Thursday, April 30, 2009

So...who is the Cardinals biggest rival?

Welcome to United Cardinal Blogger Debate Day!

Today our various member blogs take an issue of interest to the average Cardinal fan and provide a definitive answer. The roll call of issues and debaters can be found here.

For your reading enjoyment, the opposing viewpoint to this argument can be found at Redbirds Fun. Before digesting it, please ponder the position of Jim Trotter III, esq. Mr. District Attorney:

"Cubs are our rival. It's a concept that comes from Old England, and all our little ol' ancestors."

Thanks Doc.

Feel free to peruse Dan's position, and then hurry back.




(Ok, they're back now)

I'm sure he had a cogent argument as to why the Chicago Cubs are the Cardinals biggest rival. However, it's completely wrong.

"You want answers?" "I WANT THE TRUTH!"

In order to be a rival, the following things need be true:

1. You must play often enough to sow the seeds of dislike.
2. There must be on field events that resonate with the fans.
3. You must play with something on the line besides bragging rights.

The Houston Astros have played the foil in these three areas far, far more often than the Cubs have. It may have been, deep in the forest primeval, that the Cubs were our on-field rival, but no more.

On, Contraire, you say? Consider the following:

1. You must play often enough to sow the seeds of dislike. Houston joined the NL in 1962, and played the Cardinals often enough until 1969, when expansion forced the splitting of the leagues into divisions. Houston (who had been the site of a Cardinal AA farm team, by the way) went to the NL West, the Cardinals to the NL East. As a result, the teams played 12 times a year, often enough to breed some dislike, but not often enough to forge a rivalry. And, because they played for/in separate divisions, there was never really anything on the line.

That changed in 1994 with the 3 division concept and unbalanced scheduling. Now, like the Cubs, they play the Cardinals anywhere from 16-18 times a year. That's plenty of times to sow some seeds of dislike.

2. There must be on field events that resonate with fans. This moves past the 'Rich Harden threw at Pujols on Sunday', 'Dusty Baker is an ass for arguing with LaRussa during a game', 'Wandy Rodriguez shot off his mouth at Pujols during BP'. No. There has to be something that happened that left a deep impression on both fan bases.

What do you come up with for the Cubs? The Cardinals comeback on 20 July 2004? Three Nights in August? You're grasping at straws.

Try these four events on for the establishment of a rivalry:
September 2, 1996:
Houston is in first place, starting a critical series against the second place Cardinals. Houston jumps out to 3-0 and 7-3 leads in this one, on a day when Donovan Osborne doesn't have it. The Cardinal bullpen throws 6 2/3 scoreless, while the offense ties the game at 7 in the bottom of the eighth and wins 8-7 in the tenth when Willie McGee singles in Ozzie Smith with the winning run. Houston gets swept and never recovers as the Cardinals win the NL Central.

October 5, 2001: Cardinals lead the NL Central by 1 with 3 to play, starting a series, at home, against Houston. Cardinals lead 1-0 after 7 behind Woody Williams. Houston scratches out a run in the eighth (remember Jeff Tabaka?) and in the ninth, and win 2-1. Each team wins one of the remaining two games, so they end the season tied; but Houston is awarded the division based on head-to-head record.

If that weren't bad enough, the following year the Houston Press Guide is titled, "2001 NL Central Champions". The Cardinals title theirs, "2001 NL Central Co-Champions", fanning the ill-will between the clubs.

Game 7, 2004 NLCS: Do I need describe Jim Edmonds' catch?

Game 5, 2005 NLCS: Pujols vs Lidge. Enough Said.

Game 6, 2005 NLCS: Roy Oswalt would have blown away the 27 Yankees that night to win the National League.

So you see, we have a lot more recent history with the Astros than with the Cubs, especially of the 'I'll never forget that game' variety.

3. You must play with something on the line besides bragging rights. Here's where it gets ridiculous.

I took a look at the entire history of the Cub/Cardinal, and Astro/Cardinal, rivalries based on records and when they played in the same league or division. Basically I was looking for how many times one team finished ahead of the other, and how many times the teams were involved in a pennant race. For Cubs/Cardinals, developing the data set was easy. They've played in the same league, and same division, since 1892. For Astros/Cardinals, it was a little bit more difficult. They played in the same league since 1962, but only from 1962 to 1968 was it one league. They played in separate divisions from 1969-1993, before they were both assigned to the NL Central starting in 1994.

Here's a breakdown, by decade, of how many times the Cardinals finished ahead of the Cubs (read: Cards finished higher - Cubs finished higher - ties. Yes, they did sometimes finish with the same record).

1892-1900: 2-7-0
1901-1910: 1-9-0
1911-1920: 2-7-1
1921-1930: 7-3-0
1931-1940: 4-5-1
1941-1950: 9-1-0
1951-1960: 7-2-1
1961-1970: 8-2-0
1971-1980: 7-3-0
1981-1990: 6-4-0
1991-2000: 8-2-0
2001-2008: 4-3-0

Here it is for the Astros.

1962-1968: 7-0-0
1994-2000: 2-5-0
2001-2008: 5-2-1

For Cubs/Cardinals, since 1940, it's LOPSIDED in favor of the Cardinals. For Astros/Cardinals, it's even since 1994.

Drilling down even further, I did a look at pennant races over the lifetime of the rivalry. A pennant race was defined as (a) one team must have finished either first or second in their division or league, and (b) they must have finished within 5 games of each other.

Based on these definitions, in the HISTORY of their rivalry the Cubs and Cardinals have been in a pennant race together a total of 6 times. Four of those events occurred between 1928 and 1945. In fact, the Cubs and Cardinals have only finished one-two three times; in 1930, 1935, and 1945. It's safe to say the glory days of this rivalry on the field are well in the rear view mirror.

The Cardinals and Astros have been in a pennant race three times since 2000, most recently 2006.

Yep; Cubs/Cardinals are such huge rivals they've fought each other for a pennant 6 times in 116 years; the Astros/Cardinals have done it three times in 15.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

It's time we all admitted the only reason Cubs/Cardinals can even be considered a rivalry is because one can drive to Chicago in 5 hours, and for historical reasons St Louis always compares itself, favorably or unfavorably, to Chicago.

The actual rivalry, based on on-the-field play, is Cardinals/Astros.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

McClellan coughs it up

As predicted yesterday, Jo Jo Reyes stymied the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing 3 hits and a run. Kyle Lohse needed to be better, and was, tossing six scoreless with six strikeouts.

Nursing a 1-0 lead, Motte navigated the seventh without incident.

