Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Here in status-symbol land....

If there has ever been a more apt description of Southern California, I've yet to hear it.

Despite my misgivings, and an attempt to turn American U into the first real Cinderella of the tournament (a role currently filled by Cleveland State), Villanova has advanced into the Sweet 16. Boy they looked good against UCLA yesterday. That's the best I've seen them play all year.

The possibility of a Xavier/Villanova regional final is still very much alive (let's go X today vs Wisconsin), which will initiate a 'border war' of sorts in my family. Here's hoping...

I've neglected the Cardinals for, oh, about two weeks. There is a good reason for this. On Friday 20 March I defended my Masters Thesis as the last hurdle before getting the degree conferred on me. Despite the fact that my Professor blew a sizable hole in our presentation - we did, in retrospect, a poor job explaining the data manipulation we performed to arrive at the conclusion we did - I think it will be good enough. So as you might imagine, prepping for that event, as well as a final presentation and exam in my other class (both of which went much better - aced the presentation, 98 out of 101 on the final), has been all-consuming lately.

But that's all out of the way now. Back to what's REALLY important.

There've been some interesting developments in camp this week.

Ludwick appears to have re-found his confidence, and his approach at the plate. The Grand Slam he hit yesterday is the latest good sign from him. With Ludwick's big bat back, AP has protection, and this club becomes much more dangerous.

Mather's 0-19 slump has not gone unnoticed, which is why David Freese started yesterday at third. A recent UCB topic asked us to predict the 25 man roster on Opening Day. All of us respondents had Mather penciled in at third. That looks to be in jeopardy. If Freese can hit, and Mather continues to struggle, don't be surprised to see Freese starting at third on 6 April. This makes Mozeliak look really intelligent for dumping Edmonds on the lowly Padres for Freese; we turn an aging, physically breaking down CF into a young 3B prospect who steps in for an injured Glaus the very next year. High marks for Mo on that one.

McClellan is getting lit up. This isn't good. He's one of the relative assurances in the bullpen when the Cardinals break camp. Based on his breakout season last year, most of us had him slotted for the high leverage stuff, and possibly the eighth inning as the set-up guy. But he's struggling. Current camp chatter has Motte as the closer and Franklin returning to his eighth inning set up role. McClellan should still make the team - there aren't a lot of good options to replace him from the right side (Boggs? I think not) - but his struggles are cause for a lot of concern. I wonder if his 'be ready to start in case Carpenter breaks down' spring hasn't adversely affected his preparation to pitch in relief.

Speaking of Carpenter, there's a great article about him in today's Post Dispatch. It's got to be tough to have to keep fighting back from injury, and to deal with the fact that your body is a fragile thing now and may betray you at any moment, on any pitch. But Carpenter's spring continues to exceed all expectations, and I for one remain hopeful he will return to his 2005 form this season. OK, not necessarily win the Cy Young, but win 15 games or more. Jason LaRue's comments in the above linked article only serve to solidify my impression that Carp's back, and is going to have a good year.

The article also clears up, at least for me, why Carp is in the #4 starter spot to begin the year - it gets him two starts against the Cubs early in the season. I am statistically challenged this early in the morning, but I believe Carp has had lots of success against the Cubs in his career - which would explain the matchup for such a critical series early in the year.

Enough for now. Enjoy your sunday. If you decide to play any Monkees today, think of me, who will be chasing a pair of 'monkeys' around the house all day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Odds and Ends

Lots of different topics in here...

The morning show I sometimes listen to on the way to work (XX 1090 AM in San Diego) had a handicapper on this morning discussing the NCAA tournament. The dude (I think his name was Brandon Lang) picked Louisville to win it all (duh) but had them beating...

wait for it....

Yep. VILLANOVA in the final. Personally I think the dude's smoking crack. Although I would probably be unsufferably obnoxious if they did make it that far. For what it's worth, I picked Xavier to win that regional, beating Duke (who knocks out my Wildcats in the regional semifinal).

Lots of interesting stuff being discussed in the UCB topics. Today it was offseason moves by management. Yesterday was the 25 man roster. Monday we considered what number would be retired next by the Cardinals (I voted for 51). I plan to elaborate on some of these topics later on, but if you're not following the blogs as discussions are posted you're missing out. See Cardinal 70 for the complete schedule of blogs posting the discussions.

