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June 2010

Pujols The Great

Posted on June 30, 2010 at 8:23 AM
Sometimes, it's all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Before the game last night, there was a lot of discussion (or whining, depending on your point of view--since I was part of it, I'm going with discussion) about the unorthodox lineup that Tony La Russa put out there.  No Colby Rasmus, which was pretty surprising with Ryan Ludwick hurting and David Freese on the DL.  No Skip Schumaker, which mean Aaron Miles had to start.  On paper, it looked like one of the worst lineups the Cardinals had run out there in years.

However, when you've got Albert Pujols in the lineup, odds are things are going to be all right.

(As an aside, I really enjoyed seeing Cal Eldred in with La Russa on the pre-game show talking about how he constructed the lineup.  After hearing TLR talk about how tough Willis was against lefties, justifying Rasmus and Schumaker sitting, I went and looked it up.  Sure enough, Willis, for all his problems, actually is curtailing lefties to a .188 average and was hardly walking them at all.  Sometimes the skipper knows things, huh?)

Pujols hit two two-run home runs, plus an RBI double, showing that even when we think he's struggling, he's not.  As we close in on the midpoint of the season, doubling his numbers would give him 36 HR and 114 RBI on the season.  That's a good season, even if those are low for him (and his batting average is below the norms as well at .312).

I don't think we necessarily quit pointing out where AP isn't meeting his standards--that first inning strikeout was an ugly at-bat--but we have to recognize that struggling for supermen is cruising for mere mortals.

Adam Wainwright finally had a game where he didn't allow a run in the first and he kept that going until he left in the seventh.  He had seven strikeouts, which was good but did run up his pitch count some.  Still, a fairly dominant outing and one more in line with what we have come to expect from him.  Good work by the bullpen as well, though in admittedly less than a pressure situation.

On the down side, Yadier Molina wasn't able to build on his two hit night from Monday, going 0-5.  But my Goat goes to Brendan Ryan.  With a player that struggles with his control like Dontrelle Willis does, the leadoff man has to be patient.  In his first at-bat to lead off the game, he takes one strike, then swings and grounds out on a pitch that appeared to be out of the strike zone.  In his second AB, after Willis has walked both Wainwright and Miles, he swings at the second pitch again and grounds out.  With the way Willis has thrown this year, the odds of him throwing three strikes in seven pitches is on the small side.  It didn't matter much due to Pujols's night and Felipe Lopez getting four hits from the 2 hole, but on a different night it could have been the difference.

As noted, Lopez played third because David Freese was placed on the DL.  Even though I read the theory on the net that the recall of Fernando Salas was an insurance move for the next couple of days and Tyler Greene would come up this weekend, it appears that Lopez is going to be playing the corner for a while.  I know TLR likes to have plenty of relievers and that to some degree it is necessary due to Jeff Suppan being in the rotation plus having bullpen games started by Blake Hawksworth on the horizon, but having a regular bench of Miles, Jason LaRue (whom will likely never be used), Randy Winn and Nick Stavinoha is just asking for troubles in close games or extra inning affairs.  And even that bench will be depleted until Ryan Ludwick is able to get back into the lineup.

I've never been a fan of the 12 hitters/13 pitchers makeup of the roster.  I think that there are a few too many options in the pen at times.  Salas pitched well yesterday and hasn't shown that he's going to have major problems in the big leagues, but do we really need another right handed arm down there?  Seems like a bit of overkill at the cost of offensive production that could win a ball game.  Then again, it's not TLR's first rodeo.

Some of the concern is also due to the fact that, at least before yesterday, the idea was that Chris Carpenter was going to have his start pushed back due to that liner he took off his arm in the first inning yesterday.  However, it has improved and it looks less likely that will happen, though it is still a possibility.  

Cards get an afternoon game today, as Jeff Suppan goes up against Barry Enright.  I've never heard of Enright, which is mainly because he'll be making his major league debut in this game, coming up from Arizona's AA team.  Obviously, that is a concern because the team has no knowledge of him, but at least he's a right-hander, so they are more likely to be able to hit plus Rasmus will be in the lineup.

I'm interested to see how Suppan does today.  Arizona's no powerhouse, obviously, but they are seventh in the NL in runs, though 13th in batting average.  Still, they should be more familiar with Suppan than the AL teams that he's faced since being signed by the Cardinals.  That familiarity could be a concern, especially when you factor in the Cardinals are going for a sweep, and you know how that's gone for them lately.

Before the game, though, you can listen to me around 11:30 Central on Baseball Digest Live, talking about baseball in general in my role as founder of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  Tonight, Bill Ivie will be doing the United Cardinal Bloggers Radio Hour, talking about today's game as well as a new project he's going coming up, so be sure to listen in to that as well!

Christmas In June

Posted on June 29, 2010 at 8:15 AM
To: St. Louis Cardinals
From: Arizona Diamondbacks
Note: You can use it more than we can.  Enjoy this gift-wrapped win!

There's really no words to describe what happened in the ninth last night.  Throwing the ball away on a runner going to third?  Throwing the ball past the catcher and letting the tying and winning runs score?  They say you can always see something you've never seen before when you watch a ballgame, and that would definitely qualify.

