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March 2012

Book Review: Three For The Price Of One

Posted on March 31, 2012 at 6:36 PM
As I've mentioned before, I am blessed in this blogging game to occasionally be sent free copies of books to review.  Right now I have a huge pile of them that I am working my way through, but I finished a couple recently that I wanted to share with you, plus one that I've not completely finished, but wanted to link up anyway.

Steroids.  It's something that we don't really like to talk about as baseball fans.  We will, when we have to, but we hope that the Steroid Era is well behind us now, though the offseason issues with Ryan Braun may indicate that we aren't as far along as we'd like to think.  However, that's the topic of Trading Manny, written by Jim Gallo.  The book details the relationship between Gallo and his son, Joe.  Joe's been bitten hard by the baseball bug and, as they live in the Seattle area, they get a chance to see games on occasion.  Gallo encourages his son's love for the game as they play pickup games in the backyard, pretending to be different batters or pitchers.

However, into this sort of idyllic love of the game intrudes the real world in the form of the Mitchell Report.  Suddenly, Gallo is having to talk to his son about steroids and the ramifications of using them.  In that child-like approach, Joe is certain that they are wrong and wonders why these guys aren't getting punished.  Not having the answers, Gallo starts on a journey to try to get them.  He talks to a lot of people, including minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst (who also has a new book out, one I've not been sent a copy of but may pick up sometime anyway) and former player Scott Brosius.

In my opinion, there are times where Gallo is like a dog with a bone, more so than he probably needs to be.  He ambushes Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Mariners, with steroid questions that Niehaus really doesn't want to talk about.  Not that he's guilty of anything, of course, he's just uncomfortable with the line of questioning and, like many baseball fans, wants to move on.  Gallo's hounding of a guy that might only be tangentially attached to the topic is a low point in the book in my mind--you want him to pack it in, but he keeps going until Niehaus explodes.

On the whole, though, this is an intriguing book.  I went into it not expecting to be all that excited about it, because I am one of those fans that would like to put the steroid era away.  Instead, Gallo got me thinking about how I would talk about this with my son whenever the time came.  I don't think, unlike Joe's favorite player Manny Ramirez, I'd have to deal with the disillusionment that came with a hero using the drugs, but you never know.  It was hard enough talking about Albert Pujols going to Anaheim, but to have to explain this.....

Again, I think Gallo gets a little too fixated on having to find answers at times, but his journey makes for good reading and some thought provoking issues.  I'd recommend checking it out, especially if you have young baseball-loving kids in the house or in your circle of influence.

The second book comes from our friends at the University of Nebraska press.  It's called Double No-Hit and you don't have to be much of a baseball fan to know that we are talking about Johnny Vander Meer and his historic feat of throwing no-hitters in back-to-back games. Something that's never been done before--really rarely even been approached.

The book mainly focuses on the record-setting second no-hitter.  Interestingly enough, it was also the first night game played in Brooklyn, which added to the hoopla surrounding the game.  Author James W. Johnson intersperses game action with the Vander Meer's history, similar to the way the move For Love Of The Game does.  We get into Vander Meer's history, how he got into baseball, and how his career had been going.

I'm pretty sure I didn't realize that Vander Meer's no-hitters came in his first full season.  He played 19 games the year before, but just 84 innings.  Vander Meer was also similar to Nolan Ryan--a flamethrower that didn't always know where it was going.  That helped him some, but the wildness was, at times, too much for him to overcome.

Vander Meer was more than just those two games, of course, even if he finished his career slightly under .500.  He won 18 games in 1942 and 17 in 1948, showing that he could still make an impact.  He just couldn't ever quite harness his stuff the way players like Ryan did and, if he wasn't a part of baseball history with his amazing feat, he likely would be one of those guys that you occasionally read about in baseball history books but never one that anyone would make a fuss over.

Vander Meer stayed in baseball after his career and was credited as being a very good manager and coach in the minors.  Eventually, though, he had to hang it up from there as well.  He always was proud of his accomplishments, though he seemed to be fine with the thought that they could be tied or broken.  That never happened during his lifetime.  Probably isn't going to happen in mine, either.

