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21 July 2010

Is Cardinals Garcia Running Out of Gas?

Jaime Garcia's rookie season has been the stuff of dreams.  Only able to pitch 37.2 innings last season in the minors after returning from Tommy John surgery on his elbow the St. Louis Cardinals didn't plan on having him on their Major League roster, much less being an essential part of the rotation.  He has a low ERA of 2.27 in 18 starts and sports an 8-4 record that is more indicative of the troubles of the St. Louis offense in the first half of the season rather than Garcia's effectiveness.

But the low number of innings pitched last season raises red flags.  Garcia has already pitched 103 innings so far this year and it's not out of line to question how long his strength will hold on as the Cardinals enter the stretch-run of the season.

Perhaps Garcia is already running out of gas.  He was not sharp at all in his last start against the Dodgers on July 16th.  A very inefficient Garcia threw 82 pitches but only lasted 3.1 innings, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER.  

Garcia has only finished the sixth inning once in his last four starts.  On July 2 he did have a brilliant start, shutting out the Brewers over seven innings allowing only 3 hits.  But in the other three starts, he has only lasted a combined 10.2 innings while giving up 9 ER on 21 hits and 4 walks - an average of 2.45 base-runners per inning and an ERA of 7.94.

Garcia is still performing better than Blake Hawksworth or Jeff Suppan over the last four starts, but Garcia's bad outings have been worse than the other two fill-in starters.

Tonight's start against a predominately left-handed hitting lineup could lessen these concerns.  Tonight could also be the exact moment when the franchise's efforts to gain another starter before the trade deadline become much more urgent.

16 July 2010

Keeping Pujols and Wainwright Will Earn Cardinals GM Mozeliak A Big Contract

On Thursday the St. Louis Cardinals announced they were extending the contract of GM John Mozeliak by three years.  Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr described it as a "well deserved extension" and it is indicative if Mozeliak's ability to balance payroll while continually keeping St. Louis competitive in the National League.

Mozeliak's biggest splash came this past offseason with the signing of free agent Matt Holiday to largest contract in club history.  The 7-year $120 million deal came on the heals of a mid-season trade with the Oakland Athletics for the slugging outfielder that catapulted the Cardinals to the NL Central division crown.

Mozeliak was very active last season in tweaking the roster to provide manager Tony LaRussa with the pieces needed to turn a good team into a favorite for the National League pennant.  Those dreams died when St. Louis was surprisingly swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the GM had played his part well.

He dealt a package of prospects to the Cleveland Indians for veteran utility player Mark DeRosa and then landed the big fish in Holliday.  Though DeRosa injured his wrist shortly after the trade and didn't perform as hoped, the trades seemed to invigorate the clubhouse as the team went 20-6 in August and cruised into October.  Perhaps more importantly, the moves erased growing frustration amongst an aggitated fan-base.

Mozeliak Provides Harmony in the Front Office

Before he was hired as GM after the 2007 season, Mozeliak served as assistant Walt Jocketty (now the current Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty), Mozeliak is credited with encouraging the club to sign oft-injured OF Ryan Ludwick and current closer Ryan Franklin.  Though neither were well known at the time they blossomed in St. Louis with both appearing in the All-Star game during their Cardinal careers.
And in a fractious front office split in a power struggle between Jocketty and VP of Amateur Scouting and Player development, Mozeliak was often in the unenviable of position of go-between.

While Jockett chafed at the power the sabermetric-minded Luhnow had been given by DeWitt, Mozeliak has imbraced the new style of scouting.  He has provided harmony by balancing sabermetric analysis with old fashioned first hand reports from scouts.

Despite initial fears that Mozeliak would be overpowered by the strong will of LaRussa, the two appear to have a good working relationship and mutual respect.  Mozeliak has provided the veteran role players the Redbird skipper prefers (Randy Winn, Aaron Miles) and LaRussa has worked well with young talent from the Cardinal farm system (Jaime Garcia, David Freese).

Last season's trades for Holliday and DeRosa depleted prospects from the top levels of the farm system, but most of the young talent involved had low-ceilings (Jess Todd, Shane Peterson) or simply duplicated players already ensconced on the big league roster (Brett Wallace, Chris Perez).  Despite being depleted at Triple-A Memphis, the farm system is accumulating high-end talent in the low minors exemplifying a more cohesive approach to the draft than the Cardinals experienced under Jocketty.

