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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.

Carpenter Down and Out Again

The only question is for how long…but it legitimately may be forever.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals called a press conference to announce co-ace of the rotation Chris Carpenter will likely miss the 2013 season after a return of the shoulder and neck symptoms that kept him out of the vast majority of the 2012 season. With Carp due to be a free agent this fall and seriously questioning his ability to ever throw a ball again, the hurler maybe calling it a career once the Cards’ season is over.

Carpenter’s entire career was marred by injuries, but the years he spent with the Toronto Blue Jays were also markedly mediocre. The Cardinals took a chance on him while he was injured, signing him in 2002—but he would not pitch for the Redbirds until 2004. Then, under Dave Duncan, he flourished. Carp became the leader of the rotation, both in statistics and competitive fire. The playoff run in 2004 came to an abrupt halt partly because Carpenter got injured and didn’t throw a pitch in the postseason that year. In 2005 he rebounded to a 21-5 record with seven complete games (four of them shutouts), 241 innings pitched over 33 starts, 213 strikeouts, and a Cy Young award. In 2006 he again topped 200 innings, led the league with three shutouts, and propelled the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship since 1982. The injury bug bit Carpenter again in 2007-2008 when he only pitched in five games—combined. But his resilience would shine again for the next three years. In each season his strikeout totals increased, but so did his innings pitched. It all culminated with the 2011 championship run. For three of the four clinching games that year—Wild Card berth in Game 162, Division Series Game 5, World Series Game 7—Carpenter was the starting pitcher. And you’d better believe he was ready to go for Game 7 of the NLCS if it went that far. But the others were just works of art: a complete game shutout of the Houston Astros to put the Cards into the postseason; a 1-0 masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock out Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies; and starting Game 7 of the World Series on short rest, keeping his team grounded after the heroics of the previous night, and pitching six solid innings to give the Cardinals the chance to win their 11th World Championship. David Freese may have been the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but if they gave that award for the best overall postseason performance Carpenter would have a serious claim to the trophy.

That October 2011 performance could more or less prove to be his swan song. Carpenter did pitch at the end of last year and helped the Cardinals get within a victory of a return trip to the World Series. But now he faces uncertainty like never before, and so does the team.

Carp is a leader like no other on the St. Louis Cardinals. His numbers speak volumes, and may be replaceable. His presence, however, is not. And it’s another key loss from the so-called “old guard” of the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis. In less than 18 months, the Cardinals have said goodbye to Duncan, La Russa, Albert Pujols, and now Carpenter. Certainly nothing lasts forever, especially in professional sports. But that’s quite a hit in a short span of time.

There’s always the glimmer of hope that Carpenter can make it back and take the mound once again for the Cardinals. After all, it’s not like it would be the first time. But for some reason, this time it feels different…more final…more finished. Maybe it’s a combination of his contract situation and age. Maybe it’s that I was always afraid this would be the way he finally hung it up—leaving the game because his body forced him to, not because he wanted to. Hopefully Carpenter remains that invaluable presence in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and around practice. We’ll always wonder what might have been if he’d pitched in the 2004 World Series, or if the Cardinals had him in ‘07 and ‘08, or if he had been healthy all last year. But even if he has in fact thrown his final pitch as a Cardinal, Chris Carpenter can close the book knowing he was one of the best starting pitchers the franchise ever had.

 

–Chris

UCB Roundtable Question: Patrolling the Grass

Below is my question to the group for this installment of the United Cardinal Bloggers’ Roundtable. Follow the links posted here for some great writing on the St. Louis Cardinals from a fan perspective. Also, visit the UCB website for links to previous Roundtable questions, and check back often because there’s plenty more to come…the Roundtable goes all month! And if you have any thoughts about this question, by all means share them in the comments section below. Now, on with the show…

Patrolling the Grass

No, this is not about Colorado’s new hobby. We’ve already had some great roundtable questions, and a couple of them led me to start thinking about the Cardinals’ outfield. Yes, things are pretty set for 2013–but a lot figures to happen next season that influences what the squad looks like beyond that. So I’m asking you to give me the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2014 Opening Day outfield–starters and backups, if you think the bench guys are already on the roster–and any corresponding moves you think the team will make prior to 2014 to make it happen.

