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August 2010

Cardinals Hit Rock Bottom, Break Out Jackhammers

Posted on August 31, 2010 at 8:27 AM
You know, just once, it'd be nice to have an upbeat, positive day. I guess last Monday, with the big win over the Pirates, would count as one of those.  However, since sweeping the Reds 20 days ago, those kind of days have been few and far between.

Before the game yesterday, the Cardinals gathered together and, in an act of camaraderie that in movies would have led to a eight-game winning streak and taking over the division lead, all shaved their heads.  I'm sure that they were light and loose and ready to play.  Unfortunately, this group of players with a heavy Christian emphasis in their leaders apparently missed the Bible story of Sampson.  The Cards haven't had a lot of oomph lately, but cutting their hair apparently took it all away.

You know yesterday that I mentioned I thought J.A. Happ had done well against St. Louis?  Apparently that J.A. Happ actually showed up.  A two-hit (or a different word if you are the official site headline writers) shutout?  Wow.  Just when you thought things really couldn't get any worse.

Since the offense didn't show up, I'll have to give the Hero tag to Jake Westbrook, who pitched much better than it turned out for him.  He allowed a first-inning run on a ball that was just fair and allowed his third run in the seventh on a double play ball.  He pitched well enough to win and, if the team had actually packed their bats for Houston, he might have.

How do you pick just one goat when all but two of the batters wind up hitless?  I'll go with Skip Schumaker, because he was the leadoff guy, but I don't feel great about it.  Pretty much throw a dart and you are likely to hit someone that would qualify for this.

The only semi-positive news to come out of yesterday was that Colby Rasmus indicates that one, he has no problem with Tony La Russa and two, he's done a little bit of maturing while he's been sitting and watching baseball these last couple of weeks.  Rasmus has to be back next year and he probably does need to take a step toward really maximizing his potential.  If TLR decides to return, he and Colby really have to get along, so it's good to hear that, at least publically, things are going OK.

Triple Crown update: Albert Pujols is now eight points behind Carlos Gonzalez, still two home runs up on Adam Dunn and just one RBI up on Joey Votto.  If AP has a September like last year, though, he won't be in the top five of many of these categories at the end of the year, so hopefully he'll continue to be locked in.

Chris Carpenter goes against Wandy Rodriguez tonight.  Carp's been OK against Houston this year (1-1, 3.52, 8K/6BB in 15.1 innings) while the Cards seem to have finally figured out Rodriguez (1-2, 6.06, 9K/6BB in 16.1 innings).  However, knowing how Rodriguez has shut them down before, I'm thinking all bets are off on this one.  At this point, you have to just sit back and see which team shows up.  Hopefully they can clear away some of the depression by having a solid game in all aspects.

Another Lost Cardinal Weekend

Posted on August 30, 2010 at 6:55 AM
What is left to say about this team?  We are using up all the possible words to describe what we are seeing out of this team that, on paper, is one of the most talented ever to play in St. Louis but, on the field, has a frustrating inability to not put bad teams away.  That'd be annoying if they were up 5 games in the division.  Since they are now 5 games down, it is potentially fatal.  A quick recap:

Friday (4-2 win)
Hero: Matt Holliday.  2-4 with a home run that turned out to be pretty big when Ryan Franklin danced through the ninth.
Goat: Felipe Lopez.  0-3 with two strikeouts sitting in the middle of the lineup keeps the engine sputtering.
Notes: Jaime Garcia didn't pitch as well as he did last time out, of course, but was able to make the pitches he needed to get out of his jams.  He might not have been able to do that against lesser teams, perhaps, but the rest of the staff couldn't do it against this lesser team.

Saturday (14-5 loss)
Hero: Skip Schumaker.  In a game that didn't have much redeeming value, his two hits and a run stand out.
Goat: Pick one.  I guess the most glaring is Kyle Lohse for not only allowing eight runs, but to have squandered the 3-0 lead he was handed plus the 5-5 tie the Cards rallied for.  The home run to Adam Dunn really put the nail in the coffin.
Notes: I'm guessing since rosters are about to expand they won't cut him, but will we see Mike MacDougal in anything but a lopsided game or as the last pitcher out of the pen?  I hope not.

Sunday (4-2 loss)
Hero: Pedro Feliz.  2-4 and a home run, which allowed the Cardinals again to have a game where the tying run comes to the plate in the ninth.
Goat: Adam Wainwright.  Waino continues to put a dent in his possible Cy Young season by not only being unable to gain his 18th win, but to lose against such inferior teams.  Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and now Washington have beaten him his last three times out, and his ERA in that span is 5.21.  Not the best time for him to hit the wall.
Notes: Jon Jay seems to be cooling off, as expected.  An 0-7 in the extra inning game and another 0-fer here.  Did have a home run this weekend, though, so he's got that going for him. Fernando Salas is a definite keeper.  I think he and Mitchell Boggs were the only bullpen members not affected by the meltdowns this weekend.

As always, more descriptive recaps of the games over in my weekly Baseball Digest column, if you can bear to go through it.

We aren't tracking the pennant race here, but it does bear noting that the Cards are now five games behind the Reds and three out in the wild card.  After these last two series and knowing that Houston has a 7-5 season advantage on us, it really seems like September may be just playing out the string.

Which means, of course, that there is much more time for the palace intrigue between Tony La Russa and Colby Rasmus.  Rasmus was scheduled to play in yesterday's game, so much so that KPLR listed him in the starting lineup and Jay Randolph was completely thrown off by the fact that Aaron Miles was hitting where Jon Jay was supposed to be.  (Really, it doesn't take much to throw Randolph off.  I'm going to be pretty glad that all the games are on FSMW next season.)

Apparently, TLR decided to scratch Rasmus due to an abundance of caution.  He said something about wanting to give him another day, didn't want him to get dehydrated or anything of that nature.  Which is all well and good....if they had moved the game from a night game to a day game all of the sudden.  Last I checked, though, people have been planning for that 1:35 EDT start since, oh, the beginning of the season.

