Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looks like Villanueva didn't wake them up

Got swept by Houston. Brewers sweep Pirates.

6.5 back with 25 to go.

The fat lady has bought tickets to St Louis.

(And even with this latest setback, at least they're still punching with a purpose in September. So, uh, we got that going for us.)

Let's just try and get one

I did a quick search of to see what the Cardinals record in Ten-Run, er, Enron, er, Minute Maid Park is since that bandbox opened in 2000. Turns out, including last night's game, the Redbirds are 38-39 down there. That surprised me.

Turns out, since Houston abandoned the Astrodome the Cardinals have had only 2 losing campaigns in Houston: 2003 (3-6), and 2006 (3-7). They've been .500 or better in every other year. I guess my belief that they get clobbered down there is distorted by the team's 1-5 record during the 2004 and 2005 NLCS'.

Even this year, going into today, they're 4-4. But the last two losses have really, really hurt.

Bernie Miklasz wrote an article, before the last Brewers series, pooh-poohing those of us who were approaching that series as do or die. He mentioned that there was still a full month of baseball left (true), and that the weekend series in Houston was arguably more important, as Milwaukee was headed to Pittsburgh where they've owned the Pirates. While I still disagree in that the Cardinals really needed to sweep the 2-game set, his comments about this weekend were right on the money.

5.5 out with 26 to play is far, far worse than 3.5 out with 28 to play. If the two games against Milwaukee were must games, then this one Wellemeyer's starting is an ABSOLUTE MUST game. You've got to assume Milwaukee's going to win (they're already up 1-0 as I write this), so we gotta keep pace. But let's be realistic; Milwaukee has 27 games left, we have 26. If the Brewers play out the string 14-13 we have to go 19-7 just to catch them. That's better than they've played (.730) all season.

So let's just get this one, huh? We'll go from there.

Friday, August 29, 2008

They're going to have to crack the 14 over mark

Talk about a glass ceiling. This team, for all the good things it's done this year, hasn't been able to get more than 14 games over .500 all year. They find themselves 14 over, again, going into the 3-game set with Houston over the weekend.

If they want to catch Milwaukee, they need to break through this glass ceiling. Enough said.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I was beginning to think we'd never score

Talk about a painful first 15 innings of the series. For a two-game set some felt (me included) we needed to sweep, to get shut out and somewhat embarrased on Tuesday sucked.

I'm not a very smart man (insert Forrest Gump voice here), because I have an XM radio that I haven't been able to figure out where to put at our new house. Problem is the antenna needs to face south, and the southern sky is blocked by our next door neighbor's house from all but one window, which is in the Master Bedroom. Now, there is an electrical outlet right under the window, BUT, the radio/speakers/antenna/power cables would be well within the reach of the NSGF (that's Not So Gentle Folk, our moniker for our two boys) and they can't resist playing with cables of any sort.

Until Tuesday night, when while barbequing, it dawned on me I could set it up outside! Wow! Only took me 4 months to think of this. So, I'm grilling chicken, and listening to the game. Sweet.

Sweet, that is, until I got a signal, and Fielder had already knocked in a run against Wellemeyer. When he wriggled out of the bases loaded jam, and Ludwick doubled with one out in the bottom of the first, I thought we were ready for this game, and about to pounce on Sheets.

I wish I could have seen AP's foul ball off Sheets in the first. It must have been a shot, because he got 4 wide ones after that. Unfortunately, that turned into the high point of the evening.
I turned it off after Thompson let the first two reach in the ninth. Thank God; I missed that 7-run debacle.

So we get pummeled 12-0, and the Brewers are leading 3-0 in the seventh having figured out our ace. Looks like the end of the line for the Cardinals. They get a run in the seventh, but leave the bases loaded. And that's when Carlos Villanueva submitted his name for the "Dumbest Athlete in Professional Sports" Award.

Dude: You're kicking the snot out of the Cardinals. Why agitate them? My Dad used to talk about this - you've gotten a good opponent down. Who knows why they're having a bad day - Problems at home, or stress on the job, or something, whatever. LEAVE THEM ALONE. Let them sleep. There's no reason to wake them up.

So Villanueva wakes the Cardinals up with his posturing, they hang a 4-spot in the eighth, and salvage a split. Thanks. I hope the Brewers veterans took him behind the woodshed after the game.