Chris Carpenter pitched today and went 6 scoreless. I am a crusty old Navy man, but I am giddy - yes, giddy - about how Carp has pitched so far this spring. Fourteen scoreless innings is nothing to sneeze at. As we get closer to Opening Day, and the lineups start to feature more Major League hitters (also the WBC fniishes), we'll know better if this is for real or just a mirage; but the early returns are VERY favorable. I have put my money where my mouth is and drafted Carp for my only 'All MLB' fantasy team. Believe it or not, he's the only Cardinal on my roster. So don't let me down, Carp.

Called into the UCB radio hour last night. Good discussion. If I ever figure out how to post files here, I'll post the audio file. You should call in or at least log on to the chat room - every Wednesday night at 8pm Pacific. There is some discussion about moving the time to allow more participation, so stay tuned for an update.

Finally, there's the World Baseball Classic. As I type this (and although it won't appear until tomorrow morning on the site) the Japanese lead Cuba 3-0 after 5. In foggy Petco Park. Most of the baseball has been pretty good, with some great games. Both Netherlands/Dominican Republic contests were classics. The US' comeback last night against Puerto Rico. It's unfortunate that all of those games were on the MLB network, which virtually no one gets.

The players, most notably Chipper Jones, have raised some issues with the format. I couldn't agree more. Even this is packaged by MLB to make the most money. Let's take a look at some of the areas that cause head-scratching.

- Round Robin play. Only MLB could devise a system where there are 4 teams in a pool, and you may not play the other 3. Why don't they do Pool Play like other major international tournaments do it, like soccer's World Cup for instance? That way, instead of playing beating the Dominican, then losing to Puerto Rico, and having to play the Dominican again, you would play Panama in that third game (this would be what happened to the Netherlands).

You ask how the winner and runner-up of the pool would be determined? Try this. Winners get two points. Games that go to extra innings are a point for each team, with an additional point awarded to the winner. If you beat a team badly enough to activate the mercy rule, you get a bonus point. The two teams with the most points advance. In event of a tie, head to head result is the tie breaker.

This would also eliminate the useless 'seeding' game. It was ridiculous that Japan went 2-0 in pool play in the first round and end up the #2 seed, all because they lost the 'seeding' game to Korea 1-0. Same for the US and Venezuela.

- Rosters. The roster rules need to be more clearly defined. The Dutch manager had a legitimate point when he complained about Brian Roberts being added to the US roster 30 min before game time. MLB is meticulous about roster configuration during the playoffs, and they should show the same kind of rigor for this event.

- Venues. With all the pretty ballparks in this country, Miami's Joe-Robbie-Pro-Player-I-Don't-Know-What's-The-Name-Today-Park-Stadium was the best choice for the second round? Really? What, the Tropicana Dome busy with a Monster Truck Rally? I would have thought Atlanta, or Houston, or Phoenix would be a much better choice - and all 3 cities have a sizeable Hispanic population.

Love the choice of Dodger Stadium for the final, however. Can we park a Camaro at home plate and do a pull-away shot as part of the opening ceremonies?

- Coverage. I was in the car tonight picking up a box at FedEx, and thought I would listen to the game on ESPN Radio. So I turned it on. Turns out, the game was simulcast (which means, for those of you under 30, the same broadcast is being heard on radio and TV). Which means the guy calling the game on TV has to talk to the action so those of us listening on the radio can keep up with what's going on. The guys doing the game have no idea how to cover a game on the radio. These two bozos are chatting away on some ancedote about one of the players, and in the background you hear the crowd start to cheer. This is because Curtis Granderson just singled to right. Only after the cheering gets loud do your trusty play-by-play guys casually mention, Granderson singles to right, before continuing with their conversation.

No number of outs, no score, no count, no 'fastball for a strike', nothing. It's as if they think the audience tunes in to hear them talk about the bunions on their feet and not the game. This is why I used to mute Padres games on local TV (that and I can't stand Matt Vasgerian. Now that he's gone I might turn the volume up again).

I would have thought MLB was flush enough to spring for a second announcing team on the radio. Three years from now, call me and I'll do it for free; so long as MLB pays for my travel, accomodations, and meals.

Consider these helpful suggestions from a concerned citizen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big East Tourmanent - Final

Last night was spent studying for finals, so no blogging. I taped the Villanova/Louisville game, because I knew I wouldn't get to watch it live, since the game ran during the dinner/playtime/bath/bed hours here at Chez Mike's.

That meant I had to avoid all stations that might report on sports, which for a sports junkie such as myself, isn't so easy.

