So we’re heading to Busch Stadium tonight for the Cardinals’ tilt against the Philadelphia Phillies. The last time I saw the Phillies play in St. Louis, it was Game 4 of the 2011 Division Series. As you may remember, that’s when this happened:
It was an epic night in St. Louis Cardinals lore. That was actually the second time the squirrel had run across the field; the first was the night before in Game 3 but his route wasn’t nearly as disruptive to the flow of that game. At the time, knowing the Cards had to go back to Philly and win Game 5 just to advance, we wondered if this early appearance of what would soon be coined the “Rally Squirrel” was the most exciting thing we’d see during the 2011 postseason. Of course, we were proven naïve in the following weeks.
Fast-forward to last night, the first meeting at Busch between the clubs since. By now you probably know that this happened:
Again, it’s the Phillies. Again, it was the first night of the series at Busch. And again, I will be there for the second night. I fully expect to see a naked person charge toward the plate while Skip Schumaker stands in the batter’s box. It’s destiny. Especially since I have all these “You still need four balls to get a walk” jokes ready for tomorrow.
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It’s Opening Day…Christmas in March. I find myself without a
ticket to the game. But several of my friends have again taken the day off of
work and gathered at by buddy Ken’s house for food, drink, and baseball. We
have two televised games to watch: The Detroit Tigers vs. the New York Yankees,
and of course the San Diego Padres vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of the
Tigers-Yankees game has been spent playing cards, prepping food, checking
fantasy lineups, and having drinks. But now that we’re just a few minutes from
first pitch at Busch Stadium, I’ve cracked open my computer and started a
running blog. Last year’s was a pretty good entry, but we had much better
weather and many more drop-in guests. This year, in addition to Ken, we also
have his brother Ed, other good friends Terry and Zac, and of course Scott the
Cubs Fan in attendance. Let’s play ball!
2:45 – The cavalcade of Cardinals Hall of Famers has begun,
and Stan Musial is in attendance wearing his new Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Red Schoendienst are in
attendance, too…each wearing their brilliant red blazers. Opening Day has
officially begun in Cardinal Nation. I have a glass full of ice and some kind
of aged rum I brought back from Mexico. You might be asking, “Rum and what?”
Just rum, friends…just rum. I have a couple of cigars at the ready, too. Could
be quite a day.
2:55 – The coaching staff and players are being introduced
after their parade around the field in huge pick-up trucks. This isn’t as
exciting on TV. All we’re doing now is hoping none of the trucks stops short,
injuring yet another Cardinal for the season.
2:59 – Speaking of injuries, Adam Wainwright was just
introduced. Pitch a good game today, Ad…wait. Crap.
3:00 – Colby “Boomhauer” Rasmus and Albert Pujols were just
introduced. No boos for Pujols, even without a contract. I didn’t expect boos,
but you never know.
Now that the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast has cut away to
Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton, it’s probably a good time to
mention we have a pot of chili, grilled brats, two different taco dips, and
three boxes of Hostess desserts. We expect other people to stop by, trust me.
But it’s a good spread.
Here’s the Cards’ starting lineup, courtesy of the St. Louis
1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Berkman RF
6. Freese 3B
7. Molina C
8. Schumaker 2B
9. Carpenter P
The San Diego Padres are rolling out the following lineup:
1. Venable RF
2. Bartlett SS
3. Hudson 2B
4. Hawpe 1B
5. Ludwick LF
6. Headley 3B
7. Maybin CF
8. Hundley C
9. Stauffer P
3:20 – The first pitch of 2011 from Chris Carpenter is a
ball. It’s officially baseball season.
3:27 – Carpenter gets through an easy 1-2-3 top of the
first, and looks sharp. Cards coming up, no score.
3:29 – After Theriot is robbed of a base hit in centerfield,
Rasmus takes one to the wall in right and Will Venable can’t handle it. In
fact, he looked completely lost. Rasmus ends up on third with a triple and
Pujols is coming up with one out.
3:31 – Pujols pops out in foul territory, and my slightly
liquored friends and I start mock-razzing him, saying things like “Is that’s
what 30 million per year is going to be worth?!?!” We’re hilarious.
3:32 – Matt Holliday comes up and rips a single up the
middle, scoring Rasmus. Cards lead, 1-0. This is what I like to see.
