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February 2011

Playing Pepper 2011: Baltimore Orioles

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 3:00 PM
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come.  Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.

Baltimore Orioles (66-96, 30 GB and fifth in the AL East)

It's been a long time since the glory days of Cal Ripken in the Charm City.  Ever since Jeffrey Meier interfered with Tony Tarasco in 1996, things have been on a downhill trajectory.  Can the birds reclaim that glorious history of the early part of their existence or are they doomed to become like the team they originated from, the St. Louis Browns?

A couple of Baltimore bloggers are going to try to answer that.  First up, the man that goes by the name Detective Tom Ludlow over at the blog Eutaw Street Hooligans.  The Hooligans have many writers and you can follow Tom on Twitter and the gang on Facebook.

Dan Soderberg provides another point of view on the Orioles.  Originally a writer for the blog Birds Watcher, he know can be found writing for the web site Splice Today.  You can also follow him on Twitter as well.

After the jump, find out if the Orioles can get out of the cellar and what exactly the deal with Matt Wieters is.

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Playing Pepper 2011: Arizona Diamondbacks

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Two years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come.  Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.

Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97, 27 GB and fifth place in the NL West)

Arizona has had a rough time of it the last few years.  They've had trouble developing a team that can compete with teams such as San Francisco and Colorado and have made their most noise when trading for the future.

Scott Allen is the only Arizona member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, writing for the Fansided blog Venom Strikes.  You can follow him on Twitter as well as following his blog's page over on Facebook.  After the jump, Scott talks about Ian Kennedy, Justin Upton and what to expect out in the desert this season.
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Actual Cardinal Baseball

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 10:27 AM
It's what we've been waiting for since the end of last season--real, actual baseball games.  Sure, they don't count in the standings and the big guys won't get many at bats, but it's the Cardinals versus another team and that's gotta mean something.

And while the big guys won't get many at bats, they will be in there.  Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Ryan Theriot, they are all in the initial lineup of the spring.  We'll see Allen Craig at third as the team goes easy with David Freese in the early going, but this lineup has an Opening Day feel to it.

The focus this weekend seems to have been on Berkman, who apparently has a bit of a balky elbow.  The team isn't having him do much in the way of extra throwing right now, just the bare minimum, but he did play in the outfield during the coach's game yesterday and is in there today.  He's probably not going to let it loose to try to get a runner out at the plate, but it doesn't sound too bad.  That is, assuming that the new, more open policy for injuries is still in place.  What worries me a bit is that he had these problems with it when he was stretching in the winter.  I'm afraid that's going to come back and bite the team this spring, but hopefully it is as minor as everyone seems to indicate it is.

As noted, there was an intrasquad game yesterday, as the regular lineup took on the reserves and got beat 8-5.  Or something like that.  Coach games are notorious for not exactly sticking to the rules and I figure that scoring a game like that is a little difficult as well.  Still, nice to see Jon Jay do well and it really was intriguing to see Zach Cox starring in the game as well.  He's not going to make the team, of course, but any positive impression he makes keeps him in mind if he starts strong in the minors and something happens that the team needs a replacement at third later in the season.  Cox is on the 40-man due to receiving a major league contract and that could be a point in his favor.  A strong spring and a strong minor league campaign could do wonders for him.

Obviously, the news about Adam Wainwright continues to reverberate around the team, though many have put it behind and are focusing on the season to come.  This weekend, though, Wainwright made his first statement about the situation.  He didn't make it to the media, though, but instead wrote about it on the E-Fellowship blog run by himself as well as other players.  Read it through to see why he's not worried about the surgery and not down because he has to have it.  Then ask yourself--where does YOUR identity lie?

There was a glimpse of the future this weekend as well, or at least Cardinal management hopes so.  Carlos Martinez had his first bullpen session, something John Mozeliak compared to the anticipation around Christmas.  Matthew Leach got some video and it does look like Martinez has a live arm, though had a few control problems yesterday.  Obviously we won't be seeing Martinez until next September at the earliest, probably more like 2013, but he'll be someone to watch this year in the minors.  I think Future Redbirds is going to be an active place this year!