So what really is going on in the clubhouse?  A very good discussion on that topic is over at Viva El Birdos.  I hope that there is less there than we fans are making out of it, but anyone that's read Three Nights In August knows what La Russa thought about JD Drew.  If the fans are starting to do a little comparison of those two, is the manager as well?  Is it possible that that previous relationship is coloring the current one?

Back in 2007 and 2008, when the manager was seemingly incompatible with the young star, I argued that you keep the youngster and let go of the manager.  I was wrong then, as Anthony Reyes hasn't panned out in Cleveland any more than he did in St. Louis.  However, I'm not swerving from that course in this instance.  Not only is Rasmus more established than Reyes ever was, you have to wonder if La Russa is losing the clubhouse.  If so, there's no reason to stick with him over a guy that you really have to have in the long run, if only from a payroll point of view.

Not only were the Cardinals' October chances hurt this weekend, but so were Albert Pujols's Triple Crown chances.  After getting as close as one point in the batting race, today finds AP sitting six points out of the batting race, now trailing Carlos Gonzalez.  (That's not including the specter of Omar Infante, who is at .341 and creeping closer to eligibility.)  Albert is also only two RBI ahead of Joey Votto, as the two battle it out.

Of course, Pujols isn't thinking much about it and won't do a lot of discussing of it, but you wonder if either that or the fact that the team is struggling again is starting to weigh on him.  He has six strikeouts in his last five games, which would not be notable given his "struggles" in that department this year, but during his hot streak, he's been making significant contact.  The first 19 games of August, he struck out only four times.  If he's falling out of "the zone", it could make it very difficult for him to win any of the TC categories, much less all of them.

While it wasn't the best of weekend for Pujols on the field, off the field provided probably one of the highlights of his life.  Much was made out of AP and TLR being a part of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington this weekend.  I never worried much about it, one because TLR emphasized they were told it would be non-political, which it seems to have turned out to be, and frankly because I'm on that side of the spectrum anyway.  (Shocking, I know, to find a conservative on the Internet!)

I hope that everyone, whatever their political beliefs, can acknowledge that the Cardinal representation at the rally was done well and non-politically.  Here's a video of both of them and politics never comes up.  From what I understand, it was more a religious rally than anything and, as such, there's no doubt that Pujols belonged there.

The Cardinals finish up this road trip by going to Houston for three games.  As mentioned above, Houston has been a thorn in the side of the Redbirds all year long.  We should have known this was going to be a frustrating year when the Cardinals became the first team to lose to them, or when Houston swept them in St. Louis is mid-May.  In other words, expect a sweep is out of the question and hoping for a series win may just be a long shot.

Jake Westbrook goes for the Cardinals.  In his words, he's been "consistently mediocre" since coming over from Cleveland.  Given whom he was replacing in the rotation, mediocre was a step up.  Still, it'd be nice to see him come out and give a strong performance for once.  Especially since the Redbirds go up against J.A. Happ, who I thought was someone that had shut the Cards down a lot in the past, but he gave up five runs in six innings last year and seven runs in the only inning he's faced the team this year.  Maybe this is a more favorable game than I thought.

On a final note, I've mentioned before the Social Media night that the Cardinals are having on September 16.  As someone that does the blogging and the Facebook and the Twitter, it's of course of interest to me.  While it's not to the level of other major league teams, who have had dedicated nights for their bloggers and at times have given them press credentials to cover the ball game from the press box, it was a first step.  Could have been bigger, but it was definitely good to see the Cardinals going in that direction.

Matt Sebek, writing over at Joe Sports Fan's new abode, has put together an open letter to the Cardinals, suggesting that they should have expanded their panel to include more non-traditional media members.  I'm flattered to have been included on Matt's list, though basically anyone else on that list would be much more interesting to listen to than myself!

Cards and Houston tonight at 7:05.  If you want the perspective from the other side, remember friend of the blog Astros County for your Houston needs.

Exasperating=Cardinals

Posted on August 27, 2010 at 9:00 AM
Exasperated

Definition: to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely
Synonyms: aggravate, agitate, anger, annoy, embitter, enrage, gall

See: St. Louis Cardinals, 2010

It's like it's become a baseball version of Phineas and Ferb.  "Hey, Ferb, I know how we are going to play frustrating baseball today!"  (Side note: That's actually on right, and I'm going to watch it with my daughter once I'm finished rambling.)  There are nights that the offense doesn't show up.  Then the offense shows up, but the pitching goes to pot.  If they both work, that probably means the bullpen doesn't function.

It's never a blowout and it's never easy.  I'd guess that fully 65% or more of the Cardinal games this year have had the chance of being tied in the ninth by one team or another.  You can't point a finger just at one thing.  It's possibly the most frustrating season the Cards have had in a long time, causing many fans to just hit their top level of exasperation.

Last night was no exception.  First off, incredible kudos to Albert Pujols on reaching such an amazing milestone.  400 home runs earlier (in age) than anyone but Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez?  That's some strong company.  When there's been talk of AP breaking the all-time home run record, I've been a bit skeptical.  Sure, he puts up a lot of homers, but he's not a guy that tends to go out and have seasons of 50 or more. He's such a great all-around hitter that I figured he'd put up a high total, but not really challenge.  I don't think of him as a home-run hitter, just a great hitter that hits some home runs.

When you get to 400 this early in a career, though, you have to start thinking about it.  Albert still has a lot of prime years left and, barring injury, he could break the club home run record (assuming he resigns with St. Louis) in 2012 if not before, reaching the 500 milestone in 2013.  It wouldn't take a Bonds-like suspicious surge to put him within reach of the mark.  It might even be appropriate, since Hank Aaron was a solid home run hitter who didn't put up huge seasons but consistent ones, just like AP.

