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.
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.
One 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
So I’m a fan of Bill Simmons over at ESPN.com. Even though he’s an annoying and unapologetic Boston/American League homer, his writing is great. One of the better gimmicks he uses is the Running Diary, where he watches a sporting event and keeps an ongoing tab of the event and some of the things going on around him while he watches. When my friends talked me into taking a vacation day to join them in watching the Cardinals’ first game of the year, I thought an homage was in order. I ended up throwing in some highlights from the Cubs’ game too, for good measure. Away we go…
12:01…..Getting ready for the beginning of the game at my buddy Ken’s house. Scott the Cubs fan is here too, wearing a Cubs hat and jersey and socks. That’s right, Cubs socks. We’ll call that “Cubs Fan Questionable Manhood Move”#1. I smoked some ribs this morning and we’re getting ready to throw brats on the grill. First pitch is only a few minutes away. Merry Christmas, baseball fans.
12:08…..First pitch of 2010 is swinging strike to Skip Schumaker. I’ll take this moment to list out today’s starting lineup for the Cards:
1. Schumaker – 2B
2. Ryan – SS
3. Pujols – 1B
4. Holliday – LF
5. Rasmus – CF
6. Ludwick – RF
7. Molina – C
8. Freese – 3B
9. Carpenter – P
12:13…..After Aaron Harang strikes out Schumaker and Ryan, Pujols jacks one over the wall in left center. Cards color analyst Al Hrabosky mentions how many home runs Pujols hit on the road last year, then asks how many he has today. That would be one, Al.
12:24…..Carpenter has little trouble with the Reds in the first, even though he had to learn what home plate umpire Mike Reilly’s strike zone was. We’ll see how consistent it is. Carpenter looked ticked after Joey Votto’s single but settled down to get Brandon Phillips. Cards lead 1-0 after one.
12:44…..Hrabosky just commented that Carpenter has a great body…for a pitcher. Read into that what you will. Carp also had a conversation with the ump over the baseballs, reminiscent of the issue John Smoltz had last year in Cincy when the balls were not properly rubbed up. Stay tuned for more on that situation. So far we have two innings in the books and I have two tequila & OJs in the belly. Cards still lead 1-0 after two; more updates on my buzz a little later.
12:48…..More wisdom from Hrabosky, talking about how often Ryan will bat second: “Tony LaRussa likes power in that second hole.” Dirty.
12:55…..Mention was made about the Reds’ history. The first game in their franchise was played in 1869. Think about that…when they first played baseball, the Civil War was still a fresh memory. Their closer that year, ironically, was Al Hrabosky. By the way, Hrabosky’s broadcast partner Dan McLaughlin just mentioned that the most important thing for a pitcher is getting a first-pitch strike. That was in response to Hrabosky saying that keeping the ball in the park and limiting walks are keys to effective pitching. These guys have done this before.
12:59…..Carpenter is dealing. He’s struck out only two, but some of the Reds’ hitters have looked completely lost when swinging at Carp’s breaking pitches. Cards still up 1-0 after three.
1:14…..Rasmus just golfed a homer about 10 rows deep into right field, and a few hits later the Cards added another run. The highlight of the inning? Yadier Molina going first to third on a single. I may call CNN to get that on their Breaking News feed.
1:24……The Reds decided to start hitting and tacked on a couple solo home runs of their own (Votto & Rolen). But Carp gets out of the inning after giving up a couple more hits. Cards still lead, 3-2.
1:30…..Dan & Al talk about Pujols facing David Weathers of the Reds a couple years back and hitting his NL record-tying 5th grand slam of the season. Scott the Cub Fan faults Reds manager Dusty Baker for the fateful move of inserting Weathers into the game. That’s not a Cubs Fan Questionable Manhood Move, but Baker did manage the Cubs and likely destroyed both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. No one else here cares. Oh, and another friend of ours, Jim, just showed up. I’m on my 5th tequila & OJ (don’t worry, they’re tall and heavy on the juice). Life is good with friends, liquor, and baseball.
1:42…..Ryan, Schumaker and Pujols turn a nifty double play to end the fifth. It looks like Carpenter has settled back in. And Scott the Cub Fan continues to berate Dusty Baker every time he’s shown on TV. Now it’s officially Cubs Fan Questionable Manhood Move #2. Baker’s not the only reason the Cubs suck, man.
