Four years ago today, I was going on about four hours of fitful sleep. The night before, I and the rest of the baseball world witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the World Series. After that game, I was so wired, so geeked I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Finally, after pounding out a delirious blog post, I managed to nod off…only to sit bolt upright the instant my alarm went off a few hours later, feeling as awake and alive as I ever have in my life. I ran into the other room to look at the two most exciting pieces of paper I think I’ve ever held.
I’m sure I managed to be productive at work that Friday, but I couldn’t tell you how. All I wanted to do was go to Busch Stadium, even hours before the game was supposed to start. I wanted to sit in my bleacher seat with a beer and 45,000 or so of my closest friends to watch Game 7 of the World Series. Even just saying the phrase “Game 7 of the World Series” gives me chills as a baseball fan; as a Cardinals fan about to walk into Busch Stadium to watch it live I was almost unable to process the sights…the sounds…the feeling.
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but a fan favorite (certainly one of mine) from the Whiteyball Era made his final appearance before Cardinal Nation and passed less than a week later.
After the previous night’s heroics, Game 7 lacked much drama beyond the first inning. The Rangers took the lead in top half, and David Freese once again swatted them back. Allen Craig—robbed of a World Series MVP by the All-Universe campaign Freese had—hit a home run and took one away with his glove. Chris Carpenter gutted out another start that would essentially prove to be his professional swan song. Jason Motte blocked out his previous struggles in the series to mow through the ninth. And when Craig secured the fly ball near the track for the final out…
It all happened four years ago today—my greatest baseball day.
Last night, baseball lore received a twist so ironic it borders on unbelievable—and only fans of teams other than the ones involved would think so.
The Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in baseball, by the way) 5-0 in a fairly pedestrian mid-July contest, except for the fact that the loss kept the Angels from leapfrogging the AL West-leading (!) Houston Astros in the standings. But two important plays in the game—one a rally-squashing catch; the other a strikeout to ice the victory for Seattle—seem otherworldly in the memories they stir up for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.
The Angels threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with none out and the middle of the order looming. But two unproductive outs later, the bases were still loaded when David Freese stepped to the plate. Freese ripped a line drive to right-center that was hauled in with a spectacular diving catch by none other than Nelson Cruz.
Yep…that guy. Only, last night he actually made the game-saving catch on a well-hit David Freese liner.
If that wasn’t enough to make Cards and Rangers fans cringe—albeit for vastly different reasons—the end of the game certainly would.
The Angels couldn’t get much going after that deflating first inning, only putting together four hits on the night. But one of those was a two-out single by Erick Aybar.
Coming to the plate? David Freese.
Standing on the mound? Mark Lowe.
Yep…that guy. Only, this time Lowe struck Freese out to preserve the victory.
That these three players would cross paths again isn’t all that surprising, since it’s been less than four years since that fateful Game 6 night. But all three in the same game, where Cruz DOES make the crucial catch against Freese and Lowe DOES get the crucial out against Freese to end the game? That borders on absurd–not for Angels or Mariners fans, necessarily; for Rangers fans, who can only wonder what might have been…and for Cardinals fans, relieved at what actually was.
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.
But 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.
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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.
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!
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?
I’m participating in my first United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable discussion this year, and today is my day to post. Here’s how it works: Yesterday, I e-mailed a Cardinal question to all the members of UCB (check the home page for the full list of blogs). The bloggers who choose to participate e-mail me their answers back, and I post them for you to read. The list of UCB members is long and distinguished, and many are participating in this event. I will be e-mailed a number of questions to answer as well. It’s a good way to drive traffic to each others’ sites, and with Spring Training just now getting into full swing it gives us something to write about.
So I’ll post the question I posed to the UCB members and all their answers, along with a link to their individual blogs. Please pay them a visit, and pass along their websites to your friends!
Question: After all the moves the Cards made this offseason, as well as some of the possible internal promotions/jobs to be won this spring, what do you perceive to be the biggest remaining need for this team as we approach the regular season? Or do they have any holes at all?
The bench would seem to be the biggest need. There are a number of options for the fifth slot in the rotation and the leftovers can fill out the bullpen adequately, but there’s a lot of youth on the bench, which can be good, but also may not pan out the way we’d like. –Dan, C70 At The Bat
I perceive the biggest need to be our bench. I think the combination of young players (David Freese, Tyler Greene, Joe Mather, etc.) should suffice at third base. We certainly have plenty of young players who can play outfield, but I’m concerned about their ability to pinch hit. I think before we address anything else, we should find a veteran (not Felipe Lopez, someone with less of a price tag) who has a history of being a productive pinch hitter/bench player. –Jack, Thoughts About Cardinals
The biggest remaining need for the Cardinals in 2010 is flexibility. The team has a lot of young options for 3rd base and the 5th spot in the rotation. They have backups at shortstop and centerfield with some intriguing candidates for the bench bats. They have a 37 year old closer who was shaky at the end of last year, but was still an All-Star who pitched well overall.
The Cardinals don’t have a specific need yet, but when looking at all of the variables, they will. Though we don’t know which position will become a problem, injuries and ineffectiveness will become apparent soon enough. Having the dry powder to address needs after the positions have been evaluated is the most important need this team has. –Michael, Whiteyball
All in all this would appear to be a well-rounded club. Tony hasn’t had this many factions accounted for this early in a long time. In theory, of course.
