series won't affect the Astros' 2009 too much, but it gives us Astros fans hope, because owner Drayton McLane will most likely be watching, and we're just hoping that he'll notice what a team with a balance in free agency/trades and minor league talent looks like.
 
On to this series: Part of the reason the Astros swept you back in July was because of the pitching matchups. Now those move more favorably towards you this time around. We have to deal with Wainwright and Carpenter and an emerging Pineiro. Luckily for Houston, we have Oswalt and Magic Wandy going this series. I think Oswalt will take the Wednesday game, Carpenter will take the Thursday game against Moehler, and the rubber match will actually be the first game of the series, with Wandy vs. Wainwright. Your offense gets the nod, and I fully expect you to take the series. With the Cubs hosting the Nationals, there's the potential that the Nationals could screw up and win two of those games. 
 
Basically Houston is 10 back with 38 to play. Even if the Astros somehow pull off a sweep, one of our beat writers tells us, we still have to be seven games better than you - in 35 games - to win the division. That's a tall order, even for a "second-half team," a term meeting a timely end this season. So here's to finishing ahead of the Cubs.

Cardinals Continue To Push

Posted on August 24, 2009 at 8:36 AM
It wasn't necessarily a perfect series against the Padres this weekend, but it definitely was a positive one.  The Cards never lost any on their division lead and were able to push it out to eight games.  They may have lost a pitcher, but they may have gained one (or at least more than they thought) as well.  Let's take a look at the last four games.

Thursday (5-1 win)
Hero: Brendan Ryan.  You don't need to hand much of a lead over to Joel Pineiro, but Ryan gave him plenty with his first career grand slam.
Goat: Colby Rasmus.  Tough night for the rook, with an 0-3 plus an error.
Notes: Another stellar outing for Pineiro.  It might not last after this season, and I don't think the Cards should go nuts trying to keep him, but it's very enjoyable while it lasts.....We have a scoreless Jason Motte sighting!  Granted, it was just a third of an inning, but it's something, right?

Friday (4-0 loss)
Hero: Talk about a tough one.  Nobody stands out in this game, but I guess I'll go with Mark DeRosa, since he went 1-3 and walked, leaving no one on base.
Goat: Hate to give it to a guy that wound up leaving injured, but Kyle Lohse didn't look that sharp even before the injury.
Notes: Really not much going on here.  Nobody stood out in good ways or bad ways.  I would have liked to seen Blake Hawksworth get stretched out some, but that's a minor point.

Saturday (7-0 win)
Hero: Chris Carpenter.  Seven innings, three hits, no runs.  Plus he took over the ERA lead from Tim Lincecum as well.
Goat: Albert Pujols.  Three strikeouts in a game for AP doesn't happen often.  Nine times in his career, in fact, and it'd been over a year since his last one.
Notes: Matt Holliday had another good game, smashing a home run among his two hits.  Joe Strauss indicates via Twitter that the Cards could start working on 2010, with the implication that they'll be talking to Scott Boras very soon.

Sunday (5-2 win)
Hero: John Smoltz. I'm not sure what the expectations were for Smoltz going into this game.  We'd seen the Boston results and, while there was hope for improvement, I'm pretty sure no one expected him to set any kind of strikeout record.
Goat: Rick Ankiel.  0-5, 3 K, 6 LOB.  That's not a pretty line.
Notes: The Jason Motte scoreless appearance streak was pretty short as he gave up (what else) a home run in this game....Ryan Franklin apparently channelled his inner Izzy, making the game way too interesting in the ninth before locking down the save....Apparently Pujols didn't care too much for Will Venable's style of play, criticism that was justified, according to some.

So the Cards enter yet another off day, their fourth of five this month, sitting eight games ahead of the Chicago Cubs and with a magic number of 31.  You know John Mozeliak is pretty happy with how things are going and is feeling much better about his public relations than he was this time last year.

It's not a walk to the playoffs, though.  The eight-game cushion is nice, but we'll really see what this team has in store over the next series, when Houston throws Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt and Brian Moehler at the Cards.  All of those pitchers have given the team fits before.  Having Adam Wainwright and Carpenter going in the series helps, but winning this series should go a long way toward quieting any fears about the long-term viability of this club.

Speaking of the Astros, we'll be having a guest post here from James of Astros County either later today or tomorrow taking a look at the series.

Somehow this weekend I wound up making a spirited defense of Chris Duncan's time in St. Louis.  If you want to chime in on either side, feel free to do so.  Enjoy the offday!

Pujols Pulls It Out

Posted on August 20, 2009 at 8:14 AM
It's always good to have the best player in baseball on your team.