It also meant I couldn't watch Syracuse/West Virginia until I'd seen the Villanova game.

Wanting to do both, I ended up watching Villanova on fast forward. Which, by the way, I recommend. You get all the action, and in a fraction of the time. Besides, making the players run around like ants on crack is kind of funny.

So, the first half, Villanova was the better team. Even in fast forward. Made me a little uneasy the number of open looks from beyond the arc Louisville got, but Cunningham was dominating inside, defensively turnovers were being forced and capitalized on, and the Wildcats went into the locker room up 8. Pitino was frustrated. Looked good.

Then the second half started. Louisville cut the lead to 2 in about 3 seconds. That's real time, not fast forward time. Then they took a 7 point lead. Villanova clawed, stayed in the game, and eventually tied the score at 50; to which the Cardinals responded by going on a 19-4 run to close out the game. 69-54 Cardinals.

Once that ended I tuned into the Syracuse game. Just in time to see it go to OT. Poor Syracuse. They must have been wasted in OT; it certainly showed as they walked the ball up the court possession after possession. I'm sure no one from this team who returns next season will complain about the conditioning work Boeheim puts them through. Syracuse found the will power to win that OT game, too, defying my fearless prediction from Friday that West Virginia would win.

Syracuse also reached their 14th Big East final, a league record. They've played in almost half of the championship games contested.

I didn't see most of the title game, or any of the first half, but it looked like a repeat of Friday. Syracuse took an 8 point lead into the half, Louisville ended up winning by 10. First Conference championship, er, Big East Tournament championship, for Louisville. Seeing as how they went through the Big East (including the tournament) 19-2, I believe they're a lock for a #1 seed. Memphis will be a #1 as well. The other two will probably be UNC (despite their loss today), and Michigan State. Pitt and UCONN should be no lower than #2's.

Some other items. I don't think Nova will get beyond the sweet 16. I've believed all year they're a soft top 10 team. Look at their record. Lost to Texas and Louisville on a neutral court. Lost to UCONN, West Virginia, and Marquette on the road; lost to Louisville and Georgetown at home. All their notable wins are at home (Marquette, Syracuse, Pittsburgh). Their best road win is at Syracuse. I don't think they're good enough to go deep into the tournament. And, they were exposed by a taller, more athletic team in that shutting down Scottie Reynolds really hamstrings this team.

The media also began (at least, the AP report) to say Villanova's exit Friday night 'continued a run of disappointing Big East Tournament performances.' I don't necessarily agree. They've won at least one game in the Tourney every year since 2004. This year they came in as the #4 seed and lost when they were supposed to, in the semis to the #1 seed. How exactly is that disappointing? 2005, the year they finished second in the league and didn't make the finals, that could be considered disappointing, but not this year.

I won't say this isn't frustrating for Jay Wright, however. Rollie Massimino went to 3 Tourney Finals; Steve Lappas went to two, including Villanova's lone win (1995). Wright hasn't made a final yet. I'm sure that weighs on him a little. They will be better next year; we'll see how they do then.

However, Villanova has made the NCAA tournament 4 years in a row, their longest streak since going 7 straight years under Massimino; won the regular season title in 2006, the fourth such Big East title (1982, 1983, and 1997 were the other years they did it); reached the Sweet Sixteen in 3 of the last 4 years, matching their previous best effort; and are now ranked in the top 25 consistently. All the last weekend angst, anxiety, and hope that characterized my undergraduate time there are gone for the current students. Villanova always goes to the NCAA tournament; it's just a question of what their seed will be and how deep they will go. So Jay Wright has been pretty successful. I doubt he loses much sleep over not winning the Conference Tournament.

I expect Nova will be a #4 seed. For their Sweet Sixteen chances to blossom, I hope they're a #3 playing in Philly. We'll know tomorrow night.

Cardinal blogging returns next week.

Update 3/15/09 1655: Villanova is indeed a #3 seed, playing in Philadelphia next weekend. GO CATS!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Big East Tournament Update #3

A "ho-hum"-er, an upset, a buzzer beater, and an epic.

Just your typical day in the Big East Tournament.

After eight mostly pedestrian games, the top fourth of the conference got into the action yesterday. And things were definitely more interesting.

Providence came into their game with Louisville needing a win (IMHO). Didn't happen. The Friars led 3-2, then committed a Big East Tournament Record 26 turnovers, and lost by 18. Which was the expected result. I'm sure this game will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the selection committee. Although I hope Providence finds themselves in the NCAA field come Sunday, I don't think they will.