1:46…..Baker pulled Harang after 5 innings. Scott’s hatred-filled bashing of Baker continues. CFQMM #3 for not being over something that happend seven years ago. We seriously may have to punch this guy in the stomach soon, and the Cubs game hasn’t even started yet.
1:54…..Scott the Cub Fan finally comes up with something useful after a particularly mindless exchange by the Cardinal broadcasters: “I don’t know which is worse…Dan & Al arguing or Dan & Al getting along.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m about ready to find a radio and just deal with the 5 second delay.
1:56…..Rasmus robs Rolen of his second homer of the day. Colby went way up above the centerfield fence to bring the ball back. Play of the game and maybe of the day. Cards still up 4-2 after six.
2:02…..Pujols just hit his 2nd home run of the day, a two run shot. Dusty Baker comes out to make a pitching change, and Scott the Cub Fan spits on the TV. CFQMM #4. I make another drink and plot his demise.
2:26…..After Dennys “Moons Over My Hammy” Reyes comes in and does his job, Jason Motte comes in and gives up hit after hit. Last year he earned the closer’s job in Spring Training and blew the save on opening day, clearing the way for Ryan Franklin to become the closer and be an All Star doing it. Not real sure how Motte’s status will be affected by today’s performance. He eventually gets out of the inning after allowing only one run. Cards lead 6-3 after seven innings.
2:40…..Just broke the seal.
2:53…..That was one long 8th inning. McClellan came in and did his best Jason Motte impression, giving up several hits and a run but getting out of the inning. These Reds are good, and the Cardinal bullpen is far from impressive so far. My tequila, on the other hand, has been quite impressive. I brought half a bottle over and it’s gone. Time for bottle number two, which I will be sharing with my pals. Scott the Cub Fan has backed off his Dusty Baker soapbox but is now complaining because the Cardinal game is taking a long time and the Cubs game is starting soon. What a jackass.
3:02…..Rasmus is up, and FSN just showed highlights from his big day. Right before the leaping catch where he robbed Rolen, the graphic said “Glovely.” Wow. Scott the Cub Fan is mortified, and I cannot disagree. Our friend Dan has joined us, and two other buddies made a cameo about 20 minutes ago. Jim brought over his roommate’s new puppy and it just threw up all over the garage floor. Quite a day in Belleville, IL.
3:05….Yadier Molina just hit the first Grand Slam of his career. Gotta love Opening Day. I think I need more tequila. This game is in the bag, and next I have to sit through a Cubs game.
3:18…..We’re in the 9th, and Ryan Franklin has given up two runs. Of course, Scott the Cubs Fan has him on his fantasy team, so now he’s bitching about that too. I love this guy; he’s one of my oldest friends. That’s the only reason he’s still alive.
3:20…..Franklin gets to a chopper and tosses to Pujols for the third out. Cards win, 11-6. Now we’re flipping to the Cubs game, and I’m not sure if I’ll continue this blog. I guess it will depend on our conversation and the way the game goes. But it’s great to see the Cards get the win; it’s their first Opening Day win since 2006…and we all remember how that year turned out.
4:17…..Well, the Cubs are getting shanked by the Braves but it’s still relatively early. Rookie of the Year favorite Jason Heyward hit a home run–the first of many, I’m sure–in his first major league at bat. Carlos Zambrano was pulled after 1.1 innings and eight earned runs. But the story of the day here is that Scott the Cub Fan has changed Cubs hats like twenty times. We haven’t killed him yet, but the plans have been drawn out. I’m halfway into my next fifth of tequila and feeling saucy. For a little more salt in the wound, the White Sox won their game today too (and pitcher Mark Buehrle took the “Play of the Day” honors from Rasmus with this gem). It’s a bad day to be a Cubs fan…and it can only get worse from here. Cheers.
5:01…..The Cubs are still losing, and Scott the Cubs Fan is on his fifth hat (not exaggerating this time). You ever notice that people who root for terrible teams always find the most obscure things to blame their team’s failures on? “Hey, guys…I wore the socks. But I cannot believe they’re still losing! Maybe I should change my hat…again!” In other news, I’m feeling no pain. I think it would be wise to call a cab. Otherwise it will be a long, confusing walk home.
5:06…..Samardzija. There we go.
5:16…..Seven hats. SEVEN HATS!!! Cubs fans have issues.