The Khalil Greene Trade

Like any general manager that actively works to improve the roster, mistakes can be made.  Injuries and other unforeseen circumstances can unravel even the most sound decisions.  Mozeliak did a masterful job of adding Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny to the pitching staff, but now both are on the DL and their chances of making contributions this year seem to fade daily.

But there is one transaction that Mozeliak would love to take back.  In the winter of 2009 he traded minor league reliever Mark Worrell and a player to be named later to San Diego for shortstop Khalil Greene.  Greene was coming off a disappointing 2008 season, but had enjoyed a superb 2007 campaign.

There were some grumblings at the time of the trade because of his struggles in 2008 capped by having to go on the DL after breaking his hand punching a clubhouse storage chest out of frustration. But Greene was a proven impact bat at SS, and it seemed the Cardinals got him for very little in return.

Greene was a flop with St. Louis.  His struggles with social anxiety disorder are well documented and his career is now in shambles.  If that wasn't bad enough for the Cardinals and Mozeliak, the PTBNL in that traded ended up being Luke Gregerson.  Gregerson has since developed into a superior middle-reliever with the Padres.

Mozeliak placed the blame for the failed trade on the Padres.  Telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that "the team had no inkling of Greene's issues before they traded for him" he inferred that San Diego GM Kevin Towers was not forthright about Greene's anxiety issues.  Maybe Towers pulled a fast one on the Cardinals GM, but it is also clear that Mozeliak did not do enough research on Greene before pulling the trigger on the trade.

But Mozeliak has earned the benefit of the doubt regardless of that one mistake.  He has shown a gift for finding valuable players for very little investment.  Last season he picked up Boston Red Sox cast offs Julio Lugo and John Smolz who proved to be valuable pieces in the teams second half surge to the playoffs.  In spring training this year he signed Felipe Lopez for a mere $1 million, and Lopez has filled in at many positions vacated by either injuries or poor performance.

For a franchise with big dreams in a small market, such bargains are crucial to the team's continued success on the field.

Now the Hard Work Begins

The contract extension shows ownership's belief that Mozeliak is a fully capable Major League general manager.  Such confidence is necessary because in the next three years he faces more pressure than perhaps any other GM in Major League Baseball.

Priority number one is re-signing Albert Pujols before his contract expires at the end of next season.  Pujols is best player in the game and the face of the franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole.  Negotiating a contract that pays Pujols his worth while fitting it into a budget that allows the team to remain competitive will be tricky.  He will need to get this accomplished before being faced with the excruciating decision to either trade the Cardinals best player in generations for a stockpile of talent or risk losing Pujols to free agency with only compensatory draft picks in return.

There is also the issue of retaining dominant starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

2012 is the final year of Carpenter's current contract the club is expected to exercise its option to retain him.  He is 10-3 this season, finished a close third in Cy Young award balloting last year, and provides valuable veteran presence for the pitching staff while being a huge crowd favorite.  But Carpenter will turn 38 years old just after the beginning of the 2013 season and Mozeliak must decide how much to invest in an injury-prone, aging righthanded starter.

One of Mozeliak's wisest moves was one of his first.  In March 2008 he signed Adam Wainwright to a $15 Million contract good through 2013 including team options.  Now the 28 year old righthander is one of the top starting pitchers in the Majors with a 13-5 record and a 2.11 ERA.  He finished second to Tim Lincecum for last year's Cy Young award that many baseball insiders thought Wainwright should have won.  He signed his current deal choosing security over money, but barring something unexpected he would be at the top of the 2014 free agent class and ready to cash-in a huge contract.  The pressure starts now on Mozeliak to keep room in the payroll to retain this superstar.

If Mozeliak is able to keep these core players and keep St. Louis competing for the NL pennant year after year he will not only have repaid the club's faith in spades but also emerge from the long shadow of his former boss Walt Jocketty.

The Second Half Begins In Positive Way for Cardinals, Carpenter

As Chris Carpenter breezed through the Los Angeles Dodgers line-up on Thursday night, all of Cardinal Nation gave a deep sigh of relief as well as celebrating the 7-1 victory.