Couple of things from Post-Dispatch Bernie Miklasz today.  First off, he lists out five reasons that the Cards aren't folding, that they can keep their heads up.  All well and good, of course, and they are solid reasons.  But just five?  I do think he's right, that Tony La Russa does a great job of motivating a team when he can use the underdog approach.

He also is of the opinion that the Cards really should be looking into Kevin Millwood, assuming the costs of acquiring him aren't too high.  Millwood would likely be able to eat innings and do so in a respectable manner.  (I've always thought innings-eater was a terrible term.  I mean, sure, having a guy that can give you six or seven is great, but what if they are really terrible innings?  Do you want him out there that long?)  Millwood's always done well in the NL and should get a boost in returning to the league.  I know the Cards want to go internal and odds are they probably will, but I bet they have at least made a courtesy call to Millwood's agent.

To tie the end of the entry to the top, today the Cards face off against their stadium-mates the Florida Marlins in the first Feathers and Fins game of the spring.  One pitcher that is scheduled to go is Fernando Salas, and I'm interested to see how he does this season.  He's not been talked about much during the winter, but he did a very good job bouncing between Memphis and St. Louis last year.  I'd like to see him stick in the bigs this year and today's the first step toward doing that.

Supposedly you can follow the game on line at  It's tough to know what you'll get with a spring training game, but it can't hurt to check it out right after noon Central time.  Great to have some baseball back, isn't it?

Preseason Rituals: Playing Pepper and Cardinal Approval Ratings

Posted on February 27, 2011 at 3:43 PM
I'm a routine kinda guy.  One of the great things about baseball is its rhythm, the fact that it's on almost every day at almost the same time.  I like having a pattern to fall back on, something that drives what I do.

With the coming of the baseball season, there are a lot of things that start marking the time.  The fantasy drafts over at CardsClubhouse.  The increase in baseball Tweets.  Players showing up to spring training in "the best shape of their lives."

Two years ago, I started up two other preseason items that have carried on to the current day.  First off is my series that I call Playing Pepper.  It's a way to keep up with the other teams around baseball by checking in with the bloggers that write about those teams.  This was one of the things that inspired me to start up the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, which is still going strong today.

I like to post a National League team preview and an American League team preview each day, so here's the projected schedule.  As the posts go up, I will update this listing with links in case you want to bookmark it and return on a regular basis.

I've tapped into the membership of the BBA for answers to five questions, three consistent and two team-specific, and the response has been great.  I look forward to bringing you these answers by some of the best bloggers out there.

My other preseason ritual relates to the Cardinal Approval Ratings.  If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, down below the Heroes and Goats scoreboard (yes, it's just about time for those again!) you'll see what everyone received last year on their ratings as well as those that I asked about in 2009 but that weren't on the team in 2010.

This year, I'm bringing all of those back (interestingly, all of those I polled last year are back for 2011) plus I'm adding a few more.  So much so that the voting form has been broken up into three parts.

The first section relates to nine players, ranging from Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter to Kyle Lohse and Skip Schumaker.  The second section also has nine on it, but these deal with management types.  Lastly, there's a section of nine that lists some of the media types that cover the Cardinals.

You can find the form here and more instructions are listed at the top of that sheet.  I expect that I'll keep the voting open until Friday or Saturday, though it's possible that it will extend into next week depending on the demand.  After the vote closes, I'll release the average rating for one of each of the group every day until they are completed.

With these two things, plus spring training games starting, you can really feel baseball in the air!

Overly Optimistic Cardinals Post

Posted on February 24, 2011 at 9:08 AM
There was a lot of doom and gloom among fans and national media types yesterday with the news that Adam Wainwright is out for the season, as confirmed this morning by John Mozeliak.  The players may not be feeling it, but there were a lot of people that immediately wrote off the chances of the Cardinals, going so far as to wonder if this will cause Albert Pujols to rescind his 10/5 rights and ask for a trade when the team is out of it in July.

