Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Time to get serious. Seriously.

Some cleanup: Cardinals win 7-2. Again, other priorities prevented me from listening to the game on XM, but boy, I wish I had seen Cincinnati's little league baserunning in the first inning. Or heard Mike Shannon's call. Must have been hilarious.

How do you get caught in a rundown between second and third after watching one of your teammates get caught in a rundown between third and home? Ridiculous. I've coached little league teams with more baserunning sense than was displayed in that half inning.

I see Anthony Reyes gave up another 2-run HR in relief. That pushes his ERA to 6.17. Yikes. He has not been good in his last 3 outings (5 inn, 6 ER). I hope this doesn't mean the focus he showed in spring training has faded. I'm sure it's frustrating for a guy who has started his entire life to be sent to the bullpen; just see Barry Zito (although Zito has been even more of a train wreck coming than Reyes; how much, again, of Zito's early success was due to that huge ballpark in Oakland?).

I also didn't know Glaus leads the NL in doubles. That's good and bad; good that he's driving the ball, bad that it may be a sign he's lost some of his power. Merits further study.

You've probably noticed I've used essentially the same title for the last 2 days. Why, do you ask? Because yesterday, while perusing my email, I noticed Dan at C70 at the bat had sent out an announcement email on the next United Cardinal Blogger project to some people.

To summarize what we're doing: 10 of us are covering the 3 May game against the Cubs. Most folks will be able to watch it, since it's apparently the FOX game of the week; I'll be listening on XM radio, since FOX insists on showing regional games of the week, meaning I'll get the Dodgers or Angels or Padres or some other weak west coast baseball matchup. We're each covering one inning, and posting our thoughts on the events that transpire. There will be links to the previous and following innings.

I've got the first inning, for two reasons: (a) I get to describe an Albert Pujols at bat, and (b) it allows me to schedule a definitive time to do this on Saturday, instead of waiting around all afternoon, a must if you have 2 energetic toddlers in your house vying for your attention.

Hope you stop by this weekend and check it out. Some of the contributors can really write, and I'm looking forward to reading what they have to say.

The people that Dan sent out the announcement to? Nobody in particular; just Larry Borowsky at Viva El Birdos, Berine Miklasz, HOF writer Rick Hummel, Jeff Gordon, Joe Strauss, and Derrick Goold at the St Louis Post Dispatch; Matt Leach at MLB.com, and some local St Louis radio and TV people.

I know Larry will check it out this weekend; if one of the others stops by, it will be the most exposure your humble correspondent has had - ever.

So best foot forward, as the saying goes.

One last item: I've added a link to Mike on the Cards in the margin. Check it out.

Until next time...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Time to get serious

Cardinals lost today to Cincinnati, 4-3. For a recap, go here. Sounds like they were done in by some bad luck (Duncan lost it in the lights) and a lack of timely hitting.

Bronson Arroyo joins a long list of pitchers who get well against the Cardinals. Let's see, 0-3 this year until tonight, last ML win was Sept 12 ... against St. Louis. Figures.

With 2 days left in April, the team stands at 16-11. That's the second-most wins in April for a LaRussa-led Cardinals team, tied with the 1998 start. The only years better than that were 2000 and 2006, which both started 17-8. You know how those seasons ended. A win tomorrow and Wednesday would give the club 18 wins for the month; if you had told me in February this team could finish April 18-11, I would have called you a liar. It has been a most pleasant April.

This team seems to have recaptured the play hard attitude that marked the 2004 and 2005 versions. They don't quit, ever. In fact, with some better situational hitting and work at the back of games, they could easily be 19-8 right now; I'm thinking of the two extra-inning losses to Milwaukee and Friday's 3-2 loss to Houston. I sincerely hope this trend continues the entire season.

One other item: Matt Morris was released Sunday by Pittsburgh. His exit interview with the media, as mentioned on Viva El Birdos, indicated he was hanging them up. Morris was one of my favorite Cardinals. Not only did he attend a Big East school (even if it was Seton Hall), he was a stud for some pretty bad Cardinals teams in the late 90s. He lost all of 1999 to injury, and came back in 2000 as a reliever, still hitting 95-97 on the radar gun. I remember sitting in Busch II and watching him pitch, glad to see his stuff had returned to where it was before the arm surgery. He had the great misfortune to have his best year the same year (2001) Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling had their last dominating campaigns, so he didn't win a Cy Young. Man he was good in the NLDS that season. I will believe forever the 2001 Cardinals were good enough to win the World Series that season, even with all their bullpen woes, because Matt could have started 3 games. Morris lost NLDS Game 1, 1-0, and got a no decision in Game 5 (final score 2-1). His other stats for that series: 1.20 ERA, 15IP, 2 ER, 12 K. Wow.

