Every year about this time, the United Cardinal Bloggers sit down with one of their trademark projects, listing out the top seven prospects from the Cardinal organization. Before we take a look at what my list looks like for 2012, this is the fifth year we've done this and so it seems like a good time to look back over the last four lists and see just how they've turned out.
Rasmus, Wallace, Garcia and Freese weren't bad and Anderson has had some tastes at the big league level. Todd has as well, though with Cleveland when he was traded for Mark DeRosa. He's back in the Cardinal organization now, but not on the prospect lists.
Mateo's contract was voided the day I posted that list due to eye problems. He eventually signed on with Arizona, but hasn't done much in his minor league career. Miller made his debut this year, of course, and Sanchez had his moments last year. Stock converted from catcher to pitcher this season.
Last night, the Cardinals played the Astros for the last time as divisional rivals. While I'll miss the rivalry and think the whole concept of moving the team to the American League is absurd, there is one thing I want to say to Bud Norris.
Norris's magic against the Cardinals borders on magical. Ever since he dominated them in his first big league start, he's been able (many more times than not) to keep them in check, to weave some sort of spell that keeps them off the scoreboard. Whatever deal with the devil that is, I'm glad St. Louis won't be on the other side of it for quite some time. (Watch Houston trade Norris to Milwaukee or something this offseason now that I've said that.)
At least you can't blame Chris Carpenter for this one. On the contrary, he's got to be the Hero. He allowed three of his hits in the same inning, one a home run to Jose Altuve, one an RBI single to Brett Wallace, who isn't quite in Norris's league as a Cardinal killer, but he's getting there. He's another one that I won't mind is taking their turn in the AL West instead of the NL Central next season.
Other than that, Carp looked pretty well, at least in the box score. Marc Rzepczynski got to pitch in the first time in what seems like forever and Shelby Miller finished up with an inning. All in all, the pitching was pretty much what you'd expect when you are facing a team with over 100 losses.
The Cardinals constructed a 4-2 road trip despite scoring only 25 runs against two of the league's three lowest-ranked pitching staffs. Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma provided two of the trip's four home runs. Wednesday, the Cardinals took only six at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
There's no doubt that this is a tired, banged-up group of guys. It's also true that in the postseason, oftentimes the games are lower scoring as the pitching comes to the forefront, and pitching they've got. No matter, you have to score something to win and struggling to put up runs against the Astros and Cubs doesn't make you confident for taking on the Nationals and Reds, either for the last six games or for the playoffs.
As much as he's been the positive spark lately, last night Kozma got the Goat, going 0-3 with three strikeouts and leaving two on base. I sincerely hope his magical potion doesn't run out before the playoffs are done, because there's really no other option. I mean, it's possible we could wipe the dust and cobwebs off of Ryan Jackson, but since he's had a grand total of four at-bats in September, none in two and a half weeks (with only one defensive appearance in that time), I'm not sure that it would make any difference.
The Cards couldn't even catch a break from their wild card opposition. Both Milwaukee and Los Angeles went out and dominated yesterday, cutting the St. Louis lead back to 3.5 games. However, the Cards have today off while both of them play, meaning that the lead could be four with the last six to play.
The Brewers and Reds meet up at 11:35 CDT, with Wily Peralta going against Mat Latos. Latos has really been effective lately and he's coming off eight shutout innings of the Dodgers in his last start. Since St. Louis beat him around back at the end of August, at worst he's allowed four runs in over seven innings. Peralta is basically a September callup with only 23 innings to his credit this season. He's been pretty good, though Washington tagged him for three runs in 2.2 innings his last time out. Reds have the pitching edge here and they are playing in Great American Ball Park, so we'll see if they can't help the Redbirds out a little bit.
After playing an afternoon game yesterday, the Dodgers will visit the Padres at a more regular time tonight, which means 9:05 PM here in the middle of the country. Chris Capuano for LA, Casey Kelly for SD. Capuano is the wily veteran, but he's faded some down the stretch. Last time out, he gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings against Washington and the time before that the Cards touched him for three home runs in less than five innings. Kelly is a highly touted prospect who, like Peralta, has done most of his pitching in September. His overall numbers are rough (5.55 ERA) but most of that damage was done in his second and third starts. Over his last two, he's 1-1 with four earned runs in 10.1 innings (3.49 ERA). Kind of a toss up game because you don't know what you'll get from Kelly, though it is his first time to face the Dodgers, which may be an edge.
Tomorrow, all three contenders go home. Milwaukee hosts Houston (Edgar Gonzalez vs. Yovanni Gallardo, clear edge to the Brewers), LA gets the Rockies (Jeff Francis vs. Clayton Kershaw, I think I know who I'd pick there as well), and the Cardinals take on the Nationals.
Adam Wainwright goes for the Cardinals in a game that could be big. After all, there's a good chance that the lead could be three going into Friday and you have to expect the Brewers and Dodgers to win. A loss to the Nationals could cut the lead to two and get a lot of stomachs churning. Wainwright is coming off a game with the Cubs where one bad inning doomed him, though St. Louis was able to rally to win that game. He's had his problems this month as well, so this is no slam dunk.