Not so for McClellan. Much like Matt Garza's start (he's on my fantasy team, so I know these things), you can't walk the bases loaded and expect to get out of it unscathed. In Garza's case, Nomar (NOMAR!) cleared the bases with a double. In McClellan's, Diaz drove home two with a single. The two that scored were enough. Mike Gonzalez struck out the side in the ninth (remember him from his days with Pittsburgh?), and Atlanta had a 2-1 win.

It's tough to win 1-0 in this league, but when you need six outs to get there, or in McClellan's case, one more out to get out of the eighth, its especially tough. Pittsburgh did lose again, so the Cardinals maintained their 2 1/2 game lead in the division, so that's something.

Rubber game today - Wainwright vs Javier Vasquez. This is Vasquez's first season with Atlanta, after 3 with the White Sox. He's bounced around, starting in Montreal, with stints in Arizona and the Yankees. He's 2-6 career against St Louis, with a 4.01 ERA. At the TED he's 5-5 with a 3.24.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ankiel shaves mustache, drives in two

There's a commenter over at "Kissing Suzy Kolber" named "The Future Mrs. Rick Ankiel". She may be the only person upset at the loss of the porno mustache. Or maybe not; only she knows.

As for me, I couldn't care less, as long as it doesn't get large enough to distract him from playing defense or swinging the bat.

Rick has stuggled with the bat so far this season, but over the last 5 games is starting to show signs of snapping out of it. He's hit 2 HR in that span. Last night gave the latest evidence in his resurgence, two two-out RBI singles, which powered the Cardinals to a 3-2 win over Atlanta.

The three runs was all Joel Piniero would need. Piniero, continuing his surprisingly good start, went 6 and 2/3 allowing only one run. His record now stands at 4-0, tying his 2001 start for his best start ever to a season. And as has been mentioned here before, the Cardinals really need him right now given the state of their rotation.

With the Dodgers losing to San Francisco, the Cardinals now sport the best record in baseball at 14-6. Who would've thunk it?

I'm in class again (there's a shock), and our first test is Thursday, so the next few posts may be bereft of substance; please bear with us.

Kyle Lohse's knee against Jo-Jo Reyes tonight. Reyes is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA this season. In his career he's 3-6 at the TED, 3-9 in the first half of the season, 4-9 in night games, and 0-2 against St Louis.

Oh, yeah - he's also left handed. So you know you can throw all those statistics out the window.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Well, you can't expect to win them all

Of course, you can hope to do so. And when playing the Cubs, with the chance to sweep, one can't be faulted for really really wanting the win. But I'll take 2 of 3 every time. Do that, you will win 100 games.

Cubs bats woke up in this one, winning 10-3. At some level, we all knew this was going to happen today. Todd Wellemeyer isn't right, and hasn't been all season (so far). He's made it out of the fifth once. He's allowed 40 baserunners in 4 starts (for a WHIP of 1.82). Is this just an aberration or is there something wrong?

I think there's something wrong. Through his first 4 starts last season, he'd thrown 3 more innings, but here's the rub: he'd allowed 13 fewer baserunners (27 to 40), and had struck out twice as many guys (26 to 13). Part of the frustration of living on the West Coast is I don't get a chance to see the game live, and my days are too busy to allow sitting in front of a computer and watching the game on MLB TV. So I don't know if his pitches are more up this season than last, or have less break on them this season, or what. But what is true, and I can glean this from the statistics, is he isn't missing bats anywhere near as well as he did last year.

His pitch to contact has resulted in more baserunners, and giving up more runs (this year's ERA is 6.14, last year through 4 starts it was 3.24). Cardinals already have Carpenter on the shelf. Although we can't afford another starter to go down, I'd certainly like to find out what's wrong with Wellemeyer, because we need him over the long haul.

Interestingly, through 4 starts last year he'd given up 5 home runs. He hasn't given up any this season. I wonder if a change in his pitching philosophy, to not give up as many HR this year, has led to some unintended consequences regarding his effectiveness. Realize, though, that's just wild speculation on my part.

One more item from Sunday's game. The Cubs decided they wouldn't let AP beat them (smart move), walking him his first two times up. Then, with the score 6-2 Chicago and two outs in the fifth, they hit him. Now, in the top of the second Wellemeyer had drilled Soriano high with a pitch; the score was already 3-0, there was a guy on, Soriano was hitting third, so I don't think Wellemeyer was trying to intimidate anyone. And I don't know if Harden took it upon himself to protect his guys by throwing at Pujols.

But it seemed suspicious. Especially since AP had really hurt Chicago in this series. Was it a purpose pitch? A message to AP and the Cardinals for the rest of the season? Only Harden, Soto, and Piniella really know for sure.

Of all the guys to try and intimidate, I don't think I'd pick on Albert Pujols.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cardinals keep rolling along

Another home game, another great performance by Albert Pujols. A day after his daring baserunning broke a 3-3 tie, Albert hit a grand slam, powering the Cardinals to a 8-2 win over the Chicago Cubs. That makes the Cardinals 3-2 against Chicago this year, and puts them at 13-5 overall, 3 games ahead of Pittsburgh (yes, Pittsburgh!) in the Central.

Along with the Dodgers, St Louis will enter play Sunday with the best record in baseball.

We go for the sweep today. Wellemeyer vs Harden.

I thought, before the season started, the Cardinals were a 90 win team. To make it to 90 wins, they will have to finish 77-67, or play .535 baseball. The Cubs, picked by virtually everyone (save Joe Posnanski) to win the division, would have to go 82-64 the rest of the way, or play .568 ball. Chicago has the talent to do that; however, with each passing game, and each loss, they need to play better and better for the balance of the season to catch up.

Let's just say we've gotten off to a fast start, and the Cubs are down. Now is the time to go for the throat.

With Schumaker moving to second base, his impact on the Cardinals fielding statistics has been floating around my head as a post idea. I haven't put anything together yet on that; however, this post at USS Mariner got me thinking about how the Cardinals are doing (a) this year, and (b) how they compare to last year. Here's the data for 2009:

a. In terms of fielding percentage, only the Nationals are worse.
b. Raw balls put into play - they're slightly better (19th), but only Houston in the Central is worse. Last year they were 11th, as a team widely accepted as a very good fielding team.
c. Looking at UZR, St Louis is 27th in the league. Only the Angels, Nationals, and Orioles are worse. In 2008, they were the 6th best defensive team in baseball.

Now, this is a very small sample size (18 games), but it does indicate there's more going on with the team's defense than just Skip Schumaker's play at second. Perhaps it's the absence of Troy Glaus at third (who should have won the Gold Glove last year, by the way). Perhaps it's Duncan playing LF regularly. Perhaps it's Khalil Greene (he's made a lot of errors (4) early this season, leading all NL SS). Either way, this team is a lot more suspect with the glove than last year.

That makes the fact they're 13-5 that much more amazing. However, when the offensive goes into a funk (which it will at some point this season), one can only hope they've turned things around on the defensive end.