In recent years he had declined noticeably; in 2004 he was ineffective from the stretch, and it went downhill from there. Ever the consummate professional, he took this latest development in stride, with humility and thanks. Gonna miss you, Matty Mo. Thanks for the memories.

Until next time...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Still Playing Catch-Up

Yes, that refers to me vice the Cardinals, who caught up last night and beat Milwaukee 4-3. Sounds like it was an exciting game.

I've spent the past 2 weeks moving my family into a new house, so I'm still buried in boxes (although we're opening them feverishly to find the TV remote. How did we live before remotes?). I have a couple of thoughts, although not all of it is Cardinals related.

a. The Post-Dispatch reports today that 'Mulder's not close', and they have no time table for his return. This, unfortunately, is consistent with how his rehab went last year. I think, based on multiple surgeries and his inability to return to the pitcher he was before 2004, that Mark's career may be over. It's a shame to see a guy lose his best years to injury. However, it reminds us all that we need to be realistic about our expectations for this season. What we got now is probably what we got for the long haul; I haven't heard any reports on Clement's rehab, and Carpenter is still targeting July assuming all goes well.

b. Jim Edmonds was interviewed on the local Padres station (XX 1090 if you're in the SD area) last Thursday. Most of it was happy to glads about playing for the Padres, being on the west coast, blah blah blah. But he did say a couple of things I found interesting:

- LaRussa apparently prefers to deploy his CF to cut off doubles, but the starting pitchers like the CF to play shallow and catch those bloop hits. Jimmy, as you well know, prefers to play shallow, and allegedly some of the starters (not named) had to go to Tony to get him to allow Edmonds to play his usual CF (vice backing up). Interesting. I certainly am not a major league caliber outfielder (if I ever was, which according to my one little league coach was NO), but I have noticed (after years of playing beer league softball) that the number of balls hit over your head is not significant compared to the number of balls that land in front of you because you were playing too deep. I can choke off more rallies and prevent more runs by playing up and catching those bloop shots and soft line drives than by playing deep to prevent the extra base hit. Funny that Edmonds and his pitchers prefer to play that way too, and that LaRussa is (again allegedly) adverse to it.

- The other thing he said was he loved playing behind guys like Woody Williams (local interest, former Padre) and Jake Peavy, because those guys tell him, hey, if a ball gets hit over your head, that's my fault, not yours for not catching it. Pretty cool.

b. Matt Vasgersian is the primary play-by-play guy for the Padres on their local channel. Matt is an idiot. Yesterday the Padres got dusted by Houston 10-3. In the fourth, Padre starter Justin Germano was finally yanked after giving up 7 ER and loading the bases (Bourn on third, Tejada on second, Berkman intentionally walked on first) with one out. On comes Wilfredo Ledezma. Now, here's Ledezma's line for the outing:

3 2/3 IP, 0 R, 3 H, SO 2, BB 1.

Pretty good, right? Except that he gave up a first pitch single to Carlos Lee that scored Bourn, threw a wild pitch (missed his target by almost 3 feet) that scored Tejada, and a sacrifice fly to Blum that scored Berkman. So all 3 inherited runners scored, making the score 10-2.

After Ledezma is replaced by Kevin Cameron to start the eighth, Vasgersian the bonehead says "Another great outing by Ledezma." Wow. And Mark Grant (former ML pitcher) agrees with him. I don't think Germano would agree. Padres eventually scored another run, and had two on with one out in the eighth with Edmonds and Greene due; if the score had been 7-3, this game's a lot more interesting. So no, I don't think Ledezma deserves platitudes for his effort.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

FInal 'Slidegate' comments; Giants are hot right now, so whatever

The Padres preceded St Louis into ATT (nee SBC, nee Pac Bell) Park to face the Giants; San Diego has the second-best starter ERA in baseball after 9 games. They trail the Cardinals.

