Now that’s what I call a hiatus.
Recently I made the trek back to the St. Louis area for a visit. It was a reconnect and recharge I enjoyed. Many of my family and friends had the expected questions: How do you like Texas, do you miss home, etc. etc. But one question I got more than I expected.
“Are you still writing at all?”
The long answer is complicated, so here’s the Cliff Notes version: Yes, I am, but not stuff I want to share at this time. The extension of the writing question was always some version of whether or not I was able to still watch or listen to Cardinals games. And the answer there is also yes, thanks to MLB.TV. I don’t see nearly as many games as I used to, obviously, but I get to see or hear at least some of most games. Plus there’s always a steady stream of baseball updates on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I did get to a game at Busch last week, and realistically that might be the only Cards game I see. If that holds, this will be the first year I only see one game at Busch in I don’t know how long—maybe a decade or more. But I do have the Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers Triple A affiliate) playing right down the road and could always make the trek up to Arlington or over to Houston for some Major League action. Regardless, I’m still able to see a good amount of baseball; I just haven’t been writing about it—until today.
Mitchell effing Boggs
The game only ended about five and a half hours ago thanks to that bizarre rain delay, but 11 or so hours ago Mike Matheny called out to the bullpen to get a reliever up to close out a 2-1 game. Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal were apparently unavailable after pitching a bunch of games in a row, so he picked Boggs—the enigmatic, suddenly always struggling reliever who was lights-out as the 8th inning guy last year but has blown more saves than he has secured in 2013. No one can figure out what has become of this guy. He’s been down all year. The Cardinals sent him to Memphis where he pitched better but still didn’t excel. And he comes in to a game where Michael Wacha makes his Major League debut with a great outing and allows the Kansas City Royals to tie the game. The Royals were mired in an historically bad slump before the 9th inning of last night’s game. They had lost eight in a row and 12 of their last 13 and hadn’t hit a home run in like 9451 innings. So what’s a bad team’s cure for that kind of suck?
Mitchell effing Boggs.
And Matheny is at least partially culpable here, too. There are plenty of places to insert a troubled reliever so he can get straightened out. The 9th inning of a 2-1 game isn’t one of them. But it’s decision time regarding Boggs. This isn’t about one loss, or failing to sweep a series the Cardinals should have swept, or ruining Wacha’s debut. This is about wins and losses, and Boggs has been responsible for too many of the latter. I’m not saying the Cards need to release him, because the talent is there—we’ve seen it for several years. Maybe it is going from the 8th inning stopper to the 9th inning closer that messed him up just a little before it turned into a death spiral. But something is amiss with Boggs, and whether it’s his head or his health or his mechanics, he demonstrated again last night why he does not deserve to be anywhere near the mound in any inning of a close game.
This entry is part of a progressive game blog spnsored by the United Cardinal Bloggers.
After being given a lead in the first inning, Cards’ pitcher Kyle Lohse was went back out to the mound in the second ready to battle. After retiring Royals’ third baseman Mark Teahan on a comebacker, Lohse locke horns with Alberto Callaspo for an eight pitch at-bat that ended with a fly out to Colby Rasmus in centerfield. Miguel Olivo then doubled to left field, but Lohse was able to settle down and get Mike Aviles to also fly out to center to end the top of the second.
The bottom of the order came up for the Cardinals in the bottom of the second inning, and they were not able to get anything going against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Brian Barden grounded out to first base, Kyle Lohse lined out to left, and Tyler Greene grounded out to third.
The second inning was a good time to go to the restroom or the concession stand; frankly not much happened. But the action did pick up in the third…for more info on that inning, check here.
This week I’ll be giving my best guesses as to who will win their respective divisions this year, then I’ll roll out a postseason prediction. But since baseball is a game of emotion as much as it is of logic, I’ll explore both. First, that other league: the AL
The AL West is the red-headed stepchild of Major League Baseball. Four Teams? And one of them is in Texas? That’s almost as ridiculous as the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds being in the NL West for a quarter century. What’s worse is that only two of the four teams really appear to be trying: the Oakland A’s and the LA Angels. The Seattle Mariners aren’t going to be much better than last year’s debacle, and the Texas Rangers just can’t seem to find the pitching to complement a usually powerful offense. The A’s were not a bad team last year; the Angels were just really good. That may change this year, though.