*Hat-Tip to U.S.S. Mariner for the defensive statistic links*

Update 1103: Joe Strauss has an article on the Post-Dispatch site discussing defense. Here's the link. I think LaRussa's lack of concern for the dip his defense has taken is misplaced.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Break out the brooms

The bridge crew searches for an effective Met pitcher

Albert Pujols brought the whooping stick. Rick Ankiel saw past his cheesy porno mustache and made a fantastic catch to go with his first HR and 2 RBI. Lohse pitched 5 exciting innings, but wiggled off the hook when needed.

Under the bright sunlight, St Louis swept New York out of town, winning the finale 12-8.

For all the good in this game, and offensively, there was a lot of good, the bullpen continues to be a question mark. Called upon to get 12 outs, they responded by giving up 6 runs. Most of that fell on PJ Walters, but his pen mates did a lousy job stranding inherited runners.

With the reshuffled rotation, Lohse's start today marked the beginning of the fourth time through. Looking back at the first three trips through, some interesting items have come up.

- As Rick Hummel mentioned in yesterday's article, Piniero's effort on Wednesday was the first quality start since Wellemeyer's 13 Apr start at Arizona.
- After averaging 6 1/3 innings per starter the first time through, they're averaging 5 2/3 innings since. Which is a lot of work for the bullpen. Piniero's Wednesday start marked the first Cardinal starter to get into the seventh since that same Wellemeyer start.
- Cardinals starters haven't left the game behind since Carpenter's 9 April start. Yes you read that correctly. Lohse and Wellemeyer were tied when they left the game this week.
- Don't expect to see Reyes or Walters pitch tomorrow. Everyone else should be available.

No bullpen statistics yet that I'm willing to talk about here. I discovered tonight that one of my metrics (K/9) is messed up. This is because I'm using 0.3 and 0.7 to signify 1/3 and 2/3 of an inning, respectively. Well, that messes up the metric; for instance, if a guy throws 2/3 of an inning, and has 2 strike outs, he should have a K/9 of 27. But if 2/3 of an inning is represented by .7, the calculation is 25.71. I'll figure out how to correct that this weekend.

The evil empire comes to town tomorrow. We owe these guys. Let's keep rolling fellas!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cards sink Mets; UCB Radio Hour Reprise

Just who exactly has inhabited Joel Piniero's body, and what can we do to make the change permanent?

Eight efficient innings, 91 pitches thrown, 13 batters retired before David Wright's double leading off the ninth; he's also drawing walks and scoring runs. Yes, put me down as a big fan of the improvement.

And, he leads the NL in wins with 3. Nice to see he's earning the cash the team is paying him, becuase we sorely need him to be good right now.

Piniero's start ended a string of bad starts by the Cardinals staff. He is the only one with a quality start this time through the order, and the only one to make it to the seventh inning.

Coupled with Chicago's loss, St Louis starts the day back in first place by a game at 11-5. They go for the sweep of the Amazin's today.

I mentioned on last night's show today should seem a little more cheerful with the Cardinals back on top of the division. Which is a nice segue to the show. I hosted the UCB talk radio hour for the first time last night; and although I am an obviously biased reporter, I thought it went well. Other than the fact that I had some technical issues and couldn't get the chat board to show up on my computer.

We had Dr. Doug Feldmann on the show for the first 10 minutes, discussing his new book, St Louis Cardinals - Past and Present. It is a coffee table book, heavy on pictures, describing the rich history of our favorite franchise. Dr. Feldmann was a gracious guest, answering questions on his book, some of his other books, and a wide range of other topics. Turns out Dr. Feldmann is from the Chicago area, but saw the light at an early age regarding the Cubs/Cardinals. He can be forgiven for being a bit of a White Sox fan, as (I believe it was his uncle, although my memory escapes me) played in the White Sox organization for a time. Thank you, Dr. Feldmann, for dialing in.

Last night's game ended right about the time Doug left, and Josh from Redbirds Row called in, Josh and I spent the next 45 minutes or so talking about the game, as well as Blaine Boyer, Ludwick's playing time, Khalil Greene, what's wrong with Rick Ankiel, and other topics of interest. Thanks to Josh for dialing in. Josh didn't have the technical issues I had with chat, so we were able to get to questions posted there by our on-line listeners.

I believe the broadcast is available for download, and if I ever figure out how to post those audio files here it will go up. But, since it was the first time I had hosted a show in 20 years (back to my college radio days), it's definitely one for the books for me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A comeback win

Some pitchers fill you with dread. Not because they're overpoweringly good, but because you know, for whatever reason, they have your team's number.

Whenever I see Oliver Perez's name in the probable starters list, I get a small knot in my stomach. He sucks, but he seems to handle the Cardinals for whatever reason. And since Wellemeyer has been a 'surrender hits' machine early this season, this didn't bode well for St Louis.

Well Wellemeyer lived up to his billing. And Perez handled the Cardinals for 4 innings. But it all changed in the 5th. St Louis pushed 4 across, and chased Perez. They got 2 more in the eighth, to beat New York 6-4 and snap a 2-game losing streak.

One question following the game. Fossum comes in to relieve Perez with the bases loaded. He then walks Thurston on 4 pitches to force in the tying run. Brian Barden comes up to pinch hit. I know LaRussa teaches his players to be aggressive in RBI situations, but WHY would you swing at the first pitch there? The guy just walked in a run; he's thrown 4 pitches (all balls), and it looked like (at least, on ESPN mobile) the pitch Barden swung at was in the same location as the 4 that missed to Thurston. That decision by Barden makes absolutely no sense to me.

Although that probably explains why I'm not playing in the majors right now.

UCB Radio Hour is 7:30pm - 8:30pm tonight (that's Pacific time), and I'm hosting. We should have Doug Feldman on the line - he's coming out with a new book about Cardinals baseball. Should be interesting. Feel free to pop in!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hi, Brian. How was your off day?

Brian Barton's off-day turned into a travel day to another city. He was swapped yesterday for the Braves' Blaine Boyer. Reports indicate this move was made to shore up the Cardinals shaky bullpen. And it has been shaky. Currently the bullpen boasts of a 4.77 ERA in 43.3 innings pitched. Not good. Not to mention the 4 games where the bullpen surrendered a lead late. That's over a quarter of their games played so far this season; also not good.

But is this the best move? The guy was just designated for assignment by Atlanta, not exactly a ringing endorsement. And, in 117 innings over parts of 5 years, his ERA is north of 5.00. I gotta say I'm surprised by this one.

Was he worth one of our trade chips? Time will tell. What is true is the only reliable guys down there are McClellan and Franklin. In this day and age, it's hard to go through a whole season with two reliable guys in the bullpen.

