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October 2009

Continuing Reaction

Posted on October 28, 2009 at 8:09 AM
The ripples from Monday's press conference are still rolling around Cardinal Nation.  Without Mark McGwire there to answer questions, the reverberations may continue for quite some time.

The latest two questions in the UCB Roundtable dealt with McGwire.  Bernie Mikalsz and Brian Burwell both write about the subject, with similar viewpoints.  Everywhere you look, people are weighing in on the McGwire story.

I've made my position pretty clear on this, I think.  I know there are people that are up in arms about it, that are cancelling season tickets and venting their outrage.  I just can't be one of those people, partly because it's not my nature, but partly because I'm still waiting to see what McGwire has to say.

I seriously can't believe the Cardinals would bring him on or that he'd come out of seclusion only to repeat the "talk about the past" line.  They have to know that isn't going to fly, I would think, and it's going to cause more trouble than it's worth.

Honestly, I'd put odds around 50/50 that McGwire doesn't actually make it to spring training as the hitting coach.  I could see where he would find out he'd misread the scrutiny, bitten off more than he wanted to chew, and bow out.  Until we hear from him, there's really no way of telling what is going to happen.

I will say that Hal McRae was very graceful about losing his job.  Not that you expect anything less, of course, but there was no reason that he had to speak about being let go.  I did think it was time for him to move on, but hopefully he catches on somewhere else.

The players apparently are very fond of Cardinal pitchers.  Chris Carpenter was named the Players' Choice Comeback Player of the Year and, I heard this morning driving into work, Adam Wainwright was named their Outstanding Pitcher in the NL.  (Not to be confused with the Cy Young.  I found that out with the BBA!)  Carpenter was a no brainer, of course, but I was glad to see Wainwright got the nod over Carp and Tim Lincecum.  I don't think that's how the actual Cy Young voting will go (and it wasn't how the Baseball Bloggers Alliance voted either), but it's nice to see him get some recognition.

Wednesday night means UCB Radio Hour.  Tonight, it's just scheduled for a half hour and will start later, at 10:00 CST.  We'll probably talk McGwire and maybe some from our interview with Bill DeWitt III.  (If you've not heard that interview, you can find it here.)  Hope you can join us!

Big News On Many Fronts

Posted on October 25, 2009 at 10:56 PM
For an offseason weekend with a team already out of the playoffs, there have been some seismic shakes going on in St. Louis.

First, the relatively expected news that Tony LaRussa will be back at the helm of the Cardinals for his 15th season with the Redbirds.  One report indicated that it would be a multi-year deal, but as always TLR will take it year by year and decide whether he wants to return or not.  A strong finish to 2010 might be the end of the road for him.

We've talked about this in the UCB roundtable, but I think that having TLR (and, by extension, Dave Duncan) back is probably a good thing for the club.  LaRussa does a lot of good things for this team and tends to get the most out of the players.  While some may criticize how he does it, he usually is able to have the team overachieve.  October is another matter, but you never know what you are going to get there.  It sure wasn't LaRussa's fault that Chris Carpenter had a terrible Game 1 in this year's NLDS.

The bigger news, of course, is that Hal McRae was fired as hitting coach.  That was expected--I mentioned that a week or so ago.  What wasn't expected by anyone in the baseball world was that his replacement would be none other than troubled slugger Mark McGwire.

A lot of people are really up in arms over this.  Which strikes me as fairly ridiculous, really.  Look, we know what the rumors are about McGwire, though there's been little hard evidence to connect him to it.  Say it's true, though.  How worked up can we be?

I will admit, I've been a McGwire fan since his rookie year, so I'm not completely unbiased in this regard.  But, as Pip will likely point out, a team that had Troy Glaus, Ryan Franklin and Rick Ankiel, players either tied to or actually suspended for steroid use, has little room for a high road.  If people aren't going to be worked up about those guys, can you really get steamed about McGwire?