Besides that, there were a few positives.  Randy Winn had an exceptional game and really should have been discussed as the major contributor toward a win.  I honestly thought he had rapped into a double play in the ninth with the bases loaded, but he was able to hit the ball out of the shortstop's reach to plate the two runs that should have assured the win.  Four hits, including one in the twelfth which, coupled with a stolen base, put him at second with no outs, but he didn't sadly didn't move off of that spot.

Brendan Ryan did fairly well also after being inserted in the fourth.  Only one hit, but some spectacular defense.  That play in the 12th saved the game for a while, but really was incredible.  If that wasn't the top play on Web Gems last night, there's no justice in this world.

On the pitching side, Fernando Salas had another excellent game.  He ran into a bit of trouble with a couple of walks in his second inning, but was able to get out of that jam.  I think Salas has proven his worth and probably won't see Memphis again, whether this year or next.

Other than that, though, there were a lot of disappointments.  While he didn't get a lot of help from his defense, Chris Carpenter usually pitches better than that.  You can't really think that he had a lack of focus or a let down because Washington was a last place team--we've seen him be too much of a competitor for that.  Maybe he wasn't comfortable for one reason or another or maybe it was just a flat game, but it came at possibly the worst time.

Felipe Lopez....well, if the one game he made two errors at third was enough to make the team trade for Pedro Feliz, this game was probably enough to keep him off of shortstop for a long while.  I can semi-understand Tony La Russa's reasoning of not wanting to put Brendan Ryan into a tailspin again, but I think that might be underestimating Ryan a bit.  Knowing that Carpenter has requested Ryan in the past to play behind him, that could have been part of Carp's discomfort.

However, it's pretty much all moot if Ryan Franklin can hold a lead.  I know it was his second inning of work, but looking at the lineup the Nationals sent up in the ninth, he should have been able to close the door.  Besides, he hadn't pitched since Saturday, so he shouldn't have been that tired after one inning.  (Interestingly, Franklin hadn't--and still hasn't--pitched in a save situation since locking down his 21st on August 13.  Which means there hasn't been any situations since then, which seems to me to be a long streak, if it means anything.)

In a game that hard-fought, you just can't afford to give that lead back up, but Franklin did.  Adding just another layer to the exasperating season.  And that doesn't even take into account the fact that they slipped another half-game behind the Reds, but I'm not talking about the pennant race anymore, am I?

By the way, I heard TLR's reasoning for not sending up Bryan Anderson in the 12th, instead using Adam Wainwright, but I'm not completely convinced.  I understand that he thought Doug Slaten would dominate Anderson since he's tough on lefties, but I think you still have to take your shot there.  Your pitching staff is getting depleted, your star is out there on one leg, you take your chance.  If you have to, put Anderson behind the plate, Yadier Molina at first and take Pujols out, because of the injury and they weren't going to ever pitch to him in any situation save bases loaded in that game anyway.  If Matt Holliday hadn't been hit on the hand, this wouldn't have been an issue, but it was way too reminiscent of the April 20-inning game vs. the Mets. 

We'll see if tonight's game is any less frustrating.  Jaime Garcia hasn't faced Washington this year, which is good for him, most likely.  He's coming off the shutout, so he can't do better than he did last time out, but if he can do somewhere in the neighborhood, hopefully the offense that was around last night will back him up.  Scott Olsen goes for the Nats.  A lefty with a 5+ ERA.....yeah, this is going to end well.

If you'd like to see if this season was preordained or just remarkably frustrating, Out of the Park Baseball, a computer simulation game that has been around a while, is going to be half price this weekend.  OOTP is an incredible game and well-worth the $20 that you'd spend on it.  Download it and see what would have happened if David Freese had been healthy all year, if Brad Penny hadn't strained his side, if Ryan Ludwick never got traded.  You'll have a blast, I promise.

More than watching the real team can be at times, at least!

Dear Cards: You Win

Posted on August 26, 2010 at 8:16 AM
Dear Cardinals,

This is to inform you that, due to your maddeningly inconsistent play, your inability to beat bad teams regularly, and your amazing ability to tease with late inning rallies that fall short or winning streaks that are then followed by losing streaks, that I'm stepping back from this pennant race.  More power to you, but I don't think I can go up and down like this for another month.

Look at this week, for example.  After falling to three and a half behind those Reds, you go out and dominate the first game against a team that, frankly, you should dominate against.  All well and good, especially when the Reds lost anyway.  The upward climb was going well with a three game winning streak.

Then the car reached the top and started downward.  A frustrating loss with Adam Wainwright on the hill with a 2-0 lead was mitigated somewhat by the Reds also falling and Albert Pujols being one batting point away from a Triple Crown.  It wasn't much, but it was something.  A team that is serious about contending, though, doesn't lose a series to Pittsburgh, especially when they are trying to make up ground on a leader.  

Yet that's exactly what happened with last night's performance.  The Pirates started a guy that had an ERA close to the mark of the beast, which might have been appropriate since he then went out and bedeviled the team last night.  A guy that had walked six last time he faced St. Louis wound up pitching six three-hit, scoreless innings, with only two walks in there.

Finding a Hero in last night's game is tough.  Felipe Lopez did get a home run that broke up the shutout, but much-maligned Aaron Miles came in as a pinch hitter and went two for two, driving in the last run in the ninth.  Which is indicative of the bigger problem; you know you are struggling when Miles is the best part of a game.

Even the consolation prize of a possible Triple Crown took a hit, with Albert Pujols having a rare 0-4 game.  Coupled with Joey Votto going off against the Giants, AP is now back seven points in the batting race, slipping to third behind Carlos Gonzalez.

How can a team that is this talented, who was supposed to be comfortably ahead in the division right now, have a series where their star says, "We didn't play to win the series and they did"?  How is it even possible that you don't roll into Pittsburgh, take at least two of three if not sweep and then look to Washington?