Waino's faced a lot of these Nationals before, with middling success. He got lit up by Washington at the end of August, allowing six runs in 2.2 innings. He's got to be better than that tomorrow....right?
Cards get to face off against old friend Edwin Jackson. Jackson limited the Brewers to one run over eight innings in his last start and was very, very good against the Cardinals in August, allowing only an unearned run in eight innings of work. Gotta hope that, from both sides of the matchup, things are different this time around.
Well, you know Yadier Molina is looking forward to this, at least. He's about the only one with much success against Jackson in the past. On paper, this doesn't look like it's going to go the way you'd like to see the last homestand go, but they do have to get out there and play. You never know what'll happen, but I don't know if they'll have to worry about their clinching celebration much this weekend. This race may go into the Reds series.
Tomorrow is the next United Cardinal Bloggers project, where we come up with our lists of the top seven prospects in the Cardinal system. So be sure to tune in for that!
I hardly ever use Instagram. I mean, I have it on my phone and I'll go through spurts when I remember it's there and I use it for a day or two and be sure to look through my feed to see the pictures of the people that I'm following. Then I forget about it and it's two or three weeks later when I pick it back up again. Of course, I don't take just a ton of pictures in any manner either (though you can follow me at cardinal70 there if you want to see the rare shots I do take).
However, if you are a Cardinal fan and you are taking pictures of players, the stadium, yourself dressed as Fredbird (OK, that last one might be a little creepifying), you may be interested in the Cardinals' latest promotion. However, I do worry about the submissions you know the Joe Sports Fan guys are going to submit.
Instagram Fan of the Day Promotion Announced
Fans encouraged to follow @cardinals on Instagram & share their original fan photo memories using #cardsgram
ST. LOUIS - September 26, 2012 - The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have launched the Cardinals Instagram Fan of the Day promotion to showcase original, fan-generated photos via the Cardinals social media as part of the team's end-of-season fan appreciation efforts.
"We are celebrating the best fans in baseball by asking them to share their favorite original Cardinals photo with us," said Bill DeWitt III, President of the Cardinals. "Thanks to cell phone technology and apps like Instagram, even amateur photographers can take some pretty cool photos."
Dewitt said the team is urging fans to share original photos of their favorite baseball moment or of themselves, family or friends enjoying Cardinals baseball or just showing their Cardinals pride. To participate in the contest, fans must be at least 18 years of age and on Instagram, follow the team's account (@cardinals) and tag their photo with the hashtag #cardsgram. Fans can tag as many photos as they like and view photos from other participating fans by using #cardsgram in the search bar of Instagram.
Everyday throughout the rest of the 2012 season, including hopefully well into the postseason, the Cardinals will showcase one lucky fan's photo each day on the Cardinals Instagram account, as well as the team's Facebook (facebook.com/cardinals) and Twitter (@cardinals) pages. The Cardinals Instagram Fan of the Day's photo will be shared with more than a million fans that follow the club's official social media channels. Fans can learn more about the Cardinals Instagram Fan of the Day contest at www.cardinals.com/cardsgram.
Recently, I've been running through episodes of Fringe on Amazon. (I'm almost done with season 3--no spoilers!) If you aren't familiar with the show, it's (at least so far) a show about two separate dimensions, this universe and "the other side," where things took a slightly different path. (Zeppelins are used instead of airplanes, Ronald Reagan was in Casablanca, the 9/11 attacks took out the White House instead of the Twin Towers, etc.)
So it seems obvious to me that we saw the alternate universe version of Jaime Garcia last night. That's really the only logical way to explain what we saw, because last night's performance, while stunning, didn't fit at all with our preconceptions.
We know one thing for truth: Garcia can't pitch on the road. We know another thing that isn't as obvious a truth but still pretty truthful: Garcia struggles against the Astros. Put those two things together and you have a recipe for disaster. Unless you bring in Faux Jamie. Faux Jaime has no road issues and that's what we saw last night. Faux Jamie is our Hero, because that was quite a performance.
Garcia threw seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits, no walks and striking out five. As both Jenifer Langosch and Joe Strauss note in the links above, Garcia was also able to shake off distractions or miscues behind him, something he's not been able to do much of in the past. Throw a double and a run scored into that mix and you've got one of the best nights we've seen out of Garcia ever, much less on the road.
Garcia did this with the thinnest of margins as well. The Cards scored one in the first, one in the second and that was it while he was in the game. (Not sure anyone was that surprised to see a bases loaded, no out situation go up in smoke. While it's been a little bit since that kinda thing happened, it was a typical Cardinal move. Carlos Beltran gets the Goat for hitting into that double play and going 0-3 on the evening with two strikeouts, though he did draw a walk.) Thankfully the Redbirds were able to add on a few in the late innings so as to keep Jason Motte in the pen for another night.