Much like a tie, this series didn't solve anything. The Cardinals are still 3.5 games out of the wild card, and have a heart beat. That's the good news, they still have a chance. But, they're 4 back on the loss side with 28 games to go. And, the Phillies are nipping at their heels.

At least it will make for an entertaining September.

So on to Houston we go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Wellemeyer vs Sheets, 5:10 pm PACIFIC time tonight.

Sheets has been quite the enigma this season. Most observers (myself included) thought the Brewers' pick up of Sabathia gave them the best 1-2 punch in the league, even better than Zambrano/Dempster (at the time), Webb/Haren, or Pedro/Santana. However, the numbers haven't borne that out:

Before CC, Sheets was 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA.

Since 8 July (the day they added Sabathia), Sheets is 1-5 with a 4.06 ERA. The only team he's beaten is the Nationals. He earned a no decision against St Louis on 24 July.

I'm sure sports psychologists could fill volumes analyzing him to determine what caused the drop off in performance. It might be a simple case of the man trying too hard to stay with one of the best pitchers of his generation; who knows.

He has also not pitched well historically against the Cardinals (5-14 lifetime record), or at the new Busch (0-2, 4.74 ERA).

Yes I know what all this means - he'll be Roy Oswalt good tonight.

In other news, in case you hadn't noticed, Anthony Reyes is back in the majors with Cleveland. He's started 4 games so far, has thrown 5 innings or more every time (in fact, has only thrown 5 innings once, the other 3 starts he's gone 6, 6 1/3, and 7 innings), and has allowed 2 ER or less (actual stats: 2-1, 2.22 ERA) In short, he looks like the pitcher the Cardinals thought they had drafted back in 2003.

Larry over at VEB made a comment yesterday about Reyes that surprised me, which is quoted below:

anthony reyes made another strong start last night, 7 inn 1 run against texas,
the highest-scoring team in baseball. he now sports a 2.22 era in 4 starts for
cleveland. i’d be slightly, um, annoyed if we find out the kid can really pitch
and we gave him away for nothing . . . .

I think it is pretty clear that Reyes' struggles with St Louis since 2006 can be traced to his difficulty with management (specifically LaRussa and Duncan). Having not spent any time in the locker room I have no idea what caused the relationship to sour; for instance, I don't know if it was a case of hard-headedness on the part of the coaches trying to force him into complying with the organizational model of pitch-to-contact, or if it was a case of the cocky rookie not listening to the mentoring he was offered. Larry himself stated the Cardinals broke Reyes in an interview he gave to the Padre blog Ducksnorts before their May series in San Diego (yes I do read more on the web than VEB, C70 at the bat, and to monitor my Juggernaut Fantasy Team). There was never any question he had the stuff to succeed at the major league level; the question was would he be given a real shot to demonstrate it (and 2007 doesn't really count; that was a bad Cardinals team, and although his 2-14 record would imply he was with the team all year he still got jerked around between St Louis and Memphis).

Not to mention that Reyes probably knows the Cardinals jettisoned him for pratically nothing, and has that additional motivation (other than to prove the organization wrong) to pitch well in Cleveland.

The fact that he's pitching well in a new situation shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who followed the soap opera over the past 3 years here. Whether he realizes his full potential moving forward is anyone's guess, and is largely up to him; the Indians have demonstrated they will give him a fair shot, a fairer shot than he got in St Louis, and he's responded. Why his sudden appearance as a quality major league starter would apparently surprise Larry surprised me.

Mozeliak got rid of him because he knew the kid would not be a contributor to the team as long as LaRussa and Duncan were in charge of the dugout, and because he suspected the emotional scars Reyes carried from his time in St Louis were probably too deep to heal even if/when LaRussa/Duncan moved on.

I will continue to monitor Reyes' progress in Cleveland, if for no other reason than I waited too long and my fantasy league arch rival scooped him up off the waiver wire last week.

Monday, August 25, 2008

At least we didn't lose any ground

I think we all were hoping to sweep Atlanta this weekend, and after blugdenoing them 18-3 Friday, those prospects seemed pretty good. Losing Saturday's game, a very winnable game, hurt. At least the team bounced back and took the rubber match.

At least we didn't lose any ground. Chicago won 2 of 3 from the Nationals, the Brewers the same against Pittsburgh.

I believe both teams have today off in preparation for their 2-game series. I don't think its a stretch to say these currently are the two biggest games left on the docket. Get swept and kiss the wild card goodbye. Sweep and you're right in it. Split and, well, you still have a chance, but it's starting to fade, especially considering the weak schedule Milwaukee has the rest of the way.