It was nice that the Cards (with assistance) were able to pull out the win last night, because it would have been a very frustrating loss.  I don't know exactly how much credence to put into this "Tony La Russa outfoxed 'em" storyline that's going around, but if Dan Haren buys into it, 1) he should know, being a former Cardinal and 2) even if that wasn't the intent, it worked.

Still, nobody's talking about TLR if the Diamondbacks field their position.  Who do they think they are, Detroit Tiger pitchers?  Give some credit to Yadier Molina and Brendan Ryan as well.  When the game's on the line and you need baserunners, seeing those guys come up doesn't inspire you with confidence, but they got the job done.

It looked like the Cards were going to run away with that one, though, when the first three batters reach and two of them score.  However, that was the epitome of "get to a star pitcher early" because after Albert Pujols's double, Haren shut them down.  Matt Holliday had a terrible at-bat and the momentum had shifted.

Even though the Cardinals won, it's going to be a while before the fans forget Randy Winn's adventures in the outfield.  Looked like he was going to be able to pull back Adam LaRoche's game-tying homer, but without him Mark Reynolds only gets a single, maybe a double depending on how it is played.  (Dan Haren's home run needed no assistance.  Thankfully that was the only hit of the night for him!)

As for Chris Carpenter, it didn't appear to me, the little that I saw of the game, that he had as much control as you'd like to see.  He was missing inside early and walked two guys in the second with two outs.  Granted, he got laced by a line drive in the first, which might have had a little to do with it, but another game with four walks and three home runs is further proof that 2009 is over.  He's still good and still a top pitcher, but you realize that these kind of games are going to happen more and more often.

So an ugly game all the way around, but these things have a way of being a lot prettier when you are the team that came back to win.

Before we get into yesterday's Twitter discussion, a few other things happened.  Probably the biggest of which is that David Freese is heading for the disabled list, with the recall of Tyler Greene. (Update: BJ Rains says that TLR says they are bringing up a pitcher.  That's what I get taking too long to write this post.  Modifications follow.)

I was trying to figure out when Freese had hurt himself in the last couple of days.  I know I don't see as much of the games as I should, but I didn't remember it being a topic of conversation.  Then I see in the article that it relates to the June 5 incident against the Brewers.

Which leads into the age-old discussion of "How much do you play with pain?"  Obviously, you have to play in some discomfort.  The bumps and bruises of the season mean that no one is at 100% after the first couple of days of April.  We've seen the example of JD Drew, who sat out so often that the fans and the manager turned on him, deriding him as soft.

But we've seen the other side as well.  Part of what soured the relationship between TLR and Scott Rolen was Rolen's inability to admit that he was hurting, even when his numbers declined and it was pretty obvious there were some health issues.  Freese seems to have fallen into this category, with the added twist of being a rookie and therefore not wanting to create issues.

However, his production has tailed off noticeably, and as we noted yesterday, if Freese can't give you average, he's not giving you much else at the plate.  His defense is still solid, but you have to get some production out of third base.

It'll be interesting to see what Greene does, if he gets a chance to play.  We may see a lot of Felipe Lopez at third, but with the slumping of Ryan again (thought nice to see him get two hits last night) Greene really needs to get some regular playing time at one of the positions.  It's not like Lopez has been tearing it up lately either.

(Update: If they actually do bring up a pitcher, that further weakens the offense, because you are going to run Lopez and Ryan out there every day and the top backup is Aaron Miles.  Your bench is Miles, Jason LaRue, and Nick Stavinoha, since Winn will be out there until Ryan Ludwick returns this weekend from his calf injury.  I'm sure they like Fernando Salas, who can return early with an big-club injury, but is that really a smart idea?)

In other news, Pujols has decided not to participate in the home run derby.  That's probably for the best and you'll hear a lot about him slowing down last year.  I seem to remember one year, though, he came out strong after being in the derby, because I remember commenting that maybe he'd be the opposite of Bobby Abreu.  I'll search the archives sometime and see if I can pull up that post.

Anyway, it's always fun to have someone to cheer for in the derby, but I can't blame him for getting a little rest and having a more laid-back experience after being the face of the game last year.  Let someone else have all the fun!

All right, the rumor mill.  Yesterday on Twitter it came out that the Cardinals were interested in Cliff Lee.  When I looked at the pitching trade options a few weeks ago, Lee was at the top of my list.  However, it doesn't appear that the Cardinals could get him without parting with top prospect Shelby Miller.

The first reaction, of course, is to say "no deal".  Miller is expected to be a future ace and is under team control for six years.  Lee is a rental, a dominant pitcher to be sure, but a guy that isn't going to be around long-term because of the financial ramifications of the upcoming Pujols contract.  Besides, trading our top pick two years in a row is not exactly the way to build up a minor league system.

Thinking about it a bit more, I'm not going to say I'm for it, but I can see some reasons that the deal wouldn't be as bad as expected.  First, if and when Lee walks, the team would get two picks in next year's draft, coupled with the pick that is rightfully theirs (assuming they didn't sign a free agent that required them to give it up).  From all reports, next year is a deep draft pool, so perhaps they could use those picks to select pitchers that are closer to the majors than Miller is.