St. Louis has done what they are supposed to do--win games against the worst team in the league. Last night, they were rewarded for that when Milwaukee and Los Angeles both lost in their games, pushing the wild card lead out to 4.5 with just seven (for St. Louis, eight for the other two) to play. While you never say never until the final clinching, especially when you saw what happened last year in the last week, you have to feel very good about the Cardinals' chances of being in Atlanta next Friday for the play-in game.
Right now, the best Milwaukee and LA can do is go 87-75. For St. Louis to do that and thus need to play a tiebreaker game, they can go 3-4 over their remaining games. If they can win four, which is pretty reasonable even with their schedule, they are in. Milwaukee has two more with the Reds before coming home to take on Houston and San Diego. 8-0 could be tough for the Brewers, but 6-2 is not out of the question. The problem with 6-2 from Milwaukee's point of view is that, if the Cards win one game such as this evening in Houston, they've guaranteed a tie.
The Dodgers have two more in San Diego before finishing with the Rockies and Giants at home. That's a tougher road to hoe--especially if the Giants want to use that last three game series as a tuneup for their postseason run and have the taste to keep their hated rivals home for the winter. I'm not sure they could get to 6-2 over that span, but 5-3 means they are out of it with one more Cardinal win. That's a tough spot.
All in all, the Cardinals are in much better shape now than they were last year, but until that magic number (sitting at 4 right now) flips down to 0, you can't take anything for granted.
There was the idea that, before this nine game set with Houston and Chicago, the Cards needed to go at least 7-2. Tonight they have a chance to go 8-1 over this span and they'll send out Chris Carpenter to do it.
Obviously we still don't know what we have in Carpenter. He was able to have some good results last time and seemed to get stronger the farther he went into the game. Still, these numbers probably aren't that relevant.
Still, if they aren't relevant, they are still pretty to look at. Nobody's faced him much--one of the side effects of a young team and a guy that hasn't pitched against them in 2012--but they haven't liked what they've seen. We'll have to see whether Carp has strengthened some from his first start and can have a bit more control of his pitches tonight.
It's possible that the Redbirds will need a good one from Carp tonight because he goes up against Bud Norris. The Cardinals have figured out Norris some, beating him in his last three times out there, but they don't necessarily clobber him. Part of the reason they've beaten him is that he's not getting the offensive support. For instance, last week they scored five runs off of him, but three were on a first-inning home run by Allen Craig and the last two were in the sixth inning and were let in by a reliever after he'd been pulled.
If nothing else, most of the Cardinals have seen a lot of Norris. Craig really likes him and Matt Holliday, who has been quiet lately, could use this as a chance to get jump started. All in all, though, the Cards are going to have to come out and have some good at-bats this evening. After all, it could be their last chance to beat up on Norris!
Looking at the other wild card games, as noted the Dodgers are in San Diego for a (strangely) afternoon affair, with Aaron Harang going against Clayton Richard. Harang has been a pretty consistent three-runs, five-innings pitcher lately and Richard has bounced from a shutout eight innings against the Giants to three runs in less than five innings in LA a week or so ago. No guarantees what we'll see in this one, so if you've got MLB.tv this afternoon/early evening, might keep an eye on that one.
The other game worth watching is the Brewers in Cincinnati, with Shawn Marcum going against Bronson Arroyo. Marcum pitched well against Washington last time out, but otherwise has been struggling, allowing four runs in less than six innings. Arroyo is always a tough pitcher to face and has been pretty good of late, save for a hiccup against the Marlins. Until last night, the Brewers hadn't lost back-to-back games since June. If they lose again tonight, they may have to start getting ready for a cold offseason.
Happy Chris Carpenter Day to you! Here's to the Cardinals taking care of business tonight!
No, the best number that came out of last night was 3.5. That's the lead in the wild card race with eight games remaining over both Milwaukee (who lost to Washington yesterday afternoon) and Los Angeles (who was idle).
In some alternate universe, perhaps the results were flipped and the Cardinals only had a 1.5 game lead. That's when you start tugging at your collar and get really nervous about trying to hold off some hard-charging teams. Instead, if the Cards can split their last four games, they win 87. To get to 87 and force a one-game playoff, both the Brewers and the Dodgers would have to go 8-1. They'd have to be perfect to avoid the playoff entirely. Both of those things are a tall order for any team. Not saying that it can't happen, just that St. Louis is breathing a lot easier now than it was on Friday night.
As for the game, we'll give the Hero tag to Lynn for his great line, though he did cause some angst early on. However, the difference last night was that even when Lynn put runners on in the first couple of innings, he was able to work his way out of it. Part of that is due to the relative lack of strength to the Houston lineup, but it was still good to see him be able to get the outs and not put the Cardinals in a hole. Then he got some early support and started to roll, going seven innings and allowing just the one run, plus adding those nine strikeouts.
The Kozma Experience played another town last night as well, as the shortstop crushed a two-run home run in the second to push the Cardinal lead to 3-0, something that was big when Lynn allowed his only run in the bottom of that inning. He also added in another hit and a walk, leaving his batting average just shy of .300. It may be a small sample and the league may catch up with him, but it's an enjoyable ride while it lasts.