The bullpen hiccup on Saturday (oh how big was that wild pitch in the eighth?) doesn't bode particularly well for the upcoming series. St Louis is 4-9 against Milwaukee this season. In those nine losses, listed below,

17 Apr lost 5-3 (10), led 3-0 in eighth,
22 Apr lost 9-8 (12), trailed 8-3 in seventh and had bases loaded in ninth,
9 May lost 4-3, led 3-2 in ninth,
11 May lost 5-3,
12 May lost 8-3,
21 Jul lost 6-3 (10), trailed 3-2 in ninth and had second and third, two out with AP up,
22 Jul lost 4-3, led 3-0 in seventh,
23 Jul lost 3-0,
24 Jul lost 4-3, led 3-2 in ninth,

they led late in 4 of the losses. In two others they had a chance to win in the ninth and didn't finish, but my major point is the bullpen took the loss in 4 of those games. With the rearrangement of the bullpen over the past 3 weeks, they've been much more solid; but I still think Milwaukee believes they can beat the Cardinals every time in a close game once it's turned over to the bullpen, based on this year's results.

Like I said, their hiccup on Saturday doesn't bode well. The day off will help. Hopefully, if we have a close game or two in this series, the mostly solid pen we've seen recently will be the one on the mound.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A good old beat down

Rushed this morning - finishing up my homework, leaving for class in 45 minutes, still got some minor reading to do in preparation for today's in-class discussion.

Short post.

Cards brought the wood, slapped the Pirates around. No ground lost in the races. Cubs won, Brewers too, so still 2.5 out of the wild card and staring up at Chicago (8.5 back).

Nice job Wellemeyer. Work on the baserunning, though.

Off-day today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Looper shines as bats sleep

Braden Looper is going to start talking to himself one of these days. The guy has pitched his butt off since the All-Star Break. I did a quick numbers breakdown (courtesy of Baseball Reference), and since the break he's 2-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 7 starts. If we eliminate his 18 July start against San Diego (3 innings, 6 ER), he's still 2-3 but with a 2.03 ERA.

Yes that's right: he's barely given up 2 runs a game over his past 6 starts, and has 3 losses and a no-decision to show for it. Frustrating.

I like his comments in the Post-Dispatch today:

"It's a game we had a chance to win as a team," said Looper (11-10). "I make one
more pitch, or a one guy gets one more hit, and it's a different story. … We
need to win that game. These games are really starting to matter and we need to
win games like that."

Words of a competitor, who wants to win, who's frustrated, but who isn't Carlos Silva. And he's right: they only have so many opportunities left this season to make a move. Milwaukee lost last night, St Louis is playing a weak sister, they need to win games like that.

I hadn't realized they've lost 8 of their last 11 at home until reading the post-game write-up this morning. If you can't win at home, you most definitely don't deserve to be in the playoff hunt. They need to turn that around PRONTO.

The other big news this morning is Jason Isringhausen. It is bring reported today he has a torn flexor muscle near his right elbow. Izzy's season is over. The article indicated that he will call it a career rather than undergo surgery and rehab to repair the damage. Izzy's 37, and that's a lot of work to go through for what - 1 to 2 years more playing time? With the Cardinals closer of the future already throwing well in St Louis (at least these past 2 weeks), and closers being such a perishable commodity, he might not be able to latch on somewhere once his rehab is complete (although Troy Percival seems to have done well after 2 years off, despite 3 trips to the DL).

Lboros over at VEB till probably do a post-mortem this morning on Izzy. I haven't surfed over there yet, I wanted to get my thoughts on paper before I read theeir post and had it influence my thinking. But judging from what he wrote on Walt Jocketty earlier this year, I expect his Izzy discussion to be worth the read.

As for me, I'll say this. Izzy came into the league as a Met, a can't-miss starter who (along with Pulsphier and Wilson) was supposed to lead the Met starting rotation for the next 10 years (a la Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux). Didn't turn out that way due to injuries to all 3. Izzy also fought TB while a Met, adding that to his pitching issues. He went to Oakland and re-invented himself as a closer. 293 total saves in his career. 217 as a Cardinal, the team's all-time leader in the category. He also holds the team's season record for saves (47) set during the fantastic 2004 season. Not a bad ending for a busted starting pitcher prospect.