The most glaring deficiency is a bench lacking pop. Especially from the left side. In games that the Cardinals are down late, opposing managers may be peering across the field at an uncomfortably predictable skipper. The flip side is that his “everyday” lineup looks pretty solid from top to bottom. Winner of the third base sweepstakes could perceivably hit 8th. Which given the upside of an intriguing list of candidates, says something about 1 through 7. Besides, if your biggest issue is the depth of your bench, the guys who take the field on Opening Day are likely legitimate starters.
Our closer is what concerns me the most. There is part of me that likes Ryan Franklin a lot. Pinpoint control, bulldog mentality, unabashed flaunting of a truly terrible beard…and every time I start on his age I hear Hell’s Bells in my head and can’t finish. But he is far from overpowering. His All-Star appearance was well deserved, but pitching to contact in the bottom of the ninth of 3-2 game gives me ulcers. There’s something to be said for the demoralizing effects of 98 mph gas and a filthy curve. He’s earned respect, but I don’t think Frankie is intimidating anybody out there. Rest assured that La Russa, who recognizes the psychological challenges of the job, will stand by his man. But for how long? –Justin, Intangiball
For me, the biggest perceived need is at the back of the bullpen. I’m sure Ryan “Shooter” Franklin is a nice person, but he’s not a capital-C Closer, just a guy with middling stuff given an opportunity to compile saves.
But Izzy’s heir apparent, Chris Perez, was traded, and without a second pitch (as well as some movement on his fastball) Jason Motte isn’t really a good fit, either. I am hoping beyond hope that Eduardo Sanchez sets the Grapefruit League on fire and makes the choice a no-brainer for TLR and Duncan. -Jeff, Five O’Clock Blogger
I think we need help off the bench. Love to see them sign Lopez. -Joseph, The McBrayer-Baseball Blog
I believe that the best thing the Cardinals can do right now is wait. If McClellan wins the 5th spot in the rotation, Mozeliak might feel like a bullpen arm like Kiko Calero or Russ Springer is the way to go. If Freese/Mather don’t look like a viable option at third, Felipe Lopez could make sense. With 5-7 million left, I would like Mozeliak to save some dry powder for the season. The Cardinals aren’t in a position to trade for impact players like they did in the summer of 2009, but saving a couple million to potentially add someone like John Smoltz in midseason is a good idea. -Ryan, Cardinals GM
I hadn’t considered our closer situation one to worry about. Yes Franklin appeared to burn out after the All-Star break last season (and for conspiracy buffs, right after he signed his extension if my memory is correct), but considering it was his first year as the ‘no question’ LaRussa closer I’m not too worried about it. LaRussa learned he needed to pace how he uses Franklin for 2010. Further I’m not worried about Franklin‘s stuff. Plenty of closers (Trevor Hoffman leaps to mind) have been great without having 95+ gas in the arsenal. Franklin is the LaRussa/Duncan philosophy distilled: locate your pitches.
This team’s glaring weakness is its bench. LaRue is the backup catcher only. In 114 PA as a ‘substitute’ he’s hitting a robust 212/305/433, all right-handed. Lugo has a career slugging percentage of .391 (right-handed). He only has 115 PA as a ‘substitute’ (302/395/344). Tyler Greene has 1 year of ML experience, and also hits right handed. They need a left handed bat badly. I also am concerned about their defensive weakness, especially Lugo, which will probably limit what LaRussa can do for match-ups in the late innings. Finally, there’s no one on this team that can spell Pujols at first if he needs a day off.
If I was Mozeliak, the bench is where I’d be looking to upgrade this team before Opening Day. -Mike, Stan Musial’s Stance
That’s a rundown of the answers I received, but Jeff from Five O’Clock Blogger wanted to reply to Mike’s take above:
While I do not share your optimism regarding Franklin*, you make very valid points about the bench.
*Funny you mention conspiracy theories; mine is that he went into the can not because of his contract but because he was looking over his shoulder after Smoltz arrived. </tinfoil hat>
I don’t see where Gotay fits in with this ballclub. One 100-walk season at Triple-A aside, he’s a low-rent version of Lugo. Also, all the bench candidates have major flaws: Lugo has a little plate discipline but no power and can’t (read: shouldn’t) play short; Greene has some power but no seeming plate discipline; I’m not sold on Mather hitting at all, etc.
At this point, I’d be more than happy to have FeLo back. –Jeff, Five O’Clock Blogger
And there you have it! Obviously this is a question that can’t have a wrong answer; I think even the best clubs can be improved here or there. And with several free agents still without jobs and minor leaguers looking to catch on with the Big Club, many options remain to fill out this team. Personally, I think the team needs some bench help. At this point, the team lacks what I like to call an “impact bat” off the bench. I think having a thumper lurking in the dugout for a possible late-inning pinch hit is a valuable weapon. I also have concerns that the typical defensive replacement for either the infield or the outfield currently does not exist on this team. Not that the starting 8 are a bunch of hacks that cannot be trusted in the field in the late innings…but I often wonder if things could have turned out different had Rick Ankiel been inserted into left field in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS against the Dodgers.