I've said before that the great ones get it done somehow, whatever it takes.  Albert Pujols proved that again tonight.  He only had one official at-bat, but proved that walking him is not always the brightest idea either.  His ninth inning steal made it possible for Matt Holliday to drive him in and win the game.

It's too bad that it came down to more Pujols heroics, though.  Adam Wainwright was pitching a gem last night.  No hits until the sixth inning is always a nice way for an ace to come out.  Then came the seventh, which is completely my fault.

I wasn't able to watch the early part of the game due to co-hosting last night's UCB Radio Hour and chatting with some of the bloggers after it.  So I get back to the game right about the seventh.  The first home run, I really thought was going to be caught.  The way the ball came off the bat, I thought it'd be a long fly out, but it just kept carrying.  The second home run was pretty much crushed off a hanging pitch.  At this point, I figure it's best for everyone if I roll over and go to sleep.  I do, the Dodgers don't score again, and the Cards win.  Apparently it was my night to be the Cardinal Nation jinx.

Save for that one inning, though, it was again a wonderful outing for Wainwright.  We discussed the NL Cy Young race on the show last night, and while Tim Lincecum probably does have it all wrapped up, especially when you look at the advanced metrics, you do have to tip your cap to what Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are doing.  They may not win the award, but they are definitely in the top 5.

I was leading toward Ryan Ludwick as the Goat for his strikeout with the bases loaded, but it's tough to argue with Julio Lugo's line of no hits in five at-bats, including stranding Brendan Ryan at third in the eighth in a tie game.  It'd have been nice to get that run and get Wainwright in line for his 15th win, but it was not to be.

Of course, the other big news of yesterday was the finalization of the John Smoltz deal.  There are indications that Smoltz still has something left in the tank, despite what his run in the American League might seem to say.  I found it pretty interesting that there is a fairly short leash on his starter role, as Tony LaRussa says they'll reevaluate after two starts.  With John Mozeliak indicating that part of the reason for him to start is to get more innings to get ready, it's hard to fault the move too much.

Honestly, for $100,000, you can't fault the move at all.  The best case scenario would be he reverts to more like John Smoltz of old and overtakes Kyle Lohse for the fourth starter role, putting him in the playoff rotation.  I don't really think that's going to happen, though it'd be great if it did.

More realistically, you think he could be passable in his starts, then move into the late inning role that most of us figure the Cards really wanted him for.  Imagine being able to go from Carpenter/Wainwright to Smoltz to Ryan Franklin in October.  The best way to win games in the postseason is to keep the other team away from the soft part of your bullpen.  If you could make that kind of transition, there is no soft part.  The lefties are strong, Blake Hawksworth has proven he can get guys out, so you might not have to see Jason Motte come into the game in a key situation after the regular season wraps.

I understand Mike from Stan Musial's Stance is planning to be at Sunday's game, which should be Smoltz's first start, so I'm sure he'll have some interesting points after watching him.  Be sure to check over there Sunday evening or Monday morning!

Smoltz was on XM Radio yesterday and had a few interesting things to say.

"I went home for 13 days, worked on a high school field, went to Georgia Tech and threw, got all the people who have ever worked with me looking at it and we've hopefully unlocked a simple secret but one that slipped away from me, [which] was the heel of my shoe was about two inches off the rubber pointed the wrong way and causing me to not get away from my arm side, to the left side of the plate which is where I've always been good, and it just really trickled down into a lot of bad habits.  So I wouldn't be doing this today if I didn't think I could make the necessary adjustments to really help a ball club. I could just as easily sit at home and watch baseball and get ready for fantasy football but I'm not ready for that yet."
I told someone yesterday, if there was any sort of mechanical problem, not only do you expect Dave Duncan to be able to find it (though it looks like Smoltz may have already done so) but Smoltz is veteran enough to apply whatever patch is needed.  He's not some young guy that needs to be told 10 times what to do.  If an adjustment to the mechanics will help, Smoltz knows how to do it.

"And for me personally this was the best fit.  It gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet again.  I need reps.  I need to get out there and feel good about my pitches and they need to see it.  They need to know and assess what role is going to be the best for them.  They've created a body of work that I've had nothing to do with and certainly want to be able to contribute in any way I can.  I really believe that I know still what it takes.  I know the difference between pressure and making big pitches.  Now I've just got to get myself in that position.  Their clubhouse, their guys that were there really all led to me making a decision that was the best for me and my family."--on why he chose the Cardinals
I know Wainwright and Mark DeRosa were really on him to come to St. Louis, with DeRosa saying the atmosphere was like those great Atlanta teams of the past.