Derrick Goold has done the math on how hard it will be for the Cards to overcome 3.5 games this late in the season.  However, even thinking about a sustained tear for this team seems implausible at best.  At the end of April, they stood 15-8 and three games up in the division.  Since then, 53-48, never getting too high, seeming to pull out of tailspins.  To think that this team is suddenly going to play .600 ball over the next month seems, well, inconceivable.  And yes, I do know what that word means.

So I'm done.  I'm not done being a fan or watching games, nothing like that.  I enjoy the baseball and will miss it significantly when it's gone in the coming days.  I'll still cheer and hope they win, but I am going to do my best to not worry about the pennant races, not get caught up in wins or losses.  Just try to enjoy the game, as the Cardinal Diamond Diaries ladies have suggested.

Besides, I can already see how this season is going to pan out.  About late September, this team will finally put on a run.  Cincinnati will falter somewhat, so it will come down to the last day with a chance for the Cardinals to tie for the division and force a playoff.  They'll have the tying run on base in the ninth....and fall short.  It seems to be the way of things this year.

I hope that with Chris Carpenter on the mound, who shut down Washington earlier in the year, going against Jordan Zimmerman, a talented young pitcher but one who is still adjusting from coming back from surgery, that the team will play to win tonight.  Cincinnati doesn't play, so we can pick up the half-game....which is something I won't be worrying about tonight.  

Really. Promise. Maybe.

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Posted on August 25, 2010 at 8:20 AM
On the face of it, it wasn't a terrible loss.  Most discussion of the next 10 games had the Cardinals going 8-2 if they wanted to make a run, so they haven't ruined that.  Cincinnati lost and so did Philadelphia, so they stayed right where they were in regards to the postseason.

And yet.....

It was a very bad loss.  If the Cardinals are going to make a serious run at October and making up these deficits, they can't lose with Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright on the hill, especially to inferior opponents.  They just can't do it.  They have to win those games and then see what they can do with Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse on the mound.

With Matt Holliday staking Wainwright to that 2-0 lead in the first, I thought that things were well in hand.  However--and this is my fault, because I should have known this--I wasn't thinking that they wouldn't score again until one of their patented fall-just-short rallies in the ninth.

Even if I had, though, I'd have thought things were OK, because giving Wainwright a lead is just about as sure of a thing as there is in baseball.  Granted, I wasn't aware of his over 5 ERA at PNC and I didn't remember that ugly game last year where he lost his quality start streak in Pittsburgh by giving up something like five runs in four innings.  But it's Wainwright, the Cy Young candidate.  Surely he can hold things together.

With rookies Jose Tabata and Neil Walker doing the majority of the damage off of Wainwright (combined 4-6 with two runs and all four RBI), you wonder if not having a good enough book on them came back to haunt the Wagonmaker.  With the preparation that these guys do with Dave Duncan and all the charts and graphs, having a couple of talented guys that you've not seen (or seen much) and that don't have a big body of work in the majors might have led to some of the results last night.

Even with that, though, this game turned on two coaching decisions.  The first was letting Tabata steal in the seventh.  I was going back and forth putting the kids to bed during the inning last night and, until reading the recaps, was completely impressed Tabata had scored from first on that ball, not realizing that he'd been on second at the time.  Matthew Leach covered that decision on his blog last night, and I agree with him: they should have held Tabata on.  I understand the logic, but you have to trust that either Wainwright will pitch Walker in a way that he won't ground the ball there or that the fielders will be able to get to it. Because the way it worked out, you got the worst of both worlds--Tabata went to second and Walker got the hit anyway.  That run proved huge, but you knew at the time that even a one-run lead would be a problem, while two might be insurmountable.

And will all of that, the Cards still had a chance to at least tie up the game in the ninth.  Of course, no matter what the opponent's lead is, they always seem to have that opportunity.  An RBI single by Jon Jay put two on with one out and Albert Pujols at the plate.  (Side note, Brendan Ryan gets the goat for going 0-4 in the leadoff role.  The ninth would have been a great place for him to at least draw a walk or something.)  Pujols got his third hit of the night off the glove of Ronny Cedano.  Randy Winn turns the corner and....gets held up by Jose Oquendo.

Now, I can again understand where Oquendo was coming from.  You hate to make an out at the plate in that situation.  However, I'd have sent Winn like there was no tomorrow, for a couple of reasons:

1) Cedano still hadn't gotten to the ball when Winn reached third.  Winn would have been at least a quarter of the way down the line, with full momentum, while Cedano would have had to plant and throw a strike, then have Doumit put the tag on Winn.  It seems to me that the Cards had the advantage there.  Make the other team make the play.

2) Look at the resulting situation.  Bases loaded, one out.  However, as we know, Holliday has struggled at times in that situation, including recently.  All it takes is one ground ball and the game is over.  If Holliday gets out without getting the run in (as he did with a first-pitch weak popup), then your fifth place hitter is Felipe Lopez.  Which, being that you just need a base hit in that situation, isn't terrible, but it's not like Lopez has been lighting it up anyway.  There's a strong chance that you aren't going to get anything out of that situation, a chance that sadly came to fruition.

Too bad not everyone is like Pujols.  If it'd been him coming from second, he'd have ignored the sign and gone anyway.  Then again, if everyone was like Pujols, it'd have been a 25-0 game and it wouldn't have mattered.

If St. Louis wins that game, they are 1.5 out of the division title and tied with Philadelphia and San Francisco for the wild card.  Instead, they still have that larger deficit to climb over and one less game in which to do it in.  Games like this are why the odds of them having a nice playoff berth are getting longer and longer.