Izzy always brought his lunch pail to the game and worked his butt off. The comsummate gamer. Yes he had his share of high-wire ninths, and in recent times his success rate dipped noticeably, but he always took the ball and battled. My lasting memory of him will be Game 4 of the 2004 World Series (also the last game my Dad and I went to together), where he came into the eighth with no one out and the sacks loaded and worked out of the jam. His only appearance in any World Series game. Busch was very, very loud as he walked off the mound that night, because he kept the flickering flame of hope alive for one more inning.

We've talked about great Cardinals who should have their numbers retired by the team. Not necessarily HOF players, but above average good ones who played well for the hometown nine. Willie McGee certainly deserves to have his number retired. Jason Isringhausen does too.

If this is it, rest your oars, Jason - you earned it. Vaya con Dios.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Carp to throw today; Cardinals torn between Waffle House and IHOP

Citing it as the 'bullpen session upon which the rest of the season rests', Chris Carpenter will throw today to test his sore tricep. For the first time, at least to my eyes, Carp admitted there was more than just muscle discomfort that drove him from his 11 August start against Chicago; there's discomfort when 'he raises his arm to a specific position'.


So Carp may be on the shelf for the rest of the year. OK, no problem; we've got Wainwright waiting in the wings. the Post-Dispatch story is accurate about when the Cardinals need a fifth starter next (2 Sept at Arizona). Assuming LaRussa/Duncan leave the rotation as is (which they may not, given the 6 off-days the teams has from now until the end of the year), here's how it stacks up. August opponents are here, September ones here.

19 Aug - Looper
20 Aug -Wellemeyer
21 Aug - OFF
22 Aug - Piniero
23 Aug - Lohse
24 Aug - Looper
25 Aug - OFF
26 Aug - Wellemeyer (Brewers)
27 Aug - Piniero (Brewers)
28 Aug - OFF
29 Aug - Lohse
30 Aug - Looper
31 Aug - Wellemeyer
1 Sept - Piniero
2 Sept - TBD
3 Sept - Lohse
4 Sept - OFF
5 Sept - Looper
6 Sept - Wellemeyer
7 Sept - Piniero
8 Sept - OFF
9 Sept - Lohse (Cubs)
10 Sep - Looper (Cubs)
11 Sep - Wellemeyer (Cubs)
12 Sep - Piniero
13 Sep - TBD
14 Sep - Lohse
15 Sep - OFF
16 Sep - Looper
17 Sep - Wellemeyer
18 Sep - Piniero
19 Sep - Lohse (at Wrigley)
20 Sep - TBD (at Wrigley)
21 Sep - Looper (at Wrigley)
22 Sep - Wellemeyer
23 Sep - Piniero
24 Sep - Lohse
25 Sep - TBD
26 Sep - Looper
27 Sep - Wellemeyer
28 Sep - Piniero

Later on in the Post-Dispatch story, this gem of a quote appears, attributed to John Mozeliak:

General manager John Mozeliak doesn't want to feed speculation. Yet
Mozeliak admits Carpenter's status directly affects how and when starter
Adam Wainwright returns from a 2½-month absence.

"I don't see it as that big a deal," Mozeliak said Monday about Carpenter's
toss. "I think it's important to get both guys back. (Today) might define how
Wainwright could be used. But in terms of how the next two weeks shake out,
I don't think it makes that much difference."

You're kidding, right? Not that big a deal? Having Wellemeyer (ok) and Piniero (crapshoot) start the two most important games remaining on the schedule (against the Brewers, based on current standings) is OK, vice having Wainwright or Carp potentially start one of them (and Carpenter is eligible to come off the DL 26 August)? WOW. Agreed, to throw Wainwright against Milwaukee in a high leverage, high intensity game right off the bat isn't ideal; nor is throwing Carp in the same situation his first start back off the DL, but I think even Mozeliak would agree both are better pitchers than Piniero.

The other thing I can't believe from that article is the idea that Wainwright, if not shifted to the back end of the bullpen (and Perez/McClellan have so far proven up to the task of closing out games), would be used in long relief:

"Different" doesn't necessarily mean Wainwright would return immediately as the Cardinals' closer. Rookie Chris Perez's positive showing since inheriting the closer's role from Jason Isringhausen means Wainwright could be activated to work in long relief.

I almost spit coffee on the screen after reading that sentence. We're fighting for a playoff spot, Wainwright has been the team's best starter since the all-star break last year, and the best thing for this team is to relegate him to long relief?