Of course, what everyone was talking about during the game was this play by Jon Jay.
An incredible example of sticking with the play. Of course, it's difficult to say that's the catch of the year when the reason it was so difficult is that Jay misread it to begin with. I've seen him have problems with those balls straight at him before, though I was told on Twitter those are the toughest ones to deal with and, as I have no experience in the matter, I'll go with that. That catch saved Jay from being the Goat, as he went 0-4 in the contest.
We'll give the Goat to Carlos Beltran for his 0-5, two strikeout night. Interestingly, for the fact that the Cards scored six runs, Jay, Beltran and Allen Craig all were hitless on the night. None of them even got on base, though that's not as surprising as the Cardinals only drew three walks. You wouldn't expect a win like this powered by the bottom of the lineup, but there you have it.
Matt Carpenter went two for three with a run and a walk, which was pretty impressive given that he wasn't in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, David Freese hurt his ankle in batting practice and likely will be out for a few days. It's hard to believe we almost made it through the entire season without a Freese injury. Thankfully 1) it shouldn't be a long-term deal and 2) Carpenter can fill in more than adequately. Getting his bat into the lineup is not a sacrifice on St. Louis's part.
Jason Motte didn't have to pitch last night, but he did pick up the Player of the Week award. I don't remember a reliever winning that award very often, but Motte did have five saves in the week. Hopefully he doesn't have to have five saves this week, that the Cardinals can win games without him having to close them down. Odds are he's going to be an important part of any postseason run.
Let's take a look at tonight in the WC race. The Brewers travel to Cincinnati as Mike Fiers takes on our old friend Johnny Cueto. Cueto was talked about in the mix for the Cy Young earlier this year, but that talk cooled after three really rough starts. He looked good against Chicago his last time out, though, and has dominated Milwaukee this season, going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA and a 11.50 K/BB ratio. Could be a tough one for the Brew Crew this evening, especially since Cincinnati hasn't said they'd shut people down like Washington did.
That game starts an hour before the Cardinals' matchup with Houston does, while the Dodgers and the Padres start two hours later. Josh Beckett goes up against Edinson Volquez in Petco Park, and while Beckett has been serviceable if not much better since he trade from Boston, Volquez is 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA in four starts against Los Angeles. Could be a higher-scoring game than you'd expect out of Petco, but the Dodgers seem to hold the advantage.
While all of that's nice, the important game will be in Houston. This one is going to be tricky, because Jaime Garcia is going for the Redbirds. Garcia's road issues are well-documented, though he pitched a little better in LA a couple of weeks ago than expected. The bigger thing is, for some reason, Garcia has a lot of trouble with Houston. He struggled with them in Busch last week and in his career is 1-5 with a 7.55 ERA against the 'Stros. Little known fact: it was Garcia that gave Bud Selig the idea about moving Houston to the American League.
Surprisingly given his results, the numbers aren't that bad. I mean, he doesn't want to see Jose Altuve or Justin Maxwell, but other than that he could probably get by. We'll see how that works tonight.
Cards get another crack at Lucas Harrell, who gave up three runs in just under six innings last week in Busch. Harrell's had a pretty solid season, especially when you look at what surrounds him.
Want to go see the Cards and Reds for cheap? To honor the fact that they will draw 3.2 million this year and to reward those fans that have been coming, the Cards have a promotion that will help you out.
Cardinals Announce $3.20 Fan Appreciation Ticket Offer
Team offering discounted tickets to say thanks to fans for helping top 3.2 million in attendance
ST. LOUIS - September 24, 2012 - The St. Louis Cardinals announced a special $3.20 ticket offer to thank fans for helping the team top over 3.2 million in attendance for the 2012 season. The Cardinals have surpassed the 3 million mark in attendance for the 9th straight season and the 16th time in franchise history.
"We wanted to show our appreciation to the best fans in baseball for making the Cardinals one of the top teams in MLB attendance once again," said Joe Strohm, Vice President of Ticket Sales. "This is a great value for critical games that offer a preview of a possible postseason matchup."
The Cardinals have averaged over 40,000 fans per game during the 2012 season, which ranks sixth in Major League Baseball. The Fan Appreciation $3.20 offer is for a limited number of tickets to the three games against the Cincinnati Reds next week (Mon 10/1 - Wed 10/3). The two day sale begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. and runs through end of the day Wednesday, or while supplies last. There will be a limit of six (6) discounted tickets per person, and tickets are only available through the team's website. Details on the offer are available at cardinals.com/thanks.
After Friday, while there wasn't necessarily a state of panic within Cardinal Nation, there was definitely some unease. The Cards had blown a ninth-inning lead and stood just a game and a half ahead of a surging Milwaukee squad. With eleven games left on the schedule, the panic button wasn't pushed, but the glass case over it had been raised.
Two days can make a difference. While the lead isn't much larger, it is larger--2.5 games. Couple that with the fact that there are just nine games left and while no one is crowing or claiming the race is over, there's no doubt that fans can breathe just a bit easier for a day or two. Let's look at those games.