Secondly, TINSTAAPP.  The famous acronym from Bill James--There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect--is famous because, most of the time, it's true.  Pitchers burn out, blow out arms, never develop to what they are expected to be.  One of the more impressive things about Stephen Strasburg is that he's as good as the hype around him.  So just because Miller may be an ace, he may not be as well.  Would you trade a future #3 guy for Lee?  Maybe.  If you didn't have to worry about a budget with Pujols, definitely.

Third, as we discussed yesterday, there's not much way to improve this offense.  You are pretty much stuck with what you have.  So, if you can't improve the runs scored, improve the runs prevented.  There's no doubt that a Carpenter/Wainwright/Lee/Garcia/Penny rotation would give you a strong chance to win every time out.

It seems the Cardinals are looking at Lee, but as the above story about Pujols and the derby highlights, they believe last night's starter, Mr. Haren, is a more attainable target.  Which is true--Haren has an ERA over 4 this year, Lee has been dominant in the tougher league.  If you can get Haren and keep Miller, that might be a bigger win for the club.  Haren is under contract for a couple more years, which the Cardinals have been trying to avoid in their dealings, but it's for just a shade under $13 million per the next couple of years, and unless you have home grown talent (which they don't, unless they want to use PJ Walters and Adam Ottavino), it's going to be tough to find a pitcher for less than that.

Haren admitted that he's wanted to return to St. Louis, so even if he had a no-trade clause (which he doesn't), that wouldn't be an issue.  Fans would love to have him back and to finally erase the thoughts of the Mark Mulder deal, or at least soften them somewhat.  If I were going to bet, I'd think that the Haren move might just happen in the next month.

News on Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny was positive yesterday, as both did a little throwing.  Penny had a bullpen session.  With Penny still a couple of weeks away, it'll be unlikely that he'll return until after the All-Star Break.  I'm surprised that La Russa doesn't believe he'd need at least one rehab assignment, but it seems like Carpenter was out for six weeks or so and didn't make one last year, so I guess that's par for the course.

Lohse is farther away, of course, and you have to figure it'll be at least August before he returns.  If they make a move for Haren or another pitcher, would Lohse then become a bullpen guy?  I don't know if he could be that kind of pitcher or not.

Finally, to wrap this up, I wanted to highlight Fox Sports Midwest's "This One's For You" game coming up on Friday, when they honor our military with a game on American Forces Network.  They'll be talking to Missouri National Guard troops that are stationed over in Afghanistan as they watch the game.  It's a great thing that they do to honor those that serve.  We talked to Geoff Goldman about it when he was on the UCB Radio Hour before the season and I'm glad that they are able to do it again this year.

Wainwright (who hopefully did wear himself out in the craziness of the ninth) goes against Dontrelle Willis.  While it's always possible that Dontrelle will find himself and have a solid game, the biggest thing for the Cardinals tonight is to have patience.  Willis has walked 21 guys in 17.1 innings this season and can get to 100 pitches by the fifth.  The Arizona bullpen is a weakness as well, so the sooner you get into that, the better.  On the whole, the Cardinals should be able to win this one tonight.  But like last night proved, in baseball, you never know.

Mea Culpas

Posted on June 28, 2010 at 11:48 AM
While taking my regular weekend sabbatical from blogging, I got to thinking about some of the posts that I've written this week and I realized I've strayed a little bit from what the general tone of this blog usually is.

Back in my very first entry, before I swapped Wordpress for Blogs By Fans or started up the United Cardinal Bloggers, I wrote the following:

"I root for the Cardinals and typically give them and management the benefit of the doubt.  I'll criticize when necessary, but I'm not big on general bashing."

While I don't think my posts have been bashing per se, I don't think I've been giving management enough of the benefit of the doubt.  Look, the number of moves that have gone toward veterans and away from younger players is not necessarily a philosophy that most of us on the internet would espouse.  When you see things like that, one straw on top of another, it becomes difficult to keep any optimism about the moves.

Fact is, though, management has more information and insight on these things than we do, especially people like me sitting a state away and watching a few innings and reading some articles on a daily basis.  There's a reason they think that Blake Hawksworth should start, that signing Jeff Suppan is a good idea.  And, honestly, most often they are right, or at least are right for a while.

Criticism is fine and good, but kudos are due when it pans out and, so far, most everything has at least not blown up in their faces.

Let's get to the last four games before talking about the team in general.  Apparently I should have never said anything about not having pitching woes with Adam Wainwright on the hill.  I had no idea I was such a powerful jinx.

Waino seems to be having a little trouble settling into games.  For the year, his first 15 pitches have been hit at a .305 clip.  His only run against Oakland was allowed in the first inning.  Seattle got him for two in the first.  In fact, you'd have to go back to his complete game shutout against the Brewers to find a game where he didn't allow at least one run--and usually more than one--in the first frame.

He gave up three in Toronto and then allowed two more in his shortest outing since Sept. 13, 2008 against Pittsburgh.  Not what you want to see out of Wainwright and not what you expect to see out of him.  We'll see if he's able to dodge that first inning bullet against Arizona on Tuesday.