What in the name of Ken Reitz is going on here?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why would you complain about a 6-4 road trip?

I wouldn't. Considering they lost 2 of 3 in Chicago, they had a nice trip overall. What nits are there? A couple:

- Carpenter is back on the DL. That's a big blow to their playoff hopes. We all had been counting on Carp and Wainwright to return to the rotation and have a big impact down the stretch. Now it's only Wainwright, and his role appears to still be up in the air (which, to my mind, is ridiculous - start him guys!). A 100% healthy Carpenter for 2009 is significantly more important to the organization than to have a 75% healthy Carpenter for September 08 and risk losing him for part of next season, so no heartburn there from me.

- St Louis was really only outplayed in 2 of the 10 games on this trip (coincidentially, both Sunday games). They led the first game in Chicago in the seventh (chronicled earlier), and they led early 3-0 in last Tuesday's game in Florida. I guess you could count the last 8 innings of that game as them being outplayed, since they didn't get a guy past second after Ludwick's 3-R double in the first, so let's make it 3 of 10. Good effort there.

And that's it. The bullpen settled down on the trip (yesterday's meltdown notwithstanding, but it was 4-0 after 7 so I'm not losign sleep over it) and pitched very well. Ryan Ludwick deserves serious consideration for MVP honors in the league. I know VEB did a post earlier this month on AP's chances for the MVP award; we should look at Ludwick's numbers as well. Wellemeyer continues to impress, and even Looper and Piniero pitched well.

The problem is they went 6-4 and made up no ground on Chicago, actually losing a game in the standings. They did make up 2 games on Milwaukee, though. Again, as mentioned in an earlier post, the Division title is all but gone. Cubs have 38 games left. If they go 19-19, the Cardinals need go 25-10 just to catch them. Not happening. However, 2 games back in the Wild Card is certainly do-able, and they dealt a serious blow to the Marlins hopes taking 3 of 4 last week (and the Cubs assisted by taking 2 of 3 this weekend).

Right now it's a 3 team race for the last playoff spot - Milwaukee, St Louis, and Philadelphia (who's currently reeling). To steal a phrase from the local team, Keep The Faith.

Off today, host Pittsburgh tomorrow. Cubs are also off; Milwaukee hosts Houston (Wolf vs Sabathia).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hail Yadier! (hail yadier)

Sounds like Molina had a game for the ages last night, at least, according to the description in the online Post-Dispatch this morning.

Very short post today - I have the duty, and off to relieve the watch - so some random thoughts for your to chew on:

Dan over at C70 at the bat made a point yesterday that I wanted to discuss briefly. He commented on Pujols' propensity to pop up, especially with guys on base. His frustration is understandable; AP is the best hitter on the team, and we expect him to succeed all the time driving in guys in scoring position. If memory serves he hit over .400 last season with runners in scoring position (or was that 2006? It's getting fuzzy), so there's some reason for our expectations.

Pop ups, in my opinion, mean one of two things - either your swing has a huge uppercut, or you're just missing the ball. AP does not have a huge uppercut to his swing. In fact, he repeats the same swing at bat after at bat. It's quite remarkable, actually. Which means he's just missing. When a guy fouls a ball straight back, it means he was right on the pitch but the plane of his bat was about a baseball's width below the pitched baseball's trajectory; hence he gets the bottom of the ball and sends it into the backstop. On a pop-up, the plane of his bat is about a 1/2 baseball width below the pitched ball's trajectory. That means, on a baseball that's less than 3 inches in diameter, his swing is an inch too low.

This is very simplistic, for it doesn't take into account the spin on the ball and the effect that has on its flight after its struck by the bat.

Albert centers the ball on the bat as well as anyone that has played the game. When he pops up, I shake my head and shrug, because he just missed it. You can damn well bet the pitcher is breathing a huge sigh of relief. Not only did he get AP out, but he knows AP just missed sending that pitch into the deepest reaches of the stadium.

The other item is Wainwright going to the bullpen when he comes back off the DL. This is dumb, we need him in the rotation, but it also says to me his tendon injury is worse than reported, and the club doesn't want to risk further injury with the stress of starting.

Monday, August 11, 2008

If Saturday was better, Sunday could be far, far worse

My father-in-law's birthday was Saturday, so we had a small family party for him last night. While barbequing a few steaks (provided by my mom-in-law, and you should have seen the size of these pieces of meat - Brontosaurus burgers, indeed) I managed to monitor the Cardinals/Cubs game until the bottom of the fourth. Although I didn't see the Cubs score their unearned run in the second.