Hero: Carlos Beltran. Beltran has heated up of late, but he's still nowhere close to where he was the first half of the season. That said, he picked a perfect time for his 30th home run. If the Cards had lost that game, it would have raised a lot more questions about this team's final destination. Instead, he turned around a Carlos Marmol pitch in the ninth and sent the game into extras. Plus he had another hit and scored two runs in the game, so there's still life in him after all.
Goat: The offense got 10 hits and eight walks, which makes it a bit difficult to find an obvious Goat, even though they only got five runs out of it. As much as I hate to, especially since he wound up leaving the game with back troubles after Marmol almost hit him with a pitch, I'll have to go with Yadier Molina, who went 0-3, though he did walk and drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Not all Goats are created equal.
Notes: Adam Wainwright had a bad sixth inning, but otherwise looked pretty solid. He gave up only six hits, but four of them came in the sixth when the Cubs scored three runs to take the lead. Again, the offense had plenty of chances to get him more of a cushion, but they couldn't do it. Jon Jay would have been the Goat for an 0-5, but his sixth at-bat he drove in the winning run, which seems incongruent with the Goat status.
The bullpen did their job in this one as well, though I still worry about Mike Matheny riding some of these guys too hard. (More on that in Sunday's discussion.) Trevor Rosenthal really did some good work, going an inning and a third with no runs, though he was bailed out by Mitchell Boggs after allowing two hits (well, one of them deflected off of David Freese's glove) with two outs in the ninth.
Been a long time since you've been able to get cheap drinks at Mobil On The Run (though it has been since this version of the commercial, since the prices have now gone up). We discussed that very thing in my post from Saturday, so I'm glad that became relevant so quickly.
Hero: Pete Kozma. Wow, who would have ever thought we'd be saying that, huh? Kozma has been derided ever since he was a first round selection ahead of Rick Porcello but has been making the most of his playing time since being called up due to Rafael Furcal's injury. (Ryan Jackson is sitting on the bench going, "How exactly did this happen again?") Kozma got his first major league home run yesterday, had two hits and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. Not exactly sure what kind of magic he's worked up, but I hope it lasts a few more weeks.
Goat: Love Jay in the leadoff role, but it does give him more opportunities for this tag. An 0-4 day gets him listed here, though he did score a run. Jay only hit .200 for the series, a mark that's equal to what he's done the last 10 days, so you wonder if he's running down a little bit.
Notes: Kyle Lohse gets win #16 and pitches--well, pretty much pitches like he has been all year long. Six innings and three runs will win you a lot of games. I'm sure Matheny would have liked to run him out there for another inning, but he had reached the 100 pitch mark and it was a one-run lead, so he couldn't risk it.
That said, when the Cards tacked on two more in the top of the eighth, I'm thinking that the bullpen usage could have changed. It seems like Boggs and Jason Motte have pitched in a lot of games recently. For instance, Motte has had just two games off out of the last week, including the game against Houston where he came in to protect a 5-0 lead.
I mean, is Motte available today in a close game? Wouldn't you think Fernando Salas might like to get back on the horse after giving up the home run on Friday? He didn't pitch on Saturday either and had gone just three times in the past week. I'm not suggesting toss Victor Marte out there (though if you can't trust him with a three run lead in the ninth, exactly when are you going to use him and why is he on the roster) but you'd think there were other options than your main weapon, especially since it was the bottom of the order coming up.
All that said, congratulations to Motte for his 40th save. That's a milestone very few Cardinal pitchers have ever achieved, so he's in select company. Only one Cardinal (Lee Smith) has done it more than once, so he has something to shoot for next year.
Back problems are flaring up on this team. Molina left Saturday's game with them, but he should be ready to go in Houston today. At the time, pinch hitting Shane Robinson for Matt Holliday was fairly inexplicable, but it seems like his back issues have recurred. Apparently the Cards don't stay at a hotel with the Sleep Number beds. I would think Holliday would be able to go today, though may be a late tactical maneuver if necessary.
Jake Westbrookhad a setback this weekend, making it unlikely that he'll return from the oblique, at least in the regular season. And if you don't get a chance to see him in the regular season, the odds would seem small that they'd throw him onto a postseason roster. I always thought that a return this season for Westbrook seemed a bit optimistic. Those oblique injuries can cause some long-term issues.
A lot of lasts in this series coming up with Houston. It's the last time the Cardinals will play on the road in the 2012 regular season. It's also the last time the Cardinals will play in Houston as divisional rivals of the Astros. They will go to Houston for a two game set next June, but it just won't be the same.
The Cards have to win this series and a sweep would not go amiss either. They'll send out Lance Lynn in game one of the three game tilt. Lynn shut down the Astros for six and a third innings last week, allowing no runs and only three hits.
Of course, with this small of a sample its disproportionately weighted with what he did last time out, but it's still some positive reinforcement. It's also nice to see that Lynn, at least, has figured out Brett Wallace so far. Not many Cardinal pitchers can say that.