Now, I'm not a blind homer.  I know that it's going to be a tough road for the Cardinals this season.  That said, the air of inevitable negativity really started to grate on me.  This team is still pretty darn good.  So, in that vein, I'm going extra optimistic today to hopefully balance out the mood to a more reasonable level.  Hopefully it'll be a post that'll make the Cardinal Diamond Diaries girls (winner of the Most Optimistic Blog in the last Cardinal Blogger Awards) proud.

Let's see how many positive points we can make.

1) The Cardinals are still the favorites in the division.  Look at the projected odds.  With Waino, of course, they were over 50% to win the division.  Now, it's down to 37.9%, but that's still better than any other team in the division.  It might be a tighter race, but it's not one that has the Cardinals completely outclassed.

2) They'll beat Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh is a team that likely will be on the rise soon, but that doesn't mean it is this year and the odds are they are going to finish under .500 this year.

3) They'll beat Houston.  Houston had a nice run under Brad Mills to finish last year, but they still have a lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers.

4) They can beat Chicago too.  Chicago's rotation hangs heavily on which Carlos Zambrano shows up.  Matt Garza's going to make them better, but Carlos Silva fell off sharply in the second half and Ryan Dempster has looked more beatable as well.  Their offense is not nearly as strong as the Cardinal offense as well.  They have an edge at catcher and third, but other than that, the Cards would probably take each head-to-head matchup.

5) Cincinnati should come back to earth a bit this year.  We all love Scott Rolen, but he played at a higher level than can be expected of a guy of his age and injury history.  Joey Votto was MVP and while he's still young and that could be his baseline going forward, it seems reasonable to think he'd slip a little bit.  Their pitching is better than in years past, especially with Aroldis Chapman coming out of the pen, but it can be erratic as well, plus it remains to be seen if guys like Mike Leake and Travis Wood can repeat their strong rookie seasons.

6) Milwaukee may be the toughest of the teams in the division, but I think the Cards stack up with them as well.  We have to wait and see what Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum do in a different league, but the Brewers are obviously better on the mound than they were last year.  That said, Chris Carpenter can hang with Greinke (depending on which Carp and which Greinke show up) and the back of the Cardinal rotation has a good chance of being better than the back of the Brewers'.

7) The best player in baseball plays first base for the Cardinals.  Albert may not be there long (though I think he will be) but he's there for the 2011 season and that's a huge reason you can't count out this team.

8) At second base, we have a guy that has his .300 three of his four years in the bigs.  Skip Schumaker might not give a lot of power, might not give a lot of defensive range, but if he's on his game, he'll be able to set the table for the big hitters that are in the lineup (even if he does it from the eighth or ninth spot).  Schumaker did hit .279 after the break last year (.303 in August) with an OBP of .342, which showed that it is still possible for him to be that kind of hitter.

9) If nothing else, we can cheer that Ryan Theriot realizes that he's on the right side of the best rivalry in baseball now.  While we love Brendan Ryan and will obviously miss his glove this season, the simple fact is that Theriot outhit him by 50 points last year, and that wasn't any sort of career year for him.  While 2008-levels (.307/.389/.359) might be out of reach, it seems reasonable that he'll be an upgrade to the lineup.

10) Let's assume that, with Nick Punto going down, we've had the only third base injury that we are going to have this year.  If so, a full year of David Freese is going to do wonders for the run-scoring abilities of the Cardinals.  I'm pretty sure Freese could outperform what the Cards got out of Pedro Feliz on one leg if he had too.  One of the black holes from the 2010 team should be filled in with Freese's return, plus the experience he got playing the first couple of months of last season.

11) Behind the plate is a Gold Glove catcher, which will help slow down running games and should help coax better outings out of some of the perhaps untested starters slated for that now-open fifth slot.  Yadier Molina has been known to hit a little bit as well, and even with his weak first half last year, he hit .262 with six home runs.  Which means he hit .315 in the second half last year.  Molina's not going to be needed for pop, but to get the hits to drive runners in.  I think he's a very dangerous seventh hitter and could be overlooked due to his start last year.  I've heard numerous places discount him offensively.