By the time the TV came on again, it was the sixth, and Villone was on the mound. I assumed Carpenter had hit his pitch limit of 80 pitches, as reported by ESPN during the bottom of the first. As you know, that inning rapidly fell apart thanks to a key error (Kennedy), a couple of balls just out of reach, and a booming double by Cedeno.

Imagine my dismay to open and see this.

My opinion: After taking essentially a year off, this game was the first real high-adrenalin game Carpenter's pitched since opening day 2007 - arch rival, hostile crowd, meaningful game. I think he tweaked his triceps muscle with the effort. Smart decision by Chris not to power through it and pull it vice strain it. Obviously we'll know more today based on his level of soreness. The report that he experienced no discomfort in his shoulder is great news. The report that the pain didn't radiate down his arm is also good.

With him we have a puncher's chance to get back into the race. Without him, well, being 7 out of the divisional lead and 3 back in the Wild Card already makes that a very tough task.

On to Florida. Some other random thoughts:

In their most recent 7 games against their two main rivals, the Cardinals have lost 6 of 7. Their only win was Saturday. More painfully, they were in at least 3 other games, leading all those in the seventh (and on 2 occasions, leading in the ninth).

The club outscored Chicago 16-12 in the series. Unfortunately 12 of those runs came in one game.

My obvious team loyalty has allowed me to believe the Cardinals could still catch Chicago this season. Being 7 back (8 on the lost side) with 42 to go makes that somewhat unlikely. Assume the Cubs go 22-22 over their next 44 games. St Louis would need to go 28-14 just to catch them. More damning is this. This weekend, whenever the Cubs needed to make a play they did, starting with Lilly's pitch to Looper on the suicide squeeze Friday and ending with Fukudome's catch in the ninth last night. Whenever the Cardinals needed to make a play, starting with Looper's bunt attempt and ending with Ludwick's strikeout against Samardzija in the seventh last night, they didn't always make it. That difference separates the good teams from the contending teams. That difference will keep the Cubs in front in this division, and (gulp) the favorite to represent the NL come October.

I'm not giving up; I'll never give up. But that's a good team playing confidently and playing well. They're not going to trip. It's getting late in the day to make a run.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Yesterday sucked. Today was much better

Proving once again most prognosticators don't know what they're talking about, yesterday's game looks like it will be the best-pitched one of the series. Looper pitched his butt off, only making two mistakes - both of which Edmonds hit out. As the game dragged on, it became increasingly clear it would turn on which bullpen blinked first.

Cardinal high wire act Franklin (at least recently) navigated the 10th. Cub arsonist Howry retired the side in the eleventh. Franklin, sent out for a second inning, walked Lee to start it. Bad bad bad. Single (first and third), Intentional walk (loaded 'em up), Single. Ball game.

To be absolutely fair, this loss wasn't the bullpen's fault. It was a game where the Cardinals should have scored more than two runs. The failed suicide squeeze in the fifth (although the pitch Looper got was completely unhittable). Soriano makes a perfect throw in the sixth to nail Mather at the plate. Izturis left at third in the ninth. And so on. Woulda coulda shoulda. The big difference this day was, the Cubs made a play when they needed to. The Cardinals didn't.

Because I live on the west coast, and because the Yankees/Angels games was also being broadcast by Fox, I figured there was no way I'd see today's game. We had a family function to go to anyway. So, around 1415, with the boys down for a nap, I flipped on the TV. In time to see the top of the fifth. I noted the Wrigley faithful seemed unusually quiet. I found out later that's because it was 5-2 Cardinals. I turned it off - I'm not superstitious, but they were doing so well without me. I turned it back on to see AP score on Lopez's single to make it 6-2.

Then comes my favorite sequence of the game. Psuedo-brushback pitch to Glaus. Remember, Zambrano is a bit of a hothead. Next pitch was deposited in the RC bleachers for a 3-R dinger that blew the game open. Think the Big Z regretted both those pitches? I suuuure hope so.

Zambrano didn't make it out of the fifth. After watching him torture the Cardinals over most of the past 4 seasons, that was especially sweet. As you know, the final was a 12-3 romp.

A Most Gratifying Day.