 

“I would suspect Carlos Beltran won’t be resigned for 2014. That immediately means at least one change, in right. Who replaces him might depend on whether Allen Craig stays with the team and whether he can fend off more injuries. The other prediction I think can safely be made is that Oscar Taveras is seen at the major league level in 2013, and is ready for continuous duty in 2014. Who that displaces remains a bit of a mystery. If Jon Jay can avoid being trade bait, then he’s more than likely just excellent pop off the bench at first. I wouldn’t expect him to remain in that role for long, he’s too hot with the bat. Unfortunately, that means the inevitable: At least one trade in the OF in 2014. It would seem like Jay might be the casualty.”  –Wes, Keene on MLB

 

“I’m taking Holliday in LF, Jay in CF, and Taveras in RF for the starters.  Beltran and Schumaker are likely gone to help make room, and maybe the winner in the cage match between Chambers and Robinson stay as the true 4th outfielder.  It seems like Allen Craig could see more OF time than either of those guys, but someone besides Garcia has to pinch run when Matheny goes with the double switch to take a big hitter out of the lineup in the 6th inning.”  –Dennis, Pitchers Hit Eighth

 

“Holliday, Jon Jay, and Oscar Taveras.  If Oscar is as good as they say he is, Carlos Beltran will not be resigned.  It’s possible that Jay gets shifted from center to RF.  Skip is signed through the end of 2013.  Unless he gets traded, and I doubt he will be, next season will probably be his final year in a Cardinal uniform, even though he turns 33 in February.”  –Daniel S., Redbird Rants

 

“One scenario no one has talked about with Beltran is him sliding to first base in 2014 if he’s still a 30/90 guy in 2013. Craig could man a corner OF spot, and Taveras spot start for him and Jay to get some quality MLB playing time. If Taveras truly is a Pujols-esque talent (as Mo referred to him as) then the team can save money, let Beltran go, and slide Taveras into RF everyday in 2014.

I see a Jonny Gomes type as a reserve bench player in 2014, as well as Adron Chambers.”  -Chris M., Birds on the Bat ‘82

 

“I’m going with the majority of a Holliday-Jay-Tavares outfield in 2014.  Beltran will not be resigned, I believe Craig will not be a Cardinal by 2014 and Skippy is gone.  Shane Robinson and Chambers will both find some playing time and be on the squad.

I don’t think Jay moves from center.  Tavares has played center, and done so fairly well, but he is now and always has been projected as a corner outfielder.  Shane and Chambers are good enough to be extra outfielders, though I could see the Cards picking up a free agent or trade.

Speaking of outfileders who could play first, Jason Bay, anyone? :)”  -Bill, I-70 Baseball

 

“I believe 2014 finds Holliday-Taveras-Ramsey.

Jay will be traded and Beltran gone. The Cardinals ETA for James Ramsey is 2014 and I believe that is where he will be and likely a lead-off hitter.”  -Tom, Cardinals GM

 

“2014 Outfield, that’s a leap and a bounds considering the health
history of this club combined with the developmental strides the org
is taking, but I’ll play ball on this one:

Holliday is locked in, for numerous reasons. Oscar Tavares will be the
starting right fielder, by ’14 at the very, very latest (upset call at
some point in 2013 for me…but that’s  a later convo).

Jay, I’m not as certain of. He became a nice defensive surprise in
2012, but there’s a lot about his approach out there that needs work.
The highlights were there, but the arm is still trash and his set in
the lineup is still is a man out of place at the top of it. This is a
team that needs to get faster, especially in the style that Matheny
employs, and that along with shortstop, are the easiest places to do
so. I don’t say any of this to rag on Jay, but I think he’s the answer
to a different question…

Fourth/Fifth outfielder. He’s perfect there by profile, and I don’t
have any beefs with having a solid defender that can play all three
outfield spots and be a singles hitter coming off the pine. I will use
this to completely rag over the entire organization if Shane Robinson
and/or Adron Chambers are long term fixtures here. They’re better than
that, and at least one of them should be replaced by a veteran
right-handed hitter THIS winter.