West Virginia/Pittsburgh. It is very difficult to beat a team three times in a single season. The Mountaineers proved that against the Panthers. WVA pretty much handled Pitt in this one. The Panthers led early, and then led again with about 4 minutes left in the first half, but that was it. WVA led by double digits for most of the second half, winning 74-60. Even with Beilein gone to coach the University of Michigan, this squad remains a difficult tournament matchup. And "Huggy Bear" is a battle tested coach from his salad days at Cincinnati.

Pittsburgh will probably not be a #1 seed based on this result. The Big East is the best conference in the land this year, no question; however losing in the tournament quarters, after having the first two days off, to an unranked team you beat twice in the regular season will take them off the #1 line. I see them as a #2. This will also free up a slot for someone like Michigan St or (gulp) Duke to slide on the #1 line (assuming the other 3 #1 seeds are Louisville, Memphis, and UNC).

I thought this next game was the best finish. I hadn't seen anything yet. Villanova blew a 17 point lead to Marquette, and were down one, 75-74, with Marquette dribbling in the half court and 40 seconds left in the game. Marquette missed the shot with 10 seconds left.

Villanova is out of timeouts.

Up comes the ball.

Scottie Reynolds is blanketed.

Reggie Redding drives the lane.

Dwayne Anderson cuts to the basket, and the man guarding him steps up to guard the ball.

Bounce pass.



Wow. After trying to give the game away, they pulled off a great finish to advance. As was pointed out on's game recap today, Villanova hasn't won two games in this tournament since 2004. Obviously they'd like to end that trend tonight against Louisville. This will be a rematch of the 61-60 game Louisville won in Philadelphia.

I'll make the bold prediction that the winner of Louisville/Villanova will win the tournament.

The reason for that I'll state at the bottom.

Then the Epic. I didn't start really watching this game until there were two minutes left in regulation. I thought the referees did an outstanding job adjudicating Devendorf's last second shot in regulation, and got the call right. Did you know Syracuse led 71-69 with 1:13 left in regulation, and DIDN'T LEAD AGAIN until 113-110 in the sixth overtime? Just an unbelieveably gritty performance.

I also couldn't believe the number of calls in overtime where the referees put their whistles in their pockets, the fact that Thabeet didn't foul out until the 4th OT, and a multitude of other things. Syracuse wanted it more. Pure and simple. When they hit that 3-pointer to take the 113-110 lead, you could visibly see UCONN deflate. And that was it.

Having played past midnight EDT, Syracuse catches a break in that their semi final tonight is the late game (starting at 6pm EDT). But you gotta think they've got no legs left after playing 70 minutes last night. Even with guys getting additional rest after fouling out. That more than levels the field with WVA, who've played one more game.

I think WVA wins this one, just based on the Syracuse fatigue factor. The Orange(men) will fight, don't worry about that, but I think in the second half, after adrenalin has run its course, their legs will feel like rocks, they'll be running through jello, and WVA will win the game.

Why do I think Louisville or Villanova will win this thing? Because Louisville is the best team in the Big East. If Villanova somehow finds a way to beat the Cardinals, and they will be motivated by that one-point loss earlier in the season, then they get a WVA team that's playing its 4th game in 4 days. Not to mention WVA embarassed Nova at Morgantown during the regular season.

So I'll crown the winner of Louisville/Villanova as the Big East champ. My heart's with the Wildcats, but my money's on Louisville.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big East Tournament Recap #2

UPDATE 3/12 1541: Villanova 76, Marquette 75. Last....second...shot....prevents epic collapse. I need a sedative.

Yesterday's results returned the tournament to form. After one mild upset and one major surprise, the higher seeded teams reasserted control over the Big East Bracket.

Providence survived a gritty effort by DePaul and eliminated the Blue Demons 83-74. I think DePaul has to consider this tourney run a success, considering they entered with nary a win in conference and left 1-1. Providence remains firmly ensconsed on the bubble going into tonight's contest against Louisville. Personally I think a win over Louisville would put them into the NCAA field, providing no more Cleveland State-type teams win their conference tournaments.

My opinion of the conference tournament nonsense deserves it's own column, but let's just say I'm not a fan.

Providence finished 2-5 against the teams above them in the standings, and got blown out at Louisville by 27 three weeks ago. A win on a neutral court would seal their NCAA bid.