Tough to find a Hero in a game where the team is shutout on five hits, so we'll give it to Fernando Salas.  He threw two scoreless innings at a time when the pen needed a little extra boost and, though he did allow four baserunners in that time, he worked out of trouble.

How is it not possible, though, that this juggernaut that we as fans thought we had going into the season has yet to sweep a three game series?  They got the four gamer against the Braves back in April (part of their season-long five game winning streak) and took a short two-gamer against the Nationals, but that's it.  When you go for the sweep with Wainwright on the mound and don't get it, you start to wonder just how snake bit you are.


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Press Release: I70Baseball.com

Posted on June 28, 2010 at 8:49 AM
As you probably know, I write a weekly column over at Baseball Digest.  Bill Ivie was the one that got me set up over there and has gotten very involved with the United Cardinal Bloggers.  Bill's got a new site coming, so I thought I'd reprint the press release here.  Sounds like a place you'll want to bookmark to keep up with all things baseball in Missouri.


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Cano, Longoria Headline All-Star Voting By Baseball Bloggers Alliance

Posted on June 27, 2010 at 10:41 PM
Thumbnail image for BaseballBloggersAlliance.png
CANO, LONGORIA HEADLINE ALL-STAR VOTING BY BASEBALL BLOGGERS ALLIANCE 

New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was the leading vote-getter in All-Star Game ballots cast by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, outpacing Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.  Cano received a whopping 45 votes, with only Longoria and Texas's Josh Hamilton also reaching the 35-vote level in the American League.  Starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies led the National League with 36 votes.

Cano was the clear choice at second base by the BBA, with only the one vote received by each of Seattle's Chone Figgins, Texas's Ian Kinsler, and Boston's Dustin Pedroia keeping Cano from an unanimous decision.  Longoria's 39 votes outpaced Boston's Adrian Beltre (with six), with Michael Young of the Texas Rangers a distant third with two votes.

The rest of the American League infield, if selected by the BBA, would feature Minnesota's Justin Morneau, who just edged out Detroit's Miguel Cabrera by two votes for the first base nod, and New York Yankees' captain Derek Jeter at shortstop, as he more comfortably finished ahead of Elvis Andrus of the Rangers and Alex Gonzalez of the Toronto Blue Jays.

While the Rangers were close with many of their infielders, it is in the outfield that they finally break through, as Hamilton led all outfielders with his 35 votes.  He would be joined in the outfield by Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, who used a late surge to surpass Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox for the final slot.  Texas also would be honored with the designated hitter, as Vladimir Guerrero easily outpolled the Red Sox's David Ortiz for that position.

The battery for the American League was Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins and David Price of the Rays.  Mauer won handily over Boston's Victor Martinez, while Price got the nod to start over the Mariners' Cliff Lee.

Races in the National League were a little more competitive.

The closest race was in the middle of the diamond.  As of right before the deadline, Philadelphia's Chase Utley and Atlanta's Martin Prado were tied with 16 votes apiece.  The late votes pushed Utley over the top 19-16.

Other close races included third base, which saw New York's David Wright take out Washington's Ryan Zimmerman by four votes and Cincinnati's Scott Rolen by six, and the last outfield slot.  Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers and Andre Ethier were overwhelming picks, receiving 30 votes each, but Chicago's Marlon Byrd slipped past Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen by two votes in the last surge of voting to take the final position.

Rounding out the National League selections were Colorado catcher Miguel Olivo, St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols and Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez.  Jimenez was the overwhelming choice to take the ball for the senior circuit, receiving over 30 more votes than his closest competitor.

All members of the BBA were eligible to make their selections.  Bloggers were allowed to vote for either the American League, the National League, or both leagues if they so desired.  Ballots were published on the individual blogs as a show of transparency.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in 2009 and numbers 184 blogs covering all major league teams and various other aspects of baseball among its members, as well as blogs and sites that have affiliated as Friends of the BBA.  The official website of the BBA is located at www.baseballbloggersalliance.com.  The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba.  Members of the BBA may be heard at Blog Talk Radio each Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk.

The list of participating blogs:

American League (48)
1 Blue Jays Way
Baseball AddictBleacherGMC70 At The Bat

Another Chance To Sweep

Posted on June 24, 2010 at 11:27 AM
Pitching duels are a lot of fun.  At least, they are when you come out on the winning side.  I'm not sure Ian thought last night's game was as enjoyable as we did.

Bernie Miklasz Tweeted last night that Chris Carpenter honors Bob Gibson by going out there and competing with less than his best stuff.  As we've seen this year, Carpenter hasn't been that dominating figure in 2010, completely closing the opponent down, but he's still gone out there and competed, working out of jams, giving the opponent little to nothing on the scoreboard.

Carp walked four, showing he didn't have his best command, but he mitigated that by allowing only three hits and getting a double play.  I don't know what kind of extra motivation Toronto gives to him, but can we get them over into the NL Central?

I will say I heard Buster Olney on Baseball Tonight saying the gap between Chris Carpenter and Ubaldo Jimenez for the NL Cy Young "just closed."  However, Carp's not even the best pitcher on his own team this year.  Is anyone really putting him in the Cy Young race?  A 9-1 record and a 2.63 ERA is nice, but in this year of the pitcher, I'm not sure that'd be enough.  Don't get me wrong, though--if the media wants to put him in the race, I'm all for it.