On the positive side, Pujols's three hits puts him just a point (well, actually, .692 of a point) behind Joey Votto (who didn't play last night) in the batting race, which means he's thatclose to leading all the Triple Crown categories.  If Votto plays today, he'll face Madison Bumgarner, who we saw last week stifling Cardinal hitters, while AP gets Daniel McCutchen.  Of course, both of them are hoping that Omar Infante will take a few days off or going into a big slump, because if he triggers the plate appearance threshold, he's 20+ points ahead of both of them in the batting race.  Infante went 1-4 last night leading off for the Braves, dropping him to .349.  You'd hate to see a guy with (right now) 140 less AB than Pujols and 100 less than Votto deny either of them the Triple Crown on that kind of technicality, but it may well happen.

You have to wonder by now if Fernando Salas ever bothers unpacking, whether he's here or in Memphis.  I mean, it'd be a hassle to get home, get things unpacked, and then get sent right back out.  He's flown around 7,000 miles with his callups, but he never lets it bother him on the mound, at least.  Salas got his most recent callup when Dennys Reyes was placed on the disabled list yesterday.  Reyes's stint was backdated to August 16, so that means that he can come off the DL right before rosters expand.  Which means that Salas might get one more trip to Memphis (and a return flight to St. Louis) before it's all said and done.

In other news, the Post-Dispatch panel (and, while I love that they added VEB founder Larry Borowsky to the mix, they really could use a blogger or two in there, couldn't they?) discussed whether they believe Tony La Russa will return for the 2011 season.  I have maintained during the year that he and Dave Duncan seem to be checking off their bucket list, so the possibility that he won't return seems pretty strong to me.  If this team misses the playoffs, he may decide that, with this much talent (an MVP, a Cy Young and a ROY candidate), there may need to be a shakeup for it to really step up.  While I have no doubt that TLR is still very competitive, it is his 31st summer as a manager, not to mention those few seasons as a player.  It's got to get wearing at times.  I really won't be surprised either way, whether he stays or goes.

Also, Ozzie Smith was at the Cards' minor league affiliate Quad Cities and spoke to the crowd for a while.  He mentioned that he's getting the bug again and might like to get back into baseball.  I'm not sure exactly how that'd work.  I mean, Ozzie Smith coaching fielding?  He could do some, but so much of what he did was instinct and reactions.  I know he worked hard at it, but you know it is, sometimes the great ones have trouble really translating what they could do to what they can teach.  Still, if Ozzie's going to be working somewhere, it better be with the Cardinals.  (Which opens up the whole TLR thing again, but let's not go there.)

Tonight, Jake Westbrook goes for the Cards against Daniel McCutchen.  Westbrook, not surprisingly, hasn't faced Pittsburgh this year.  Hopefully he can give another performance in line with what he's done since coming to St. Louis, 2-3 runs in 6-7 innings.  McCutchen is having a terrible year (6.65 ERA) but was (of course) tolerable against the Cardinals in his only appearance against them this season, allowing four runs (three earned) in just under six innings.  'Course, he walked 6, so maybe patience is the key tonight.

The Reds play this afternoon, so St. Louis and Albert will already know what they need to do. (Pujols may be the Triple Crown leader if Votto doesn't have a big day.)  After the game, check out Bill and Justin from i70baseball as they host the UCB Radio Hour at 9:30 Central.  Tonight, they have a number of guests scheduled, including author Rob Rains, so be sure to check it out!

Pujols In The City

Posted on August 24, 2010 at 8:22 AM
I think that, if I were the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I would petition Major League Baseball to make sure that the Cardinals never came to Pittsburgh in August.  It'd be bad enough to face Albert Pujols in his own park in the month that he's always hitting, but to have him come to PNC Park is just asking for a beating.

I couldn't help but laugh after his first at-bat.  You hate to see a pitcher leave with an injury that early, but especially when the first two batters have reached.  A lot of times, that can kill momentum as the new pitcher warms up as much as he likes, plus has his own new rhythm.

So Pujols waits through the delay....and then sends the first pitch over the wall.  No taking one to get timing, no waiting to see what the guy has, just first pitch boom.  He didn't even expect to swing, but his instincts and reactions are such that he just did it automatically, with the results we've come to expect.

After his 3-5 night, he's at .319, four points behind Joey Votto (and a point behind Martin Prado) in the batting race.  He's got a lead in the other two categories, so with him facing Paul Maholm, Votto going against Jonathan Sanchez and Prado getting Jorge De La Rosa (in Colorado), that order could shift around tonight.  Be interesting to see if AP could get on top of all the Triple Crown categories, at least for a day or so.

It was another night where finding a Goat was a tough thing, but with Felipe Lopez being the only starter without a hit, I put him in there, even though he did draw two walks.  I was pretty surprised to see him hitting in the fifth slot, though.

It was very good to see quality results from Kyle Lohse last night.  I'm not sure that he'd have put up a line like that against many teams, but if confidence is something he's needing, facing the Pirates can only help.  He gave up a few fly balls that were a little worrisome in the first couple of innings before allowing his two-run homer in the sixth, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.  He should be facing Washington next time out, so that will likely be another situation where he could gain a little momentum.

I was actually afraid I'd seen this game before for a while.  I remember a game against Pittsburgh I believe last year, when Ian Snell allowed four runs before getting an out, then held the line the rest of the way and Pittsburgh came back to win.  I was glad to see the offense didn't completely shut down after getting that early lead, especially since it wasn't Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright on the mound.  Lohse probably needed that extra cushion.

The injury news off the field is piling up as well, both good and bad.  The good is that Jason Motte is just about ready to go out on a short rehab assignment.  With the minors ending here in a week or so, it can't be a long one, but likely Motte doesn't need much.  Having him back in the pen will be a good thing, though the relievers haven't struggled much lately.

The bad (at least in theory) is that Dennys Reyes isn't doing well and that Colby Rasmus is still days away from returning.  Reyes has been so iffy this season anyway when coming into LOOGY situations that not having him available hasn't been the disaster that it might have been last year.  Maybe some rest will have him be more effective for October, if the Cardinals make it.