West Virginia rode a huge first half and beat Notre Dame 74-62. The Fighting Irish didn't really fight in that first half, scoring only 18 points to trail by 18. Notre Dame and Georgetown were the two teams exposed as overrated this season - high pre-season rankings, then el floppo during conference play. I'm glad it was those two Catholic schools and not Providence and Villanova, whom I expected it to be. WVA gets the Pitt Panthers today. WVA has played Pitt twice this season, losing by 13 in Pittsburgh and by 11 at home. I don't see any reason why Pitt won't win tonight. As an aside, I'm glad the Mountaineers are in the opposite half of the bracket. Along with Georgetown, there the one team consistently giving Villanova fits these days (UCONN doesn't count, well, because they always give Villanova fits).

Syracuse was in a dogfight with Seton Hall until some second half unpleasantness occurred on the court - a couple of technical fouls on the Pirates, and then a double technical on Eugene Harvey (SH) and Eric Devendorf (SRY). That last one fired up the Orange(men), and especially Devendorf, who collectively went on a 17-3 run and blew the game open, winning 89-74. As a reward, Syracuse matches up with Connecticut today; UCONN won their only meeting earlier this year by 14. Syracuse is in, so this is for pride.

That brings us to Marquette. The Warriors choked the life out of St John's, holding the Redmen to 10 first half points. No that's not a typo. Leading by 28 at the break, Marquette cruised to a 74-45 pasting. Their game with Villanova is the most intriguing one today. Both teams have been ranked in the top 10 this season; both teams held serve at home. Villanova won the second round bye because Marquette lost 4 in a row to close out the regular season. Interestingly, of the top 4 seeds only Villanova was beaten by Marquette, and that was the first conference game for both teams.... on New Year's Day. Nice scheduling, there.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Villanova win, and I would be equally nonplussed if Marquette prevails. At this point, the teams are playing for seedings. One will be a #3, and the other a #4 when the NCAAs start. I think the game means more to Villanova, because they have an outside chance to be the #3 seed playing in Philadelphia next week; the home crowd helped them out 3 years ago during their second round game against Arizona. That 'Zona team was really good; I don't know if Nova wins that game on a neutral court.

A note about past Conference champions. For the first 10 years of the league only three teams won the tournament (Georgetown, Syracuse, and St John's). Georgetown still has the most tournament wins at seven, even though they won 6 of those from 1980-1989 (the Ewing/Mourning years). The full list:

Georgetown - 7
Connecticut - 6
Syracuse - 5
St John's - 3
Seton Hall - 2
Pittsburgh - 2 (and the defending champs)
BC - 2
Providence - 1
Villanova - 1

The Wildcats have been to several finals (5, including their lone win in 1995), but none since 1997. Getting to the final this season is a long shot - I think they're the weakest of the top 4 seeds, and would have thought that if they'd finished higher in conference - but you never know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big East Tournament Recap

Let me first say - categorically - I am rooting for the Nederlands. I made a comment in yesterday's UCB thread about how Americans love an underdog, well, you can't get much more underdog than a country with only two major leaguers on the roster (and those being Sidney Ponson and Randall Simon). Wow. Beat the mighty Dominican Republic team twice.

So yesterday kicked off the Big East tournament. This is the first year all 16 teams made the post-season tournament. Since the league expanded to 16 teams, the bottom 4 had been ineligible for the post-season event at Madison Square Garden. To accomodate those other 4 teams, the tourney format now includes a first round bye for the top 8 seeds, and a second round bye for the top 4 seeds.

Not that it helps Cincinnati at all. They faced less-than-mighty DePaul, who had finished the season with a league worst 0-18 record. Yes, that's not a typo - the Blue Deamons lost every single conference game. I'm quite sure this morning Cincinnati wishes the format hadn't changed, for DePaul won their first (and likely only) conference game against Cincinnati 67-57 in the tourney's opening round (and opening game). How much does that sting the Bearcat faithful? As a guy with an Xavier alum in the family, I can't help but laaaaaaauuuuuugh at the Bearcat misfortune. Lovely, lovely.

Another team not digging the new format is Georgetown. Remember two years ago they were a Final Four team? Ranked as high as #9 this year? Nothing like the conference season to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Hoyas would have squeaked into this tourney anyway as the #12 seed, but they probably would have gotten exactly as far as they will this year. St John's, making their first appearance at this event since 2003, dropped G'Town 64-59. Georgetown can kiss whatever slim hopes they had of making the NCAA's goodbye. I doubt they'll be invited to the NIT, but you never know - they are above .500 overall, although well under that mark in the conference.