I also thought it was a turning point for Matt Holliday.  Sure, Holliday has gone off for the last week, crushing home runs and the like.  Last night, though, he came up with a runner in scoring position in a crucial two-out spot.  Two weeks ago, he'd have struck out on that pitch (which was ball four), but now that he's clicking he got the key base hit.  I don't know when or if they'll move him back to the cleanup slot, but he's got to be enjoying his ride in front of Albert Pujols right now.

Speaking of, good to see Pujols get some hits last night.  Four hits, including a double.  Too bad he couldn't have gotten one after Holliday's hit in the ninth for insurance, but asking for five hits is a bridge too far, I think.

However, I want to get into the aftermath of his eighth-inning double.  Yesterday, we talked about the relative insanity of Brendan Ryan trying to bunt a runner on second over with two outs.  If you thought that was going to be the craziest move of the week, you lose.  Last night both imitated and topped it.

In case you didn't see the game, know that before the game started, the buzz was about the fact that Nick Stavinoha was going to be hitting fourth as the DH.  Now, Stavinoha has done a nice job off the bench.  In fact, if you are going to put Stav in as the DH, compared to the other options that are readily available (i.e., not counting Memphis), Stav's a perfectly reasonable choice, especially since Ryan Ludwick was battling leg cramps.

But fourth?  Really?  I mean, it looked like Tony La Russa had just made out the lineup as if Ludwick was playing, then was too lazy to rework it when he couldn't go.  Move David Freese or Colby Rasmus (even with a lefty on the mound) up there.  Stavinoha is a six-seven hitter, at best.

Still, that's where he sat.  So TLR has determined that Stavinoha is 1) a good enough hitter to be the designated hitter, i.e., hitting is all that he has to do and 2) he's good enough to hit fourth.  These are keys for my coming rant.

OK, so as I say, Pujols is on second with nobody out to start the eighth inning.  Yes, it's a 0-0 game, but Stavinoha, your cleanup designated hitter, is coming up next.  So, what does La Russa do?

Orders the sacrifice bunt.

Are you getting this?  You are saying that a player that is good enough to be the designated hitter AND good enough to hit fourth in your lineup isn't good enough to swing away in that situation.  Besides the general fact that, unless it's the pitcher batter, I don't want to see anyone bunting right there, but never, ever should a cleanup hitter be bunting in the majors.

And for the second straight night, it doesn't work.  This time, Stavinoha bunts it and Pujols gets caught in a rundown.  So the result was one out, runner at second--exactly the situation it would have been in the worst case scenario of him swinging away.  I hope that two failures will at least make La Russa think twice about pulling that stunt again anytime soon.

So, if I could give a Goat to TLR, I would.  However, I stick to players, which means that David Freese gets the tag with his 0-4, three strikeout night.  Ricky Romero was a tough guy to figure out, so you can't blame Freese entirely, but it still was a night to forget.

In other news, it does look like the Cardinals are just going to have bullpen games the next three times the fifth starter slot comes up between now and the All-Star Break.  Which means that Adam Ottavino and PJ Walters really have no place in this organization.

Seriously, you are going to wear down the bullpen on a regular basis like that?  Perhaps Ottavino and Walters wouldn't give you more than five innings (though at least it would be possible that they could), but that's likely one more inning than Blake Hawksworth will give you, plus you'll take him out of commission for a while, meaning he couldn't be a reliever.  You'd basically be playing with a short pitching staff.  And with Jeff Suppan, who likely will never go over six innings, going the day before, you are going to need Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to go complete games and Jaime Garcia to keep his command and go seven on a regular basis.

If you don't like Ottavino and Walters, fine.  I'm not saying they are going to be world-beaters. They are #4, #5 starters, most likely, guys that at least can give you a little upside.  I can understand you not wanting to plug them into the rotation (though I still don't understand coming out and saying that while they are on the big league roster).  If that's the case, though, you have to make some sort of deal for a veteran innings-eater arm.

I'm not talking about a Cliff Lee or a Roy Oswalt or a Dan Haren.  Those guys would be great, but they're going to cost a lot in money and prospects.  (Though if you could get Oswalt and have him rework his contract somewhat, that'd be interesting.)  What about guys like Kevin Millwood (who still may cost a bit in talent, but definitely less than the other guys) and Jake Westbrook?  Heck, if you can find someone that's under reasonable contract for next year as well, go after them, because there are holes in the 2011 rotation that it doesn't look like the minor league system can fill.

As Justin and I said last night at the end of the UCB Radio Hour, this team seems a little like it is lacking an identity.  It should be able to get the engine in gear and pull away from the Reds, but it hasn't been able to do that yet.  Running bullpen games, even if it is against teams like Kansas City and Milwaukee, is a good way to lose ground on a team that just doesn't seem like it's going away.