I’d love to see Seattle back in the playoff hunt because of one guy: Ken Griffey, Jr. No one deserves a World Series appearance like this guy, and to have it happen as a member of the Mariners would make it a story that writes itself.
What I think will happen:
1. A’s – I think GM Billy Beane has once again made just the right moves to put this team back on top. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi should boost the offense, and Orlando Cabrera will help stabilize the defense. They have a young rotation once again, but in a weak division it may not matter.
2. Angels – They’re going to miss Mark Texiera and Francisco Rodriguez, but now it looks like top-end starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana may have injury concerns as well. That could be enough to keep a third straight division title out of reach.
3. Mariners – May see dividends from the intangibles expected with the return of Ken Griffey, Jr.–large home crowds, mentoring for young players, etc.–but even .500 might be a stretch.
4. Rangers – Need a miracle. And a pitching staff.
The AL Central is probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this season. No team is a clear favorite, and no team looks like a sure-fire dud either. The Detroit Tigers can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year. The Kansas City Royals may finally have a rebuild worth seeing to completion, and the Cleveland Indians might have the best pitching staff in the division. The Minnesota Twins are a sure bet to be in the mix like always, and if the Chicago White Sox can get big contributions from their youngsters they could surprise everyone in this tight race.
I’d love to see the White Sox pull this one out again. They might need to make a move to get a little younger and a little faster for it to happen, though. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and AJ Pierzynski can swing the lumber, but they’re not exactly OBP machines. And, in a division where all the teams could be bunched up at or above .500, you need to play the whole game to be able to win.
What I think will happen:
1. Indians – Pitching wins championships, and Cleveland has a ton of it. Of course, everyone has to stay healthy, but that’s true of all teams. Big contributions from Anthony Reyes, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood are essential to the Indians’ success.
2. Tigers – A lot of people (including myself) picked Detroit to run away with this division last season, and they ended up dead last. It wasn’t the coaching…manager Jim Leyland is one of the best in the business. So that leaves one of two things: talent or attitude. Well, they had a lot of talented guys last season, a lot of whom are back for 2009, so…yeah. Get it together, boys.
3. White Sox – To go along with their aforementioned offensive issues, the South Siders have questions in their rotation. Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd should be OK; beyond that things get dicey. But GM Kenny Williams has proven himself a pretty smart guy, and I can’t count out a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox are my dark horse pick to come out on top.
4. Twins – Dark horse pick 1-A to win. Minnesota simply cannot be counted out of this race. The glaring problems they have is with the backs of two guys named Joe. Star catcher Joe Mauer has a back injury that will have him starting the season on the DL, and new third baseman Joe Crede has a history of back injuries. Those are big holes to fill if these two can’t stay healthy.
5. Royals – From the Starting To Come Around file, the Royals can sniff .500 if their rotation holds up, Joakim Soria closes like a stud again, and the offense is steady. In a division with such parity, they just have to concentrate on winning series and they’ll be pesky.
The AL East is a ridiculous juggernaut flush with just as much money as talent. I expect two playoff teams and the AL World Series representative to come out of this division. The New York Yankees reloaded with several top free agents but somehow trimmed payroll. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays will have legitimate shots at winning this division as well; the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will not. It would not surprise me at all to have three teams within five games of the division lead most of the year. Which means the division championship is pretty much up for grabs.
I would love to see the Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East again. Last season made it easy for Rays fans to forget the previous 10 years of terrible, terrible baseball. The team earned their success; they didn’t buy it or luck into it. How can you not root for a team like that?
What I think will happen:
1. Yankees – Sabathia, Burnett, Wang…that competes with the top three of any rotation in baseball, but injury concerns are there. Riviera…the closer of the decade, but injury concerns are there. Texiera, Damon, Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada…a steady (if not borderline explosive) lineup, but injury concerns are there. On paper and sans injuries, the Yankees have one of the best teams in the league…
2. Red Sox – …but so do the Red Sox. And what they might have going for them over the Yankees is their youth. With that said, the Sox also need big, healthy years from veterans Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and JD Drew if they’re going to overtake the Yankees and…
3. Rays – …this team, who added some veteran presence in Pat Burrell and Jason Isringhausen (once he’s rehabbed from offseason surgery) to go with their young core. They’ll pitch well, they’ll hit, they’ll run, and they’ll play defense. This team proved last year they can beat their big purse rivals to the north, and they’re likely do it again this year.