San Fran was 1-5 when that series started, and they took 2 of 3 from the Padres, winning in extras on Tuesday and 1-0 in the ninth Wednesday. Since the Padres are one of 3 teams that can make the playoffs out of the NL West (along with Arizona and Colorado), as either division champs or the wild card, that series win had to lift the Giants spirits - especially since they are widely considered to be the worst team in the NL this year.

So Thursday the Cardinals ran into a team that's got some confidence, and a pitcher that's pitching especially well against left handed hitting. Wainwright pitched credibly into the seventh, but the bats were silent, and the boys lost 5-1.

Listened to the first 4 innings or so on XM radio. Question: why o why did Izturis try to stretch his double into a triple? Since Schumaker followed it with a single to RC, the Cardinals would have had 1st and third with 1 out and Duncan/Pujols due. Or, best case, they have a run in, Schu on second, and Duncan/AP due, with the score 2-1. Completely different game from that point.

Way to go, bonehead.

It's been covered to death in the local media (and, apparently, in Houston), but I wanted to pile on with some final thoughts on 'Slidegate'.

If Towles was really upset about AP's slide, why didn't he jump up and say something right after the play

If the play was clean, and by all accounts it was, why did AP, a respected veteran, feel obligated to call and apologize to Towles, a rookie? Has the game gotten that soft? Does no one play hard anymore? Is this fallout from the Rays/Yankees spats during spring training, which also started with a play at the plate (although to be fair, that involved an injury to the Yankee catcher

If the Astros were really peeved at AP, why didn't they throw at him in yesterday's game? Why let him get comfortable at the plate and hit 2 HR?

Can we all agree Brendan Backe is an idiot? Way to motivate one of the most feared hitters in baseball, who was struggling (1 RBI in 8 games) until that point, ya bozo. Then again, no one ever said pitchers were the sharpest tools in the drawer.

Especially converted shortstops.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What the hell?

Man, we're getting some good pitching from our starters. Two of 3 from Houston. Nice.

Belated Kudos to Anthony Reyes for getting the win on Tuesday after throwing 3 innings of 1 hit ball. Well done.

The title of this short post is in reference to the AP/Brendan Backe incident during BP before today's game - what the hell? Can someone explain what got Backe so irate? ESPN showed AP sliding into home and knocking over the Houston catcher in (I believe) Tuesday's game - was that the source of the angst?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Er, Well, Um.....Wow

Nice start to the season, eh?

Cardinals starters haven't allowed a run in the first 3 innings of any game so far this season, and have a 0.96 (not a typo) ERA combined after the season's first week. In my wildest dreams I didn't see a start this good.

And it doesn't help that Rick Ankiel is unconscious right now at the plate. He's carrying the Cardinals, not AP. I said earlier that Rick should hit fourth behind the big guy, but right now he's hitting so well in the 2-spot leave him there. If Glaus can get his stroke back look out; this team will be downright dangerous through the heart of the lineup.

At least Glaus' defense hasn't entered a slump; that was a nifty double play he started yesterday in the 4th (I think it was the fourth).

Reyes watch: Pitched the ninth on Saturday; 2 outs on shallow flyballs, two extra base hits (including a HR to let Washington get within 5-4). I was really hoping LaRussa would leave him out there to finish it, however, I can't argue with the decision to pull him, and since Flores got Guillen on the first pitch to pop to center, it all worked out in our favor.

So enjoy it while you can; we have the best record in baseball after week 1 (tied with Milwaukee at 5-1). Your pitching matchups:

Todd "Mr 5 innings" Wellemeyer vs Wandy "Elmer Fudd" Rodriguez (I loved the comment yesterday by the Cardinals play by play guy (I've lost track of who it is) saying he always wants to break into his Fudd imitation whenever he says Wandy's name. Hilarious).

Wellemeyer (1-0, 1.80) vs Rodriguez (0-0, 7.20; ND at San Diego)
Thompson (1-0, 0.00) vs Shawn Chacon (0-0, 3.00; ND at San Diego)
Looper (1-0, 1.50) vs Sampson (0-0, 2.70; ND at Chicago)

Minute Maid hasn't been kind to the Cardinals in recent years (other than AP's HR), so if the team can keep it going there we may be on to something.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Two of 3 from the NL champs is, well, pretty good!