At least for one night, though, we don't have pitching woes.  Adam Wainwright takes the hill against the Jays, looking again for a sweep.  Seven times this season the Cards have won the first two games of a three-game series, including this one.  Six times, they've lost the third one.  Hopefully that changes tonight.  A look at what Wainwright has done against the birds of blue:

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Jose Bautista 18 16 5 1 0 0 1 1 2 .313 .389 .375 .764 0 0 0 1 0
John Buck 9 8 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .125 .222 .500 .722 0 0 0 1 0
Fred Lewis 9 8 4 2 1 0 0 1 1 .500 .556 1.000 1.556 0 0 0 0 0
Alex Gonzalez 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 41 37 10 3 1 1 2 2 5 .270 .341 .486 .828 0 0 0 2 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/24/2010.

Bautista has had a little success, though we'll see if Wainwright can keep him in the park.

As for Brandon Morrow, only Holliday has seen him and went 0-2.  Morrow's a righty that has command issues, according to Ian's analysis last night, so if the Cardinals are patient, they'll get good pitches and will get into the Jays' pen faster.  We'll see if they are able to do that this evening.

Sorry for the cranky tone of the post.  That really wasn't my intention when I sat down to write!  Hopefully the Cardinals will keep winning and get me in a better mood this weekend!

Cards Soar In Foreign Land

Posted on June 23, 2010 at 7:21 AM
You know, when the discussion of launching pad stadiums comes up, I never think of Toronto's Rogers Center.  Wrigley, Coors, even the old Atlanta stadium that started the nickname.  However, if last night is any indication, Rogers Center is right up there with the rest of them.

The Cardinals played the long ball better, smashing four, while Jose Bautista got to 20 with his two blasts.  Of course, Toronto leads the majors in home runs, but I did some quick figuring.  They hit an average of 1.52 per game, but if you just look at their home rate, it's 1.71.  A pretty significant jump.  I know there are more stats out there, including park factors, that would indicate whether it was the park that was the cause, but I'm not able to find them right now.  Maybe we'll talk to Ian about that tonight on UCB Radio Hour.

Another spectacular night for Matt Holliday.  The way he's been hitting against American League teams, you'd have thought he'd have torn it up for Oakland last year.  If he's going to be comparable to the Holliday that the Cardinals saw last year, this offense really should get on track soon.

Nice to see Colby Rasmus pinch hit and break his slump with a home run.  Of course, is anyone really surprised that the Cardinals lost their DH last night and had to pinch-hit with Aaron Miles?  This is Tony La Russa we are talking about.  Being able to juggle a lineup and mess with the fringes of baseball rules is ideal for him.  I could have almost guaranteed that at least one time this week he'd have done that.

Jaime Garcia pitched pretty well also.  The two-run home run by Bautista guaranteed he was going to have his ERA creep up, but you'll take three runs in six innings, especially when there were no walks involved in that.  Garcia might have been able to go seven, since he was only at 89 pitches, but by that time the Cards were up 6-3 and there didn't seem to be any reason to push him.

Tough night for Brendan Ryan, who went 0-4 and wasn't able to get down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth.  Of course, with nobody out and a runner on second, even with the struggles Ryan has had this year, I think I want him up there swinging away.  He's probably just as likely to move the runner with a ground ball and might even get a hit, priming a big inning.  It's really bad when it doesn't work, since Randy Winn (who had doubled to start the inning and had a pretty good game himself) never did come around to score.

Looks like Ryan is going to be a bit on the streaky side this year.  After a big push got his average past the Mendoza line with room to spare, he's regressed to a .133 average this week.  Perhaps it is time for the Cardinal Diamond Diaries ladies to jump start him again with a Ryan post?

A little off the field news, as Shelby Miller and Eduardo Sanchez were named to the Futures Game squad.  It'll be fun to see what these guys do in an All-Star setting, especially against some guys that are in higher classifications in Miller's case.  I'm also keeping an eye on Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles for personal reasons--he tossed my son and I a ball after warming up at a minor league game we attended.

The rotation for the Kansas City series hasn't been completely determined.  Jeff Suppan is going on Friday, but the fifth starter slot comes back up Saturday.  There's only one more off day until the All-Star Break, so it seems most reasonable to go ahead and pull Adam Ottavino back up and plug him back into the rotation.  If La Russa decides to go with one of his patented bullpen games, however, I think you have to take that has a definite vote of no confidence in Ottavino.  Would a package of Ottavino, Allen Craig (who, notably, wasn't called up while the Cards need a DH) and Mark Hamilton net a decent #3-#4 starter?

Cards try to win the series tonight by sending Chris Carpenter to the mound.  Last time he was in Toronto, all he did was throw a one-hitter.  I don't think Carpenter has been to that level on a consistent basis this year, but he has shown that, if everything's going right, he's going to be dominant.  If it isn't, he's still going to be pretty good.  Here's what the current squad of Blue Jays has done against him:

PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP GDP
Alex Gonzalez 22 21 3 3 0 0 1 0 4 .143 .182 .286 .468 0 0 0 1 0
Lyle Overbay 10 9 5 3 0 0 2 1 0 .556 .600 .889 1.489 0 0 0 0 0
Jose Bautista 8 7 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 .143 .250 .143 .393 0 0 0 0 0
John Buck 3 3 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Hill 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Fred Lewis 3 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Vernon Wells 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
John McDonald 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 54 51 11 7 0 0 4 2 13 .216 .259 .353 .612 0 0 0 1 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/23/2010.