3:34 – In his first at bat as a Cardinal, Lance Berkman
strikes out. Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after one inning.
3:41 – Carpenter’s first base runner allowed is a hit by
pitch of Ryan Ludwick. It wasn’t intentional, as far as I can tell. Ludwick is
quickly erased though on a 6-4-3 double play turned nicely by Theriot and
3:42 – Scott the Cubs Fan just informed us his chicken
enchiladas are almost done. Good Lord, I didn’t realize we have even MORE food.
It’s like Thanksgiving. I wonder if I’ll fall asleep with gravy on my face?
3:43 – The sun has FINALLY poked its way through the clouds
here in Belleville IL. We’re sitting in Ken’s oversized garage and just raised
the big door. A quick breeze reminds us it’s still only about 50 degrees
outside, and we promptly close the door again. Smart guys, we are.
3:48 – Schumaker is up, and Terry keeps making fun of him
for adjusting his batting gloves after every pitch. I never really noticed it
before…but it is kind of annoying. Schumaker then reaches first on a dropped
third strike, but Carpenter grounds out weakly to end the inning. Cardinals 1,
Padres 0 after 2.
3:55 – Carpenter again makes quick work of the Padres, and
has faced the minimum through three innings. I love a great pitching
performance, but it doesn’t make for exciting blogging. What am I going to
write? “Hey, another strike! Boo ya!”
3:58 – Theriot knocks a base hit into left, and we give
Scott the Cubs Fan a hard time. “Remember that?” Ken says. “Yeah, and I
remember all the other games, too” Scott replies. Don’t worry, Cards fans…he’s
4:01 – Albert Pujols comes up with runners on first and
second, no one out and grounds into a double play. “Trade him!” lament my sarcastic
friends. Something tells me this will be a theme throughout the year anytime
Pujols makes an out when he has a chance for an RBI, though. That will make
this season really irritating at times. Holliday follows with a groundout.
Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after three innings.
4:06 – As excited as we are for Opening Day, we’ve decided
to play a game of euchre while we watch the game. Maybe it’s a sign of the game
moving kind of slowly so far. Of course, as soon as we sit down at the table,
Will Venable rips a double down the left field line for the first Padres hit of
4:08 – David Freese makes a highlight reel catch on the
third base line and throws out Bartlett at first. Those ankles look pretty
sturdy early on. Freese is easily one of the most important components to the
Cards’ success this year. So far he looks good.
4:11 – After a sacrifice fly, Carp gets out of the inning. Still
4:17 – Three straight hits by Berkman, Freese, and Molina
quickly put the Cards back up 2-1. In perhaps a more important story, no one
got hurt and the speed on the basepaths was BLINDING.
4:18 – Venable makes a great diving catch on a Carpenter
bloop into foul territory to end the inning. Cards 2, Padres 1 after four
innings. Time for more rum.
4:29 -After Ludwick walks, he steals second when Schumaker
can’t hold onto the ball during the tag. Molina threw it perfectly; Schu just
dropped it (Ludwick might have gotten a hand up, but that’s still a ball that
has to be held). Nick Hundley then sends a rocket off the wall, scoring Ludwick
from second. Padres 2, Cardinals 2. We’ve got a barnburner on our hands!
4:35 – Albert Pujols just grounded into another double play.
In three at bats, Pujols has made five outs. He’s off to a great start. And
yes, I realize it’s only the first game of a 162 game season. But he’s on my
fantasy team, and he’s killing me right now.
5:03 – Took a break from the log to eat more food, finish
the euchre game, and refill my rum. In the meantime, Dan showed up. He
compliments my chili and enjoys a swig of my rum. Chris Carpenter has pitched 7
strong innings, a great start for this early in the season. He’s due up second
in the bottom of the 7th so he’s likely finished for the day.
5:08 – I’m right about Carp; after Schumaker led off the
inning with a single, Daniel Descalso pinch hit and bunted Schu over to second
base. But a Theriot groundout and Rasmus strikeout later, the inning is over.
We’re still tied 2-2.