Fernando Abad will be the hurler for the Houston nine. Abad wasn't, well, bad last time out, allowing just three runs in five innings while striking out six. Unfortunately for him, he was going up against Lohse and also was a member of the Astros, who weren't putting up runs in St. Louis last week.
Again, not much here. Beltran's done OK against him, but nobody's seen him all that often. We'll have to find out whether facing him twice in a week will help the hitters. I wouldn't think it would hurt any.
Wild card watch: Milwaukee stands 2.5 games out and finishes up their series with Washington this afternoon. Marco Estrada goes for the Brewers, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nationals. There may be a slight edge there to Washington, but chances are it's a low scoring game. On the plus side, at least the Cards will know that result before they take the field tonight.
The Dodgers are three back and they actually have the day off today before heading to San Diego, so St. Louis can tack on another half-game with a win.
Arizona is 4.5 out and Philadelphia five, so I feel pretty confident they aren't going to overtake all three of the teams in front of them. It looks like it's down to the Brewers and Dodgers now. We'll have to see if the Cards can hold them off!
I've had occasion to review a number of books (as you can see if you look through the "book review" tag on this site) but there have been few, if any, that I've been more excited about reading than this one. As its author might say, it's tied for first.
Oftentimes, when a book is generated less than a year after a momentous occasion, it can feel like a cheap, quick grab for the spotlight. That's far from the case in One Last Strike, written by Tony La Russa (with much able assistance from the Commish, Rick Hummel). TLR might not get quite as indepth as we want, may not necessarily give us the complete inside scoop, but he does a pretty good job of helping us revisit the remarkable 2011 from his perspective. There's no doubt, he had a good view for it.
While 2011 forms the core of the book, it's not the whole book. While the tagline of "Fifty Years In Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season" may be the most unwieldy phraseology since, well, ever, it does tend to tell you what the book is about. La Russa spends some time looking back on his time in Oakland and Chicago as well as his days in St. Louis. It's a similar style of writing as John Smoltz did with his Starting and Closing, but Smoltz used the last season to move chronologically through his career. TLR doesn't do it like that, using themes of 2011 and what he was thinking at that time to inspire stories of the past.
You get to be inside the car trip he took from St. Louis to California at the end of the 2010 season and find out how close he was to retiring. There are other things in there, such as if the Cards had lost their last couple of games against Arizona before the '11 All-Star Break, there's a good chance that La Russa would have answered John Mozeliak less enthusiastically when Mo asked if they were still in it, which may have meant no Colby Rasmus deal.
I think that's one of the things that Cardinal fans would have liked to see out of this book, a real discussion about his relationship with Colby and how that all went south. He does talk about his concept of "co-signers" (basically veterans that get some say, like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and others) and how he went to them before 2011 and said that if Rasmus could "get on board", he could take this team from good to great. He got the co-signers to commit to working on Colby, so to some degree maybe the entire Rasmus fiasco shouldn't be pinned on TLR. Of course, it is him writing this, so you take it for what it's worth, but La Russa does give a better argument against the "Tony hates young players" meme than some would give him credit for.
What was also intriguing to read early on was that it was this group of co-signers who came to La Russa before the cross-country trip he took at the end of 2010 to tell him that there were unity problems on the squad. To me (and, obviously, La Russa doesn't come right out and say this) that was the Brendan Ryan issue. A lot of grief was laid at TLR's door for shipping Ryan off during that offseason, but it sounds like it came more from those in the clubhouse than it did the management of the club. Whether that's "letting the inmates run the asylum" or it's more the case of recognizing a workplace issue and dealing with it, I'll leave to your judgement, though I think it's probably more of the latter.
Of course, there's a lot of good stuff in here and most people will be anxiously anticipating the chapter on Game 6. (I think the most shocking stuff comes in the chapter on the NLDS Game 5, where he claims Carp smiled before getting Ryan Howard to end the game. Carpenter smiling on the mound? Do we have video proof of this?) Those World Series chapters don't disappoint, helping you realize how they were preparing for a Series loss just in case and bringing you the sheer joy of everyone--players and families--being on the field after Allen Craig caught that fly ball.
Tony doesn't necessarily let bygones be bygones in this book either. He gets another subtle dig in at Ozzie Smith while explaining his side of that controversy and takes a shot at an unnamed Dusty Baker in the afterword in regards to the 2012 All-Star Game controversy. I mean, it's his book. You can't expect him to completely play nice.
All in all, Cardinal fans are likely to put this book well above those Series books that came out last winter and probably ahead of Rob Rains' book on him from a couple of years back. It's a great look at the definitive personality of the last decade and a half of Cardinal baseball and, as long as you don't expect an expose, you'll enjoy just about every page.
You may remember that, in my discussion about UCB Weekend, I told you that one of the companies that spoke to us was an organization called Burton History Trees. I gave you the general idea of the project then, but I wanted to talk more about it in depth now that preorders are available, plus give you a way to save money and support your favorite Cardinal blogger (or, if you'd rather, you can support me instead).