12) It doesn't mean everything, of course, but when you look at the top 20 players in any fantasy magazine, Matt Holliday is going to be right there.  You have to figure that the pressure he felt at the beginning of last year will be lifted after getting a full season in front of the home crowd under his belt and hopefully that means a better average with runners in scoring position to begin the year.  Having him and Albert clicking at the same time will go a long way toward scoring the runs this team needs to win.

13) One of the more interesting and exciting talents in the game is in center field.  We don't know what we are going to get with Colby Rasmus, but even on the low side he's a potent offensive force and a solid defensive player.  If he unlocks some of what he can do and can get along with Tony La Russa, it could be a banner year for him.  Most likely he'll be hitting second, which means he'll either score a lot with the guys driving him in or get some good pitches and we'll have plenty of opportunities to stock up on Colby Jack.

14) Lance Berkman looks like he's in great shape and, while we don't know what we'll get out of him until we see him in the outfield for a while, his bat should fit well into the lineup.  He's motivated to prove last year was a fluke, he's worked out all offseason to get into shape, and he should help the lineup from hitting those major droughts that they had last year.

15) Chris Carpenter is still on the team.  Carp may not be the dominant guy that he was in '05 and '06, but he's still better than what a lot of teams have.  The drop off from #1 to #2 on the Cardinals isn't as much as some other teams.  I mean, if the Yankees lost CC Sabathia yesterday, how much would their playoff odds have dropped?

16) Jeff Gordon made a strong point on Twitter yesterday.  Which would you prefer for a season, Waino/Carp/Jaime Garcia/Jeff Suppan/Blake Hawksworth or Carp/Garcia/Jake Westbrook/Kyle Lohse/#5 guy?  Even if the top of the rotation takes a hit, the bottom of the rotation should be much better than it was last year, which will likely counteract the loss of Wainwright, at least in the regular season.

17) Last year's team won 86 games.  That was a team that couldn't beat sub-.500 teams to save their lives and had injuries in places that they had no depth.  You have to figure that the offense is going to be more consistent this year, the pitching staff as well and that they'll gain 4-5 wins against the weak teams this year.  So even with the loss of Wainwright, this team is still an 85-win team, which may not get them into October, but will keep them in the race.

18) Interleague play: we have two series with Kansas City, who are going to have a lot of young guys in the lineup then, plus series with Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay.  We miss out on the Yanks and Red Sox, which may make all the difference in a close NL Central race.  (I may hate interleague play for reasons like this, but if it works for the team, it works for them.)

19) The bullpen looks pretty solid.  Kyle McClellan, if he's not the fifth starter, will take the seventh, Jason Motte will do the eighth and Ryan Franklin the ninth.  We'll have to see if Brian Tallet can become a solid LOOGY, but the stats indicate it's a possibility.  Mitchell Boggs will shore up some of the middle innings.  At least on paper, it looks like a very competent squad.

20) It's February 24.  If you can't be optimistic right now, with the teams just starting to take the field and the whole season stretched out in front of you, why bother?  Hope springs eternal.  There'll be enough time to complain about this player not working out or lament if the Cards actually do fall out of the race.  Right now, though, step back, enjoy the return of baseball, and look on the bright side of things.  As The Flagrant Fan says, take a deep breath.

Had a radio doubleheader last night that I hope you were able to catch.  First off, Dathan and I talked to Matthew Leach about the Wainwright situation as well as some other stories out of camp.  Lots of great stuff there, including how the Brad Penny reporting fiasco from last year seems to be affecting how John Mozeliak approaches injuries this year.

Then, I joined Josh and Freddie last night on the regular show to talk about all of the above and then some, trying to stay as upbeat as possible.  As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why that is not only possible, but should be the default setting for Cardinal fans!