5:23 – We just got into a lengthy discussion about baseball
salaries. Ed doesn’t seem to think Pujols is worth $25 million or more; he
thinks Pujols should do just play for $15 million. We’re fairly certain he’s
drunk or crazy. Even Scott the Cubs Fan laughed. I had a hard time convincing
Ed that the CBA doesn’t allow players to be paid based on their performance
year over year. I know what he’s trying to say. It’s easy to talk about what
would be “nice” or “right” but reality is harsher. I’ll need another drink to
finish this conversation.
5:42 – Matt Holliday just snuck a solo home run over the
wall to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. Scott the Cubs Fan said it would be
Pujols who was the hero after his awful day at the plate, but once again he was
wrong. Ed just asked how much Holliday makes, so I shook up a beer and opened
it in his face.
5:50 – Ryan Franklin is brought in to close the game out.
The first two outs were relatively easy, though Headley did give one a ride.
But Cameron Maybin spoiled the party at Busch by cranking a solo homer to dead
center. Franklin is on the hook for his first blown save of the year. Is that
Jason Motte I see warming up in the bullpen? This is not how today was supposed
5:57 – The Padres bring in Chad Qualls for the bottom of the
9th. Molina, Schumaker, and Jay (after a double-switch) are due up.
6:01 – Jay smokes one up the middle that Qualls gets a glove
on but can’t hold on to. Jay is on with two outs. Theriot is up….
…and lines out. Extra innings on opening day!
6:06 – Brian Tallet makes his Cardinal debut, and I do a
quick image search for some of his epic pics from when he was a Toronto Blue Jay.
Dan drops the first Goose Gossage reference of the day.
6:10 – Tallet mows down the Padres, and looks good doing it.
Due up for the Cards: Rasmus, Pujols, Holliday. Go Cards!
6:14 – Leadoff walk to Rasmus. Mike Shannon must be going
nuts in the radio booth right now.
6:15 – Pujols grounds into ANOTHER double play. That’s eight
outs for him on the day. That’s just awful. Has he ever had a day like this? Oh…ask
and you shall receive. They just flashed a graphic that states Pujols has never
grounded into three double plays in one game. Good thing we’re not keeping
track of GIDP in the fantasy league.
6:17 – Holliday walks. Up comes Allen Craig. Come on, kid…we
need a hero.
6:18 – Craig fouls out to Venable, who is having a heck of a
game. Time for the 11th inning…and more rum.
6:23 – Hundley gets a two out single off of newly promoted
Cardinal Brian Augenstein. Not good.
6:25 – Maybin also singles; Hundley to third. But Ryan Theriot
blows the relay and Hundley makes it home on his terrible throw to the plate. The
Padres take the lead 4-3.
6:28 – 5-3 Padres. FML. More rum.
6:31 – Ed asks Dan why he smokes Marlboro Reds instead of
lights. Then he asks Scott the Cubs Fan why he smokes Marlboro menthols. I then
ask Scott the Cubs Fan why he’s such a woman. All conclusions can be drawn from
his Cubs hat and shirt.
6:33 – The Cards now face one of the best closers in the
league, Heath Bell. Ugh.
6:36 – Schumaker lines out to end an uneventful bottom of
the 11th and the game.
What’s the bigger story today: Pujols 0 for 5 with three
GIDP, or Franklin’s blown save? I have a feeling we’ll see more of Franklin’s
performance than Pujols’ performance, especially when you realize that Pujols
has NEVER had that kind of a day. In fact, not many ever have…according to
ESPN, it’s the first time since 1920 anyone has grounded into three double
plays on Opening Day. Closers blow saves…it happens. But wasting a Carpenter
start as good as the one he put on is really tough to watch. Bottom line is, this
was game 1 of 162. The Cards got off on the wrong foot, but they have a chance
to right the ship Saturday.
Sunday, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals may be focusing on an upgrade at shortstop this offseason. This would presumably keep Skip Schumaker at second base and a Jon Jay/Allen Craig platoon in right field, barring any other acquisitions. And I don’t think I like it.
First, let me say I do not dislike Schumaker or the potential of Jay or Craig at all. I also realize Brendan Ryan’s 2010 offense left much to be desired, and to expect him to get back to his 2009 numbers is probably unreasonable. But I do think Schumaker’s 2010 offensive numbers were an aberration, too, and it’s reasonable to expect him to be closer next season to his career slash line (.291/.349/.383) which is passable–not great–for a leadoff hitter. The biggest reason an “upgrade” as SS would hurt the Cards, however, is defense…even if Ryan’s 2011 offensive numbers are identical to his disappointing 2010.
Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and the numbers support that whether you like “counting stats” or advanced metrics. None of the available shortstops would represent an upgrade on defense…which, assuming Schumaker is still playing at second, would further weaken the middle infield of a team that pitches to contact almost exclusively. So, yes…someone like Miguel Tejada would certainly be an offensive upgrade over Ryan. But that would downgrade the defense at SS, which would consequently make Schumaker’s already shaky D even worse, and the Cards would be relying on two unproven commodities in right field.
The best move, in my opinion, would be to first listen very closely to what the Florida Marlins want for Dan Uggla. I know that’s kind of a no-brainer, but assuming the Marlins aren’t asking for the moon in return, Uggla would be perfect for the Cards: 1) his defense wouldn’t be any worse than Schumaker’s, but his offense would be a major upgrade even if Schu does snap back to form; 2) they can move Schumaker back to right field, his best defensive position, and keep Ryan’s stellar D at short; 3) Uggla would almost certainly be a Type A free agent after 2011, and though the Cards likely won’t be able to pay him beyond that they can do it this year…plus they’d get the compensation picks for him if he refuses arbitration (all but a given). If long-term stability and depth is the priority of the team, then they need to sign Juan Uribe to play second base & still move Schumaker to right. Uribe plays good defense at 2B, SS, and 3B…so if someone is injured or ineffective–like what happened this season–there’s someone capable that can slide in. He’s not the power threat Uggla is, but he will hit 15 homers with decent average & on-base numbers. That, too, is an upgrade over Schumaker. And a middle infield featuring Uribe and Ryan may be one of the best in the game.
Ryan’s offensive struggles hurt the 2010 Cardinals because they were compounded by Schumaker’s similar struggles early in the season and an overall dearth of production at third base. A healthy David Freese and an average Skip Schumaker would lessen the impact of Ryan’s numbers, as would more production from an offensive upgrade at second base. But how can the Cardinals’ front office think that a little more offense at the expense of a lot of middle infield defense would help the team at all?
What a week! Spring Training games have begun! But more on that later. Tuesday was the greatest day of 2009 so far, because the season tickets arrived!
After telling my girlfriend Sarah, I had to e-mail my buddy Scott The Cub Fan. Scott gets as giddy about baseball as I do. He asked me to describe my feelings of this glorious day, and here was my reply:
I actually didn’t get to open the box. I let Sarah do that since she pays for them. But she told me a few days ago that she got the shipping notification, so I knew it was coming. I was working from home and heard the UPS truck pull up. It was a lot like hearing the ice cream truck approach…you know it’s in the vicinity, but is it on your street or the next one over? I ran down the stairs like a kid who still wonders if Santa came last night, and found the box on the front porch. I actually did a pretty good job of not thinking too much about them all day; it was enough to know that they were here and all was well. But then I started wondering what games we had: How many day games? How many Saturday games? Do we have the Thursday day game on my birthday?
Then Sarah came home and all questions were answered. I sat twitching while she opened the box and flipped through the little book. And then she handed it to me. I hugged it like Robert DeNiro hugged the fake Mr. Jinx that Ben Stiller found at the animal shelter in Meet The Parents. Hopefully my expectations for the team this year don’t turn out to be as unrealistic as a cat with a spray painted tail.
Now, on to the game!
The St. Louis Cardinals opened Grapefruit League play yesterday with a 5-5 tie after 10 innings against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter, Florida. Blake Hawksworth started the game for the Cards, going 2 2/3 innings and allowing no runs on three hits. Rick Ankiel was 2 for 3 with 2 RBI, and Colby Rasmus was 2 for 5 with a walk and a run scored. Skip Schumaker went 2 for 4, scored twice, and played an errorless 2B. For more, see the full box score here. Today the Cardinals square off against the Baltimore Orioles in Ft. Lauderdale. Game time is 1:05 EST.