Johnson does a good job of relaying what Vander Meer was like and the troubles he had.  If you are a baseball history buff but haven't read a lot about Double No-Hit, it'd be worth your while to pick this one up.

Finally, we come to Baseball's Starry Night.  Unlike the two books before, this one, written by Paul Kocak, is as recent as you can get, chronicling all that happened last season on September 28, 2011.  You know that night.  Game 162.

Kocak does a good job of outlining the situation, putting it into context, and then letting it play out.  As I say, I've not read the whole book yet (I've got it on my Kindle and I'm going through it as I can), but I've read the important parts--the Cardinals are one of the earlier chapters.

What Kocak does that is so unique is that he went directly to the fans to put together this remembrance.  He contacted a number of bloggers, Tweeters and other fans that may have been at the ballpark or at least had a significant rooting interest in that evening's activities.  You get beyond what the national media has been saying and get to the heart of fandom.

I was privileged to be a part of the Cardinal section, as well as Dathan Brooks, Christine Coleman, and Chris Malonee.  It was a lot of fun to read this book and see these names that I know so well in print.  If nothing else, the Cardinal section is definitely worth the $5 the Kindle version will cost you.  Paul was on the UCB Radio Hour a few weeks back and he's an interesting person to listen to.  Give him some support and buy a copy of this great book!

We've Been Waiting

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 5:30 PM
You probably have blocked out of your memory, but back before pitchers and catchers reported, I tied a number of the Cardinal hitters to the songs on Adele's album 21, which had just won a number of Grammys.  Well, I'm going back to that well that I never should have gone to in the first place.

About the only upbeat and happy song that Adele has out of her two albums is called "I'll Be Waiting".  Sometime in the last month, I thought that it would be a great song to rework to show our anticipation of the season that is to come.  Unlike a number of my other stabs at parody, this one took more than an hour and one sitting to write.  I've worked on it for quite a while and, while it's still not great, it's as good as it's going to get.  If you aren't familiar with the original, I've embedded it in this post.  Hopefully you will enjoy!  (If not, don't trash me too hard!)


We've Been Waiting

It's getting closer, it's almost time,
So much has happened since we said goodbye.
Raffy stayed here, Beltran's in
Albert left for new waters,
But you still can win,
Missed the game under winter's sky,
Viewed every blogger and read every line,
The trophy came home to St. Lou,
You were the greatest, this is true,

Seemed we had time against us,
A strike between us
We almost cried
Then Freese left us speechless,
And now the sky is clear and it's blue,
And we can see that green grass too,

We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew,
We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew,

Watch Berkman swing, with all his might
See the ball hit bat now,
And soar into the night,
It's awesome to see that Waino's strong
It's time to play now, for the curveball to burn,

Seemed we had time against us,
A strike between us
We almost cried
Then Freese left us speechless,
And now the sky is clear and it's blue,
And we can see that green grass too,

We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew,
We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew,

Time against us,
Strike between us,
Heavens cried,
Then Freese left us speechless,
Time against us,
Strike between us,
Heavens cried,
Then Freese left us speechless,
Then Freese left us speechless,
We've been waiting,

We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew,
We've been waiting for you to be ready to play ball again,
Mike says "Get up", year's new
Not much is different
Since we happily flew

UCB Prediction Week, Part V: Postseason And Awards

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 3:00 PM
OK, we've spent all week figuring out how the divisions are going to go.  There's no doubt that every one of those posts was exactly right.  So the next logical step is to figure out how the postseason is going to look and who will take home the major hardware from this season.