Some would say the difference between those active players and McGwire is that they've admitted their guilt and served their time, as it were.  There's some truth to that.  My personal opinion, though, is that we are going to see something come out of this press conference tomorrow.  I don't believe the Cardinals would have hired him naively thinking they could tell the press "don't ask about it" and that'd happen.  I don't believe McGwire would bring himself out of retirement and subject himself to those kind of questions and harassments if there wasn't a plan in place.

I wouldn't be surprised at tomorrow's press conference that McGwire doesn't say, "OK, here you are.  One time thing.  I'm answering the questions and then I'm moving on.  Yes, I did it.  It was not something I'm proud of.  It was a time where a lot of people were doing the same thing and I felt like I needed it to stay in the game.  I don't think anyone should use them and I'm sorry for what I did.  That said, I'm here to do a job, and that's what I plan to do."

There's going to have to be some addressing of the issue, otherwise this McGwire experiment will likely not last until spring training.

Looking at it from a strictly baseball point of view, though, the move makes some sense.  We've seen what McGwire's tutelage has done for Skip Schumaker the last couple of years.  Obviously, Mac's not all about power and "grip it and rip it."  He seems to have some general fundamental knowledge of hitting and how to impart that to other players.  While he and Matt Holliday didn't necessarily work out well, I don't think that's an indication that he's not going to be effective with the players.

It was obvious that there needed to be a change.  The last couple of years the offense has struggled and sputtered, for the most part.  Whether it was McRae's teachings getting old or just not being that effective, a change was definitely needed.  There's no doubt that this counts as a change.  We'll see if it was the right one.

Needless to say, this isn't quite to that level, but it's still pretty big news nonetheless.  Cardinals team president Bill DeWitt III will be our guest on a special UCB Radio Hour tomorrow night at 5:30 pm Central.  Here's some background on Mr. DeWitt and we are very excited to have him on tomorrow!

News In A Newsless Void

Posted on October 23, 2009 at 9:20 AM
As you know, there aren't many things going on right now that are Cardinal related.  So you have to pick out the small nuggets that are around and blow them up into talkable topics.  Thankfully, I'm a blogger.  That's my job, that's what I do.

For example, there's a story up at the Post-Dispatch site that the bullpen next year will be pretty similar to what it was this year.  Being that Ryan Franklin and Trever Miller signed extensions at the end of last year and Dennys Reyes had a two-year deal to begin with, this isn't exactly the biggest of shockers.

I don't think anyone expects that Franklin will lose his closer job over the offseason, even with the terrible run he went on to close 2009.  The general official opinion on that is that he got worn down with all the innings he had thrown, so you have to figure a few months' rest and he's good to go.  I'm not necessarily sold on that--Franklin worried me while he was going well, though not as much as he had in the past--but I do think you have to give him a shot and see, especially after the extension.

Miller and Reyes will be the left-handed specialists again this year.  That's what they do.  I will say I'm still surprised Miller turned out to be the better deal than Reyes did.  We'll see if that continues in 2010 or not.

The rest of the bullpen are young guys with enough experience and success not to have to worry about the Memphis shuttle, at least not for a while.  Blake Hawksworth, Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs might have a shot at the back of the starting rotation (though I expect Jaime Garcia will be written in there), but if not they'll be back in the 'pen.  Jason Motte, who best be learning something offspeed this winter, will be back in the seventh-eighth inning mix.

The only thing that will be different is that, after so many years, the young face of Brad Thompson is not likely to be in Cardinal red.  Thompson's done a lot for the team and I wish him well, but he's declined every year he's been in the majors.  Maybe someone can use him regularly and get more production out of him, but the Cardinals won't be that team.

Tony LaRussa still hasn't said officially whether he is coming back or not, but very few people expect him to actually walk.  I am surprised that it has taken this long, though.  I wouldn't be surprised if the pull of staying home isn't starting to get to him, and that next year, if he comes back for another of his one-year deals, a more pleasing ending doesn't have him sailing off into the sunset.

