Monday, September 29, 2008

Well I got what I asked for...

...And that was a sweep of the hapless Reds. It's nice to go out on a winning note, especially a 6-game winning streak. St Louis finishes 86-76, which is 14 more wins than I predicted they'd get at the beginning of the season. Well done to all.

Additionally, this club finds itself in a LOT better shape as it enters the 2008 off season than it did entering the last. Last year we had questions at second (who?), short (resign Eckstein?), third (Rolen's friction with LaRussa), right (who to succeed Encarnacion), center (would Edmonds be healthy), and in the rotation (Carp out, Reyes on the way out, and a patchwork of other starters). This year, we have questions at second, because Miles isn't the answer, short, because I'm not sure Lopez is the answer, and the bullpen. That's actually a lot better than it was.

- Glaus turned into a more than capable replacement for Rolen, with the bat (despite his cold start) and surprisingly with the glove. Glaus is a legitimate Gold Glove candidate at 3B, and if they still took defensive stats into account when selecting that award he'd win it.
- Pujols had another typical MVP year.
- Molina proved his hitting actually has improved and turned into one of the more reliable Cardinal bats.
- Ludwick realized the enormous potential he's always had.
- Ankiel proved his second half surge last year wasn't a fluke.
- The committee in left (Duncan, Schumaker, Barton, et al) was competent.
- Wellemeyer has a future as a starter; he pitched very well in his first full season as a starter, including Pitcher of the Month in May.
- Lohse won 15 games and carried the team the first half.
- Looper was more good than bad.
- Kyle McClellan. At least until August.

- Izzy's done.
- Bullpen in general.
- Revolving door at second
- Joel Piniero
- Carpenter's new arm injury
- Wainwright missing 3 months to a strained ligament
- Wasted money on Mark Mulder and Matt Clement
- the Anthony Reyes debacle

So as the off-season starts, I like the foundation Mozeliak's put in place. Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer, and Looper make 4/5 of a pretty good rotation. Carpenter is a HUGE question mark; how his arm responds to treatment will, I think, largely define how next season goes.

Priorities in my view: We need to find a reasonably priced starter as insurance for Carp. The bullpen must be rebuilt; Perez as closer and McClellan as set-up are good places to start, Thompson can be the long relief bubba, Springer probably has some gas left in the tank, but left handed specialists and 1-2 more reliable right-handed arms are a must. More offensive production must be found at second. Get a thumper in there, and we can put up with Izturis at short (love the glove), although a better bat (more gap power) would obviously help.

Chicago is the best team in the NL right now and probably will be again next year. Milwaukee just made the playoffs, but their best 2 starters will probably play for someone else next season. Wild Card and 90 wins should be our goals for next year. Once we make the playoffs, as we learned in 2006, anything can happen.

And hopefully we won't be happy with a season-ending sweep of the Reds next year. Unless, of course, we're playing the Reds in the NLCS.

Since the Redbirds won't be in the playoffs this season, I'll have to adopt someone for rooting interest. There will be interest in the baseball playoffs at my house so long as Boston remains alive, courtesy of my wife, but I need something else to write about. I've been thinking about this since St Louis was officially eliminated from the playoffs, and after careful consideration, there's only one team to back.

Whenever someone makes their initial trip to the post-season, some part of your soul has to root for them. So it is for me. We'll be watching the Tampa Bay Rays here at the Stance.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fan Appreciation Weekend

Well here we finally are. The last weekend of the season. For the Cardinals, this will be the last 3 games of 2008; they are not to be seen again (on a baseball diamond, that is) until pitchers and catchers report in Feb 09.

The end of the season is always bittersweet. On the bad side, there's no more baseball on every night across the country. My fantasy team will no longer be a viable path to distraction during those boring days at work. On the good side, we get to see other teams play on TV than the Yankees/Red Sox/Cubs/Lame-o West Coast regional game. And playoff baseball is usually compelling and fun to watch.

Of course, the Cardinals will not be in the playoffs this year. As has been pointed out elsewhere, this will mark the first time this decade (and millenium, for those of you given to soaring hyperbole) the team won't be playing in October in consecutive years. So that's a bummer too. But I can't really be all that upset as the season winds down; although currently 4th in the division, most of us thought they would be sub-.500 all year. They weren't. And they were alive for a post season berth (although granted, most hope of that happening was washed away by their 7-game losing streak this month) right up to the final week.

Because of that, I will go to this last weekend with my fan-head held high. They fought. They came up short. That's life.

I would, however, like to see them sweep the Reds, because then their final record would be 86-76; since they spent most of the summer between 10-15 games over .500, it would be appropriate.

Going back to yesterday's post, one prominent name (in addition to Ryan Howard, who Pitchers Battting Eighth mentioned in the comments) I left out was Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres. In case you hadn't noticed, and because the Padres suck, you probably hadn't, Adrian his hitting .281 with 36 HR and 118 RBI this season.

He compares, statistically, favorably with AP.

Here's the kicker, however: San Diego is 15th in the NL in runs scored (630). Gonzalez has knocked in 19% of their runs. He's also scored 102. Take away the 36 for the HR he's hit, so we don't double count those:

118-36 = 82 + 102 = 184 / 630 = 29.2%. Yep, one man has either knocked in or scored over a quarter of San Diego's runs this season.