American League Playoffs
Wild cards: New York and Los Angeles of Anaheim
Winner of play-in game: New York

League Divisional Series: Detroit over New York in 4, Texas over Boston in 5
League Championship Series: Detroit over Texas in 7

National League Playoffs
Wild cards: Arizona and Miami
Winnter of play-in game: Arizona

League Divisional Series: Philadelphia over Arizona in 5, St. Louis over Los Angeles in 4
League Championship Series: St. Louis over Philadelphia in 6

World Series: St. Louis over Detroit in 6

Yeah, it's probably a homer pick, but if Chris Carpenter teams with Adam Wainwright in a short series, plus if Jaime Garcia makes another step up, and this offense clicks like you think it can, they'd be awfully tough.

American League Awards
Manager of the Year: Ned Yost
Rookie of the Year: Yoenis Cespedes

National League Awards
Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly
Rookie of the Year: Julio Teheran
Cy Young: Roy Halladay

I've been making these sort of predictions since high school.  I'm not sure I've ever gotten more than a couple right, and that was when Greg Maddux won the Cy every year.  In other words, take these with a silo of salt!



Playing Pepper: The Wrapup

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Maybe you were late to the party and didn't want to hunt back up over the various posts to find the rest of the Playing Pepper series.  Maybe you'd like to go back and read about a certain team again.  Whatever the case may be, here are the various 2012 Playing Pepper posts, sorted out by divisions.  I've also got a poll at the bottom I'd like you to answer, to get an idea of what is the best way to approach this in the future.  Thanks for reading!
NL East NL Central NL West
Atlanta Chicago Arizona
Miami Cincinnati Colorado
New York Houston Los Angeles
Philadelphia Milwaukee San Diego
Washington Pittsburgh San Francisco

Now, I've done this a number of different ways in the past, so since this is fresh in your mind, a couple of questions about the series, if you don't mind.  I appreciate your help!

"He's Just Not Right"

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 7:10 AM
Well, isn't that just what you want to hear about a guy your team gave a two-year contract to in the offseason.

Mike Matheny said those words about Rafael Furcal, whose contributions down the stretch last season got him that new deal with the Redbirds.  To be fair, Matheny's not talking about taking him out of the lineup nor is he trying to start any "shortstop controversy".  Furcal's glove will keep him on the field.  His bat, though, may keep him out of the leadoff slot.

There are numerous possible reasons for Furcal's slump (he's hitting under .200 during spring action) but whatever the cause, the result is that Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso are going to get a lot of consideration in that leadoff slot.  It also sounds like Matheny's not going to be locked into a person as his leadoff guy, that he may do some mixing and matching depending on who is going well.

Still, it's a bit troublesome to see a guy that the team spent $14 million (over two years) on in part because of his ability to lead off a lineup not be able to do that.  I was a little hesitant over resigning Furcal (though, apparently, I didn't write about it due to the strange focus on a guy that was leaving the team around that time) because I didn't feel he had been as strong in St. Louis as was generally perceived.  Still, the value of having a reliable (hopefully--he's made more errors than anyone else this spring) glove in the middle of the infield was a need and the Cards could have done much worse.  I just hope that Furcal finds his groove, otherwise there might be some regret if payroll is tight because of his deal.

The Cards added Scott Linebrink to the 40-man roster yesterday, meaning that he'll be going north with the club.  That should mean the pitching staff is set, with the five starters and then Jason Motte, Linebrink, Fernando Salas, Kyle McClellan, J.C. Romero, Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs finishing it up.

McClellan struggled in yesterday's game, a 3-1 loss to the Marlins.  Lance Lynn started the game and almost had a scoreless outing, allowing a solo home run that tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.  Still, you have to like what we've seen out of Lynn so far and, at least to start the season, he should be fine sliding into Chris Carpenter's slot.

McClellan came into the game in the sixth and promptly gave the lead to Miami.  Granted, Erik Komastu's error hurt, as the run probably wouldn't have scored when it did if he'd cleanly played Hanley Ramirez's single, but McClellan did give up hits to the first two men he faced, plus walked two in his single inning of work.  I think there's going to be a lot of focus on McClellan in the pen this year, because of his salary and the fact that many of the other arms out there are young and pretty dominant.  With Eduardo Sanchez waiting in Memphis, any slumps by McClellan probably won't be tolerated well by the fans.