Bernie Miklasz talks about Albert Pujols' recovery from elbow surgery and the thought that the Cards should try to give him more rest next season.  Like he points out, though, the problem is AP wants to play.  He has a similar motto as Cal Ripken--you have plenty of time for rest in the offseason.  Still, another day off here and there might not be a bad thing, especially if he starts showing symptoms of more elbow problems in the pennant race next year.

Old friend Mark McGwire surfaced recently to talk about Mr. Pujols.  Most notably, that he thinks AP could get $30 million per if he hits free agency.  Well, at least that he's worth that.  I don't think any of us will argue that Pujols is worth more than anyone in baseball.  The issue is, whether the Cardinals will have to prove it.  If they do, they probably won't, due to payroll restrictions.  I think you'll see the team come to a below-market-value agreement with AP, but it may not be until the end of next season.

While Chris Carpenter wasn't able to pull down the Baseball Blogger Alliance's Cy Young award, he did get another cool honor, winning the Bullet Rogan Award from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum as the top NL pitcher.  Not sure if it is significant that both the AL and NL winners played in Missouri, where the museum is located.

Part of being in the BBA is to help out other bloggers in the organization.  With that in mind, and because the prize is pretty darn cool, I want to suggest you check out SoDo Mojo.  The Seattle blog is giving away a $100 certificate to, so you'll want to get in on that!

Blogging will probably be somewhat sporadic for a while as news trickles out.  Keep checking back!

BBA Ballot: National League MVP

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 5:30 PM
I never knew.

MVP voting has always been interesting to me, nice to see who wins, interesting to see what the rationale for the voters was (if they share).  Beyond that, though, I'd never given it a lot of thought.

Then, this year, I am one of the official ballots (Mike over at Stan Musial's Stance is the other) for the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  Which means that I had to sit down and come up with the top 10 players in the National League for 2009.  That's when I had the insight.

This stuff is hard.

I sketched out my list, then went looking for some basic statistical numbers to back up what I was thinking.  Then I'd find one guy that I overlooked.  Then another.  Then maybe this guy should move up.  How do you rank a guy that had great overall numbers on a terrible team.  Where do pitchers fit in.  All of these decisions, just because that jerk of a chapter chairman gave me the MVP vote instead of something like the Cy Young vote.  (Full disclosure: I am the St. Louis chapter chairman.  Never knew I hated myself this much.)

So the following is my best guess, really.  There are players left out that I'd have loved to find room for.  There are players that you probably think should be 5-7 that are 2-4.  I'm sure that there will be plenty of disagreements along the way.  However, I'm pretty sure (especially if you are a regular reader, but most likely everyone) you'll agree with the top of the list.  And that's all that matters, right?

  Continue Reading

Back In The Saddle

Posted on October 21, 2009 at 12:21 PM
Been a while, hasn't it?  I've been out of the office, been busy with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance award work, and there's not been just a ton of Cardinal news to talk about.  There are a few stories today, though, that I thought I'd touch on.

First off, the top story is, of course, that Albert Pujols will need more surgery.  There was a link out there last night indicating that Pujols would need Tommy John surgery, which would keep him out until June or so.  (Well, normal people would be out that long.  We know AP tends to heal faster than regular mortals.)  Thankfully, that's not the case.

In fact, apparently, things went great today in the surgery.  Here's the official press release:

ST. LOUIS, October 20, 2009 - St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols this morning underwent arthroscopy of the right elbow with debridement of bone spurs and removal of bone chips. 


During the procedure, doctors determined that Pujols did not require ligament reconstruction.  The arthroscopy was not related to the previous nerve transposition surgery that Pujols underwent last year.  This morning's procedure was performed in Birmingham, Alabama by Dr. James Andrews. 


Pujols will begin his rehabilitation next week in St. Louis. Pujols is expected to fully recover. No timetable for his return has been set.

So the Cardinals dodge a pretty big bullet there.  Hopefully this surgery will work out a little better than last year's, at least in how long the effects last.  There's doesn't seem to be any doubt that it started to mess with him as the season wore on.