Barton was one of a bunch of guys vying for playing time in a crowded outfield, but, he was worth more than a mediocre (at best) middle reliever.

Anyway, the team heads home to play the Mets. As the Cubs series is now two days in the rear view mirror, thanks to the rainout Sunday night, I won't dwell on it, except to say they could have won all 3 games, and should have won on Friday night. Which brings us back to this trade, and the reasons for it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Chris Duncan Experience

That'd be a good name for a blog, no?

When I was in college, the Villanova basketball had a 5th year senior guard named Pat Enright on the team. Enright was one of those scrappy guys, lots of heart, not really good, who could spell our point guard for a couple of minutes without hurting the team (a helpful talent, as our point guard wasn't really a point guard and we had no true point on the roster). Anyway, my freshman year Villanova made the NCAA tournament, managed to beat Arkansas in the first round, and faced Illinois in the second. Illinois was better, and led by 12 with about 3:30 to play. Villanova began to make a run. As they were picking up steam, and had cut the lead to 9 I believe, Enright got free in the corner.

Pat Enright was not a guy you wanted taking big shots late in the game.

The ball swung around to him, and he launched a three pointer. As it became clear to the 4 of us watching the game in my dorm room that he was going to shoot, we all yelled "NOOOOOOO!" simultaneously at the TV.



Watching Duncan play yesterday reminded me of that moment. He can be awful in the field - the drop in the sixth inning was just plain ugly - but he can also be very, very clutch. It's just that you never know what you'll see from him until the play is over, so you spend the moments when he is front and center grumbling about what could happen, then, when he comes through, the immediate moments after the play happy about what did happen. HR and 3 RBI will make most forget the defensive adventures he had throughout the game. Hey, it usually works for Alfonso Soriano.

Round 1 to the Cardinals. Wainwright was efficient, and good enough. You're still walking too many guys, Adam. Please work on that. I'd like to welcome Khalil Greene to the Cardinals all-time HR list. It's going to be a fun year needling the locals about Greene if he returns to his 2007 form.

Today, well, most are expecting the Cubs to roll through Walters. With Dave Duncan and Yadier in his corner, he'll have the advantage the first time through the order if he hits his spots. After the third inning, all bets are off. Here's hoping Big Z spent too much time on Facebook last night and doesn't have it today.

Other news: Chris Carpenter has an oblique muscle tear. Just a little more serious than a muscle strain. That explains the 4-8 week timetable for his return. I for one am glad it's not an arm problem. I don't think Walters is with the big club for more than 1 start, although I've been wrong before. Albert Pujols announced he'll be in the HR Derby this year. I would think that just made the HR derby one of the hottest tickets in STL for the All-Star Game week.

That's it from here. Enjoy your weekend. Rotation Round #2 analysis will be up this weekend, as will Bullpen week #2.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cardinals Roll into Chicago

One interesting thing that's surfaced so far this season is the Cardinals' tendency to 'get even' following a tough loss. After losing 6-4 on Opening Day, they punished the Pirates 9-3. After losing a tough game on Tuesday, they punished the Diamondbacks 12-7. It may just be coincidence, and it is only a 2-game sample, but there you go.

I've posted a preview of the Cubs/Cardinals series over at Cardinals Clubhouse. Here's the link. It says posted by Cardinal70, but that's because I encountered a problem getting the article to post and he was able to correct it. Constructive comments are always welcome; funny comments are appreciated; sarcastic comments will be ignored, and "I'll put your name down in me book".

Carpenter is on the 15 day DL. Early comments say he'll be out 4-8 weeks. Four to Eight Weeks?! Boy that screws up my head-to-head UCB league roster. Actually that's a joke; I have no power, 4 second baseman, and Manny Parra on that team. Last week I was 1-9. I should have named my team the 2008 San Diego Padre Reprise.

I've pulled a few muscles in my lifetime, but never one that required 2 months to heal. I guess this is a function of the violence imparted on the body by the act of throwing a baseball, but wow. Seems a bit long on the recovery progonstication. Makes me wonder if there's not something else going on there.

One mea culpa from yesterday. I asked the question why LaRue didn't hit for Brendan Ryan in yesterday's article. I missed the fact that Ryan Ludwick was also available to pinch hit in the ninth. There a couple of reasons for this; one, I thought I saw Ludwick's name in the box score, and two, somehow I was convinced the Cardinals were carrying 13 pitchers instead of 12, so when 11 players appeared in the box score the only guy left was the back-up catcher. If I had realized Ludwick was available, the question would have echoed what Derrick Goold wrote about yesterday.

I think LaRussa out-thought himself on this one. Ludwick is tearing the cover off the ball right now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Bad Day At Bank One

Some of our worst fears are realized - Chris Carpenter tantalizes us with a 7 inning masterpiece, and leaves his next start with an injury. Oh, boy.

Reports this morning indicate it's a left oblique strain and he will likely be headed to the disabled list. Not an arm injury. I'm not optimistic, or even cautiously optimistic, that's true, however; I seem to remember last September, when he left his last game against the Cubs, initial reports were a strained muscle in his back, which turned into another arm problem. All we can do at this point is wait.

Last night's game can be analyzed like a Clint Eastwood film of some note:

- The Good: Cardinals came back from two down in the ninth to tie the game at 6. Rasums, AP, and Thurston all had two hits and RBI in this game.

- The Bad: Carpenter's injury. Blew leads of 3-0 and 4-2. Got the go-ahead run to third with one out in the ninth and left him there (Ryan, Ankiel struck out). Thompson gave up the winning run in the 10th on only 8 pitches.

- The Ugly: Josh Kinney self-destructed in the 8th. Bullpen completely depleted after throwing 6 2/3 innings last night, with a 4-game series in Chicago looming.

I wonder - would Jason LaRue have been a better choice to hit against Qualls? He is 0-2 in 3 plate appearances (the other he was hit by pitch), whereas Ryan had struck out in his only other plate appearance against Qualls (and he struck out last night). I know, LaRue is the backup catcher, and we would have been in a bad way had Molina gotten hurt, but I think the experienced bat would have been a better choice in that situation. Totally Tuesday AM Quarterbacking, by the way. I'd be interested in other opinions on the subject.

Some interesting decisions loom for the Cardinals. Which pitcher comes up to replace Carpenter (early money is on Chris Perez and/or Mitchell Boggs)? Who starts the Sunday night game against Chicago - McClellan? Thompson? Someone else?

Not a good day.

Noon start today in the desert, before flying to the Windy City.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wellemeyer Recovers; Let's Talk About the Bullpen

Continuing the pleasant early trend of excellent starting pitching, Todd Wellemeyer recovered from a bad opening start with 7 innings of 1 run ball, enabling the Cardinals to take a 2-1 decision in the opener against Arizona.