Carlos Beltran hit his second home run yesterday, but then was caught stealing home in what must have been a snuffed-out double steal, though I wasn't able to listen to the game.  Matheny is loving the running game, isn't he?

Kyle Lohse gets his last spring training start today against the Mets which can be heard on KMOX today.  Hopefully he'll have a strong one and be ready for Wednesday night's opener.  It's getting closer!

Today on the blog: A Playing Pepper roundup, the final day of the UCB predictions, and a song parody.  I'll send you into your weekend right!

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Playing Pepper 2012: Washington Nationals

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 3:30 PM
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Washington Nationals
80-81, third in the NL East

You know the old baseball saying, of course.  "Washington: First in war, first in peace, last in the American League."  Leaving the first two for discussion on political blogs, there's nothing accurate about that last part anymore.  Obviously the Nationals are in the National League and it seems clear they aren't going to be seeing last place any time soon.

With an aggressive ownership and a farm system that is paying off in a big way, any jokes about Washington are soon going to cease.  But are they ready to take the big jump this year and start playing in October?  That's what this series is for.

This time around, I talked to a number of National bloggers.  Dave Nichols writes for District Sports Page and is the president of the Washington chapter of the BBA.  Dave's got a number of irons in the fire when it comes to Washington sports and is credentialed to cover the Nats.  You can find him on Twitter at DaveNicholsDSP.

Tom Bridge can be found covering the Nationals and other things Washington over at We Love DC.  You can follow the site's sports coverage at welovedcsports.

If you are a podcast listener, you know the name Aaron Somers from the latest episode.  He writes about the Washington squad at District on Deck and can be found on Twitter at BlogFTBleachers.

Finally, we have someone who probably really appreciates this entry's intro, Mark Hornbaker of DC Baseball History.  You can find him on Twitter at ezmark.

Stick around to find out about when we'll see the next great Nationals phenom and whether an outburst from last year could be repeated.
  Continue Reading

UCB Prediction Week, Part IV: National League West

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM
We continue the March project of the United Cardinal Bloggers by taking a look at the last of our divisions, the NL West.  This division has been topsy-turvey the last couple of years and there's little reason to think that it's going to be calm and normal in 2012.

They play the games late at night, when I don't get to see them, and they only come through St. Louis once a year.  So of course I'm qualified to talk about them!  Keep reading to see what I have to say!
  Continue Reading

Keeping You Informed: Cardinals 2012 TV Ads

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 9:33 AM
If you follow the Cardinals' Twitter account, you saw links Tweeted out yesterday afternoon to the long-awaited television ad campaign.  Instead of releasing them all at once, they are doing the slow burn of commercials, dropping three a day until they are done.  Out of yesterday's group, the "personal Twitterer" had to be the best, but I'm looking forward to seeing what else they have in mind.

For all the info, here's the press release:

CARDINALS DEBUT 2012 TV AD CAMPAIGN 
FANS ENJOY SNEAK PREVIEWS ON TEAM'S SOCIAL MEDIA OUTLETS 

ST. LOUIS - March 29, 2012 - Fans that follow the Cardinals online and via social media have been among the first to see the team's new lineup of television spots. 

While the TV campaign will begin officially on local television this Sunday, fans are already enjoying the exclusive sneak preview. Each of the ten spots is being individually debuted this week on the Cardinals' Facebook page (facebook/cardinals), Twitter feed (@cardinals) and website (cardinals.com/tvads). 

"We thought it would be fun to provide fans a sneak preview via a film festival format by releasing the spots one at a time through Facebook, Twitter and the team website," said Dan Farrell, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing. "We want to get fans engaged and create some buzz for the ad campaign." 

The first three ads were unveiled yesterday, with the remainder slated to debut over the next two days. Fan feedback to the ads has been very positive, with hundreds of fans engaging in a dialogue about the spots on both Facebook and Twitter (#cardstvads). Once all of the spots are live on the website, fans will be able to vote for their favorites on the page as well. 