Notre Dame kept their very slim NCAA hopes alive with an 11 point win over Rutgers. The Irish didn't have a good shooting night, but played suffocating defense to get the job done. They face West Virginia today in what very well might be a 'win and you're in' game for the NCAA. The Mountaineers beat Notre Dame at Morgantown, 67-58, in their 18 Feb conference matchup.

Most prognosticators put seven Big East teams in the NCAA tourney. That list does not include either Seton Hall or South Florida. In the final first round game, the Pirates beat S. Florida 68-54. As a reward, they get Syracuse today.

So your second round matchups are:

DePaul vs Providence, St. John's vs Marquette, Notre Dame vs. West Virginia, and Seton Hall vs Syracuse.

I would put these 6 teams as locks for the NCAA field: Louisville, UCONN, Pitt, Villanova, Marquette, Syracuse. I think if Providence beats DePaul, and they should be thanking the big Friar in the sky they don't have to play Cincinnati, they get in. I also think, as mentioned above, the Notre Dame/West Virginia winner will get in as well. I think 8 teams from the toughest conference in the country is about right. This league has had 4 or 5 teams in the top 10 rankings all season long.

We'll talk a little more about Villanova in tomorrow's post. The Cardinals have a bunch of off-days this week, so a bit of a hiatus there.

Is it too late to ask MLB to swap the teams around, so the USA and Dutch squads play here next week? I really don't care to see Japan/Korea/Cuba and whoever (Mexico or Australia) again at Petco. 3 of those 4 teams played here in 2006 (the other being the Dominican, whose players are returning to their MLB spring training complexes as we speak. Ha Ha Ha).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Odds and Ends

Oh, there's sooo much going on right now...

Cardinals played the Dominican Republic National team (less AP and A-Roid, of course) and won 4-1. Nice. Wellemeyer started, gave up a first inning run, and nothing after that. Franklin apparently dominated in his two innings; in fact, the entire staff pitched well. I mentioned last night on the UCB radio hour I thought this team could be a 90-win one with a healthy Carpenter in the mix; beating an All-star team with the likes of Ortiz, Tejada, etc, certainly supports that hypothesis.

Cardinals tried to address their lefty relief issue by signing Dennys Reyes to a two year, $3 million dollar contract. You remember Reyes - he gave up HR #60 to Mark McGwire in 1998. Reyes has been a very good left handed reliever the last 3 years. So, he's got that going for him.

A-Rod has a cyst on his hip. That's going to really mess with my AL only fantasy baseball league. Anyone got a spare 3B they can trade to New York? Think the Yanks would take Freese for Sabathia straight up - and pay, oh, $110 million of his salary?

Manny signed with the Dodgers - for the terms he wanted at the beginning. Two years, $45 mil, option to opt out after the first year. Why, again, did we go through all the nonsense between the end of the season and now?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

United Cardinal Blogger Radio Hour

Each week the UCB runs an hour of Cardinal Talk. This has been going since, oh, about November I guess, but I've not been able to dial in and participate in any of the shows due to (a) Master's Degree homework workload, and (b) uncooperative children who don't want to go to bed. In fact, the little one has become quite good at climbing out of his crib. I swear he's going to be a BASE jumper when he grows up - the kid is fearless.

Our weekly time block is Wednesday's at 8pm Pacific. The link to the site is here.

Anywho, the stars aligned last night and I was free to dial in. Unfortunately I caught the host, Chet from 4 the birdz, slightly off-guard; I had RSVP'd as a maybe, but since I was the only 'maybe' to dial in, he can be forgiven for not expecting it. However I thought he handled it well. Josh from the blog Redbirds Row also dialed in; Redbirds Row is a new Cardinal Blog I haven't had a chance to visit yet.

Last night's keynote speaker was Cardinal farmhand Jonny Bravo. Jonny recently graduated from Azusa Pacific University and is a left-handed starting prospect, currently slated to start in Johnson City. Before he dialed in, we discussed how the spring training is going for the Cardinals, who we thought were the most surprising pitchers, Chris Duncan, left-handed relief, and so on.

Once Jonny Bravo dialed in the conversation really bounced around, and he was a champ for putting up with our meandering questions for over 30 minutes.