*5:47 Scott the Cubs Fan Here (please hold your applause). This is ugly. All’s I have to say is 162 games. We can do this. This is the year. *stifiling laughter*. It’s a long season and the best scenario I can think of is Cards vs. Cubs in October. All I hope for is a healthy, competitive season for both teams.
*5:50 I changed my mind. F the Cardinals. I hope Pujols gets hit in the nuts with a pickoff throw from Yadier Walton and is out for the season. I hate you all.
5:52……With that, I think it’s safe to say Scott the Cubs Fan is wasted. In case you’re wondering, the “Yadier Walton” thing references the TV show “The Waltons,” who had a bunch of kids, and compares it to the trio of Molinas in MLB. Good one, dude. We’ve subdued him with a wiffle ball bat and he’s in the corner chanting “Kerry Wood is the Savior…Kerry Wood is the Savior.” I’m half in the bag, but I’m still coherent enough to realize that bad baseball is bad baseball. The Cubs lost this game and the Cards won theirs. Opening Day was a success. I’m going to do another shot of tequila and look up the phone number to the closest cab company.
And there you have it. Definitely a fun afternoon. I have to add a disclaimer, just in case any kids or people with no sense of humor are reading: we did not bludgeon Scott the Cub Fan with a bat, and no one drove drunk. We like to have a good time, but we’re not stupid. You shouldn’t be either. Go Cards!
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.
Those were the words used by none other than Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa to describe yours truly after the team’s 11-6 victory over the Florida Marlins last night.
It was a hard-fought but good win for the Cards. Todd Wellemeyer got the start in place of John Smoltz, who has a sore shoulder. Wellemeyer, who was bumped from the rotation even before Smoltz was acquired from the Boston Red Sox, promptly gave up six earned runs and only lasted four innings. After that, five St. Louis relievers combined to shut down the Marlins, while the Cardinal offense piled seven runs on Florida starter Ricky Nolasco and another four on reliever Matt Lindstrom.
We visited with some friends after the game, but our last stop was a restaurant we frequent near Busch Stadium. The only patron in the place was none other than LaRussa, who had just finished dinner and was taking in the Monday Night Football game featuring the San Diego Chargers vs. the Oakland Raiders in Oakland.
Obviously we didn’t want to be gushing fans so we sat at a table behind him, but since the place was empty we all were watching the game and discussing it. LaRussa was rooting for the Raiders, of course. I root for the St. Louis Rams, so I know what it’s like to have no hope. But the Raiders made a game of it, and LaRussa was fired up on every dramatic play. I could tell the guy is a huge sports fan, his professional presence in baseball aside. But the manager in him did come out when Oakland scored late to take a 20-17 lead and the Raiders were celebrating like they’d just won the game (there were more than two minutes left). LaRussa commented on the excessive celebration and how he wouldn’t let it happen on his team.
LaRussa spoke very fondly of Oakland and the Athletics teams from the 80’s and early 90’s he managed. The Oakland Coliseum (or whatever it’s called these days) is home to both the Raiders and the A’s, so when the Raiders play it’s like the groundscrew paints the gridiron lines over the baseball field. I asked him about the condition of that field when the football and baseball seasons overlap, and he said it’s terrible. He also said his daughter was at the football game last night.
While we were sitting there, he made a phone call to “Jimmy” and congratulated him on the big win earlier. Then he told us it was his good friend Jim Leyland he’d just called…the manager of the Detroit Tigers. Awesome.
We weren’t there very long, and it’s not like we shared a table with Tony LaRussa and had this in-depth conversation. It was a very normal interaction like you’d expect to have at any restaurant or sports bar when you come across someone with similar interests. The names and occupations were glittery, of course, but when the uniform is replaced with jeans and a button-down shirt he’s just a regular guy, and very personable…not at all like the stony-glare Tony LaRussa you see in the dugout or postgame press conference.
We talked Cardinal baseball, of course, too. He offered info about how the rotation shapes up for the coming series against the Cubs (looks like Smoltz will be back). And that’s when he got me. Wellemeyer’s struggles were apparent, even from the left field bleachers. He was getting hit hard all night. So I thought I’d take the opportunity, since I had the attention of the Cardinal manager, to toss him a question. “Let me ask you,” I said, “why Wellemeyer got the start tonight instead of Hawksworth. I’m just asking as a curious fan.” And that’s when he said I was clueless.