Filmed in February during Cardinals spring training in Jupiter, Fla., the campaign again incorporates many of the team's key players, including Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, David Freese and more. The campaign was developed by the team's new advertising agency HLK Advertising of St. Louis. 

Fans who want to see the ads can go to cardinals.com/tvads and follow the team on Twitter @cardinals (#cardstvads) and Facebook (facebook.com/cardinals).

A Step Back

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 7:06 AM
While the Cardinals did win yesterday, 9-5 in comeback fashion over the Tigers, it was mainly a day of not-great news, starting with the health of Allen Craig.

Instead of getting into a spring training game or two and being ready to go when the Cardinals face the Marlins on Wednesday, Craig instead will start the season on the disabled list, at least for a short period of time.  It sounds like this is entirely on the Cardinals' side of things, that Craig hasn't really regressed, just that they realized they were pushing him a bit too much.  The Cards would have the option, assuming that he doesn't play in any major league games here in the spring, to start his DL time from Monday (3/26) and therefore he'd just miss a few actual games.  You wonder if they won't just have him miss the opener plus the Milwaukee and Cincinnati series and then activate him right before they get home.  Of course, that would be rough on whomever makes the team in his place, getting sent down right before the pomp of a St. Louis opener, but that doesn't mean that's not what they'll do.

So, with Craig out, that probably opens up a slot for Shane Robinson to start the season with the club.  I sorted out some of the possibilities earlier in the week, but with the news on Craig, that should mean that both Robinson and Erik Komatsu will make the team, at least for a few major league games.  I don't know that Robinson will get enough looks in that time to make them keep him when Craig is back, but we'll wait and see.

On the field, Adam Wainwright struggled for the first time this spring.  The good thing was that it was just one of those days, not anything that related to his arm troubles.  It was completely mechanical, which is something that an experienced pitcher like him can usually fix quickly.  I would guess, though, that it's tough to do during a game, easier in the days afterwards.  Unfortunately, Waino doesn't face major league hitters again until he goes in the Milwaukee series, as he's just pitching in a minor league game next Tuesday while the big club (or at least some of it) goes to Springfield.

Chris Carpenter is throwing.  It doesn't sound like that is necessarily good news, just news.  As Carpenter said, "I can go out there and throw all day long.  I can't do it.....well."  Until the nerves start working or until they can figure out what's causing the nerves not to work, Carp sounds like he's in a bit of a holding pattern.  Hopefully it'll be a quick recovery, but for some reason I'm not extremely confident.

Back to yesterday's game for a bit.  Matt Carpenter continued his spring hitting by tripling in the go-ahead run in the seventh.  Lance Berkman stole a base (off of our old friend Gerald Laird).  Tyler Greene went yard.  And, for the most part, the bullpen did its job.  Mitchell Boggs allowed a run in two innings, but J.C. Romero, Fernando Salas, and Jason Motte were all unscored upon.  All in all, save for Wainwright's struggled, a very good spring training game and one that you hope you'll see repeated in the regular season.

Cards have the Marlins today for the last time this spring and Lance Lynn will be on the mound.  If you have GameDay Audio from MLB, the Marlins' radio network will be covering the game so you can listen to it then.

Here on the blog, the NL West predictions for the UCB project will be up as well as the last Playing Pepper with the Washington Nationals.  Plus, remember that today is your last day to vote on the regional finals for the All-Time Cardinal Tournament Team!  You can find the Smith Regional Finals right here and the others are linked in that post.  It's a close but low-scoring battle right now, so go make your selection!

UCB Prediction Week, Part III: National League Central

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 2:30 PM
As you know by now, this is the week for predictions from the United Cardinal Bloggers.  We peak here in the middle of the week with the division we all know and care about, the NL Central.  (Means it's all downhill from here, folks.)

Plenty of activity around this division, with free agents leaving, free agents signing, trades being made, and injured players returning.  Who will wind up at the top of the heap?  Keep reading and find out!
  Continue Reading




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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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