Before tonight's series kicks off with the Nationals, I have a moment to post some thoughts on the opening series, for your review, possible comment, and probable ignoring.

Wellemeyer worked his standard 5 innings with 96 pitches. Lohse, in contrast, worked 5 innings with 74 pitches. Wellemeyer's high pitch count (and 3 walks/6 K's) is typical of his effort; I'm hoping Lohse's is more because he came to spring training late and is still getting into shape. Otherwise, it's going to be a looong year to be a middle reliever in the Cardinals bullpen.

Franklin faced 4 hitters on Tuesday and didn't get anyone out (took the loss). OK, benefit of the doubt, no one's perfect. Franklin faced 4 hitters on Wednesday - soft fly ball from Holliday, line shot from Atkins that almost took Izturis' hand off, booming double from Hawpe, and then a weak ground ball to first from Torrealba.

I think, perhaps, there's some cause for concern. Franklin isn't anywhere near as sharp so far as he was last year. Two outings don't a season make, but bears watching.

Congratulations to Rico Washington and Brian Barton on getting their first ML hits during the series. Rico's was a big RBI that made the game 5-3 in the eighth on Wednesday. Must have felt good to knock that run in after 4000 AB in the minors.

Thompson pitched about as well as can be expected in winning yesterday's game. I didn't know he owned the Rockies, but he's 2-0 now with a 1.50 ERA against them. Fantastic.

ANTHONY REYES WATCH: Struck out the side in the eighth on Thursday. Whom, do you ask? Only Spillborghs (meh), Tulowitzki (hmmm), and Helton (yeah!). Not bad, not bad at all.

Loved Schumaker's throw to cut down Helton in the sixth, but Molina made that play happen by getting back to tag Helton before he got to the plate (or did he? whatever). Outstanding. This is why I don't think Duncan is destined to start for the Cardinals; his defense is too suspect, and we now have too many good defensive outfielders that can also get on base. Once Glaus heats up, Duncan will become very expendable.

Three game set with Washington, as I mentioned before, starts tonight. Your pitching matchups:

Tonight: Odalis Perez (0-0, 1.80; ND vs Braves 30 March) vs Looper (first start).
We LOVE Odalis Perez, or more accurately, Pujols does (13 for 20? That's sick). Odalis is also 3-4 with a 8.46 ERA lifetime against the Redbirds. Yes, I'm salivating.

Saturday: Matt Chico (0-0, 5.06; ND vs Phillies 31 Mar) vs Wainwright (he of the rainout start)
Apparently Chico has changed his mechanics somewhat to get more MPH on his fastball. Good for him.

Sunday: Tim Redding (1-0, 0.00; defeated Phillies, 1.0 Apr 2)
Redding makes his first start at new Busch. He was 0-3 with a 6.83 ERA at the old edifice, so hopefully some of that karma remained in the new ballpark.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wells Returns, Shows Finger

Anyone surprised Wells handcuffed the Cardinals bats yesterday? I'm not; it figures a guy who was 7-17 for us would make our lineup look silly for most of 6 innings.

And even with that, we had a chance to win, leading 1-0 into the eighth inning.

KFW for an entirely different reason this year.

Glad we only play these knuckleheads in a home and home vice 19 times (or 12 times, as the schedule used to be for interdivisional play before 1993).

Didn't hear much of the game - too busy feeding the little guy dinner.

Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to the all you can eat diner run by the Sea Captain?

"Tis not a man (Homer); tis a remorseless eating machine."

Well, that's my youngest. Ate the Gerber Chicken Noodle dinner, BLEW threw a tub of pears, and inhaled most of a Turkey/Sweet Potato dinner. Ate for an hour. Amazing.

As you can see, not much time left over to hear the game (he's a little vocal when he's hungry and Dad's not fast enough with the spoon).

Did hear Ankiel's 6-4-3 DP to end the Seventh.

Did hear Flores strike out Torrealba in the eighth, then walk Nix on 5 friggin pitches.

Did hear the Birds go quietly in the eighth and ninth.

So far, from what I can tell, no egregious things to discuss (other than Franklin's horrible outing). Lohse pitched well.

Get another crack at them later today.