The First Twists Of Spring

Posted on February 23, 2011 at 9:14 AM
What's that saying?  Something about war plans only surviving until you meet the enemy?  Well, the best laid plans of the Cardinals didn't survive the first week of spring training.  One major storm yesterday, but a bigger possible cloud on the horizon.

Yesterday, Nick Punto went to get an evaluation on a nagging injury.  Turns out it was a sports hernia and will require surgery and 8-12 weeks of recovery.  So after all the agonizing over David Freese, it turns out to be the insurance policy that has the problems.

This would seem to open up the possibility that both Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene could make the squad and that the workouts for Allen Craig at third may pick up in intensity.  We all know what estimated times of return mean when you are dealing with the Cardinals (remember, Brad Penny was supposed to be out only 15 days), so it's possible it'll be quite a time before Punto makes his Cardinal debut.

However, that was quickly overshadowed this morning with the news breaking on Twitter just a bit ago that Adam Wainwright has gone back to St. Louis and will have his elbow evaluated.  The most chilling thing has been the team's response.  Again, remember this is a team that tends to downplay everything.  So when they come out immediately and say they are afraid this is significant, it can NOT be good.

If Wainwright is out, that changes the whole complexion of the season.  John Mozeliak on KTRS this morning indicated that Tommy John surgery was a possibility and, in fact, comes across as expecting this to be the case.  If it's not just a small injury that he can return from, that makes for a major hit on a club that was hoping to get into the postseason.

Of course, everyone shifts up if this is a big deal.  Chris Carpenter goes Opening Day, Jaime Garcia to #2, Jake Westbrook to #3 and Kyle Lohse is #4.  Which means that a little more is expected out of Lohse in that regard.  We were thinking that he'd be fine in that last role, but he'll have to pitch a little better if he's moving up in the rotation.  I think he can do it, but the same numbers aren't as spectacular out of your four as they are when they are out of the five.

There now becomes a competition to see who gets that last slot in the rotation.  Last year, Garcia grabbed the job when it was open.  Can someone do that this year?  Does Lance Lynn approach the rest of the spring with a little more determination knowing he could make the club?  Will Ian Snell be able to partake of Dave Duncan's magic and pitch his way into the role?  Will another pitcher, less heralded, become a candidate?

If nothing else, the last couple of days have shaken up a roster that could have been written in pen coming into camp.  How things will play out will be interesting to watch, even as the absence of Wainwright will be sorely noted.

If you want to comfort yourself somewhat, there's an article about Shelby Miller on the P-D website.  Could be that, if it is Tommy John, Miller will be ready to team with Waino when he returns.

UCB Radio Hour tonight.  Josh will have a lot to talk about.

Shifting Focus

Posted on February 21, 2011 at 9:41 AM
With Albertageddon in the rearview mirror and getting farther away by the hour, the focus has finally shifted to all those that are wearing the birds on the bat this spring.

One person that won't be wearing that red uniform, though, is Jim Edmonds, whose attempt at returning to the land where he had so much success was cut short last Friday when he retired from the game due to a foot injury.  For all the angst and discussion that came about when he was signed a couple of weeks back, I'm pretty sure the front office was expecting something like this.  You don't give a contract to a 41-year-old with an offseason injury without doing a physical unless you are prepared for him not to be ready.  Hopefully the Cards will be able to do something to honor Jimmy Ballgame during the season.

A notion that has me excited is the fact that Jason Motte is working on gaining another pitch.  I've been of the camp that thought Motte would be devastating with another weapon in his arsenal and, with Ryan Franklin a free agent at the end of the year, getting that extra pitch will make less of an issue when Motte, most likely, slides into the closer role in 2012.  Motte had a pretty solid year last year and adding another choice will help him move into the elite category, I think.

In spring training, one of the cliche stories is to report that someone is "in the best shape of his life".  We get one of those about David Freese, with all of Cardinal Nation hoping that it is the truth.  Having healthy ankles is one thing, having a sober outlook on life is another.  It sounds like he's been spending a lot of time around Matt Holliday, which is not a bad thing at all for a guy looking for some mentoring.  If Freese can live up to his offensive potential, the black holes in this lineup get a lot smaller.