By 2014, I’m hoping for some speed, or at least an extra base hits
threat in center by then, along with a higher talent base, or better
youngster as OF outfield mix by then.”  –Matt, Cheap Seats Please

 

“Most everyone has hit on it, and I agree that Holliday-Jay-Taveras seems the most likely, though I have some reservations about Jay still being here at that time.  I’m not sure why he wouldn’t be or where he wouldn’t have gone, but I just wouldn’t be shocked if that’s the case.

You’ll likely have one of Robinson or Chambers as a backup then, but not both.  Perhaps a one-year deal of a veteran as another backup.”  -Daniel, C70 At The Bat

 

“Holliday for sure and unless Taveras stops being awesome he’s in as well. As far as the 3rd spot Jon Jay is definitely the front runner to complete the trio. I, like a lot of folks keep waiting for Jon Jay to slide comfortably into that 4th outfielder role that’s had his name on it for the last few seasons but he continues to resist. Some of our topics leading up to today’s question could obviously factor into this with trades, available free agents, etc. but I would still go with these 3 with Adron Chambers coming off the bench. I’m not as sold on Shane Robinson still being in the mix in 2014 but I won’t even take a stab as to who else would be in the mix.”  -Dustin, Welcome to Baseball Heaven

 

“Awesome question, Chris.  This makes us think about a number of dominoes falling
properly.  I love it.

The two corner positions are easy, it is Matt Holliday and Oscar Taveras.  Sure,
there are plenty of questions, but for projection purposes, Holliday is likely
to still be awesome at the plate and serviceable in the field, and Taveras will
be the 2014 Rookie of the Year and winner of the Vlad Guerrero swing like a
maniac and hit the ball a mile contest.

Center field is where things get fun.  I will go out on a limb here and give
that spot to Adron Chambers.   I think he is that spark that is missing from the
every day lineup.   His defensive skills are improving (showed of a pretty
impressive arm) and he could be a terror on the bases, with some coaching from
Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith.

So, the outfield bench – that’s where things get tough.

Schumaker and Jay are both gone.  Tommy Pham is still on the minor league
disabled list.   That is a joke – the poor kid has had a rough time. Chris
Swauger will be my dark horse for the outfield bench spot.  He will hit just
enough in Memphis next year to get a shot at the bench in 2014.  With that much
youth, I could see the Cardinals opting for a free agent as the final spot over
Shane Robinson.  Somebody like a Preston Wilson.

A good question, lots to think about.“  -Bob, On the Outside Corner

 

“In 2014, the starting outfield will be Matt Holliday in left, Jon jay in center and Oscar Taveras in right.

Backing up that group will be Mike O’Neill (after another top-notch season in the Cardinals’ system in 2013), Matt Carpenter and Ryan Jackson (converted from infield to outfield as Kolten Wong starts at second and Asdrubal Cabrera starts at short).”  -Mark, Retro Simba

 

“I really wish I had some sort of bizarre diversion from the most well-traveled path, something like Ken Griffey Jr. receiving cyborg transplants and playing center, but I sure don’t. I’d assume that 18 months from now we’ll see Holliday, Jay, and Taveras; that’s a good thing, though! Holliday is one of the better players in baseball, Jay has found ways to blend defense and sneaky on-base ability, and Taveras loves making baseballs hurt. 

As for the reserves, I sure hope they’re sexier than the current choices. Adron Chambers has speed and minor league OBP success on his side, and Shane Robinson has a nice enough glove, but there certainly isn’t any thump. An injury to a starting outfield member in 2014 could be deadly without change. Perhaps we should get on that cyborg Griffey thing.”  -Brian, StanGraphs

 

“I’m with the hivemind.  Holliday, Jay, Taveras.  Beltran will not be re-signed to play outfield or otherwise.  I am also hopeful that Mo can pick some low hanging fruit to back up the outfield, or someone breaks out.  I am not comfortable with Adron Chambers or Shane Robinson as a starting outfielder in any prolonged capacity.”  -Nick, Pitchers Hit Eighth

 