This marks the fifth quality start in a row, which, naturally enough, led to the Cardinals fifth win in a row.

Albert Pujols and Brian Barden provided all the scoring with solo home runs in the third and eighth innings. D-Back starter Doug Davis was just as tough as Wellemeyer, scattering seven hits over eight innings. He made two mistakes. Wellemeyer made one, and wriggled out of a couple of other tight corners.

St Louis, San Diego, and Toronto currently share the best record in baseball at 6-2. You would have won a lot of money if you bet those three teams would have the best record in baseball at this point.

It's pretty obvious a major reason the Cardinals are off to a fast start is the starting pitching. Let's take a look at the relievers; are they holding up their end of the bargain?

From the first week, here's the usage grid for the first week.

Of course, if that were at all legible you'd see what I mean.

Couple of notes. What you're looking at is the inning the pitcher entered and how many outs they recorded. For instance, McClellan on 6 April entered in the seventh inning and retired one batter, then pitched the eighth.

Most of the high leverage innings so far have been thrown by McClellan and Franklin, the horses from last year's bullpen. Thompson has the lion's share of the innings (5 of the 18 bullpen innings through Sunday), but all of those have been in games the Cardinals won in a blowout, or lost in a relative blowout. Reyes seems to have worked himself into leverage situations. Miller hasn't been used since 8 April (and that includes last night).

The bullpen stats, which I don't post here, show an ERA of over 4.00 for the year; but that number is really driven by Motte's bad outing on Opening Day, and the fact Thompson has surrendered 2 runs in each of his last 2 appearances. I like Brad Thompson, but early returns indicate he's the worst pitcher on the staff; LaRussa is using him exactly as he should (long man/mop up man).

Anyway, I thought this would be an interesting thing to track throughout the year. Of course, if the starters continue to throw like Wellemeyer did last night, this will be a very boring exercise.

One programming note: I'm going to be writing Bird's Eye View previews for Cardinals Clubhouse this season. My first one should be published on for the Cub Series this weekend. FYI.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lohse near perfect. My house hates old people

We'll get to the second half of the title at the end.

First, Kyle Lohse. He gives up a leadoff single on the first pitch of the game, then retires 24 in a row. And they were efficient; he struck out 4, but only threw 89 more pitches to get through the first eight. The ninth may have been his most taxing, where he threw 22 pitches and faced the tying run in Lance Berkman. I'll assume LaRussa had someone up in the bullpen ( doesn't say).

Lohse's complete game was really important from a bullpen usage point-of-view. As has been chronicled elsewhere, the team has only one off day between now and May 11. Although the bullpen hasn't been overtaxed - Thompson leads the group with 5 IP, mostly in blowouts - LaRussa freely used them during the homestand. Stealing a day off for the corps, as it were, is big. Everyone's reset for the road trip.

Boy this opening homestand couldn't have gone much better. Perhaps winning the game they should have one on Opening Day would improve things a bit. But for a team picked by most to finish third to start 5-2, sweep one of its bitter rivals, torch an ace who's tortured them for years? Break up the Cardinals.

I'll point out that in 2004 they were also picked to finish third, behind Chicago and Houston. Seven games do not a good comparison make, and that 04 team had a better lineup, and probably a better bullpen, than this one; but it's interesting nonetheless.

So it's off to Arizona. Wellemeyer vs. cancer survivor Doug Davis, Carpenter vs. Univ of Missouri product Matt Scherzer, and Piniero vs Jon Garland.

Now, to the second part of the title.

Yesterday was Easter, and so we had some family/friends over to the house for dinner. One of them, a family friend of long standing, had never been to our house (which we moved into about this time last year), so I was giving him the dime tour. We had finished looking at the downstairs, and were headed up stairs (I was in front of him about 3-4 steps), when I heard a thump. Apparently he missed, or tripped, over the first step, and fell, hit his head on a stair, and knocked himself out for about 15 seconds. Luckily, our stairs are carpeted and padded, which softened the blow a bit (he's 6'1"), however, when you're 80 any fall is tough to take. We called the paramedics to come check him out; he was fine (Thank God), but a little unsteady, so they took him to the local Sharp hospital for evaluation (as of 2100 last night he had passed all the tests they ran).

About six weeks before my father-in-law had tripped in almost the identical spot and fallen; however, he managed to brace himself quite gracefully (and miss my 18 month old son, who was hanging on him and probably contributed to the event) and was unhurt.

So, if you're old enough to collect a social security check, and come by the house, I'll be handing out helmets; the stairwell will also be lit up like a grand opening with floodlights and neon signs pointing out the stairs. It's not that we don't trust your balance, our your depth perception, its my house apparently doesn't like old people.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"He's not the best hitter in the game for nothing, folks!"

Every time I watch Albert hit, I appreciate just a little bit more what I'm seeing. I understand, just a little, what it must have been like to watch Musial hit. Or Williams. Or Dimaggio in his prime.

My God he's good.

Facing a guy who's tortured the Cardinals throughout his career, most notably during the 2005 NLCS, and who had never lost at neo-Busch, the Cardinals roughed him up for 6 runs in 5 innings enroute to a 11-2 rout.

If you watched the first two innings, there were no indications the game would turn out like this. Oswalt faced the minimum, while Wainwright was performing a high wire act, stranding 4 runners in scoring position. After the Cardinals pushed across a run in the third, Adam stranded two more runners, then settled down, retiring the last 7 hitters he faced. Oswalt navigated the fourth without incident, but the wheels came off in the fifth.

Bringing us back to AP. Six pitch at bat in the first, leading to a line out to third (Rasmus was doubled off first on the play). Five pitch at bat in the fourth; popped to third. LaRussa, in the book 'Three Days in August', preached an aggressive approach at the plate in an RBI situation. AP clearly took that to heart. He hit the first pitch into Big Mac Land. It probably helped having seen the other 11 pitches his first two trips.

The game safely in hand, based on the Astros lack of run production so far this season (they're hitting .276 as a team, but only the KC Royals have driven in fewer runs then their 16), LaRussa called Jason Motte from the bullpen. One scoreless inning, two strikeouts. I thought this a good move to give the kid a low leverage inning of work, build some confidence, work in an off-speed pitch, you know the drill.

AP returned to the plate in the seventh to face the Houston reliever W Wright. On the fifth pitch of that at bat, he hammered another ball to left for a 3-R HR. Ballgame. AP got to watch the rest of the game from the comfort of the bench.

Dennys Reyes threw a scoreless inning, and Thompson closed out the game, albeit surrendering 2 meaningless runs in the ninth.