Next up is the fact that David Freese is the leader in the clubhouse for the third base slot for the 2010 Redbirds.  I think this is good news, not only because Mark DeRosa wasn't the offensive wunderkind that we thought he was going to be when the deal with Cleveland was made but also because it indicates this organization is going to be clear-headed about moves. 

Jess Todd and Chris Perez are sunk costs--they are gone no matter what happens with DeRosa.  Freese proved he was ready for a shot at the job, and that should help also with the financial aspects of pursuing Matt Holliday.  Holliday is the one guy this organization really wants to keep, I think.  All the other free agents can walk (though hopefully after they've accepted arbitration).

Finally, the club is starting to look into the backup catcher slot and try to decide what they want to do with it, since resting Yadier Molina more might be a good thing.  If so, that means Jason LaRue will be gone, since he probably can't play much more than he's playing now.  Will that mean that Bryan Anderson finally gets a shot?  I don't think that many people in Cardinal Nation would be that excited about Matt Pagnozzi if the idea is for the backup to play more often.

It's a small decision and it doesn't necessarily indicate anything, but it's interesting nonetheless.  At this time of the year, you take what you can get!

The United Cardinal Bloggers are working on their annual year-end roundtables.  Whiteyball has the first transcript up, looking at the Holliday issue.  More are on the way throughout the next couple of weeks.

And be sure to tune in to Josh and Nick tonight on the thirty-minute UCB Radio Hour!  

BBA: 2009 National League ROY Ballot

Posted on October 15, 2009 at 9:36 AM
You've heard me mention before the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  It's a group of bloggers (now 86 strong across all but two major league teams--tough to find Oakland and Texas bloggers interested) that are working together to foster communication and collaboration throughout baseball's blogosphere.

The biggest project the BBA is taking on, however, is the voting for major post-season awards.  We're putting ours out now and we'll see how the baseball writers compare after the Series is over.

The Managers of the Year were already announced.  Due to the voting rules, I didn't have a ballot in that race, though Jim Tracy and Tony LaRussa would have likely finished 1-2 in mine as well.  Today is the deadline for the Rookie of the Year.  Since this is a Cardinal blog, I'll be voting on the National League race.

I had planned to do a ton of research, really sorting out the candidates and putting a decent argument behind each selection.  Then the week got away from me and I'm staring at the deadline, so that went out the window.  I've seen some of the other ballots posted, though, so I don't think I'm completely out of left field with these selections.

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Chopping Wood For The Hot Stove

Posted on October 12, 2009 at 11:06 AM
It's a cold, rainy morning here in Arkansas, which finely matches the mood of Cardinal Nation after the quick exit from the postseason.  There's this kind of limbo that goes on when your team is out of the playoffs early.  There are still games going (though the LDS have been pretty anticlimatic this year, save the fact closers can't seem to get the job done) but your team isn't a part of them.  You can't go full bore into discussions and rumors of next year just yet, though.

What you can do is a little retrospection.  At least, that's what Tony LaRussa did yesterday.  I saw very little of this series, unfortunately, but I have to agree with LaRussa, I expected a better game on Saturday that what happened.  Like I say, I didn't see a single pitch of that one, but just looking at the score and comments, it didn't seem like they had much fight in them.  To score just one run in a game Vicente Padilla is pitching just doesn't seem right, though par for the course for this year's version of the Cardinals.

The link above notes that Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel and Joel Pineiro are not likely to return next year.  None of these are huge surprises.  The focus on Mark DeRosa has knocked Glaus out of the picture, though many of us would be just fine with DeRosa walking and David Freese taking over the job.  Either way, though, Glaus really isn't in the plans, especially after the injury problems this year.

Pineiro has really pitched too well for the Cardinals to keep him.  They have Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse already locked up and management has continually said they want to plug in at least one home-grown arm into the rotation in 2010.  With John Smoltz around, most likely back if he decides he wants to pitch again, there's not much room left to keep Pineiro.  Besides, we saw what happened the last time he signed after a contract drive.