“Late to the party, but it’s hard to disagree with Holliday in LF, & Tavares in RF.  Jay is obviously a solid plus defender, but his home/road splits remind me of Jamie Garcia.  If Jay is to remain, he’ll need to improve in some of the road numbers & spend more time getting on base in ballparks not named Busch Stadium.  I’m not saying he’s out, or won’t/can’t be the everyday CF on this team for the next few/several years.  But when I look at the 3 spots, I think we can all agree that the contract keeps MH in LF, the club is going to find a way to get Tavares’ bat in the lineup and RF is probably how, but Jay might not be such a solid lock.  Maybe.  Who knows.  Maybe he will.  Just a thought.”  -Dathan, Cards Tied For First

 

Well, there you have it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how varied the answers would be but I thought it a pertinent question based on Matt Holliday’s long contract, Carlos Beltran’s short contract, and the Cards’ significant depth when it comes to outfielders. The members of the UCB rarely disappoint, however, and today was no exception. They gave me a lot of similar answers and a lot of different ones. Can’t ask for much more out of a roundtable discussion.

My thoughts about the 2014 are somewhat incomplete. I like what Jon Jay has done with the glove in centerfield, but his arm is not that of a centerfielder. Matt Holliday also has a wet noodle attached to his shoulder. If Oscar Taveras does indeed have a cannon and can patrol center close to the way Jay does, I’m fine with the Cards moving Jay. And I don’t necessarily mean to right field—l mean, moving him to the bench or trading him, because Taveras is on the team by 2014 regardless. But you also want a strong arm in right field to gun down those fools who think they can go first-to-third. Does Allen Craig have that arm? Does Matt Carpenter? It’s hard to say. As for the fourth and fifth outfielders, I like Adron Chambers because of his speed and I like that Shane Robinson can play center. If they could morph into one guy—and that guy learned how to hit—he’d be a great weapon off the bench. But that’s not the case. I’d like to see Chambers continue to develop and I’d like another outfielder to be picked up via free agency. It doesn’t have to be a solid glove guy, either. But the Cardinals’ bench is woefully inadequate from the right side. They need a presence that will keep the other manager wondering when Mike Matheny will stick him in to pinch hit—kind of like Carpenter. They currently do not have that on the right side. That is how they need to find their fourth outfielder.

–Chris @birdbrained

REVIEW: The 2011 World Series Film DVD

Less than a month ago, the St. Louis Cardinals capped off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history by defeating the Texas Rangers in an epic World Series. In this day and age, finding video and audio replays of any baseball game is as easy as pulling up an internet browser on the nearest online device. But for an expertly assembled package of storytelling, highlights, interviews and emotion, the only true option is Major League Baseball Productions’ presentation of The 2011 World Series Film, which is now available in a two-DVD set (the Blu-Ray version is available December 6).

Disc one features the official film, narrated by actor and St. Louisan John Hamm. The film starts on the St. Louis Riverfront, with the iconic Gateway Arch making an immediate appearance as the stage is set for the telling of the ups and downs of the Cardinals’ 2011 season. Obviously, early in the year, there were more downs than ups as Hamm guides the viewer through the Adam Wainwright injury and Albert Pujols contract drama that overshadowed the team from the beginning of Spring Training. Next is footage of Ryan Franklin giving up a late-game home run and Colby Rasmus bobbling a fly ball that turns out to be the game-winning hit for the opposition. Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?

But these nasty memories are merely part of the set up. The film briefly covers the big trade with Toronto, the Rafael Furcal acquisition, and the sweep by the Dodgers—the last low point of the season. From there, the chasing down of the Atlanta Braves over the regular season’s final five weeks culminates in the Cards celebrating their NL Wild Card clincher after Chris Carpenter’s gem in Houston and the Braves’ loss in Philadelphia while the Cardinal players watched in the Minute Maid Park visitor’s clubhouse.