Pujols' heroics overshadow Wainwright struggling for the second start in a row. Adam has struck out 11 so far this season, but he's walked 8. For his career, he's struck out almost 2.5 more guys than he's walked (2.32 to be exact); this year it's 1.37. Proving the vagracies associated with the awarding of wins and losses in baseball, he's one blown save away from being 2-0 in that span; and if the bullpen hadn't botched the sixth inning on Opening Day, he wouldn't have given up a run yet. We need to monitor this as closely as I'm sure LaRussa and Duncan are.

Of course, if AP continues to swing the hot bat, and the rest of the lineup continues to give him opportunities to drive in runs, a lot of flaws in the pitching staff can be forgiven.

Be grateful Pujols plays for us. We won't see his like again for a long time.

Piniero Deals

On the heels of Carpenter's epic outing, the Cardinals biggest enigma took center stage - the guy getting silly money for mediocre effort - Joel Piniero. We've all heard how angry he was at being left off the Puerto Rican National team, and how this is a contract year. He claimed to be in the best shape of his life.

Well, it's showtime, bubba.

Piniero gave Cardinals fans more cause for optimism this season, throwing 6 and 2/3 effective innings, leaving with a 4-1 lead in a game St Louis eventually won 5-3. It was the third quality start of the first time through the rotation.

I thought I'd try something new this year, and that is look at the rotation each time they complete a full swing through; in other words, what the rotation is doing after everyone's pitched. With Piniero's start, here's a look at some of the numbers:

Avg start length: 6.1 inn
WHIP: 1.32
ERA: 3.19
K/9: 6.68
K/BB: 2.09
Only 1 HR allowed in 5 starts.

Additionally, I've redefined the quality start to mean an ERA of 3.00 or less for the number of innings pitched, mostly because the quality start definition of 3 ER or less in 6 IP has always bugged me; how does an ERA of 4.50 become a quality start? That's a mediocre pitcher at best. Under the revised definition, 3 of 5 starts were of the quality variety.

All told, other than Wellemeyer's gagger, the starters pitched very well the first time through.

Relievers will be looked at on a weekly basis. Seemed like a better metric than every 5 games.

At any rate, the Cardinals can attribute their 3-2 start to excellent starting pitching. If Motte hadn't had a really bad outing on Opening Day, they'd be 4-1.

Oswalt, who always gives the Cardinals trouble, against Wainwright today.

Nick Adenhart

Unless you've spent the better part of the last 2 days under a rock, you're aware that Nick Adenhart, pitcher for the California Angels, was killed yesterday morning in a car accident. The vehicle he was riding in was hit by a drunk driver. Of the other three people in the car with Adenhart, two, Henry Pearson and Courtney Stewart, were also killed; the third (Jon Wilhite), is in critical but stable condition.

Eventually everyone loses members of their families. Each death is a sad occasion, but death affects everyone differently. If your uncle, who lives on the opposite coast, dies, it's a sad event in your life; but it won't hit you as hard as it does your mother, who's lost her older brother.

You lose a member of your immediate family, however, the pain is sharp, the grief real, the loss profound.

I lost my father three years ago to cancer, and that was really hard. But we knew he was dying when the cancer was diagnosed. I new he had had a full life, albeit shorter than I wanted (he was 65). And deep down, I knew that eventually I would spend time on this planet without him. I wanted it to be a long time in the future, but I knew eventually he would be called away.

I can fathom the pain Nick's father feels right now, but not its depth, or its weight. Reflecting on how he must feel creates a lump in my throat, because I know I would be devastated to have to bury one of my sons.

You're not supposed to outlive your kids. You're not supposed to have your child suddenly taken from you without warning.

Wednesday Mr. Adenhart sat in the stands and watched his son throw six scoreless innings against the Oakland A's. Thursday he sat at his son's locker weeping.

The Angels have rallied around him and his family. This will help, although it can't ease the pain, or mitigate the loss. Only time will do that, even though it will never fully make those whom Nick, or Courtney, or Henry touched whole.

I hope the Angels extend a hand to the Stewart and Pearson families as well. Nick Adenhart's untimely death is national news because he was a professional baseball player; those two families' grief is just as profound. They need support too. Nick thought enough of Henry and Courtney, and Jon, to celebrate the highlight of his professional career (to date) with them, and they shouldn't be swept aside.

The 22-year old kid who drove the minivan has been charged with 3 counts of murder, among other things. There have been a lot of calls for his incarceration/execution, in various online forums. At first I agreed with that sentiment; then I began to wonder how tragic someone's life has to be to have a drunk driving conviction, and a suspended license, at 22. His life is over; if convicted, he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars, and he will pay the price for his errors in judgment. My thirst for revenge has been replaced by pity.

No winners. Just dreams unfulfilled, families shattered, lives ruined.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Carpenter Triumphant

Well I think I speak for everyone when I say that couldn't have gone any better.

I've been looking forward to Chris Carpenter's first start ever since it became clear his arm troubles were behind him this spring. Gone was the hesitation and the guarded, almost wistful, optimism the team (and he) put out during press conferences. Carp was throwing well during the spring, and although a concerted and correct effort was made to keep expectations realistic, it seemed he was back to his old self.

Carp's start was a topic of discussion during Wednesday's UCB radio show, and the consensus was 5-6 good innings would be great for his first one; anything beyond that was gravy.

Well, we're swimming in gravy today. Six and 2/3 no-hit ball? Are you kidding me?

In retrospect, I'm relieved he gave up that hit in the seventh. Think about it. This is Carpenter's first start since Sept of last year, and he's spent the better part of 2 years recovering from a variety of arm ailments. You know the Cardinals had him on a strict pitch count. However, LaRussa employs the warrior mentality; let his pitchers go out there and compete. I think it would have been very tough for him to pull Carp after seven, with his pitch count under 90 and a no-hitter going. Giving up the hit, and removing that drama from the game, made the decision to lift Carp much much easier. And it was the correct decision. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

That said, I was really glad the boys managed to push 2 runs across in the home half of the seventh, and set up Carp for the win. He certainly deserved the W based on the effort he gave. It also got AP off the hook for a rare throwing error that led to the Pirates' only run of the game.

An interesting sub-plot in this game is Reyes pitching the ninth. He retired the side in order. Since Motte had such difficulty in his first game, it begs the question if LaRussa will go with a closer by committee approach for a while. Franklin had only worked 2/3 of an inning going into yesterday, and 'protect the lead in the eighth' is his role, so that made sense. Reyes pitched on Tuesday in the blowout, so it may be a case of getting him some high leverage work. Or it could be as simple as McLouth and Hinske hit left handed, and LaRussa wanted to have Doumit hit from the right side (although career-wise all Doumit's power is from the right side, so to turn him around in a one-run game is an interesting decision). Doumit had never faced Reyes before yesterday.

So although I'd rather be 3-1, I'd certainly rather be 2-2 than 1-3.