My rationale (which I failed to make known to the skipper) is that Hawksworth was a starter in AAA, even though he’s been a rock out of the Cards’ bullpen. If a spot start was needed, why not give the kid a shot? He certainly couldn’t be any worse than Wellemeyer, and he’d probably be good for 5 innings or so. As it happened, Hawksworth picked up the win after pitching 1.1 innings in relief of Wellemeyer. But LaRussa said (I’m paraphrasing, of course) that if Hawksworth makes the start, he’s toast for the rest of the week…and he’s been so good out of the bullpen, why mess with that? The more I thought about it, I realized that the extension of that thought was what to do after taking Hawksworth out of this hypothetical start…bring in Wellemeyer? I’m telling myself that LaRussa was partly messing with me with the “clueless” jab, but he was absolutely correct…which is why he’s bound for the Hall of Fame, and I’m just a blogger with season tickets. LaRussa’s method got them the win; who knows what my method would have yielded.
I’m not sure if we’d gotten the same interaction had LaRussa known I’d get up this morning and blog about my experience. I know athletes/coaches and the media are often at odds, and sometimes enemies. Not that I’m “media” per se…but someone is reading this right now, so essentially I’m reporting to the public. And that’s the similarity, I think, between “regular people” like us and “stars” like Tony LaRussa. Had we been obnoxious fans, we’d have promptly been thrown out (or LaRussa would have left). Had I acted like a member of the media and peppered him with questions, I’d have been treated as such…good or bad. But because we talked to him in a rational manner, he talked with us in a rational manner. That was better than any autograph or photo we could have obtained from him.
The St. Louis Cardinals have acquired Matt Holliday from the Oakland A’s for Clayton Mortenson, Shane Peterson, and Brett Wallace.
Wallace is the centerpiece of the package sent to the A’s. He’s a third baseman now, but may project better as a first baseman or DH as his bat is solid but his defense is slightly suspect according to those in the know.
Holliday, of course, is the “big bat” Cards manager Tony LaRussa has coveted for a couple years. Holliday played well in Colorado to start his career, and after a slow start in Oakland this season (his first with the A’s) he has turned things up recently.
This deal has been rumored for some time…the Cards were discussing their desire to acquire Holliday even last season when he was still with the Colorado Rockies. One of the big problems that concerned many in Cardinal Nation was Holliday’s split stats away from Colorado. We all know that Coors Field is a launching pad because of the thin air, and while Holliday raked in Denver, everywhere else his stats were a little more pedestrian. Holliday is also a free agent after this season, and is a Scott Boras client. So there are no guarantees beyond 2009, and Wallace hasn’t yet played in the Big Leagues. That’s a big gamble.
Another issue at hand is the fifth spot in the rotation. Todd Wellemeyer has been terrible. He was good last year, even though he rarely pitched more than six innings. This year, he’s having trouble getting through five innings and has the second-worst starter ERA in the league.
So is this a good deal? I offer these points:
- Matt Holliday is a legit upgrade to this lineup. Show me an easy out: Skip Schumaker, Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols, Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, Mark DeRosa, Yadier Molina, Brendan Ryan. You have on-base guys, you have line drive/clutch hit guys, you have power hitters, you have home run hitters. Speed and power? Balanced.
- Split Stats do not make or break a hitter. Holliday may have starkly better numbers at Coors Field than he did anywhere else, but think about this: he never hit behind Pujols. That advantage may be bigger than the thin air at Coors Field. Plus, don’t forget those “bad” away splits of Holliday’s include about 12-15 games each season in caverns like San Diego and Arizona.
- This acquisition shows a willingness to win. Sure, the Cards have brought up about 328 players for their first ever look at the big leagues this season. But not all have panned out, and most need much more seasoning in the minors. The front office took heed and acted, knowing full well that LaRussa and Pujols are approaching crossroads as to whether they want to continue as St. Louis Cardinals.
- This acquisition does not bankrupt the farm system or the budget. Oakland is sending cash with Holliday, so the monetary cost is offset. But more importantly, the Cards’ minor league system was not totally plundered for this deal. While Wallace was the top prospect in the system, and Mortenson could become a pretty decent pitcher, plenty of high-upside players remain in the system: David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Daryl Jones, Daniel Descalso, Jess Todd, Mitchell Boggs, etc. etc. Will any of these guys pan out? Well…will Wallace or Mortenson?