From there, the film summarizes the Cards’ NLDS win over the Philadelphia Phillies and NLCS win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the show, broadcasts from TV and radio are seamlessly merged with Hamm’s narration so the story feels like it’s told from multiple angles. When significant records were tied or broken throughout the year and the postseason, a graphic appears illustrating the feat. The editing and production on this film is nothing short of superb, and it adds an element of dramatic flair not found in straight highlights and replays from the games themselves.

imageBut the real story here is the World Series, and not surprisingly, that’s where the detail in the story explodes. Each of the series’ seven games gets a long segment, and each game’s story is built up with a relevant introduction. For instance, after the segment featuring the Cards’ Game 1 win, the footage shifts to Jason Motte enjoying some pre-Game 2 BBQ at Pappy’s in St. Louis with his family and, obviously, a room full of restaurant customers who happen to be Cardinals fans. Before Game 3 and Game 6, the footage shows the perspective of rolling into the home team’s city as the series shifted to a new ballpark.

This series had so many side stories and subtexts, and each was covered brilliantly in this film. The on-paper match-ups and how similar the Cardinals and Rangers were…the Allen Craig-Alexei Ogando battles…the offensive powerhouses and their pitchers duels in the first two games…The Albert Pujols Game…The Derek Holland Game…Game 5 shenanigans, including the Pujols-Craig hit and run fiascos and “Phonegate”…it’s all here. And it’s all great.

Then there’s Game 6, perhaps one of the greatest in World Series history. From the start, with the Rangers putting up early runs, to the errors and misplays on both sides, the game unfolds as one of the sloppiest anyone has ever seen. And then the Cardinals mount their comeback. David Freese’s game-tying triple in the 9th, Lance Berkman’s game-tying single in the 10th, and the game-winning homer by Freese in the 11th are all highlighted in their amazing baseball glory. “We will see you tomorrow night.” Smiles, chills, and tears are included free of charge.

And the Game 7 segment puts an exclamation point on a tale that wouldn’t be believed if it wasn’t captured on film. After the teams exchanged two run frames in the 1st inning, the Cards took charge of the game. But one of the most poignant moments of the film was when Motte came out of the bullpen in the 9th–in his interview, he said he took a couple of slow steps down the ramp to look around and take in the scene at Busch Stadium. It was yet another moment of profound reality, like David Freese becoming the hero for the team he grew up rooting for or Chris Carpenter re-assuming the role of Ace after Wainwright went down. The only thing missing from the film—curiously—is Joe Buck’s “What a team…what a ride” call as Craig caught the final out. The omission is probably only noticeable by those with the St. Louis bias, and it doesn’t ruin the film. But it is somewhat conspicuous.

The film also captures some of the parade through Downtown St. Louis as well as the announcement the next day of Tony La Russa’s retirement. This comprehensive look at the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals covers all the bases and does so beautifully. It should be enough to get even the most die-hard fan through the cold winter until the next Spring Training.

2011 World Series Film DVD Bonus Features

This Week in Baseball: Lance Berkman

Prime 9: Tony La Russa

Cardinals Clinch Wild Card (team watching PHI beat ATL from visitor’s clubhouse in HOU)

NLDS Game 5: Last Out and Celebration

NLCS Game 6:  Last Out and Celebration

World Series Game 3: Albert Pujols 3 Home Runs

World Series Game 6: David Freese Triple to Tie

World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman Single to Tie

World Series Game 6: David Freese Walk-Off Home Run

World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman/David Freese Presser (funny exchange between the two as Freese recalls Jim Edmonds’ 2004 NLCS walk-off)

World Series Game 7: David Freese Double to Tie

World Series Game 7: Last Out and Celebration

WS Parade (brief ride-along with Freese)

Want More? (Nick Punto mic’ed for final play of World Series; MLB Productions Social Media links)

Disc Two contains the complete Game 5 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, with a menu to start the game from any half-inning or the pre-game show on TBS. Overall, both discs comprise about four hours of video. Order your copy here or check your local retailer.

–Chris

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 Opening Day Running Blog II

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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
Post-Dispatch:

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
Schumaker.

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
outnumbered.

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
the day.

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
tied 1-1.

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
to end.

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.
Yikes.

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.

Pop goes the elbow (and the season…and maybe more).

Breaking News from Spring Training: St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak today announced that Adam Wainwright has been sent back to St. Louis for evaluation after feeling a pop in his elbow while throwing a pitch yesterday.

Mozeliak characterized the situation as “not encouraging.”

And the Cards now have a really big problem on their hands.

