Category Archives: Nooners

Every day is better with a Nooner! Posts I write on my lunch break that are put up generally between 11a – 2p weekdays.

The Nooner #28: Jaime Expectations

In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?

In a word: efficiency.

The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.

Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.

Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.

Nooner #27: Bullpen Weirdness in the Windy City

C-Mart

Photo: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I can’t get it out of my head: Carlos Martinez coming in for relief on Opening Night bothered me. I caught hell on Twitter for thinking so. I know, he doesn’t pitch until Saturday and needs to throw. But is putting him into the first game of the season with a completely rested bullpen really necessary? I mean, they have an awful lot riding on his success. Their belief in him—admittedly paired with other factors—basically cost Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller their jobs with the Cardinals, and sent the best pitcher on the staff this spring (Marco Gonzalez) to Triple A. C-Mart is the 5th starter. That’s his role. The rest of the guys in the ‘pen have their roles, too. Jordan Walden in the 8th and Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th, right? Nobody would question those moves. But no Seth Maness in the 7th? No Kevin Siegrist? I just can’t wrap my head around why Martinez in the 7th was even an option, let alone necessary. The only thing that would have made less sense is bringing Randy Choate in to face righties.

There’s always risk when a pitcher is on the mound, but Carlos Martinez taking a liner off the knee pitching in middle relief in Game 1 of 162 would have been infuriating. The old adage applies: sure, it worked out…but was it really the right move?

CCR   @birdbrained

The Nooner #26: Random Lunch Musing

Hard to believe I’ve gone an entire year without a Nooner. That’s just sad, in any context.

This thought crossed my mind the other day, and it won’t leave me. So I have to get this out into the open for all to peruse:

Why is it that saying “I’m having a salad for lunch” seems perfectly normal, yet—even though it is 100% the same thing—saying “I’m having leaves and roots for lunch” makes me think of someone taking a fork and diving face-first into a yard waste bag?

Personally I’m enjoying my lunch of garden clippings. Maybe for dessert I’ll treat myself to a tree ovary.

 

 

That’s an apple, you sickos.

–Chris

The Nooner #25: Phillies Phun

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.

–CCR

The Nooner #24: Winter Warm Up

This weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals gather team and fans in downtown St. Louis for the annual Winter Warm Up. For the second year in a row, the folks at I-70 Baseball (where you can read a column my yours truly every Saturday morning) have managed to obtain a media credential for me to attend and cover the event! Look for updates throughout the three-day event on Twitter (@birdbrained) and in various write-ups over the weekend and next week at I-70 Baseball. Additionally, I may do a phone interview or two to be broadcast at a later date.

This year, the Cards have granted a number of other bloggers access to credentials for the event. That means I won’t be the only newbie in the interview room (which is nice). So check back here and my Twitter account for some links supporting those folks as well.

And one last thing: if you see me milling around the main exhibition halls, come say hello!

–Chris

The Nooner #23: Albert Pujols is No Longer a Cardinal

Surreal.

Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals via free agency was always a possibility, however unlikely it seemed. I thought the Cards would be in on the dollars side, but would balk at the years. Turns out the opposite was true. But before 2011 I was hoping for 7 years guaranteed +2 or 3 option years. In the NL, it is really, really hard to justify paying a 40+ player $20 million or more when he has to play in the field every day. But there are so many unknown details here, starting with AAV. If the Cards said they’d signed him for 10 years, $250 million starting with $30 million next year, a declining AAV, and the last two were $15 million options, I think I’d be on board. He’d still get the same amount of money; they wouldn’t be paying him as much in his last few years. Apparently the Marlins had the highest bid, which means that no trade clause was a really big deal. I can get behind that, too. Security is important. But that’s not all it was.

I think what really stings is the smoke he blew up all our asses: “I have money; it’s not about the money”…“Why would I want to play anywhere else?”…“I want to be like Stan Musial and be a Cardinal for life.” When you invoke the name of Stan Musial and phrases like “it’s not about the money” and “Cardinal for life” you’d better mean it. Clearly he didn’t. Today does not erase the last 11 seasons, either for his individual accomplishments or the team’s success. But some of that integrity and persona has been diminished with this news. He really was about the money. That in itself isn’t terrible; just be honest about it. Maybe the Marlins offered the most zeroes in front of the decimal, but if we’re comparing apples to apples, the Angels and Cards offered the same contract terms. The Angels’ trump card was more cash. The Cardinals’ trump card was baseball legacy/immortality. He took the bread.

I’m not really sure how to describe my feelings beyond the above. Maybe it will set in once I see Pujols 5 on the back of a LA Angels jersey. Maybe it will set in during the Winter Warm up or Spring Training when, for the first time in over a decade, Albert Pujols is nowhere to be found. But I didn’t really go into convulsions when Tony LaRussa retired, either. At the time I chalked it up to World Series Hangover. But that was over a month ago. An era has truly ended in St. Louis. Let’s hope the Cardinals don’t lapse into another odd-decade Dark Age. Looking at the rest of the roster, though, I really think they’re going to be OK. We all are.