Speaking of guys working on their offensive potential, when it's spring and everyone is in a wonderful mood, you get stories about Colby Rasmus and Tony La Russa working to get along in peace and harmony.  Of course, that's a lot easier to say when you've been apart from each other for a while.  If the mindset of Rasmus has shifted, to where he's willing to change his approach with two strikes and worry more about making contact, and if TLR is willing to let him play through any problems, this could be a banner year for Rasmus.  It's likely he'll be hitting in the second position, so he'll get a lot of looks and can be patient if he wants to be without necessarily having the pressure of setting the table.  We'll see how long this détente between the two lasts.  If the Cards are winning and Rasmus is going well, it could last a long, long time.

It looks like Miguel Batista has the inside track for the last spot in the bullpen, taking over for the departed Blake Hawksworth.  Obviously, plans can change depending on the spring, but if the team was going north right now, he'd be going with them.  That should leave a bullpen of Trever Miller and Brian Tallet from the left side, Batista and Mitchell Boggs as the long men, Kyle McClellan as the seventh-inning guy, Motte for the eighth and Franklin for the ninth.  Depending on if Tallet can be an effective LOOGY, that's not a bad pen at all, especially since the rotation should be able to go 6 most nights and 7-8 on a regular basis as well.

A final Cardinal note is a sad one, as one of the owners, Andrew Baur, passed away suddenly yesterday, apparently due to a heart attack.  We often focus on Bill DeWitt, who is the face of that ownership group, but there are others that hold a share of the Cards as well.  Mr. Baur apparently was a Cardinal fan for a long time before this group had the chance to buy the team, and he was the one that recruited DeWitt into it.  Our sympathies and prayers go out to his family.

A few last news and notes: if you want a quick Cardinal podcast to listen to, Bill Ivie and I had our second Gateway to Baseball Heaven show last night.  30 minutes just isn't long enough, but we make do with what we have.  If that's not enough, Bob and I talked to former Cardinal pitcher Jerry Reuss on Saturday.  With the new Blog Talk rules, we could only schedule 30 minutes and we went 45 before we were unceremoniously cut off, so it ends a little abruptly. Still, it was great to listen to Mr. Reuss talking about his baseball days.  Also, don't forget that we have the regular show Wednesday night, but Wednesday afternoon will have JD and Freddie talking to Matthew Leach from Jupiter, and hopefully we can get some of those clips cut and played on the show Wednesday night.

Also, if you are into baseball simulation games, you can't get much better than Out of the Park Baseball.  They are about to release their 12th edition and every year they continue to make significant improvements.  If you preorder now, they've got a bonus for you.  One lucky preorderer (if that's a word) will win a second-generation iPad when they are released later this year.  Makes you want to head over there, doesn't it? 

The Calm After The Storm: Pujols Reports, Cards Move On

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 9:21 AM
Yesterday's deadline came and went.  Albertageddon peaked yesterday morning, but by the end of the day had calmed back down.  Life goes on.

The man himself showed up today at camp.  He spent a good half an hour talking to the press, in a situation reminiscent of Mark McGwire's address to the media last spring training.  McGwire spoke openly and candidly about his steroid use and it wasn't much of a topic again.  Albert seems to be taking a page out of that playbook, according to the media tweets.  A quick recap:

"What do I want?  I want to be a Cardinal forever."  He hopes the fans understand what is going on.  Apparently both sides laughed at some of the numbers that were being reported.  He'll deal with the issue by "flipping the page."  If you think he's greedy, "you don't know who I am."

If nothing else, those kind of comments set some minds at ease.  He didn't come out grumpy, he didn't come out sounding like he had a chip on his shoulder from the whole thing.  He affirmed his commitment to the team and the fans.  There wasn't a lot of "we'll see what happens" or "no guarantees."  Of course that's implied, but he still comes across as perfectly happy to stay a member of the Cardinals for the rest of his life.