Injuries happen, we all know that. Kevin Millwood is still a free agent, Ian Snell is still in the Cards’ camp, Kyle McClellan has been groomed to be a possible starter for the last couple seasons, and Lance Lynn has looked close to ready in AAA for a while now. So the team has options to explore to make them competitive for 2011…though everyone knows none of those pitchers can fill Wainwright’s shoes on the mound.

adam-wainwright_1.jpgBut this is potentially a franchise-changer going forward. First, if Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery, he is done for this year and some of 2012. But the options on his contract that became guaranteed when he finished in the Top 5 in the Cy Young race in 2010 and 2011 are now not guaranteed because a clause in those options says they only kick in if he does not finish 2011 on the disabled list. It now looks all but inevitable that Wainwright WILL be on the DL for the whole year. So do the Cards pick up those options? Do they decline them and try to extend him while his stock is diminished, like they did with Chris Carpenter? Or will Wainwright also be a free agent in the 2011/2012 offseason?

Speaking of free agents, how will this affect the Albert Pujols contract situation? The Cards may find themselves in comlpete franchise overhaul because of this. It would likely make the team fall completely out of contention in the revamped NL Central for 2011. With that in mind, the Cards could conceivably ask Pujols to re-visit his stance on promising to veto any trade. This is also Chris Carpenter’s final guaranteed year; could he be on the trading block?

Imagine the St. Louis Cardinals losing Pujols, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Jim Edmonds all in the same season. A month ago that seemed like a crazy, never-in-a-million-years thought. But today I’m not so optimistic. 

January UCB Project: Top 5 Cardinal Headlines in 2011

It’s United Cardinal Bloggers project time again. This month, we put on our prognosticator hats and try to come up with what we believe will be the top five headlines Cardinal fans will see in 2011. I decided to play this one straight, because I think the Cards could be at a bit of a crossroads this season…Albert Pujols hasn’t been signed yet, David Freese is coming back from inury, Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman are new kids on the block, and Chris Carpenter is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. So without further ado…

1. St. Louis Cardinals Sign Albert Pujols to Record Contract – No, not a recording contract; we’re talking Guinness-type stuff here. I’m not sure if the total value of Pujols’ next deal will be the highest ever, but he will make more per season than any player ever has…and he will make it wearing the Birds on the Bat.

2. Punto Named Opening Day Starter; Freese to Report to Extended Spring Training – All this offseason, I have advocated the Cards signing a “true” third baseman to back up Freese in case he isn’t ready for Opening Day. Now that they have signed Nick Punto, I believe this is the ultimate sign that the Cards know they needed this insurance because Freese could need more time before he is 100%. I put Freese’s Cardinal debut sometime in the month of May.

3. Yankees Confirm Interest in Chris Carpenter – Carp still has an option for 2012 left on his current contract, but it is a pricey one: $15 million. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, I have no idea how they can afford that. Now if the team is in contention and Carp is pitching well, I can foresee the Cardinals declining that option and extending Carpenter for a couple more years at less per year. But if the Cards tank in the first half of 2011 for whatever reason, expect the Carpenter trade rumors to start flying. Regardless, the New York Yankees figure to be in the market for a big acquisition because they didn’t make one in the offseason and the Boston Red Sox made some serious upgrades this winter. Carpenter will almost certainly be one of their targets because of his contract situation. The Cards’ response will depend on if they are winning or not.

4. Albert Pujols Collects Hit #2000 – This one is a slam dunk, barring a catastrophic injury–Pujols currently sits on 1900. But it brings up a good point: Pujols will get his 2000th hit sometime in his 11th season in the big leagues. If his season hits totals continue to average somewhere in the mid 180s, he should get to 3000 in about six years, and he probably would still have at least three or four good seasons ahead of him. That puts Stan Musial’s 3630 within reach. And if that number really is that likely to be passed again, I want it to be done by another Cardinal.