In a way, it's an odd juxtaposition. The Burton group is from the Chicago area and, while they've done other trees for other sports organizations, they've always been in that area. Chicago Cubs. Chicago Blackhawks. I think they'd even done maybe Illinois football or something else, though I can't find it on their site right now. Suffice it to say, they'd not reached down south of the Great Lakes region in sports, though their other trees were based on musical eras and genres, so they weren't completely Chicago-centric.
For whatever reason, they decided that they wanted to go with the Cardinals as their next project and, as such, reached out to the UCB to promote it. After they got an idea of who and what we were, they shifted gears to not only ask for our help to promote it, but to help contribute to it as well. I mean, who else better to proofread and add details than a bunch of obsessive fans, right?
It was very nice to get a chance to meet Mr. Burton, the inspiration and artist of the company, Drew Wasserman, who does a lot of the artwork, and Eric Fine, who is the founder, promoter and marketer for the company. They have jumped into this partnership with the UCB with both feet and are honestly interested in our feedback and input. Just the fact that they were willing to come down to St. Louis and meet with us, along with giving each of us a small proof of the tree to keep, meant a lot.
I sat down with my editor's copy and was so often stopped by saying, "I remember him!" or "Oh, yeah, that guy!" Granted, my knowledge was more toward the top of the tree with the more recent times in Cardinal history. You really should have seen Bob Netherton and Mark Tomasik, two guys who truly follow and know Cardinal history, poring over this thing. I know that Bob, at least, is contributing to the project so you know it'll be accurate and I can't wait for the posts this likely will inspire over at his site.
Besides the history, besides the fact that our intrepid band of bloggers is getting to help out in this, one of the great things about this whole thing is that it is pretty affordable. So often you see cool things like this and it gets you excited, until you see the price tag. Not this time, though. I know finances differ for everyone, but an unframed copy of this is just $40 which is well within reason. A framed copy is $135, a little more expensive but could easily be in your (or someone who loves you) Christmas budget. However, I've got a way that can make it a bit easier on your wallet as well.
Between now and the end of 2012, if you buy anything at Burton's web site--could be the Country Music tree, it could be the Blackhawks tree, but it really should be the Cardinal tree--and use the code c70, you'll get an additional 10% off of your order. That'd make the framed copy $121.50, the unframed version $36. How can you resist that for you or someone in your family?
I mentioned that you could help your favorite Cardinal blogger. There are going to be a number of people posting about this project and giving you their code for 10% off. Anyone that does so will be getting a commission on each sale with that code. So if you have always wanted to say "thank you" to one of the UCB members but weren't sure how, consider this method. You get to save money, you get a very cool piece of Cardinal memorabilia for your wall, and the blogger you read so often gets a little spending money.
I'm going to put the official press release after the jump, mainly because I'm quoted in it, but I want to reiterate--I'm excited about this project and it has nothing to do with the commissions. If you want to buy one with the code from Aaron Miles' Fastball or Pitchers Hit Eighth, feel free. Just buy one, because you'll wish you had if you don't.
Don't worry about forgetting about it, either. This won't be the last time I remind you between now and Christmas! :) BTW, you can find Burton History Trees on Facebook and on Twitter, so give them a like and a follow.
For the third time in less than two weeks, the Cardinals were just a pitch away from winning a big ballgame, only to see a home run tie it up. A week ago Sunday it was Jason Motte allowing a two-run home run to Norichika Aoki, sending the game against the Brewers into extras before the Redbirds won it in the 10th. Last Saturday, it was the Dodgers scoring two in the ninth with none on and two strikes on Andre Ethier against Motte for the victory.
Yesterday, Fernando Salas--who was the Hero just the day before with his key work out of the pen--had a two-out, nobody on, two-strike situation. A hit by David DeJesus and a home run by Darwin Barney--only his seventh of the year--and the Cards had another key loss, which hurt even more painfully when Tyler Clippard couldn't preserve a ninth-inning lead in Washington, allowing the Brewers to rally and cut the wild card lead to 1.5.
(I actually turned on that Mil/Was game in the ninth and saw them trailing. I thought to myself that, if they were able to win this game, it'd be a lot like the games the Cards won on their 2011 push. Suffice it to say I'm really worried about the Brewers now.)
It's too bad Salas blew that game, because otherwise Chris Carpenter Day went pretty darn well. Carp wasn't full-blown Carp, of course, but save for the third inning, when the Cubs seemed to hit everything he threw up there extremely hard, he was a very effective pitcher. His command was erratic, but he was able to make the pitches he need to and seemed to make some adjustments after that third inning as well. In other words, Carp is back and it's a wonderful thing. We'll give him the Hero tag as well because, hey, being effective just a couple of months after surgery deserves something, right?
While the pitching staff will get a lot of the focus and blame for today's loss--and there's obviously good reasons for that--the offense again disappeared. Yesterday you could blame the conditions, as the ball tended to not carry and even get knocked down by the cold and heavy air. Allen Craig's sacrifice fly sounded and looked like a three-run homer. That could have made a difference in the game, though the Cubs had a couple of drives like that as well.