"Whatever they feel is the best role.  I've done both but at this point I've trained this long comeback to start and to create this structure.  So I'd have to find out where I'm at physically and where I'm at, more importantly, pitch-wise.  You know, every game that I came out this year, with the exception of Washington, the first couple of innings were great.  And I know that a lot of teams were looking at that as saying that maybe I fatigued or got tired or whatever the reasons would be and I tend to think, mechanically, you flirt with fire long enough you're going to get burned and that's what happened to me.  Mechanically I wasn't as good as I needed to be so the longer you're out there and the more big league hitters you face the better chance you are to run into some innings.  So getting ready and pitching a big inning is not a big deal for me.  The big deal's going to be how many times can I do it and how many times can I get up and down?  So that's where getting my innings in right now will be important.  I'm not an idiot.  I realize I've got to get some results.  So the first couple starts or the first couple games I'm not going to put the pressure I put on myself and just go out there and make pitches."
It's easy to take a 20+ year veteran at his word when he says "whatever they want".  Mozeliak emphasized that Smoltz made no demands during the negotiations, which helps ease any uncomfortableness the coaching staff might have had about moving him to the pen later on.

This has been an amazing couple of months, really unprecidented in my following of the Cards.  When was the last time they filled this many needs, and did so in such a prominent way?  I know the early '00s, Walt tended to make a deadline move or two, like 2000 when he brought in Will Clark and Carlos Hernandez (and I know there was another move, but I'm blanking), but to get the top players on the market?  To get the two hitters everyone wanted in DeRosa and Holliday?  To get a couple of cast-offs in Lugo and Smoltz that still had some cache?  To fill basically every hole in a pretty leaky ship so that you don't even have to worry about Joe Thurston still being on the team?  Amazing.

Cards get to try to continue this run tonight in San Diego.  Joel Pineiro will take his groundball stuff to Petco, one of the best pitching parks in the league.  In other words, even if he gets something up, it's likely to stay in the park.  Pineiro has had some difficulties with these guys in the past, but he was able to limit them to three runs in just shy of seven innings last weekend

Padres counter with Tim Stauffer.  The Cards beat him around pretty good last weekend, and since he's only faced the Cardinals twice in his career, those career numbers are kinda skewed.  On paper, this one leans toward the Cardinals, but the only baseball that gets played on paper is rotisserie (and even that's on computer these days).

Can't Win Them All

Posted on August 19, 2009 at 7:04 AM
Well, it's not like the Cards were going to run off a 40+ game winning streak.  (Though that obviously would have been nice.)  Going up against a team that has the best record in the division with their ace on the mound using a fifth starter is not the sort of game you have a lot of confidence in anyway.

That said, St. Louis made that more of a game than they would have a few months back.  Used to be 3-0 was an invitation to turn off the TV and do something more productive with your time.  Last night, the only reason I didn't expect much of a rally was that five runs against Chad Billingsley would have been a tall order.  The Cards did make a game of it, cutting the lead to 5-3 before the Dodgers tacked on a couple more later on.

The first couple of batters made it look like Mitchell Boggs really had something going.  His ball was moving and he was getting grounders.  Even after the first, he didn't look too bad.  When things started snowballing, though, they got out of control in a hurry.

The boxscore seems to say that Jason Motte was OK, giving up no runs.  However, he let the two runners Boggs had left on score, which proved to be huge later in the game.  If it stays at 3-0, who knows how the game turns out from there.  Maybe he can learn something from John Smoltz (more on that in a bit) when he gets here.

Really wasn't much offense--five hits--so to score three runs out of that wasn't a shabby feat.  We haven't been able to say much positive about him, so let's give the Hero tag to Khalil Greene for driving in the third run with a solid single.

So, assuming there is no team crazy enough to actually take on Smoltz's contract, he'll be a Cardinal by this evening.  I can't say I'm all that thrilled with the fact that he's going to be a starter for the team, but I'm guessing that the thought process is that he can't be that much worse than what the team has been running out there in the fifth slot and he'll slide into that right-handed relief role for October.  For $100,000, it's definitely worth the gamble.

It'll also be interesting to see if Smoltz can get anything from working with Dave Duncan.  This isn't your ordinary Duncan project, of course.  Smoltz not only has had plenty of success in the bigs, but he worked with his own legendary pitching coach for quite a while.  That said, if there's a flaw or something that Duncan has spotted that can tweak Smoltz back closer to the John Smoltz we all know, that just adds to the possibilities for St. Louis.  Don't know that there is anything like that, but even just moving to the NL should help Smoltz's numbers.