Rasmus is a different story.  More and more the "JD Drew" rumblings are coming to the surface.  Not that anyone doubts that he's hurt at all, don't misunderstand.  But it seems like it's tough for Rasmus to play a full season and, with Ryan Ludwick gone, the Cards really need his healthy bat in the lineup.  You'd hate to see him get into the doghouse like Drew did, but it seems like a strong possibility.

Cardinals get to send Adam Wainwright to the hill tonight, which is usually a wonderful thing to watch.  Pirates put out Paul Maholm, who has been a problem for St. Louis in the past.  This year, not so much, as in the one game he started against the Cardinals, he gave up six runs (four earned) in three and a third.  If it's another night like that for Maholm, Pujols might get to #400 and the Cards might be able to cut another game off that NL Central deficit.  Here's hoping!

Have The Cardinals Bounced?

Posted on August 23, 2010 at 8:55 AM
The weekend started with an internet furor over a Cardinal trade.  It ended with a lot more optimism after a stellar pitching performance.  In between, well, it's possible that the Cardinals hit rock bottom and bounced.  A quick recap:

Friday (6-3 loss)
Hero: Albert Pujols.  2-4 with a home run on a night where there wasn't a whole lot of offense.
Goat: Matt Holliday.  One hit, but a late DP and grounding out as the tying run in the ninth doesn't help matters.
Note: Again with the late inning, get-your-hopes-up-then-dash-them rallies.  Sometimes, it's just better to go out 1-2-3 if you can't get the job done.

Saturday (5-1 win)
Hero: Pedro Feliz.  For all the talk about his acquisition (more on that in a bit), he did have a pretty solid weekend.  It's a tiny sample size, but again, for one day a 2-4, 2 RBI game isn't bad at all.
Goat: Skip Schumaker.  Not a good day from the leadoff slot, as he went 0-4.
Notes: Chris Carpenter stepped up when he needed to.  After Pujols said there was "no tomorrow", the team looked better and Carpenter was a big reason why.

Sunday (9-0 win)
Hero: Jaime Garcia.  Wow, just wow.  When I saw that Garcia was still in at the end of Sunday's game, I was pretty impressed.  When I saw that it took just 89 pitches, I was blown away.  A guy that has had trouble with his command, who has struggled to get into the seventh at times, just cruised to his first career shutout.  If he's back to this level, the Cards might be able to do something.  Also, I think he was ticked that on Baseball Tonight Saturday, the panel mentioned Buster Posey and Jason Heyward (really? Heyward?  Talk about hype vs. results....) but completely overlooked him.  No longer.
Goat: Matt Holliday.  Not one of the more serious Goats, but since every starter got a hit and Garcia was the only pitcher, someone had to do it.  Holliday did only have one hit in five at-bats and did not draw a walk.
Notes: Another strong day for Jon Jay with three hits.  He's done well at other spots in the lineup, but he really thrives in the two slot.  Nice to see Allen Craig get another home run and Brendan Ryan do well in a rare start in the leadoff role.  That increased confidence is really working for Ryan, who has finally become, if not someone you want to see at the plate, at least not an automatic out anymore.

As always, you can read more about the last week, including this weekend's games, in my weekly column over at Baseball Digest.

So, again, we reach the point in our reflections where we try to take some sort of meaning or significance out of the last few games.  This Cardinals team is ridiculously mercurial.  They win eight in a row, we're sure they've found a gear and will take off, then they lose four in a row.  They take over first place, then lose five in a row.  You can never guess where this team is going.

You'd like to say that they've reached their low point and are on their way up.  Getting 4 1/2 games out of the divisional race had to be some sort of wakeup call for this team, as evidenced by Pujols's comments about having to win games because it is getting late.  With a week of games against Pittsburgh and Washington, you'd think that they'd be able to pile up some wins if that's the case.  However, I think by now we've all come to the conclusion that you don't predict what this team is going to do, because that's about the time they'll do the opposite.

A brief note on Pedro Feliz.  I was with the majority that really didn't care for this move.  I mean, Feliz wasn't even starting for Houston, so that should give you some indication of how bad things had gotten for him.  He's had some brief flashes of offense in his career, but nothing major.  While I don't expect David Carpenter will ever be a major star, he still was showing some potential in the minors.  It just didn't seem like a move that needed to be made, especially with Tyler Greene playing the position in Memphis.  I realize that the glove work would be an improvement over what the Cards have now, but adding another black hole to the already inconsistent offense just didn't seem to make sense.

At least the Redbirds got one good weekend out of Feliz, though, which is more than most thought would happen.  If there's some small adjustment that gets him to league average over the next six weeks, maybe it'll pan out.  I still don't think I'd have done it, but it's done, so we have to hope for the best.

Speaking of hoping for the best, Kyle Lohse goes for St. Louis tonight against Pittsburgh and Ross Ohlendorf.  Lohse is trying to put the last start behind him and not do too much in this outing.  Going against Pittsburgh does tend to make that an easier proposition.  Ohlendorf's record (1-10) is disastrous, but he's posted a sub-4 ERA, so as always wins and losses don't tell the entire story.  He actually hasn't faced St. Louis this year, but he's been strong against them in the past, fashioning a 2.77 ERA in 26 innings over the last three years.

With Cincinnati out in San Francisco and facing that solid pitching staff, this is the time for the Cards to make up ground.  (Plus, with Pujols going to Pittsburgh and Joey Votto going to San Francisco, it's at least possible AP to make up the seven points in batting average that separates him from the Triple Crown.  Wouldn't that be an interesting thing....)  A week of 6 PM starts begins tonight!

Sigh-Inducing

Posted on August 18, 2010 at 8:34 AM
Just when you start to believe in this team, to think that they've finally found that gas pedal on the team car, they stomp on the brakes.  A four game winning streak to get into first place?  Let's follow that up with three losses against sub-.500 teams!  I feel like I'm a driving instructor.