Hopefully now we can move on from that.  We have actual baseball stuff going on now, not the dead of the hot stove league, so there should be other things to catch our attention.

For instance, the starting rotation sat down with John Smoltz for a televised chat this morning as well.  Though looking at that picture, I'm a bit confused.  Did Jaime Garcia win a bet and get to collect Adam Wainwright's beard?  Waino looks a bit strange cleanshaven and we'll see if Garcia keeps the facial hair all spring long.

See, real baseball stuff, like facial hair.  You just can't get this during January.

Dave Duncan has been watching these pitchers this week and, as benefits the optimism that usually comes with the beginning of camp, likes what he sees.  I'm pretty interested to see if Lance Lynn can't be that de-facto sixth starter, the first guy up from Memphis.  I also loved the comment on Michael Cleto, who the Cards got in exchange for Brendan Ryan; he "so far hasn't displayed the significant control problems that have plagued his career."

Now, I know Duncan's good, but I lean more toward the "Major League" explanation.  In the movie (as Erika from Cardinal Diamond Diaries now knows), they are looking at the players in camp.  The manager gets real excited when he sees Pedro Cerrano hit, wondering how a bat like that got to them.

Then they start throwing curveballs and Lou Brown says, "Oh."  We'll see what Cleto does when he's facing hitters, but I'm not going to get too excited yet.  (Of course, it could be that he got glasses in the offseason, because seeing is the most important thing.  Willie Mays Hayes: "I'm not sure it's that important.")

So now the 2011 season really gets underway.  Almost everyone is in camp (Matt Holliday snuck in this morning after the Pujols media circus, for example) and there are just about 10 days until our first spring training games.  So let's move past Albertageddon and talk some baseball!

Albertageddon Is Here

Posted on February 16, 2011 at 9:02 AM
The clock is ticking loudly.  Only a few brief hours remain before talks are broken off and the fears of Cardinal Nation are finally realized: Albert Pujols will become a free agent at the end of the year.

There were a lot of rumors floating around Twitter last night.  One had the team mulling an eighth year.  One had Pujols asking for a portion of ownership.  Lots of talk, but no action and there's little to say that any of it had much basis in fact.

From the Joe Strauss story, it appears that the first offer the Cardinals tossed out there paid Pujols less on average than Ryan Howard.  If that's true, it's no wonder that things haven't been going smoothly.  You are going to offer a player that is miles ahead of Howard less money than him?  That'll get you off on the right foot.  You may not agree that the Howard contract is a good one (and most people don't) but you have to recognize it as law of the land, as it were, and bid accordingly.

However things come out today, it's worth remembering two points.  One, Pujols will be with us through the 2011 season and has a team around him that can likely contend for postseason glory.  Two, there's no guarantee he'll walk at the end of the season.  It's likely that he'll come back after testing the market.

That said, the idea of Pujols in a Cubs uniform will probably wake me up in the middle of the night at least 10 times this season.  You hate to let uncertainty into any equation, and that's what free agency is.  Sure, it's likely he'll come back.....but not guaranteed.

If nothing else, we got a strong symbol of what a player can be to a city yesterday, as Stan Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  It was really neat to see pictures of the current crop of Cardinals watching the Man get honored.  I enjoyed watching the ceremony, though obviously when you watch with a bias toward one person, you feel like they are getting shorted.  I'm sure the President spoke about the same length of time for each honoree, but I felt like he could have spoken much more about Stan, to recognize the Stand for Stan push that got him there, to talk about his life and legacy in St. Louis.  Again, though, I realize that it was a personal bias and totally irrational.  What was great was seeing Stan up there, resplendent in his red blazer, standing out from the boring blue and black suits.  (BTW, White House announcer dude--next time, practice the names, will ya?  How could you butcher Musial like that?)

I hope that Albert was watching and maybe he realized that, with his off-the-field work, if he stayed in St. Louis there's a strong chance that in 50 years or so there could be a "Push for Pujols" campaign to get him an honor like that.  Would there be anywhere else that he was a hired gun?