The Talk Radio site records all the sessions and allows downloading the files. Rather than have me try and transcribe the whole conversation, I had intended to post the audio file here, but here we run into conflict with their business model - using the site to host shows is free, but if you want the audio it will cost you a couple of bucks. So, I haven't downloaded it yet (I'll probably do that via iTunes Friday night, just for posterity; I like listening to the melodious sound of my voice - call me narcissistic, I don't care).

However, if you're interested in listening to last night's conversation (it's an hour long), follow the link above, look for the 3/4/09 edition - you'll have to click on the description button below each file to find it, but I believe it's the second one in the middle column - and you can listen to it through your computer by hitting 'Download'.

Considering I wasn't prepared, and didn't know what to expect, I thought I did pretty well; however feel free to ridicule me in the comments. I thank the participants and dial out at about the 40 minute point.

I said it on the air last night, and will repeat it here: Many thanks to Jonny Bravo for calling and putting up with our questions. Best of luck to him in his professional career.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

United Cardinal Blogger Roundtable

Since 20 Feb, the illustrious bloggers known as the United Cardinal Bloggers have been posing questions, and soliciting answers, from each other. Yesterday it was my turn to pose the question.

There has been an undercurrent of acrimony laced throughout this recent off-season from some corners of the Cardinal fan base. Buster Olney alluded to it in an article on some time ago; Cardinals GM Mozeliak experienced it to a degree in his last chat with fans. The pet theory is this: the Cardinals are cheap, ownership won't cut loose with the moolah to sign players capable of filling holes in the lineup/roster, this team is doomed to not contend for the near term.

So I asked the following question to the UCB group:

"There's been a lot of talk this off-season about the Cardinals' payroll. On the one hand, we have the non-arbitration offer for Looper, the failed Fuentes signing, the lack of interest in pursuing Sheets (this is before his medical issues came to light), the non-signing of an impact bat to protect Pujols, the insistence in keeping payroll around $100M. On the other, we have Lohse's contract, Pujols' deal, Carpenter's heavily back-loaded contract, Piniero's (ugh) $7.5M for this season.

The ownership group has been accused of not spending the money necessary to field a competitive team. Do you agree or disagree, and why?"

Various folks weighed in with their opinion.

Dan (C70 at the bat)

"I've been on ownership's side most of the offseason and I don't see any reason to switch sides now.

The only thing I held against them was not pursuing Sheets, and it's very possible they had more medical info than the general public. Other than that, what would we have them do? They made a run on Fuentes that most of us were not excited about. Edgar Renteria might have been nice, but the Giants way overpaid for him. There just wasn't a whole lot out there this offseason, especially at the times when they were doing their shopping.

I look at what payroll is compared to this market size. I look at the fact that they locked up Carpenter before they had to (which may not have been the best idea, but no one could say it was the move of a cheapskate). I look at the Lohse contract.

I think that management is walking a fine line between fiscal responsibility and competitiveness and doing a pretty good job of it on the whole."

Chet (fourthebirdz):

Because of a winter of low-budget "moves," a fan would've gotten just as much excitement out of watching a winter of low-budget "movies."
If the Cards are playing up their farm system, it's probably because they have no choice but to actually use it for its intended purpose, because the FA market was volatile.
All bets were hedged this past cold-stove season, and by more organizations than the Cards, save this one New York group of which you may have heard.
But prospects? Good ones? Yeah. Lots of players that actually fit the "prospect" description, rather than the word "prospect" used as a synonym for "minor leaguer." Due to the tentative attitude toward player acquisition, we're seeing more "prospects" will a real chance of making the parent club. I predict the media outside St. Louis will be doing a lot of talking about three or four Cards' "freshmen" before May."

Sarah (La Beisbolista):

Admittedly, I have been a little wishy-washy on the subject. Sometimes it's hard to take a step back when you see other teams (like the Cubs, 'cause remember their huge spending spree after 2007?) buying up FAs and doing what could be construed as "improving the team" (whether or not that's actually the case) and your team seems to be content doing nothing.

Once it's all said and done though, I really think the smart thing for a team to do is move slowly. Throwing money around doesn't necessarily bring home the hardware, and I think it would alientate a lot of fans if the team operated with a revolving door of free agents instead of nurturing young talent and relying on the farm system.