More experience than I thought, though that's mainly due to Gonzalez and Overbay's stints in the National League.  Still, if he can get around Overbay, it looks like it could be a low scoring game for the Jays.

On the flip side, the Cards will be facing Ricky Romero.  Romero is having a solid year for Toronto in only his second major league season.  The only Cardinal that has faced him is Holliday, who went 1-3 with two strikeouts against him in a game last year.  Of course, he's a lefty, which seems to be all the Cardinals see lately, but after they solved Brett Cecil last night, it should give them some confidence in facing Romero.

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to give an opinion on something that's circling around the baseball internet right now, the discussion of whether or not Stephen Strasburg should be an All-Star selection.

Now, my friend Chris over at Bird Brained has come down on the "I don't think so" side of the equation, but I'm going to take the opposing view.  Even though Strasburg was responsible for ruining my iTouch, I think that, if he keeps pitching the way he has, he should be on the All-Star roster.

If you've read here for long, you know that I'm not a big fan of the "This Time It Counts" bunch of malarky that Bud Selig and company spew.  The All-Star Game, in my mind, is a pure exhibition that is for the fans.  If the fans want to see Player X in the starting lineup, commentators and experts need to quit griping about it when they vote him in.  I like the managers and players selecting deserving players that might not be voted in.  I like the every-team-has-a-representative factor.  This is supposed to be a fun game and a showcase for baseball.

So what better way to draw attention to the game, to bring in more eyeballs to see the best players, than to put the biggest drawing card on the market in the game?  Casual fans that have heard of Strasburg may tune into the game to watch him and get caught up in the rest of it.  The ratings for the ASG are never all that strong, so they could use a Strasburg bounce.  Get the country talking about him and what he does.

And what if he pitches one inning and strikes out two or three guys?  The buzz around him only increases, and that's really good for baseball.  You are already seeing the attendance bounces around the country when he pitches.  What better way to get the game into the national spotlight again?

Like I say, if he keeps pitching like this, he's shown he can be an All-Star.  If he stumbles, maybe you reconsider.  (Which means that, since I've written this, Kansas City will get to him today, most likely.)

Remember, 6:07 start for the Cards tonight, 9:30 is the UCB Radio Hour.  Come on and join us!

Cardinals Skip The Country

Posted on June 22, 2010 at 8:46 AM
The day off was pretty quiet, save the fact that the Cardinals skipped the country.  It's a night of two national anthems tonight as the Battle of the Birds begins in Toronto.

You wouldn't think it, but I actually have a friend down here in Arkansas that's a Blue Jays fan, being as he's from Canada and all.  So it'd be much nicer for my piece of mind if the Cardinals took this series, and they've got the pitching matchups in their favor, at least slightly.

Jaime Garcia goes tonight, and obviously the Jays haven't seen him before.  Toronto is sixth in the American League in runs and OPS, so this could be a good test for him.  Being unknown should help and I expect he'll continue his strong starting run tonight.

Brett Cecil is having a solid year, leading the team in wins and WHIP, and a 3.58 ERA in the AL East is nothing to sneeze at.  Plus he's a lefty that only Matt Holliday (0-3) has ever seen before.  Good chance this is going to be a 2-1 game.

Of course, there's the debate on whether interleague play is really worth it.  It seems like finally there are more and more people speaking out and saying it is really not necessary.  Rob Rains has a column up today at the Globe-Democrat about it, for example.  I've never been a big fan of interleague, as it comes across as a feeling of an exhibition in the middle of the season.  I definitely wouldn't miss it if it was ditched, let's put it that way.

Remember, we'll be talking about the Blue Jays with Ian from The Blue Jay Hunter tomorrow night on the UCB Radio Hour!  Make your plans to join us!

A Holliday Weekend

Posted on June 21, 2010 at 4:36 PM
It's late in the day, I've already written about my electronic tragedy of the weekend and I've worked up my Baseball Digest column (to be up later this evening, probably).  Let's take a quick crack at this weekend's series with the Oakland A's.  Oakland is one of those teams I'm a little fond of, though not as much as when Tony La Russa and Mark McGwire were running around over there.  Still, love those green uniforms.

Friday (6-4 win)
Hero: Matt Holliday.  Three hits, including a home run that put the team on the board early.  That lineup switch--or the warmer weather--seems to be working.
Goat: David Freese. 0-4 with two strikeouts.
Notes: Again, not the sharp Chris Carpenter, but the offense was able to bail him out of his really bad inning.  Also nice to get back into the NL Central lead after this one and Cincinnati losing to Seattle.  How nice was it that the Cards miss Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez and their closest competitor has to face them?

Saturday (4-3 win)
Hero: Adam Wainwright.  Eight innings of one-run ball.  Plus, if I didn't choose him, Holliday probably sweeps the weekend.
Goat: Ryan Franklin.  Apparently didn't have anything, giving up a run (eventually two) and getting nobody out.
Notes: Another home run and multi-hit and RBI game for Holliday.  Good work by Jason Motte to limit the damage in the ninth, almost getting out of it without giving up anything.