- This acquisition doesn’t help the rotation, but it doesn’t hurt it either. I don’t know if Wellemeyer will remain in the rotation, but obviously someone has to pitch in that slot. Now, however, the need for a top-end guy is lessened. Why? Because this is now a lethal offense…if your pitcher gives up four runs, the team still wins if they are now able to score five. I know good pitching beats good hitting, but it’s a different mindset if a starter isn’t afraid that allowing three or four runs automatically dooms the team. Plus the postion players will be less likely to think they’re out of it if a starter or reliever does have the occasional hiccup.
That’s all I have now…more later! Go Cards!
The Cardinals signed lefty reliever Dennys Reyes today. Kind of surprising since they already had five lefthanders in camp: Trever Miller, Royce Ring, Charlie Manning, Ian Ostlund and Katsuhiko Maekawa. Reyes certainly adds an air of credibility that these others don’t quite have. What this tells me is either a) Duncan and LaRussa have been less than impressed with most of what they’ve seen from their lefties, or b) this was the plan all along, and the team was waiting for the market to play itself out. Thoughts?
I want to write a quick word of thanks to everyone making the decisions at MLBlogs for having Bird Brained as the Featured Blog today. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my face on the MLBlogs home page. I shared my excitement with a lot of my friends and family and they all thought it was great too. The jump in my page views and comments was an awesome feeling, so thanks to all of you readers, too! Come back often, because I will write often!
I just finished watching MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” featuring the St. Louis Cardinals. This show covered all the bases, so to speak. Featuring an expert panel of former Major Leaguers Joe Magrane and Sean Casey, Special Advisor to the Texas Rangers John Hart, and hosted by St. Louisan Greg Amsinger, “30 in 30” provided a ton of analysis and interviews. I really have yet to be disappointed by MLB Network and this show keeps that streak alive.
Most of what was said has been said or written before. The panel discussed what the Cards’ recipe for success in 2009 must have: player health, a strong rotation, and better bullpen pitching. Of course, this is true of every team. But the interviews were relevant and not necessarily biased. Featured in sit-down conversations are Tony LaRussa, Chris Carpenter, John Mozeliak, Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick, and Rick Ankiel. Video highlights included a lot of Spring Training footage and some 2008 footage.
The show concluded with a “Best Moments in Cardinal History” video compilation, followed by the panel’s predictions on where the Cardinals will finish this season. Casey, Magrane, and Hart each thought the Cards were a lock for 2nd in the National League Central. Let’s hope that, if these experts are right, it comes with a Wild Card berth.
Well, sort of. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch just posted Tony LaRussa’s lineup for the first Grapefruit League game tomorrow when the Cardinals play the Florida Marlins. Looks like the Cards are starting Blake Hawkesworth and the Marlins will go with Anibal Sanchez. Here’s my projection for the batting order (positions based on Goold’s projections):
- Skip Schumaker 2B
- Chris Duncan DH
- Albert Pujols 1B
- Ryan Ludwick RF
- Rick Ankiel CF
- Joe Mather 3B
- Khalil Greene SS
- Jason LaRue C
- Colby Rasmus LF
And how freakin’ great is it that games start tomorrow! The first Cardinals radio broadcast is this Saturday, 02/28, and Chris Carpenter is scheduled to start. BASEBALL IS BACK!
So far, so good. The Cardinals have announced that the starting rotation is set: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, and Joel Piniero have been anointed, barring any unforeseen events. And some not-so-surprising hints about the everyday lineup have started to trickle out as well. It looks like Tony LaRussa is planning on batting the pitcher 8th again this season, and the most obvious choices for batting 9th are Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, or Colby Rasmus (depending on the make up of the rest of the lineup on any given day). In Ryan, the Cards have a guy that is quite capable defensively but hasn’t quite put it together at the plate. He can play anywhere in the infield. Schumaker was the leadoff hitter almost all of 2008, and is currently working on a switch from the outfield to second base. Rasmus, of course, is the golden boy prospect who has been described as a five tool guy and the Cards’ centerfielder of the future…possibly the very near future. If LaRussa can find a way to not only keep these guys on the roster but also find them adequate playing time, this team may have the most balanced combination of power and speed they’ve had in the past decade…and it’s been a pretty successful decade for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now I suppose the biggest question mark is who will close…