Ankiel....oh, Rick.  Amazingly, the separation between Ankiel and a fan base that has followed him, nurtured him, rooted for him through the good and the bad and the good is not likely to be as painful as was expected six months ago.  A .233 average and a propensity for the strikeout will do that.  As Pip notes, Rick leaves St. Louis with exactly the same number of strikeouts as a hitter as he had as a pitcher.  I've always been a fan of Rick, but he doesn't make enough contact to make him worth a bench slot and the outfield is probably going to be full in St. Louis for some time to come.

Today actually will be a busy day around the front office, as a lot of the recap meetings and initial thoughts for next year will be happening.  Don't expect a whole lot of public news out of that, though, unless LaRussa or Dave Duncan decide not to return.  Bernie Mikalsz addresses that along with some other questions and he comes to the conclusion that I had, that TLR isn't leaving after that performance.  He couldn't go out on that note and be able to rest in retirement, I don't think.  It wasn't the loss, it was the lack of competitiveness.

Someone who probably won't be back next year, though, is hitting coach Hal McRae.  Besides the fact that the offense just never clicked, even with Matt Holliday and DeRosa in the lineup, there's this quote from John Mozeliak:

"It did seem the way we were approaching things at the plate, obviously it wasn't successful," Mozeliak said. "When things aren't going right, you've got to change. Did we make the right adjustments or not? As we sit here today, we had not."

I'd suggest McRae start updating his resume, because that is not a vote of confidence.

The stove may not be heated yet, but the preparations are being made.  It could be another active offseason for St. Louis, so you better get ready.

The Quiet of No Baseball

Posted on October 10, 2009 at 11:53 PM
This is the way the season ends.  Not with a bang but a whimper.

How fitting was it that Rick Ankiel was the last out--and a strikeout at that.  Rick's promise, just like that exhilarating promise of August, never quite came to fruition.  All the signs of trouble were there, and excuses can be made, but in the end, like Ankiel's at-bat, it turned into a lot of nothing.

On the face of it, this offense is a beast.  That seemed to be the consensus of the national pundits, who installed St. Louis as one of the favorites for the World Series.  In reality, though, it's an engine that sputters, that starts and stops when facing good (and sometimes not so good) pitching.  I don't think many in Cardinal Nation were surprised when the Redbirds only scored six runs in three games.  For once, six is not a serious number, but a telling one.

And yet, it almost was enough.  If Chris Carpenter was Chris Carpenter, if Matt Holliday catches the ball or Ryan Franklin shuts the door, the Cards could have been up 2-0 before tonight, even with just five runs.

When the story of 2009 is told, it'll be the pitching that is remembered.  Sure, Albert Pujols kept his perfect career going and may win another MVP, but it was tough to watch him go the last calendar month without a home run.  Holliday provided a spark, Colby Rasmus established himself as a legitimate major leaguer (even if he slumped in the second half), and Ryan Ludwick showed he wasn't really a fluke.  There were offensive highlights, to be sure, but that wasn't what got the Cardinals to October.

It was seeing pitchers throwing incredible games--and then seeing the next starter top them.  It was about not one but two Cy Young candidates going back to back.  It was about having a 15 game winner with a mid-3.00 ERA be an afterthought.

I think that is what makes this sweep so tough to swallow.  If you lose because the offense doesn't show, it was expected.  To lose, at least in part, because Carpenter and Joel Pineiro didn't get it done and because Franklin continued his post-extension collapse, that just wasn't what people foresaw.

So the Cardinals pack up for the winter.  So many questions for this off-season, players to be kept or replacements to be found, perhaps new leadership to be put in place.  There will be plenty at this blog, as the United Cardinal Bloggers roundtables will be coming, a review of the past season to be written, questions raised and solutions proposed.

For now, though, there is just the quiet of no baseball, of a season cut prematurely short.  A sound that never is easy to hear and one that can last for weeks to come.