So far, so good. The Cardinals have announced that the starting rotation is set: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, and Joel Piniero have been anointed, barring any unforeseen events. And some not-so-surprising hints about the everyday lineup have started to trickle out as well. It looks like Tony LaRussa is planning on batting the pitcher 8th again this season, and the most obvious choices for batting 9th are Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, or Colby Rasmus (depending on the make up of the rest of the lineup on any given day). In Ryan, the Cards have a guy that is quite capable defensively but hasn’t quite put it together at the plate. He can play anywhere in the infield. Schumaker was the leadoff hitter almost all of 2008, and is currently working on a switch from the outfield to second base. Rasmus, of course, is the golden boy prospect who has been described as a five tool guy and the Cards’ centerfielder of the future…possibly the very near future. If LaRussa can find a way to not only keep these guys on the roster but also find them adequate playing time, this team may have the most balanced combination of power and speed they’ve had in the past decade…and it’s been a pretty successful decade for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now I suppose the biggest question mark is who will close…
The baseball chatter around St. Louis today is centering around the comments made by Albert Pujols regarding his pal Manny Ramirez still being unsigned. Pujols seems to think that the Cardinals should bring Ramirez into the fold, hopefully more for his offensive presence than his defensive liabilities. Cards GM John Mozeliak promptly (and publicly) shot down the idea, as expected. I first saw the story on mlbtraderumors.com on Wednesday; it wasn’t long before the story gained enough traction to get ink on both the Cardinals’ and St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s websites.
The idea that Ramirez would be a great bat to put behind Pujols isn’t lost on anyone. But I think the people calling for the GM’s head if the Cards don’t sign the free agent need to take a deep breath and consider a few things:
- The Cardinal outfield is more crowded now than ever. Last year’s regulars–Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick, and Rick Ankiel–all had great seasons in 2008 (minus Ankiel’s injury woes) and are all back for 2009. The Cards also got extended looks at Joe Mather and Brian Barton in 2008; both will be looking to parlay that Major League experience into a strong Spring Training. Remember Chris Duncan? Yeah, he’ll be back as well. And I’m pretty sure a guy named Colby Rasmus is pounding on the door of opportunity this year. So where do they put Ramirez? This isn’t beer league softball…only three outfielders allowed.
- Let’s just pretend the Cardinals did sign Ramirez. Let’s say it was a 3 year deal for $40 million for the sake of argument. Relatively speaking, that’s not an unreasonable amount of jack for a guy with Ramirez’ offensive output (when healthy and interested). Will Cardinal fans buy into the phenomenon of “Manny being Manny” for three years? Ramirez has a penchant for not being the greatest clubhouse guy, and apparently likes to give up near the end of his contract. Are we really willing to accept all of that considering it will probably cost the Cardinals at least 3 of the outfielders mentioned above?
- If the Cardinals did sign Ramirez, and were able to effectively figure out the logjam of outfielders, a question might still remain: Is it enough? Could that $10 million+ have been better spent on pitching, a clear pain point on the 2008 team and a lingering concern going into 2009?
With all these questions, I’m really not convinced that bringing Ramirez in would be worth the costs and risks. It would certainly be an about-face for the front office after all this talk about player development.
OK, fine. Let’s have a little fun here. I’ll go out on a limb and theorize how this deal could get done. I’m not saying I advocate it, and I’m not saying the Cards aren’t trying when these things don’t get done (because they won’t). So here goes:
- Sign Manny Ramirez for no more than 3 years, options included.
- Shop a package that includes 2-3 outfielders (Ankiel, Schumaker, maybe Barton?) and 1-2 young pitchers not named Chris Perez, Jason Motte, or Kyle McClellan, and acquire 2B Brian Roberts from the Orioles. Perhaps add Adam Kennedy to the deal and pay half his salary.
- Make every effort to extend Roberts and Khalil Greene through 2011, which is also when Pujols’ contract is up (Ramirez too, if this theory holds up).
- Rely on the development of young players just now emerging to enable the Cards to re-sign Pujols before he hits the open market after the 2011 season. This means that between now and then, the following players will be allowed to walk without being replaced: Joel Piniero, Todd Wellemeyer, Troy Glaus, Chris Duncan, Ryan Franklin, and maybe more.
So the lineup would look like this:
- Roberts (2B)
- Rasmus (RF-CF)
- Pujols (1B)
- Ramirez (LF)
- Ludwick (CF-RF)
- Freese/Wallace/Glaus (3B)
- Molina (C)
- Greene (SS)
…or some variation.
Maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea after all…