Today the Houston Astros come to town for a 3-game set. Piniero vs Hampton today, then Wainwright vs Oswalt, and Lohse vs Wandy Rodriguez on Easter Sunday.

As we start the most important 3 days in the Christian calendar, a Happy Easter to you and yours. And remember, in less than 48 hours you can start doing all those things you've given up for the last 40 days. Just don't eat all 3 pounds of chocolate on Easter morning, ok? Let the kids have some of that dark chocolate bunny too...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My What A Happy Day

If you have kids, or are older than, oh, say 30, you've probably seen the Disney movie "Mickey and the Beanstalk". The singing harp (pictured above, as if you needed clarification there) sings a song titled "My What a Happy Day", which helps the valley Mickey lives in flourish.

And after the systematic destruction of Pittsburgh engineered by the Cardinals yesterday, that's exactly how today feels. Even if it is raining here in God's Country.

Overall a lovely night of baseball. Lohse pitched the way we hope he pitches all season, 7 innings, 3 runs. Albert homered. Duncan homered. Yadi tripled - tripled! - his first since June 5, 2005 off Roger Clemens (of all people). Yadi also homered. Joe Thurston knocks in 2. Khalil knocks in two. And Colby Rasmus - welcome to the Major Leagues, kid. An OBP of .600 will get you all kinds of fans and playing time.

Schu made an error in the field, but it was on a rushed throw vice a range issue. I'm thinking that's less of an issue than him kicking a ball. The error didn't hurt, as he started a double play on the next hitter to erase the miscue. So even that came up roses.

It was good to see the club bounce back after the way Monday's game ended. One always wonders how a loss like that will affect a team. Looks like they put it behind them right away. LaRussa's teams have always been mentally tough. It also helps that the loss occured at home in April. If it had happened in August in Pittsburgh, and cost the team a game in a tight pennant race, it would have been harder to recover from I'm sure.

Tonight Todd Wellemeyer gets the ball against Zach Duke. Duke is another lefty, so we may see the same lineup as for Monday against Maholm. Hopefully they'll plate more than 2 runs tonight. Todd tries to shake off a bad spring training with a good effort vs Pittsburgh. This is a good team for him to face to do that. Todd's 4-1 with a 1.18 WHIP in 17 career games against Pittsburgh (most of that in relief, granted, but still).

Finally the UCB radio hour returns tonight - with the hope I will be able to dial in. It's from 1930-2030 WEST COAST TIME (emphasis added because I screwed that up on Sunday). Feel free to call in, or chat, or just listen. Should be scintillating.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Not the Droids We Were Looking For

The major problem we had last year - closing out games with the lead - reared its ugly head in a big way on Opening Day. Staked to a 4-2 lead, and with 2 out in the ninth, Jason Motte surrendered 4 runs, and the Cardinals lost 6-4.

It's early. It's very early. But the one day returns are not encouraging.

I 'watched' the game from work, courtesy of Interesting side note: ESPN has updated it's Gamecast to include probability of winning at the top of the page, stealing a slice of life from fangraphs. Before the Pirates got 2 in the sixth, Cardinals win prob was about 82%. Even after that, St Louis had a 56% shot at winning. I can only imagine how high it was with two out, a guy on third, and a 1-2 count on the hitter.

Wainwright seemed shaky, although he danced out of trouble for 5 innings. That sixth was painful to watch - 3 walks, then the tying double off Kinney. I assume Ludwick made a great throw to nail Maholm at the plate, ending the inning. How about Maholm? Single and 2 walks in 3 trips to the plate. Someday I'm going to invent a NL fantasy league where pitcher hitting statistics count in the team totals.

Via SportsCenter highlights, I saw a little of Motte's outing in the ninth. There are folks out there with a lot more time watching him, so my single sample size experience is definitely skewed. He didn't seem to have a secondary pitch besides his fastball. Again, selective highlight editing skews that perception.

Assuming he has a breaking ball of some sort, his fastball is what disturbed me. It doesn't move at all. He throws hard - high 90s - but it's straight. I've seen this before in a Cardinal closer. Todd Worrell. Todd threw gas, but it was straight gas. And good fastball hitters, of which MLB is loaded with, will eventually time it and turn it around. Especially if they get to watch hitter after hitter get fed the same pitch (as Jack Wilson did). Again, one-sample size set, no other data to go off, but if Jason Motte is a 'here it is, hit it if you can' kind of guy, NL hitters will feast on him. And it will be a long year.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day!

So, at last, we come to it.

No more prognostication, no more speculation on who'll make the roster, no more discussions over 'what if's'. We start.

Wainwright vs Maholm. 1:15 PDT.

Here is the lineup, courtesy of

Ryan, 2B
Ankiel, CF
Pujols, 1B
Greene, SS
Ludwick, RF
Molina, C
Duncan, LF
Barden, 3B
Wainwright, P

Some thoughts.

As Derrick Goold pointed out, this lineup is fashioned based on the lefty starting pitcher they'll be facing. Hence, Ryan and Barden make the cut. I am surprised to see Duncan in LF against a lefty over Rasmus, as Duncan is a .196 hitter in his career against LHP. Against Maholm he's 0 for 2 with a walk.

Greene hitting 4th also surprises me. Yes, he had a fantastic spring, but I think he's a #5 hitter or lower, vice the #4 guy in the lineup, on this team. With Ludwick (he of the 37 HR and 113 RBI last year) behind AP, AP would/will get something to hit, because teams know Ludwick will punish them for pitching around AP. Greene hit .213 last season - why would Maholm give AP anything to hit today with that behind AP in the lineup?

Interesting that Wainwright is hitting ninth today. I wonder if that's a function of the lineup and opposing starter, or if LaRussa has abandoned the 'pitcher hits eighth' concept this year. I suspect the former.

Apparently the weather today sucks in STL, just like last year. I hope the weather relents long enough for them to get the game in.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Fearless Predictions - Playoffs

The final step for the UCB week is to predict the playoffs in 2009. In order to complete that, I need to offer up my predictions on the remaining 4 divisions I missed. In order to keep this short, and because I'll be up at 0300 tomorrow morning to drive to the airport, here's the synopsis:

AL East
1. Yankees. Bought the best staff in the majors. When A-Roid returns, they'll be scary good.
2. Tampa Bay. Last year wasn't a fluke.
3. Boston. Not enough pitching.
4. Toronto. Not enough pitching, Vernon Wells needs protection.
5. Baltimore. It's tough playing in the most competitive division in baseball.

AL Central
1. Cleveland. Welcome back from the dead, Anthony Reyes and Travis Hafner.
2. Chicago. Bad choice in CF fellas.
3. Minnesota. Liriano's return a lift; Mauer's injury a stomach punch.
4. Detroit. Verlander's a mess. They'll rake, but like Milwaukee, can't get anyone out.
5. Kansas City. Three #5 starters in the rotation does not a contender make.