This Wasn't In The Script

Posted on October 9, 2009 at 9:01 AM
OK, wait a minute.  Back up.  Let's look at this again, because something isn't going quite as planned.

You are telling me that the Cardinals lost BOTH games that Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright started?  The one big advantage this team had and it's been squandered?  At least you could put some of the blame on Carp for his outing, because he definitely didn't have it.  Waino, though?  How tough of a loss is that for the warrior?

A lot of people are focused on Matt Holliday's error this morning.  Which is understandable--if he catches that ball, the game is over, the Cards have split, you feel good about going home with Joel Pineiro vs. Vicente Padilla and you can count on a rested Carp for a Game 5, if necessary.

Like Don Denkinger's blown call, though, it was one of those things that you can and should get past.  After that play, the Dodgers walked, singled (tying the game), moved up on a wild pitch, walked again, and then blooped another hit.  Any one of those could have ended the game in favor of the Cardinals, but they didn't get it done.

The biggest problem in the Cardinal dugout, though, is the inability to get runs in.  That tone was set early.  When you have bases loaded and no outs in the first inning of the first game and only get one because a bloop falls between the second baseman and the outfield, it might be a sign that it's going to be a long (or, rather, short) series.

I don't know what else to say about this team.  Either they'll get some hits and score some runs or they won't have to worry about packing again this season.  I wouldn't go to the level of calling them Cubs, but maybe that level of insult will wake them up and get them playing.

Is this team dead?  Obviously, they have the talent to win three straight.  As Albert Pujols said, they could win 11 straight.  They aren't going to do that.  Without some sort of resurgent offense, it's going to be tough enough to win three, especially since they can wait and throw Randy Wolf (who, granted, St. Louis was able to get to somewhat on Wednesday) and make the Cardinals beat a lefty.

Since the Divisional Series format was put into play, the Cards have played in it eight previous times, posting a record of 20-5 and only losing one other NLDS, the 2001 tilt with Steve Kline allowing that little flare to Tony Womack, keeping the Diamondbacks on the path to their eventual World Series title.  So the Cardinals have that going for them, which is good.

However, with two members of that 2006 squad on the other side in this series, it may be a sign that fortune has switched sides.  We'll find out Saturday.

Postseason Playing Pepper: Los Angeles Dodgers (Part II)

Posted on October 7, 2009 at 11:23 PM
If you were reading this blog before this season started, you may remember a series I did called "Playing Pepper", where I asked five questions of a blogger covering each major league team.  With the season coming to a close, I thought I'd tap into the talents of the newly formed Baseball Bloggers Alliance and ask five new questions of the bloggers covering the postseason teams.

Yesterday, I posted the answers I got to my Dodger questions from Matt at Feeling Dodger Blue.  I also asked Chris from the same ones and got his responses today.  So as the Cards battle the Dodgers, here's another angle on the opponents.

C70: What is the Dodgers' strength going into October?

DF: The strength of the Dodgers is definitely their offense. Andre Ethier has had a truly breakout year, and Matt Kemp is right behind him.Interestingly, Ethier struggled all year against left-handers, but fortunately for the Dodgers, St. Louis' rotation is full of righties.

The other key element of the Dodgers is their pitching. Kershaw and Wolf give the team two strong starters heading into the playoffs. They're not elite, but they can both get through six innings. This is key because the Dodgers bullpen is one of the best in the majors with Kuo, Sherrill and Broxton anchoring the last third of the game. If the Dodgers have a lead going into the 7th, chances are they will hold it.

C70: What worries you about the team?

DF: The rest of the starting pitching. Vicente Padilla has been tapped by Joe Torre to start Game 3 over Chad Billingsley who has struggled as of late when the game enters the sixth inning. Padilla has pitched very well for LA, including notching 10 strikeouts on Sunday against Colorado, but he's still Vicente Padilla. Kuroda is still hurt, which is a real loss for this team in the NLDS.

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Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
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Allen Craig 88.3%
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Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

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%)

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%

Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%

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