So we're better than I hoped we would be going into Sunday. They have a chance to win the series in Wrigley. I haven't seen who's been named the starter tomorrow -

(checking) says Carpenter. EXCELLENT. Carp/Dempster should be a good one. Take 2 of 3 from the small bears, boys. Not as good as 3 back, but 5 back is a whole lot better than 7 back. Let's get there.

This season isn't over yet, not by a long shot.

When's Adam supposed to return?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Remember, Two out of Three Ain't Bad

Cardinals dropped yesterday's game 4-1 to Los Angeles. I had some hope of a sweep, as Kyle Lohse and his 13-3 record was on the hill for the Redbirds, but that didn't come to pass. From what little of the game I was able to monitor at work, it appeared the Cardinals had their chances, but couldn't get the key hit when they needed it.

Going back in time a little bit, the bullpen meltdown on Tuesday was the last straw for upper management. I'm glad Mozeliak took the time to meet with LaRussa and Duncan Wednesday morning and formulate a plan on how to proceed going forward with the back of the bullpen. Chris Perez is young, so he should be treated with care; we definitely don't want a repeat of Anthony Reyes' mental issues with this guy. But his most recent outing was encouraging closing out Wednesday's game. It remains to be seen how the team redefines the roles of the rest of the bullpen with Perez as the closer for now. I was surprised to see Stavinoha optioned to Memphis, because I figured Perez would replace one of the arsonists in the bullpen (preferably Jimenez or Flores); that didn't happen. But the bottom line is, the team acted (finally!) to try and fix their bullpen woes, and that's good.

VEB had some good data yesterday on the Cardinals hitters. I would hope, using that empirical evidence, we can put to bed for the rest of this season the calls for another hitter to shore up the lineup. I'm sure Mozeliak is scouring the waiver wire for servicable relief pitchers. I'm surprised he didn't but in a claim on Chad Bradford, who was picked up by Tampa Bay today; Bradford has been very solid for an overachieving Orioles team (2.45 ERA; yes I know ERA isn't in vogue, but I'm a dinosaur so deal).

So this takes us to our first trip into Wrigley this season. The fact that our first trip to the North Side didn't happen until August is ridiculous. Nice schedule, MLB. The good news is Perez didn't pitch yesterday, so he was able to recover from his 21-pitch effort on Wednesday. Thompson threw 16 pitches in the same game, so he's available too. In fact, the only guy out of the bullpen who probably can't go today is Izzy. Kudos to Piniero and Lohse for getting through seven innings and giving the bullpen a much needed break.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals head into Wrigley as far behind (6 games) as they've been all season. They need to sweep to get back into the race and have a shot at catching Chicago for the division. I think that's wishful thinking. Getting swept will end their quest for the division and put the Wild Card as their only vehicle to the post season. It will also probably put them in third place in the Wild Card behind Milwaukee and Florida.

Pitching matchups and relative odds of winning:

Today: Looper (10-9, 4.29) vs Lilly (11-6, 4.35). Lilly actually has a higher ERA (4.34) at home than on the road, but he's 6-3 at Wrigley. He has a 3.06 career ERA against St Louis, and has 4 quality starts in a row. Looper has pitched better on the road (6-3, 4.04) than at home, and he's 0-1, 2.57 ERA this season against the Cubs. Projection: Cardinals take an early lead, but lose late 6-4.

Tomorrow: Wellemeyer (8-4, 4.01) vs Zambrano (12-4, 2.76). Wellemeyer is unbeaten on the road this year, although it's only 2-0. Zambrano, well, the crazy Venezuelan has been virtually unhittable against the Cardinals since 2004. Projection: The best pitched game of the series, but the Cubs prevail 2-0.

Also tomorrow's game will be on FOX, opposite Yankees/Angels. Gee, wonder which game San Diego will get? That's right - Padres/Phillies.

Sunday: Carpenter (0-0, 0.00) vs Dempster (12-5, 2.93). Actually says the Cardinal starter is TBD, so this is wishful thinking. Dempster has been a monster at home (10-2, 2.77). He hasn't faced STL this season. Carp, well, Carp always gets up for big games. Prediction: Carp goes 7 and leaves the game 0-0. Cubs push across two runs in the eighth, but Wood blows up in the ninth and the Cardinals win 4-2.

Here's hoping I'm wrong about the win totals for this series.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I'm Running Out Of Expletives

4-0 after eight and a half. 4-4 after nine.