AL West
1. Anaheim. Because everyone else is a lot worse.
2. Seattle. I reserve the right to change this if Griffey plays more than 100 innings in LF.
3. Texas. Building on last year, need pitching.
4. Oakland. Need pitching. Holliday will not hit like he did in Colorado.

NL East
1. Phillies. Because I hate the Mets.
2. Mets. Because they're good.
3. Florida. Pitching and Hanley Ramirez.
4. Atlanta. Derek Lowe had a great spring, but not much else.
5. Washington. Because they suck.


NL: Philadelphia, Cubs, Arizona, St Louis
AL: Yankees, Cleveland, Anaheim, Tampa Bay.

Divisional Round:
NL - Phillies over St Louis, Arizona over Cubs.
AL - Tampa Bay over Cleveland, Yankees over Anaheim

NL - Phillies over Arizona
AL - Yankees over Tampa

World Series - Yankees over Phillies

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fearless Predictions - NL West

I love the NL West. It's like playing craps in Vegas. You know what a good roll is, you know what a bad roll is, but you never know what you're going to get.

And, since my domicile is in lovely San Diego, I get to watch an inordinate amount of NL West baseball. Which, these days, is an inordinate amount of bad baseball. Does this make me an expert on the division? In amongst the UCB world, well, yeah probably. In the entire world? Not even close.

So, with that in mind, here's how I think the division will shake out.

1. Arizona. Better overall pitching staff and better overall lineup. Stephen Drew, Chris Young, etc etc etc. Remember their 20-5 start last year, following by spending the rest of the season in the toilet? They've learned from that. Even with that craptacular non-April record, they were good enough to win last year until Manny went off in Aug/Sept. Manny won't hit like that for an entire season, which will give the D'Backs enough margin to eke out a division win.

And enjoy a first round exit at the hands of the Cubs.

2. Los Angeles. Let's face it, Manny's in the middle of the lineup. The most feared right handed hitter in baseball not named Albert. First ballot HOF. One of the top 10 sluggers of all time. Lost Derek Lowe, missed out on the Sabathia sweepstakes, but may get Jason Schmidt back, and again, have Manny. In this division, that should be enough.

3-4. Whatever. Seriously, there isn't much difference at this point between Colorado and San Francisco. San Fran should finish third if for no other reason than they have Tim Lineceum in their rotation, who is better than every pitcher in this division not named Peavy or Young. No one on Colorado can match that guy. Lineups are a wash. I'm not excited about either of these teams.

5. Ted Leitner's Padres. Because they certainly aren't 'My Padres' (one of his catch phrases). Big off-season free agent acquisition? David Eckstein. Wow. Adrian Gonzalez is really, REALLY good, and no one knows this. Peavy and Young are also really good. But overall this team can't hit, and can't hit in Petco. Brian Giles is the next best hitter on the team; he had 12 HR last season. Heath Bell is overrated at closer. They lost 99 games last season, I don't see them losing that many, but it will be high 80s.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fearless Predictions - NL Central

With apologies to Gene Hackman...

I'm sure Villanova winning the National Championship is beyond [our] wildest dreams, so let's just keep it right there, OK?

The United Cardinal Bloggers are predicting the standings throughout MLB this week. The family spent last week in Monterey, CA, where I expected my hotel to have internet access. It did - if your computer was wireless capable. Alas, this one isn't (don't ask why - let's just say the government won't spring for it and leave it at that). It's awfully hard to blog on an iTouch, so I didn't.

It also meant I couldn't keep up with work email. When I downloaded my email Monday, I had over 1000 messages vying for my attention. So much for predicting the AL and NL East. However, today, all that is in the past, so I will attempt to beat the odds and predict the order of finish in the NL Central.

1. Chicago Cubs. As much as it pains me to say, this team is still the class of the division. Zambrano (even with arm questions), Harden, Lilly, Dempster, make up a solid rotation. Sean Marshall should be an upgrade over Marquis. Even with Wood gone, the bullpen is still formidable - Gregg closing, Marmol still setting up, Heilman, Samardzija, et al. Questions do abound in the lineup. Why did they trade DeRosa away? Can Bradley stay healthy for a whole season (I say no)? Can Fukudome hit at all (again, not at the ML level IMHO)? However, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Soto are legit, Theriot will set the table, and that should be enough.

2. St Louis. Carpenter is back, and that bodes well for the team. Rotation looks solid, assuming Wainwright can regain his pre-finger injury form, Lohse didn't have a "once in 5 year" season in 2008, Wellemeyer continues to progress, and Piniero pitches like a man in a contract year (in other words, for food beyond 2009). Loss of Glaus, with no timetable for return (as reported today in the Post-Dispatch), hurts a lot. Hope Freese is as good as we think he is. Hope Rasmus starts the season in LF. Hope Ludwick can protect Pujols. Hope Khalil isn't just a March Mirage.

The bullpen should be adequate to great (depending on how Motte develops as a closer with Perez in AAA). This team should be good enough to win the Wild Card. I've predicted 90 wins, and will stand by that. A few lucky breaks, and we win the division, but that's a long shot.

Now it gets interesting. I don't see much difference between them, so just for fun:

3. Pittsburgh. They're due. Maholm, Duke, Snell, make a good young nucleus of a rotation. Lineup is anchored by Doumit and McLouth. The LaRoche boys and Freddie Sanchez will it out nicely. Bullpen will blow its share of saves, but this team will be competitive. And it's about time for one of the anchor franchises of the league to return to some semblance of competency.

4. Milwaukee. Let's see....Sabathia's a Yankee, Sheets is hurt again, Cardinal cast-offs Suppan and Looper make up 2/5 of the rotation, Hoffman's on the DL. This team can hit a ton, but if you can't get anyone out, who cares? .500 at best. Not a factor in the race. They will still torture the Cardinals, though.

5. Cincinnati. Another train wreck. Griffey's back having lattes (good for the Reds), Dunn is in DC (defensively good, but that's a huge hole in the middle of the order), Phillips is good, Votto and Bruce are legit, but the rest of the lineup won't make you recall the '27 Yankees. Pitching? Well, let's just say when you play in a broom closet, even having 5 Walter Johnson's isn't a guarantee of success. Their starting 5 (Harang, Volquez, Cueto, Arroyo, Owings) ain't exactly Walter Johnson incarnate. Until they modify that ballpark to give their pitching staff a fighting chance, or go exclusively with sinkerball pitchers who will cause opposing hitters to pound the ball into the ground, this franchise won't smell the playoffs again.

6. Houston. This pains me since Roy Oswalt is on my UCB fantasy league team. But disarray in spring training doesn't bode well for array in the regular season. You can't change a leopard's spots.