Sunday (3-2 loss)
Hero: Matt Holliday.  OK, uncle.  Two home runs gets you back on the list.
Goat: Albert Pujols.  Two strikeouts and a fly out in the biggest situation late in the game.
Notes: Another tolerable outing by Jeff Suppan.  Still not able to go too long, but first time through the lineup he's a rock.  

Like Bernie Miklasz says in today's column, consistency seems to be the hobgoblin of this team.  Holliday gets going, Colby Rasmus and Pujols slow down.  (Though, to be fair, Rasmus did hit two bombs this week, so that's something.)  Freese hit all four of his home runs in, what, a week's time?  Granted he's kept his average up and been hitting some doubles as well, but it goes to the streakiness of this team.

The fact that the Cards are up 1.5 over the Reds with the engine not fully functional tells you about the NL Central but also about how good this pitching staff has been.  Without the emergence of Jaime Garcia, this team is well back, especially after Brad Penny's injury.  Garcia's got to get some credit for team MVP, just because of what he's meant to a team like this.

Day off today, which means a slow day in Cardinal Land.  Matt Holliday did get Player Of The Week, which is nice.  That may be a symbol of this Cardinal team, though.  I mean, when you look at the stats, save for the middle infield nobody just looks bad.  But then you see Holliday's week that pumped these numbers up, Rasmus was POW a couple of weeks back with a strong seven days, and Freese got it back in May.  I could have sworn that Pujols had gotten one this year as well, but I can't find it in a Google search.  Still, that helps highlight the peaks and valleys this team has on a regular basis.

Looking forward to the Toronto series, should be a good pitching matchup.  We'll look at tomorrow's game, well, tomorrow, but I want to mention that Ian Hunter from The Blue Jay Hunter will be joining us on UCB Radio Hour on Wednesday, so if you have any questions about the Jays, let me know or give us a call!

Stephen Strasburg Ruined My ITouch

Posted on June 21, 2010 at 9:25 AM
Stephen Strasburg is an incredible pitcher.  He's taken the baseball world by storm, living up to the hype, setting records virtually every time out.  Yet this weekend, he was indirectly responsible for me frying my iPod Touch.

Let me preface this by saying while I enjoy doodads and gizmos, I don't have a lot of them.  The budget doesn't let me be much of an early adapter.  However, back in March, I was able to finally purchase a Touch.  While one of the big reasons I got it was to be able to use MLB.tv, I expect that would have to wait until 2011 due to the price of the annual subscription.  However, I was able to get in on the vaunted $20 sale right before the season started and had the best of both worlds.

Now, I tend to do my best to take care of things like this, because one, I don't have the money to fix or replace and two, I tend to live a Murphy's Law-type of life at times.  It seems like if something can go wrong with something, especially if I've spent money on it, it will.

So the whole family has gotten to where they enjoy using the Touch.  They play the games, download different apps, the whole deal.  I use it to check my e-mail and Facebook and, of course, watch games.  It's been worth the money and really a lot of fun.

Then Stephen Strasburg comes along.

I'm a huge pitching fan and have been excited to see Strasburg since he reached national promenance last year.  I missed his first start because I had a softball game at the same time.  His second start was on TBS, so I could lay on my couch and watch that one.  His third start, though, wasn't televised in my area.  (My cable company won't get MLB Network, to my lasting sorrow.)

I started out watching Strasburg on the computer while the family was finishing up dinner.  However, I had to get the kids bathed up because I was heading out to my bi-weekly poker game soon.  I didn't want to miss his start, though.  What to do?

You can see where this is going.

It worked out fine when my son got his bath.  I made sure to keep it well away from the tub and moved it away from the sink when he was brushing his teeth.

Then, my daughter's bath.  Again, things were going well until she says, "I want to see the baseball game."  So I turn it toward her to show her the game.

I'm still not sure exactly what happened.  I wasn't over the tub when I showed her.  I thought I was well enough away from it.  However, apparently I wasn't.  The Touch slipped from my hand, bounced against the side of the tub, and landed face up in her bath water.

The image of the game being viewed through a thin layer of water will stay with me a long time.  After freezing for a second in utter disbelief, I lunged for the Touch, got it out and wrapped a towel around it.

Perhaps if I were more electronic-savvy (or actually have been able to think), I'd have first gone to the internet and looked for answers.  If I'd done that, I'd have seen that I shouldn't turn it on or use it at all.  Of course, that's not what I did.  Everything seemed to be OK, there was just no sound.  Maybe I was in time.

Then it shut off.

Restarting it, I rushed for the headphones (since when I turned the volume up and down, that was the volume it said it was adjusting) to see if I could get the sound back on.  That's when the screen stopped responding.

After some texting with my brother-in-law, I did the "submerge it in rice" thing this weekend.  When we finally got it out yesterday, after some major work, it seems to actually work somewhat.  The apps will come up, the touch screen is responsive, everything is good.

Except the wi-fi.  That option is completely ghosted out.

At least it works in part.  The family can still play a lot of their games.  It still syncs up with the computer.

But no more watching Strasburg or any other game on it.  I hope he's happy.




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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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