Of course, if Felipe Lopez could figure out how to handle a double play ball, perhaps we wouldn't be having this conversation.  Both his wild throw in the second and his inability to field a grounder in the third led to some problems.  Jaime Garcia was able to pitch out of the first situation, since the bottom of the lineup was coming up.  He did a pretty good job of pitching out of the second, but Casey McGehee took a pretty good pitch all the way over the center field wall.    If Lopez fields that ball, though, odds are McGehee isn't up there.

Garcia looked pretty good last night, for the most part.  His ball was moving and, save for the McGehee at bat, he didn't give up much.  Three walks was much better to see and I'm thinking without having to face those extra hitters due to Lopez's imitation of Dr. Strangeglove, he might have gotten through the seventh.  The Cards need him to be solid down the stretch and it was good to see that it probably wasn't overwork that has gotten to him in his last few outings.

Nice to see Albert Pujols go yard again.  Just when you start to get worried about AP being something around mere mortal, he hits August and goes ballistic.  30 HR for the 10th straight year, already 50th all time in home runs and just needs three more for 400.  Absolutely incredible.

The Reds won, which means that the Cardinals are exactly where they were before that Reds series--two games back.  St. Louis really can't afford to lose Garcia or Carpenter starts, but there's no way they can lose Adam Wainwright starts and still plan on being competitive.  Waino going is almost a gimme, one that you have to take.  

Wainwright will go this afternoon against Randy Wolf.  Wolf being a lefty can give the Cards problems, and even this year, when his cumulative ERA is over four and a half, he's limited to the Cards to a 3.66 mark the three times he has faced them.

Good thing it is the Wagonmaker going, then.  He has a 1.30 ERA in day games, a 1.22 ERA at home and a 0.50 ERA vs. Milwaukee in two starts this year.  If the numbers mean anything (and I'm not sure they do, but let's go with it), a Pujols home run might be all Adam needs today.  Most likely, it's going to be another pitcher's duel, one the Cardinals really must win.

With all the prospects signing, Derrick Goold takes a look at what that means for the top of the Cardinal system.  I don't think you can put anyone ahead of Shelby Miller, especially when you see what he's been doing lately, but it's nice to have some new talent to bolster those rankings.  The UCB will be doing their Top 7 Projects come mid-September, so keep an eye out for that and see what we think about the baby 'Birds.

If this isn't enough for you, a couple of more opportunities to put up with me.  This week at Baseball Digest, they are running a series on competitive balance in baseball, with a focus on the economic side of things.  The first in the series ran yesterday, and you should be able to see my entry today at BD if you look for it.

Secondly, it's Wednesday which means another UCB Radio Hour at Blog Talk Radio.  Tonight, Bill from i70baseball and myself will be talking with Rob Rains and, possibly, former Cardinal Andy Van Slyke.  Should be a fun time and I expect we'll be able to take some calls if you want to join us on air.  If not, the chat room is always open!  As always, 9:30 to 10:30 Central and the phone number is 646-929-1758.  Hopefully we have a Cardinal win to discuss as well!

Looking To The Future

Posted on August 17, 2010 at 8:31 AM
There may not have been any games on the field last night, but there were some late-night anxious moments anyway.

Last night was the deadline for signing picks from the most recent draft.  Without a contract in place by midnight, those players would go back to school and re-enter the draft pool at some future date.  The Cards were able to land a couple of their big fish, but one of the biggest, as expected, got away.

Right after the midnight Eastern deadline, the Cardinals announced that they had signed Zack Cox to a major league deal.  I don't remember the Cards handing out a deal like that in the past, meaning that Cox starts out on the 40-man roster and begins burning options I assume immediately. I'm not completely sure, but it would seem like the first option would get used this year when they send him to the minors, meaning that he'd have to be in St. Louis for good by the start of 2013.  Being that he's a college player and fairly polished, along with being a hitter and not a pitcher, that might be a reasonable expectation, the thought being that if he isn't there by then, he's not going to be there.

The Cardinals were also able to sign first-round supplemental pick Seth Blair and second round pick Jordan Swagerty, to go along with Tyrell Jenkins, a first-round supplemental who had already signed.  The organization feels like they got at least three if not four first-round-caliber players, so the draft was a strong success in their eyes.

However, it could have been even more wonderful had they been able to sign Austin Wilson.  From reading about this guy and hearing what the team said when he had his day on the field earlier in the summer, he really sounded like an elite talent that could work his way up the minors quickly.  Odds are the Cards won't have another chance at him, but it sounds like they did all they could, Wilson just really wanted to go to college.  Hard to blame a kid for that.

Yesterday being an off-day also afforded Albert Pujols the opportunity to have his annual golf tournament.  All funds, of course, are for the Pujols Family Foundation and all the work they do in the Dominican and the US.  I thought it was neat that AP is expanding what he's doing down in the Dominican to bringing baseball to that part of the island.  Imagine if the next great Cardinal star is down there, learning the game from equipment given to him by Pujols!

Lots of celebrities played in the golf tournament--Shaquille O'Neal, Ozzie Smith, Bo Jackson, Bobby Knight--but one guy that probably didn't get quite the following was Adam Wainwright.  The Post-Dispatch ran a story this morning basically lining out the rationale behind the now-common phrase in Cardinal Nation: Waino is bueno.  It was interesting to hear Wainwright basically admit that contract stuff was getting in his head, which is why he signed early so he could pitch without distractions.  So many players say that doesn't play a role, so it's good to hear someone admit that it could.

Wainwright is a special talent and, from all appearances, a fairly good personality as well.  Another season like this one and he'll be right there at the top of all the lists for great pitchers in the game.