–Chris

The Nooner #22: A Few Thoughts on Mike Hunt

This morning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story originally penned by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sportswriter Mike Hunt that outlines how the Cardinals and their fans have to “lighten up” about the fact that 2011 may not be their year. The full story can be read here.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what Mike Hunt is trying to say. Mike Hunt thinks Cards fans are taking it way too hard that their team isn’t in the driver’s seat in the NL Central yet again. But really, what does Mike Hunt expect? The Cardinals have won the division title far and away more than any other NL Central team since the divison’s inception. That’s not gloating; it’s a fact. We are told every year “The Cards will compete for the division title.” More often than not, pundits around the country favor the Cards to win the Central. Does the rabid Cardinal fan base make these things happen? Of course not. The Cardinals are generally expected to be good year in and year out. Mike Hunt should know that.

Mike Hunt needs to look no farther than a few miles to the north to see similar passion in action. The Green Bay Packers’ fan base is easily as passionate and dedicated and expectant of success as the Cards’…maybe even more so. Mike Hunt has to realize this. Even if Mike Hunt isn’t a Packers fan, does he honestly believe the cheese heads in green and gold just sit back and say, “Well, good for them! We’ll get it next year!” when the Chicago Bears win the NFC North? Or the Minnesota Vikings? Or the Detroit Li…Minnesota Vikings? Mike Hunt needs to get with the program.

One thing I do agree with Mike Hunt on is that the Brewers have certainly earned their position in the standings. The current run they’re on is nothing short of remarkable. But Mike Hunt can’t tell me I should be OK with the Cards losing. I realize journalists aren’t supposed to be fans, but Mike Hunt should still know what it means to root for your team win or lose.

I know the Cards don’t have much of a chance this year…I’m not delusional. But I think Mike Hunt may be if he thinks I shouldn’t be upset about it. Maybe Mike Hunt would feel better if the Cardinals started untucking their shirts after every victory or pretending to fall like bowling pins when a home run hitter reaches home plate. Mike Hunt must think all teams act like that…and since the Cards are the only ones that don’t, they’re not having fun, right? Sour because they’re not winning AGAIN? How dare these Brewers take the Cards’ division title away from them? Give me a break, Mike Hunt.

Something tells me Mike Hunt wouldn’t write a story like this if the Brewers were actually more successful year in and year out. Has Mike Hunt written this same column about the Cincinnati Reds? Guess not. Maybe Mike Hunt is a little jealous of the Cardinals. Maybe all the other teams in the Central and their fans are. The Cards haven’t done much since they won the World Series in 2006; why hasn’t another team stepped up and taken over the division?

Can Mike Hunt answer me that?

-CCR

The Nooner #21: Odds and Ends

I haven’t posted a Nooner in a while, so it’s about time this little feature reappears.

–Interesting tidbit from last night’s Cardinals game: We were chatting with a couple of the ushers afterward, waiting for the crowd at Busch Stadium to clear out. It was a beautiful night–about 70 degrees throughout most of the game–so we were in no hurry. We sit very close to the visitors’ bullpen, and while we talked I noticed one of the bat boys from the Milwaukee Brewers cleaning up the equipment they were taking with them. He picked up a big metal beverage dispenser and dumped it out near the floor drain…OK, nothing unusual there. Except the thing was full of hot coffee. That’s right…a bunch of professional athletes preparing to go into a game being played in comfortable weather at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night were drinking coffee. Weird.

–It was a pretty big win for the Cards last night. Being four games out in mid-August is not ideal, but it sounds a lot better than being six games out. I believe this Cardinals team has what it takes to make a run and catch/pass the Brewers in the standings. Whether or not they will actually execute is another matter…so far, they really haven’t. Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter looked really good last night. It was kind of like old times. Here’s to hoping they have a lot more of those games in them this season.

–Tonight’s game against the Colorado Rockies is big, too. Not because it’s the Rockies; they aren’t really playing for anything right now. But with the Brewers heading home to Miller Park–where they’re damn near unbeatable–to play the floundering Pittsburgh Pirates, every win is important. And the Cards really need a good start from Kyle Lohse. I mean at least six innings and less than four runs allowed. He has pitched awful of late, and doubts about his health are starting to resurface.

–Someone pointed me to this link, and while I always hoped I would make some ink on MLB Trade Rumors, I never expected it to be for that.

And no, that’s not really me. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish it was.

–Chris

The Nooner #20: Cardinals announce a signing…

Two, actually. The Cards have added pitchers Miguel Batista and Ian Snell on minor league deals with invites to Spring Training.

Curious. I figured, with the recent announcement that the Cards and Albert Pujols have opened contract extension talks, not much else would be happening until that whole deal–you know, the biggest and most important contract in the history of the franchise–is worked out (or not worked out). I wonder if this means those negotiations are finished? I think we should keep a close eye on the sports news outlets over the next couple of days.

Speaking of the next couple of days, the Winter Warm Up is this weekend. All the details can be found on the Cards’ website. I’ll be there tomorrow on assignment; if you see me feel free to say hello. It looks like Pujols will be on hand for autographs Sunday. Hopefully by then he has a lot more to smile about.

The Nooner #19: Upgrading at SS could be a mistake.

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. 

schu-ryan.jpgRyan 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?

–Chris

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