Not sure what the move will be to get Smoltz on the active roster, but I wouldn't be completely surprised if Motte doesn't get a few weeks down in Memphis to try to straighten things out.  Unless they feel he would do better up here learning from Smoltz.

It's not too early to scoreboard watch, in my opinion, and it was good that the Cardinals lead didn't lose its seriousness last night, since the Cubs lost again as well.  The team that the Cards just swept has already won the series against the Cubs.  I'm not sure if that says as much as it looks like it says, but I think it's a strong indicator that it's St. Louis's year.  No guarantees, of course, not until that magic number is 0.  (Currently: 35, or in other terms, Matt Morris.)

While you are watching the early part of the game tonight, tune into the United Cardinal Bloggers Radio Hour.  I'll be co-hosting along with Mike from Stan Musial's Stance and we'll have Erik Manning on to talk about Shelby Miller and the state of the minor leagues.  9:30 Central time, so give us a listen!

Late Night Happiness

Posted on August 18, 2009 at 6:57 AM
How nice is it to wake up in the morning and not only see that the Cards kept the lead they had when I fell asleep, but also to find out they extended their lead at the same time?

Another outstanding game for Chris Carpenter.  I think there should be a macro where you could just click a button and the Carpenter superlatives come out, because he is that consistent and that good.  It really makes you think about how much the Cards have missed the last two years with him on the shelf.  If he's around, especially in '07, St. Louis has probably played in October.

However, with the general lack of offense due to a new face and one with a knuckleball to boot, I think you have to give the Hero tag to Rick Ankiel for the surprising but welcome two-run shot that gave the Cards the lead.  Many in Cardinal Nation, in contrast to the beginning of the year, see Rick as somewhat of the weak link now that the team has been upgraded.  It was good to see him come through and get the big hit when the team needed it.

Albert Pujols now sits just one home run away from 40 on the season.  While he's hit that mark in four of his eight seasons before 2009, he hasn't made that mark since 2006.  There seems a pretty solid chance he'll break his career high of 49 from that year.  Earlier in the year, there was talk of 60, which is out the window, but 50 would still be a wonderful campaign.

Last night's Goat goes to Mark DeRosa, who was 0-4.  Is he really just hitting .228 since arriving back in the National League?  Some of his hits have been of the long ball variety and have come at good times, so that's overshadowed the fact that he's struggled somewhat.  Then again, he was hitting .215 for the Cards through July, a much more palatable .267 in August.  However, he hit 7 HR in that earlier span, just one since the calendar has turned to this month.  Seems like we can have average or power but not both.  I think, with the way this team is constructed, hits are much more important.

The Cards now sit six games ahead of the Cubs, who blew a 1-0 lead in the ninth last night to the Padres.  The only bigger lead in baseball is that of the Yankees, who lead Boston by 7.  Obviously there are no guarantees with six weeks left, but you have to like the Redbirds' position.  Well, unless you root for the baby bears, that is.

The off-the-field news was good for the Cardinals yesterday as well, as they came to terms with their first round draft pick Shelby Miller.  Miller, who automatically moves to being in the mix for the Cards' best prospect, signed for much less than rumor had suggested, coming in under $3 million.  Sounds like a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of draft picks, I think it was good for baseball that Stephen Strasburg signed with the Nationals last night.  Those fevered talks of $50 million were crazy, though the record level of $15 million isn't anything to sneeze at.  Getting a guy that talented to a team that bad is what the draft is supposed to be about.  So while he didn't get there the ideal way--many teams wouldn't have been able to even consider signing him--the end result is what you want to see.  This has nothing to do with the fact that I traded for him in my long-term keeper league earlier in the year in anticipation of his signing.

Could be a tough road for the Redbirds tonight.  Chad Billingsley returns to the mound after dealing with a hamstring injury.  The Cards have done all right against Billingsley in the past.  If Tony LaRussa's looking at the career numbers, there's a strong chance Khalil Greene will get a start somewhere in the lineup tonight.  Greene is hitting .583 with a home run in 12 ABs against the Dodger starter.  The Cardinals touched him up for six runs in less than six innings in the series in St. Louis back in July.

St. Louis counters with Mitchell Boggs.  I don't know about you, but I'm kinda disappointed LaRussa broke up Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  It's been nice seeing them go on back to back days, though it's understandable that, with last week's off day, they'd want to keep Carp on his regular rest.  Boggs is an unknown to many of the Dodgers, though Manny Ramirez and Mark Loretta, the only two that have faced him, seem to have solved the puzzle.

It's another late night for the Birds.  Let's see if it's as rewarding.




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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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