5. Cardinals Clinch Playoff Berth – Notice I didn’t say “Division Crown.” The truth is, the NL Central will be a much better division overall this season. Everything hinges on player health, of course. But no team in the division has the 1-2 punch of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina is still the best catcher in the league in terms of defense and calling a game, and there’s only one Albert Pujols. That gives the Cardinals an edge, even if it is only a slight edge. But the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs cannot be counted out. Could the Wild Card team come from the Central? With all the pitching upgrades, why not? I see the Cards making the playoffs this year but I’m not ready to go all in with a division championship prediction. It could be a knock-down, drag-out year in the NL Central this year.

What do you think…how many of these headlines do you expect to see in 2011? Do you expect to see some I haven’t listed here? Comment away!

-Chris

Walking the Walk

Trash talk is a part of sports. Sometimes it’s warranted, sometimes it’s childish, but it always grabs attention. When it’s followed up by lousy performance, however, it’s nothing more than laughable.

That’s what Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds has become: laughable. Oh, and while I’m tossing out labels, let me slap one on you, Johnny Cueto: pathetic.

After all the mouthing off Phillips did before Monday’s game, he strode up to the plate in the bottom of the first, and started the exchange with Yadier Molina that led to the bench-clearing brawl by tapping Yadi’s shin guards with his bat. Think I’m biased by saying Phillips started it? After all, sportswriters in Cincinnati claim Phillips does this all the time. But looking at the replay–which is all over the ESPN and Fox Sports Midwest shows and websites–Phillips went for a tap, Molina kicked it away, and Phillips tapped him again. After Monday’s comments, that’s instigation…plain and simple. Phillips and Molina exchanged words and chest bumps, benches emptied, more words were exchanged, and a melee ensued. Curiously, the only ejections were Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker. 

 
RolenCarp.jpgOne of the in-fight stories was the exchange between former teammates-turned-rivals Scott Rolen and Chris Carpenter. It’s hard to tell if one charged the other, or if they ended up in each other’s faces because of all the pushing and shoving around them. It appeared, in the beginning, that both were trying to play peacemaker. But as the brawl intensified, the group smashed up against the backstop like a mosh pit finally making its way to the stage at a heavy metal concert. Reds starter Johnny Cueto can then be seen kicking at both Carpenter and Jason LaRue. Carpenter ended up with cuts on his back and torso, and LaRue has stitches in his lip and a mild concussion.

That’s right, Cueto was kicking people in the back and face. Unbelievable.

Cueto needs to be fined and suspended immediately. Not only is this behavior unacceptable, it must be made as an example. If LaRue had been caught square in the eye, his career is over and maybe his vision is lost forever. And I don’t care if Cueto was scared and panicked because he was up against the backstop; a dozen other guys were in the same spot and none of them got their spikes up like that. It’s inexcusable.

I’m really excited for today’s game, and the possibility of a Cardinal sweep. With Adam Wainwright on the mound, I like their chances. The Reds have no problem running their mouths and acting out like the b*tches they think the Cardinals are, but when it comes to walking the walk they have yet to deliver. Phillips has one hit total so far in this series, while Molina came up after the fight and lauched a home run into the left field seats. The Cards have won the first two games of this heated series to take over first place in the NL Central. Time to finish them off with a win (and maybe a fastball into Phillips’ ribs).

Photo: Tom Uhlman/AP

–Chris 

SERIES PREVIEW: Cards v. Phillies

Tonight’s lineups, courtesy of Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Cardinals:

Lopez 3b

Jay rf

Pujols 1b

Rasmus cf

Craig lf

Schumaker 2b

Molina c

Hawksworth p

Ryan ss

 

Philadelphia:

Rollins ss

Polanco 3b

Ibanez lf

Howard 1b

Werth rf

Victorino cf

Ruiz c

Valdez 2b

Kendrick p

The Cards are playing the Phillies at the right time, though both teams have been plagued by injuries this year. After dropping three of four to the Chicago Cubs, the Phillies are likely craving wins. But the Cards have momentum coming off a four game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend. Plus, the pitching matchups favor the Cardinals: after Blake Hawksworth’s start tonight, the Phillies will have to face the Cards’ big three of Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright. Roy Halladay started the final game in Chicago on Sunday, so the Cardinals will not have to face him at all.

I say the Cards take three of four in this series.

For more on the Cards’ sweep of the Dodgers, take a look at my column over at InsideSTL.

 

–Chris

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