4. Orioles – Baltimore will do one thing well this season: play defense. Cesar Izturis and Brian Roberts are among the best middle infield combos in baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t have enough offense or pitching to compete with the big dogs in this division. But .500 isn’t out of the question.
5. Blue Jays – Toronto is going the wrong way. This year, the only thing they’ll be competing for is the #1 draft pick in 2010…which means they should probably trade Roy Halladay to try to get another 1st round pick and maybe a high-level prospect or two.
Agree? Disagree? Indifferent because you feel the National League is superior? Let’s hear it!
Seriously, how is the Major League Baseball schedule made? Is it some B.S. computer system like in college football bowl games? Do they have people close their eyes and throw darts at a board full of teams and dates? Who is running the show here?
Let me start off by saying I’m OK with the unbalanced schedule and Interleague Play. I’m not a huge supporter of both, but I’m OK with them. I agree that teams should face their division rivals more than any other team. I also like seeing AL teams come into St. Louis to play at Busch Staduim, and would love to see the Cardinals play in, say, Fenway Park.
Furthermore, I also understand the desire of MLB to build up new rivalries with Interleague Play. Yankees vs. Mets; Astros vs. Rangers; Dodgers vs. Angels; Cubs vs. White Sox. It makes pretty good sense from a PR standpoint.
But when the “natural rivals” experiment just isn’t taking, you gotta move on. MLB just isn’t getting this when it comes to the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. This so-called rivalry does not matter one bit to most of the Cardinals fans I talk to. Yes, we all remember what happened in the 1985 World Series. Don Denkinger knows he blew the call and we know the Cards were robbed. We’re over it…pretty much.
So, other than that event a quarter century ago and the obvious proximity of St. Louis and KC, what is the draw here? The Royals haven’t been a factor in two decades, which encompasses the entire lifespan of Interleague Play. There are no heated exchanges, on the field or in the stands, during these series. Cardinals fans love baseball. Royals fans love baseball. But no one really cares about this matchup.
This issue came up today when I was checking the Cardinals’ 2009 schedule to see if I’d be able to make any games they played at Wrigley Field this season. I quickly realized that the Cards only make two trips to Wrigley this season. How can this be? I had to solicit the insight of Scott The Cub Fan to make sense of it all.
“Don’t they play 18 games against each other?” he asked. “How can only six or seven be at Wrigley?”
“Nope,” I replied. “only 16 this season” The official breakdown is nine in St. Louis (three 3-game series) and seven in Chicago (one 3-game series, one 4-game series).
“That’s a huge bummer,” Scott The Cub Fan said. “The schedule is really dumb again this year…even though the Central Divisions will play against each other in Interleague, the Cubs do not face KC at all but face the White Sox six times.”
I remembered seeing something similar in St. Louis’ schedule, so I looked it up. “Same thing happens to the Cardinals” I replied. “We play every team in the AL Central BUT the White Sox, and we get our usual six against the Royals.” We were both a little miffed now. Isn’t the point of Interleague Play to get teams into new markets and help ignite fan interest?
What’s even crazier is that The White Sox will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in LA this season. How exactly does that make sense? The two Central Divisions…the geographically closest teams…are playing one another in Interleague Play. So the Cardinals have to play two series against KC and zero against the White Sox; the Cubs play two series against the White Sox and zero against KC, and the White Sox play…the Dodgers?
And the craziness isn’t limited to the Interleague games for the Cardinals. This year, they play the Milwaukee Brewers twenty times. Twenty! That means 1/8 of the Cards’ season will be spent playing the Brewers. Look, nothing against the Brew Crew here, but what exactly is the point of that? Want to know how that compares to the games the Cardinals play against the other teams in the NL Central? Take a look:
Houston Astros: 15 games
Chicago Cubs: 16 games
Pittsburgh Pirates: 15 games
Cincinnati Reds: 16 games
Gosh, that looks darn close to consistent. So how hard would it have been to take three games from the Brewers and make them Cardinals vs. White Sox games? That would give the Cards 17 games against the Brewers (which is much closer to the 15 or 16 that seems to be acceptable for the other teams in the NL Central) and would allow the Cardinals to play the White Sox along with all their other AL Central opponents. Maybe some other shuffling would be necessary, but it seems like it’s at least doable.
And I don’t even get paid for such things.
photo courtesy of http://all-manac.blogspot.com/2006/05/ahhhh.html