Comeptetive is a relative term, as well, and it's hard to say that just because a player makes $100 million he's automatically the best option. Even the guys with the huge paychecks were making the league minimum at one point. They have to start somewhere. When I'm thinking rationally, I truly believe that it's possible to have a competetive team without breaking the bank. All things equal, you can't be a Cardinals fan and have any doubt that a young, unassuming group of players can win it all."

Matt (Whiteyball):

You can’t say the ownership group is cheap when they’ve consistently been in the top third to top half of major league clubs in payroll over the past decade. That doesn’t mean that they are not progressively sliding down from the top third towards the middle of the pack.

They lock up key players such as Pujols, Carp, Molina, and Wainwright currently and Edmonds, Rolen and Izzy in the past. This doesn’t necessarily stand out like a big free agent signing, but it does mean the club will take care of business. I think the Cardinals are a little gun-shy when it comes to free agent signings. For every big dollar free agent who earns their money, there is a Zito, Schmidt, or even Carpenter who have made a lot of money that past few seasons, with their teams getting nothing in return.

All I ask is the ownership group be up front with the fans. How many years in a row has it been said that not spending in the off-season will translate into flexibility to bring in someone big at the trade deadline. When there is no big trade deadline acquisition, the club says it gives them the ability to be aggressive in the free agent market. The cycle continues year after year and is getting old. Why can’t they just say that they are happy with the young kids they are bringing up and want to give them a shot over going out and paying much more for a veteran, who might not be better. All I think any knowledgeable Cards fan asks for is a little honesty.

There is a key concern in camp right now that will really show the ownerships hand. The left handed side of the bullpen has looked pretty bad and Ohman and Beimel are free agents still waiting for a team. If these 2 sign elsewhere for under the $2-3 million price tag and the Cardinals bullpen still looks as shaky from the left side as it does today, then I think the ownership group is heading more and more towards the cheap end of the spectrum."

The consensus seemed to be ownership is willing to spend the money to field a competitive team. There was some negativity aired, namely on the ownership's continual spin to how their dollars are spent and why, but overall the folks who responded were satisfied in the DeWitt group's analysis of the market and restraint where called for.

As for me, I believe ownership is doing what it can to field a competitive team. If they weren't, we'd see payroll contract much like it did for the 1998/2004 Marlins, or this year's Padres, and guys like Pujols, Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter, Piniero would be traded away for prospects. Although we can still hope they move Piniero.

I think this undercurrent of dissatisfaction is the work of a very few vocal fans who probably wouldn't be happy with anything this ownership group does. That they have been successful in venting their frustration is apparent as some National Media have picked up on their outrage and given it some veneer of credibility. Cardinals fans I talk to, be it on line or face to face (and yes, there are other Cardinals fans in SoCal besides me - you just need to know where to look), aren't in that vocal minority.

You want to hear someone vent some frustration? Talk to a Cubs fan re: DeRosa leaving and Bradley coming in. Cry me a river, fellas.

To sum up: Ownership is doing a competent job in fielding a competitive team, a team with a chance to contend.

My thanks to those who contributed to the discussion.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Carp throws two scoreless, sun shines brighter

Yes, it was only 18 pitches, but Chris Carpenter threw two scoreless innings on Saturday against ML hitters. It was his first such outing since 2 Sept 08. According to reports, he was able to locate his breaking ball well, and his fastball, and other than a hit batter it was a good outing.

LaRussa and Duncan were understandably giddy following this outing.

Carpenter has been brought along carefully this spring, and it is still very early in spring training to get really excited. What has happened, though, is he's met all the wickets set for him to date. Carpenter has 5 or 6 more starts to make this spring; there is always the chance of regression, but as he throws more, it appears his arm is sound this spring. For the first time since 2006.

He will begin to throw with more confidence, and throw more innings.

Cardinal fans everywhere are suddenly much more excited about this season. If Carp is able to return to the form of 2005-2006, which is a lot to ask of him but possible given his progress so far, the St Louis rotation is pretty formidable:

Wainwright #1 pitcher
Carpenter #1A pitcher (only because of the 2 year layoff and still recovering from injury)
Lohse #3 pitcher with #2 stuff
Wellemeyer #3 pitcher with #2 stuff
Piniero.... #5 pitcher with #3 stuff (which, in a contract year, I hope he finds a way to throw consistently).

If those guys make 25-plus starts each, this is a 90 win team. Even with Glaus on the shelf for the first month (at least).

Maybe not quite division-champ caliber, but certainly playoff caliber (Wild Card?)

Yes, a reason to be giddy. It definitely seems brighter around here today.