We'll talk about a lot of this on the UCB Radio Hour tonight.  As I noted in the last night's post, Scott Lamb will be with us to talk about his new book and how he reconciles what happened today with what he wrote.  Should be fun.

For now, I'll leave you with the chorus of the official theme song of Albertageddon, "I Don't Want To Miss A Mang".

Don't want to close my eyes
Don't want to miss a tweet
'Cause it's Albert, baby
And I don't want to miss a Mang

Gotta know when Strauss says boo
Derrick and Buster Olney too
'Cause it's Albert, baby
And I don't want to miss a Mang

Book Review: Pujols More Than The Game

Posted on February 15, 2011 at 10:45 PM
When Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth sat down to write a biography of Albert Pujols, I have a feeling they had no idea how timely the publication of the book would be.

Their work, Pujols: More Than The Game came out a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of all the discussion and debate about Pujols's contract.  Even as I sit down to write this, things are not resolved and it seems unlikely that they will be before Pujols's self-imposed deadline to cut off talks.

The focus is on Pujols, but then again, it always has been.  Lamb and Ellsworth do a wonderful job of mixing in Pujols past and present, going from his time in St. Louis back to his early days in the Dominican Republic.  We get to see some of what his life was like there in the DR and see why helping the people that are still there is such a passion for him.

Lamb and Ellsworth also do a masterful job of going back and forth between Pujols's two passions, baseball and his faith.  Make no mistake about it, this is a heavily Christian book.  The authors go by the Book, and I'm not talking about the unwritten one.  Bible verses are quoted and the how and why of Pujols's Christianity is broken down on a theological level.

Some people have used the current contract situation to cast aspersions on Pujols's faith.  They've commented that he couldn't be a real Christian because he's being greedy, holding out for every last dollar.  Lamb and Ellsworth obviously don't get into that specific allegation, but when you look at the evidence of Pujols's Christian walk in this book, it makes it clear that this doesn't hold water.

I can't tell you why Pujols is asking for so much, but I can tell you that this man is the real deal when it comes to Christ.  Page after page of this book is littered with his comments about God and Jesus, why he believes, what his belief means to him as a man, a father, a husband.

You see his devotion to the less fortunate, as evidenced by when he passed up a trip to the White House after the Cardinals had won the World Series because he was down helping people in the Dominican.  You see the joy he gets from helping out the kids with Down's Syndrome.  It would not surprise me that, at least in part, Pujols wants a big contract so he can do more and better things for others.  While there's no doubt he lives comfortably and doesn't want for anything, he's not completely showy about it either and pours lots of money into his Pujols Family Foundation and other charities.

Each season of Pujols's baseball career, from his time in high school all the way through the 2010 Major League campaign, is laid out with highlights and a general commentary.  Not only that, but Lamb and Ellsworth tackle the steroid rumors head on, giving a 20-point reasoned argument for why we can believe Pujols when he says he's never juiced.  Some may sway you more than others and a number are rooted in Pujols's faith, but denying all of them would take quite a bit of mental agility.

The one drawback from this book is that, for some reason, the authors were not able to talk directly with Albert.  All the quotes from him come from other sources, such as newspaper interviews and magazine articles.  There are plenty of those, of course, and there were direct interviews with people that know both Albert and Dee Dee, such as current players Kyle McClellan and Adam Wainwright.  (In fact, one of the best stories in the book comes from Wainwright, when Pujols offers to buy a painting of him getting the last out of the '06 Series and Wainwright refuses.)  Still, having direct contact with Pujols, especially being able to ask questions about his walk with Christ, would have made a good book even better.

Other than that and a couple of minor details (for example, the game after the passing of Darryl Kile is described as a "Sunday afternoon game" but actually was the ESPN Sunday Night game), this book shines as a great testament to a great player.  Hopefully in ten years Lamb and Ellsworth can come back and write a sequel capping his career spent all in St. Louis!

Programming note: Scott Lamb will join me on the UCB Radio Hour tomorrow evening to talk about the book.  Should be an interesting conversation!





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