But let's just take a look at this offense from some of the basic measures. Of course, Mobil On The Run says that a game of six Cardinal runs is "serious", meaning you get the discounted drink when they score six. How many of those games have there been this season?
I was a little surprised to count up so many in August, but it seems like the second half of the season especially has seen a marked decline in offense. Here are the splits for some major hitting categories pre- and post-All Star Break:
Pre-ASB: .275/.340/.434, 4.95 runs per game, 1.12 HR per game
Post-ASB: .267/.332/.407, 4.40 runs per game, 0.83 HR per game
While most fables seem to encourage that storing up for winter, don't wait until the end to do things mentality, it doesn't work that way in baseball. You can't apply runs you scored in April and May to games in September. People talk about the Cardinals being a top offense, about them having five 20 HR players. Which is true, as far as it goes. Let's look at those 20 HR guys.
Carlos Beltran: 29 total home runs. 20 were hit in the first three months of the season, including 10 of them in May. He's hit one in September.
Matt Holliday: 27 home runs. Pretty good split--12 in the first three, 15 in the last three. Has hit three in September.
Craig: 22 home runs. Talk about consistent--five in April, May, June, July and August. Two in September.
David Freese: 20 home runs. 13 in April-June, 7 July-September. Does have three long balls this month, his best month since June.
Yadier Molina: 20 home runs. Almost as even as Craig--four in every month save the last two, when he had one in August and three in September.
So, save for the disappearing act that has been Beltran's power, those splits weren't as drastic as I originally thought. The problem may be that, after those guys, the next highest home run total on the team is Matt Carpenter's six. The longballs are only going to come from these guys and if they aren't going well, it can be a problem.
Last notes from yesterday: How neat was it to see the past followed by the future, as Carpenter gave way to Shelby Miller. I'll admit that I was unable to see that inning, but I was a bit surprised that Miller only went two-thirds when you have a depleted bullpen that had Motte and Mitchell Boggs unavailable. I understand there were two on and the game could be hanging in the balance, but even though Brian LaHair has burned the Cardinals, I'm not sure it was worth trying to force him out of the lineup by bringing in the lefty Sam Freeman. I mean, LaHair means so little to the Cubs that they immediately replaced him when Freeman came in. It's little decisions like that that pile up and have consequences down the road. Like when Motte saved a 5-0 game and wasn't available for today. Same thing with Trevor Rosenthal--why use your starters in the pen for less than an inning? These are the guys that should be able to go 2-3 innings and give your pen a breather.
Jon Jay was the only person with two hits yesterday. The Cards worked Chris Volstad over, picking at him with six hits and three walks and running his pitch count up, but he wouldn't ever break. You wonder if one well-placed hit would have opened the floodgates, but it never came.
Can't blame Joe Kelly too much for the loss. He threw a great 10th and anytime you are in extras on the road, things are going to be tough. A leadoff double in extras and, well, you'd have to be a pretty good Houdini to get out of that unscathed. Kelly tried, but couldn't get that last out. Where have we heard that before?
So with the race tightened up, the Cards get to send out yet another ace to try to take care of the baby bears. Adam Wainwright follows Carpenter for the first time since 2010 and hopes to build on what he did yesterday.
Waino looks like he'll have to be careful with DeJesus and Barney, yesterday's heroes, and there's some other potholes along the way as well. This isn't the best matchup for Wainwright, so we'll have to see how it goes this afternoon.
The Cards get to face Travis Wood, who they've seen in Cincinnati and in Chicago during his career. (Full disclosure: Wood's an Arkansas boy like myself, but that won't get him any rooting points today!)
Unfortunately, Lance Berkman isn't available for this one as he loves facing this pitcher. Then again, it's not like Wood has had success with very many of the guys in this lineup. If the numbers mean anything, this could be a high-scoring game today.
Looking at the games around the league that matter, Milwaukee and Washington are going on at the same time as the Cubs/Cardinals today. Washington sends out their Cy Young candidate in Gio Gonzalez while Milwaukee counters with Wily Peralta. I'd say the pitching matchup favors the Nats, but if Milwaukee is channeling their inner 2011 Cardinals, that may not matter much.
Cincinnati has a magic number of 1 to clinch the division and they could do that today against the Dodgers and Cardinal fans wouldn't fault them in the least. The Reds have Mat Latos while the Dodgers have Stephen Fife, the rookie fill-in for Clayton Kershaw. Again, the edge would seem to go to the Reds and the Dodgers haven't been so on fire that I worry about this game, though obviously things could go south in a hurry since they are playing in Great American Ball Park. Game starts at 3 Central and likely will be on the big Fox if you want to flip over there after the Cards game.
Philadelphia's three-game deficit in the wild card hunt is probably the last one that has a reasonable chance here. They take on Atlanta today, also at 3 and also a game that might be on your major Fox station. Roy Halladay goes for the Phils, which means they have an excellent chance to win this one. Mike Minor takes the bump for the Bravos, which doesn't negate the Halladay edge in the least.
Big afternoon for National League baseball. Hopefully everything breaks the Cardinals' way!