Just for fun:

AP: 184 / 753 = 24.4%
Ludwick: 174 / 753 = 23.1%
Delgado: 172 / 794 = 21.7%
Wright: 206 / 794 = 25.9%
Howard: 197 / 779 = 25.3%
Manny: 72 / 242 = 29.8% (prorated for his time with LA)

How ungodly bad would the Padres have been without Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Back

But this will be a short post. Gotta work in slooooowly. :)

I'm glad to see the Cardinals are still playing with a purpose. I'm sure Arizona doesn't feel the same way. Its a crippling blow they've dealt the D-Backs so far in this series. A win today for the home team, and it doesn't matter what LA does tonight. Ya think Joe Torre will send LaRussa a fruit basket as a thank you?

The Cardinals swoon earlier this month, coupled with the Dodgers' surge, has made the past week the first time St Louis wouldn't have been in first place in the NL West all season. Something for the useless trivia file.

There's been a lot of talk out there about the NL MVP. Lots of opinions, some of them informed, some not. I would break down the top 6 candidates or so this way:

- Albert Pujols. Enough said.

- Ryan Ludwick. He has had an MVP caliber year. He will suffer from being on the same team as AP, much like Rolen and Edmonds did in 2004, however his numbers, and defense, compare favorably with what Albert has put up this year. Merits serious consideration. If not the MVP, he should definitely - DEFINITELY - be comeback player of the year in the NL.

- David Wright. Plays in NY. That alone will get him votes. Knock on Wright is he sucks with RISP. I can't find a RISP stat table anywhere (AARGH!) that supports that perception, but he did stink up the joint last night against the CUBS - in the 3 innings I watched he left 4 runners on.

- Carlos Delgado. Tanked the first half of the season, assisted in getting Willie Randolph fired. Then decided to show up. Sorry, you're not MVP-caliber.

- Manny Ramirez. Tanked the first half of the season to get out of Boston. Admitted as much later. Now tearing the cover off the ball. His play for LA makes him a candidate, however I disqualify him for the same reason I wouldn't vote for Delgado.

- CC Sabathia. Single-handedly keeping Milwaukee relevant in the Wild Card race. 10-2 with the Brewers. Was 6-8, 3.83 with Cleveland, but after a disastrous first 4 starts he was 6-5 with a 2.16 ERA. Merits serious consideration.

For my money, the only 2 serious candidates in the NL are Pujols and Sabathia. This may come down to a 'who makes the playoffs' vote. If the Brewers sneak in, I don't see how you can not vote for Sabathia. He's also a serious candidate for the Cy Young. If they don't make it, well, it's a toss-up.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Hiatus

There's no cool way to say this.

I've missed the last two United Cardinal Blogger projects, one I really wanted to do (who are the 4 Cardinals you'd like to have dinner with and why), one I Really REALLY wanted to do (top 7 Cardinal minor leaguers). I've felt like my writing has slipped somewhat; I've only got about an hour to do research and write, so everything is rushed, and I'm getting lazy. If you can be lazy when you're rushing around.

But what's really driving this is I'm at the end of another academic quarter. The coursework hasn't been difficult, but there's a lot of it. My team is doing final preps for our presentation in a week in the one class, and the other will be posting the final on 19 Sept.

What am I saying? What the title of this post implies. I'm going to take some time off to focus on my courses. I hope to be posting again before the end of the season. I probably won't post again until after 21 Sept.

All this as the Cubs roll into town for their last series of the season. Ugh.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Peaks and Valleys

From the high of watching Wainwright dominate, to the trepidation of watching Wainwright leave after 5 1/3 with back stiffness...

From the anxious pacing from watching Carpenter allow the first two men to reach, to the relief from watching Carpenter pitch out of it...

From the despair of watching Lohse struggle in August, to the appreciation of watching Lohse throw six shutout...

From the anger at watching McClellan (exhausted) scuffle again, to the hope Jason Motte brought while firing 98 MPH gas in the eigth...

To seeing my heart laying on the floor when Arizona rallied in the ninth and won.

So much for Villaneuva's gesture galvanizing the club. They've lost 5 of six since that game. They get today to lick their considerable wounds before trying again Friday against Florida.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

I opened the Post-Dispatch to read the game summary, and the photo coupled to the story features David Eckstein. I then flipped my Cardinals calendar to September. Care to guess who the featured player is for September? Yep.

As a seque, it has amused me for years the number of players that appear in the Cardinal calendar who are no longer with the team. This year that august list includes Edmonds, Rolen, the aforementioned Eckstein, and Juan Encarnacion (although the reason he's not with the team is anything but funny).

I saw the score scroll across ESPN's bottom line as 7-6 D-Backs, in the eighth or so (the inning escaped me, although it was late in the game), after sitting through what seemed to be an hour of college football scores from this weekend. Final score, as I'm sure you're aware, was 8-6 Arizona. What I didn't know until reading the game summary was the Cardinals led 5-1 through 4.

Who helped engineer this claiming of defeat from the jaws of Victory? Joel Piniero, that's who, the guy who leads the universe in 'games where I had the lead but couldn't hold it'. Jeez Joel, how do you sleep at night? How have you started 22 games but only gotten 11 decisions (the team is 11-11 in those starts)? How can you continue to cough up leads you're given? At what point does being durable (he's thrown 131 innings, which really isn't that durable but bear with me) get trumped by 'he can win games for us'?

Another stinging loss for a team that can't afford to lose right now. To add insult to injury, both Chicago and Milwaukee lost yesterday. It's probably my paranoia, but doesn't it seem what when they lose, we also lose, but when we lose, they typically win?

Not going to catch anyone with those metrics.