What else is there to say? Thank you, Ryan Ludwick, for averting disaster in the eleventh.

Permit me to rant for a moment. We've all been told, over the past 10 years, what a baseball genius Tony LaRussa is. How he analyzes game situations and uses his analytical mind to come up with strategies (like hitting the pitcher eighth) and govern his in game decisions on squeeze bunts, situational hitting, and bullpen management.

Whatever his system is for managing the bullpen, it's broken.

How much empirical evidence does he need to see the bullpen as currently constructed is broken? Is 115 games enough? Do we need to take this to 162 games before he realizes changes need to be made?

Unfortunately, I'm pressed for time; I was out sick yesterday and need to dig out from under 2 days worth of email. But in gross terms, the following facts are in evidence:

- Flores can't get anyone out.
- Izzy has lost confidence as the closer and can't navigate that inning easily.
- Franklin's stint as closer has badly affected his confidence.
- Jimenez can't find the strike zone; in fact, if you put him on a beach and told him to hit the ocean he'd miss.
- Villone has pitched better recently, but the only two reliable arms down there are McClellan and Springer.

Haven't we given enough leads away at the end of ballgames? Here's some thoughts:

- Let Springer close for a few games. Can't be any worse than Franklin/Izzy.
- Shift McClellan to the set up role.
- Make Izzy a situational reliever to get 1-2 hitters out.
- Make Franklin your seventh inning guy.
- Send Flores packing.
- Send Jimenez to A ball so he can learn to throw strikes consistently.
- Villone remains as your lone lefty out of the bullpen.
- Thompson is your long man.
- Bring up someone from AA or AAA that can actually get guys out to replace Jimenez.

It's time to stop screwing around and fix this. If the team can't, don't expect to stay afloat in the wild card race.

Oh, and Tony: Impress on your starters the need to get deep into games over the next 2 days. If we head to Wrigley with our usual overworked bullpen, we'll get killed. We may end up losing those 3 games anyway, but at least with a rested bullpen we'll have a puncher's chance.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Another Bullpen Hairball

The Cardinals-Phillies game was on ESPN last night. I tried not to watch it. I have no proof of this, but it seems that since 2006, whenever the Cardinals are shown on a national broadcast, bad things happen (normally a loss). So I held out as long as I could.

Which lasted until the bottom of the fourth. Turned it on in time for Ludwick's homer to make it 2-0. Wellemeyer was pitching well, but that nagging sense of foreboding wouldn't leave, especially since the Cardinals had managed only three hits off Meyers. Utley's HR in the sixth only added to my unease, but they managed to nurse that 2-1 lead into the eighth.

At which time my children signalled they were done for the day, and we all trooped upstairs for their nightly bath. Yes we wash them every day whether they need it or not. Usually I get a free bath myself; we like to screw around in the tub.

I flipped on the TV in my bedroom so I could check down the hall in a hurry if needed. I saw Garcia relieve McClellan. Twenty-five minutes later, I checked again; Romero was pitching, Ryan was on at first, there was one out.

The score read 5-2 Philadelphia. I laughed with no mirth felt.

At least they tried to fight back with the run in the eighth and another in the ninth. I had hope when Ankiel singled off Howard's glove, driving Miles to third. Oquendo made the correct decision by holding Miles at third, by the way. Izturis was coming up, a veteran bat with Lidge on the ropes.

Clearly in that situation Lidge didn't want to put the winning run in scoring position, so I know he didn't mean to hit Izturis. But it couldn't have set up a better situation for the Phillies, for Lidge and that damn slider of his would face 2 rookies in a row. The only way AP would get another at bat this night is if one of the two of them reached to tie the game.

Didn't happen. First pitch to Stavinoha was a mistake curveball that hung on the inside half of the plate. Nick swung and missed. Lidge's next 6 pitches were not in the strike zone; Stavinoha and Mather swung at 5 of them. Ballgame.

Anybody still think this team needs a bat over a bullpen arm?

This is the farthest out of first place the Cardinals have been all season (six games). They continue to trail Milwaukee by a game in the wild card standings. This is a huge 13 game stretch for the Redbirds; they get the re-energized Dodgers starting tomorrow, then go on a 10 game road trip that starts in Chicago. It would be nice to be within 3 games of Chicago starting Friday night, but I think that's unrealistic; let's take 2 of 3 from Los Angeles (a tall order; they get Billingsley and Lowe, the two best Dodger starters) and then go from there.