Waino doesn't go until tomorrow, so tonight we see Jaime Garcia face off against the Brewers and Dave Bush.  I'm a bit surprised that the Cardinals didn't try to rest Garcia, given the fact that there are two off days this week.  Wainwright could have pitched today on full rest, with Westbrook going tomorrow, then Carpenter, Garcia and Wainwright this weekend.  Garcia has been struggling recently, posting an ERA close to 7 in August.  He's done very well against Milwaukee this year, though, putting up a 1.42 ERA in three starts with 16 strikeouts in 19 innings.

Bush has only thrown six innings against the Redbirds this year, giving up three runs but striking out seven.  With Cincinnati out in Arizona, the Cardinals need to get to Bush early and put the pressure on them to win to keep the NL Central lead.  We'll see if they are able to do that!

The Frustration Continues

Posted on August 16, 2010 at 8:11 AM
Remember when I said that Cardinal fans should caution against getting too high off of that Cincinnati series?  Unfortunately, this 2010 team is becoming predictably frustrating.  Let's look at the series.

Friday (6-3 win)
Hero: Albert Pujols.  Three hits, including a home run, and scored three runs.  AP pretty much did it all.
Goat: Brendan Ryan.  Not the best of weekends for Ryan, as he apparently has started on the downward slope of his roller coaster season.
Notes: Save for that first inning, Jake Westbrook had a good game and is showing that he's shoring up the rotation.  That's not a game that the Redbirds win if Jeff Suppan or Blake Hawksworth start, I don't think.

Saturday (3-2 loss)
Hero: Jon Jay.  Two for three, including a run, in a game that didn't have a lot of offense.
Goat: Brendan Ryan.  Both he and Colby Rasmus popped up bunts in the late innings, but the difference was Rasmus shouldn't have been bunting.  If that was his call, I'd give him the Goat tag.  I don't think that it was.
Notes: A tough loss, especially with Cincinnati winning.  Obviously you can't win all of them, but when the tying run is on second with nobody out, it feels like a game that should have gone to St. Louis the way they'd been playing.

Sunday (9-7 loss)
Hero: Felipe Lopez.  A two-run pinch-hit single in the wild ninth.
Goat: Kyle Lohse.  More discussion in a bit, but not getting through the fourth is not the way you wanted to see him come back.
Notes: Great for Stephen Hill to smash a home run in his first game.  It was also good to see the team not give up, especially after the big bats were taken out of the game.

Lohse's start was promising, at least in the beginning.  He gave up the long balls to Derrick Lee, but the Cardinals hardly figured him out all weekend.  Lee came in hot and if Lohse had been able to limit it to just those mistakes, we'd be a much happier fan base this morning.

Even the beginning of the fourth wasn't too bad, as the first two hits weren't liners, but just out of reach of the infielders.  After that is when it got ugly, with balls getting hit hard and even Ryan Dempster getting in on the action.

What does this mean, long-term?  Well, if Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Westbrook can continue pitching well, not a whole lot.  Lohse is the fifth starter and you have to figure he'll be better than what the Cards had been running out there in that slot.  If not, rosters expand in three weeks.  With the off days this week, Lohse might only have two, maybe three starts before that time, when more experimentation can be done.

I do think Lohse will be better than he showed yesterday.  Hopes for him getting closer to 2008, though, might be too much to ask for.

Also interesting to see Allen Craig get some time at third base yesterday.  He made an error in his only chance, but it doesn't sound like it was his fault.  The Craig at third campaign had a lot of supporters across the internet and it makes a lot of sense with the personnel the team has at the moment.  With Lopez struggling, getting Craig some at-bats isn't as hard to do when you can put him there.  Of course, Craig still needs to do something with those opportunities, as he's been pretty quiet since his outburst during the eight game winning streak.

The article also mentions that the Cardinals are looking at Brandon Inge.  If they can get Inge (assuming he clears waivers) for a AA prospect or something, I'm all for it.  Inge isn't anything special, but he does have some pop and can play 3B pretty well.  With David Freese out for the year, it'd be a good move, especially since it frees up Lopez to go back to that utility/supersub role that seemed to sit well with him earlier in the year.

Something that Tony La Russa was saying this weekend, both in relation to Craig and to Stephen Hill, kinda stuck with me and not in the best way.  TLR kept referring to their situations as "not being fair."  It's not fair to try out Craig at third, even though he has more experience there than some of the other moves La Russa has made in the past.  It's not fair for Hill to get a start in the big leagues, even if it means Yadier Molina's legs fall off.

Last I checked, life ain't fair.  Like I said, Craig's played some third.  It's not like you are taking an outfielder and sticking him there with no preparation.  It's not like he has to completely learn on the fly on the big stage.  He's got experience there and he's got to be hungry for more at-bats.

The same for Hill.  Is his development going to be irreparably ruined by giving Molina a day off?  If so, why haven't you gone ahead, now that there's not the time crunch there was earlier in the week, and swapped him out for Matt Pagnozzi or Bryan Anderson?  I'm not saying Hill is going to be an instant jolt or even do anything positive, but there's no reason to run Molina down to the bone when you do have someone that can legitimately catch.

There are two days off this week, so I'm guessing Hill will stay around, sit on the bench, maybe get to pinch hit once or twice.  I'm not pushing for a start due to those rest days, but without them, I think the club would have to do something and Hill is as good as any other option.

Today is the signing deadline for the players drafted in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.  It looks like the Cards will lock up their second pick, Jordan Swagerty.  The big fish, Zack Cox and Austin Wilson, are still out there, though.  Per Jim Callis's Twitter feed, it looks like Wilson will get away, though Cox will likely sign.  Better than nothing, though I was really hoping they'd pull off the upset and get Wilson permanently into Cardinal red.

Going to be a long week with two days of no baseball, plus an afternoon game on Wednesday.  You can spend your time perusing the Cardinal blogosphere, of course, and get much more insight than you can reading me, or you can check out Baseball Digest and read my weekly column over there.  We'll talk about the Brewers tomorrow!




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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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