The St. Louis right-hander had not been sharp since getting hit on his pitching arm by a line-drive in late June, but the veteran was efficient and in command for eight innings, only surrendering four hits and an Andre Ethier solo home run.  Carpenter struck out six, and has apparently corrected the mechanical flaws that had plagued his starts earlier in July as he did not walk a Dodger.

Carpenter was able to locate his curve, something that he has been unable to do his last two starts.  He had allowed 11 earned runs and 18 hits with 4 walks in only 9 innings during the July funk leading to fears among Cardinal fans that the former Cy Young winner was injured.  But the team insisted he was fine, and pitching coach Dave Duncan said just before the All-Star break that Carpenter's issues were in his delivery, specifically the way he was landing on his left leg.

So one great fear of the second half is eliminated right away.  Carpenter was masterful - crisp and efficient, getting out of innings with very few pitches.  And that was important on a typical St. Louis July night rampant with heat and humidity.  Carpenter only threw 101 pitches in his eight innings, but wasn't asked to do more in the muggy conditions, giving way to Mitchell Boggs who finished the game with no drama.

Another positive development was the Cardinal offense.  Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw has bedeviled the Redbirds in the past, but he wasn't sharp tonight and St. Louis took advantage.  Albert Pujols had three hits, Yadier Molina and Aaron Miles added two each to the team total of 12.  The offense was able to string hits together and put runs on the scoreboard in four different innings.

The Cardinals recalled Allen Craig from Memphis to replace OF Nick Stavinoha, who went on the DL with a shoulder sprain.  Craig had 2 RBI and hit the ball hard, but did not record a hit.  Craig has only one hit hit in his 21 Major League career at-bats.  He was replaced in the sixth inning by another rookie, Jon Jay, who extended his 12-game hit streak with a RBI double in the seventh.  Jay continues to be a spark to the line-up, and he is now hitting .386 on the season.

With Cincinnati having the day off, St. Louis is only one-half game out of first.  With Carpenter back to being himself and the offense looking like it should, Cardinal fans are feeling a bit better about the team and the second half of the season.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images Sport

14 July 2010

The Redbirds Report Sports New Look

In a shameless attempt to attract more viewers - and therefore to perhaps make enough money from my time to buy an extra six-pack per month - The Redbirds Report is now master of it's own domain.  If you are among the lucky few who have picking up the pearls of wisdom dropping from these swines' mouth for the past couple of weeks, you have noticed the changes.  We have made a deliberate effort to incorporate the colors of the St. Louis Cardinals uniforms into our new look.  These are not the exact shades as the uniform colors do not correspond to an attractive, comfortable reading experience, but we've tried hard to give the site that sort of feel:
  • Cardinal Red for the title and accents.
  • The dark blue used for links
  • The grey of the road uniforms behind the title
  • Old-school road uniform powder-blue for border images and post footers circa 1982
  • Home uniform bleached white for the body of the site
For those that have checked in to check out what we are doing, please leave a comment to let us know if you like the changes.  And rest assured, your existing bookmarks and RSS feeds should not need adjusting for the near future.  For those of you new here, we welcome all feedback as well.

With plenty of time but no money to spend, our dreams for this site have just begun.  Slowly we shall invest in a more professional look and feel to The Redbirds Report.  A full site redesign is being worked on, and we are continuing to sharpen our rather amateurish writing skills.  It's only been a short time we've been sharing our (unnecessary?) views on the St. Louis Cardinals, but we've really enjoyed the work, and have been encouraged by the folks who have read our work.  We do this not in a chase for the riches that that the interwebs promise, but more as a shameless ploy to become part of the UCB.

Being from southern Illinois, I know many Cardinal fans graduated from, or sent their children to, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.  Therefore we will soon unveil Saluki Nation Worldwide - a much needed source of news and commentary about SIU athletics.  We hope to have it launched before the beginning of another dominating season of the Saluki football in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. 

This blogging stuff isn't easy if it's good, and look to your right and peruse the Essential Reading list.  Most of you are probably familiar with these sites, and if you aren't you should be.  Also, since this stuff comes with no salary nor health care, The Redbirds Report will occasionally feature an item from as a way of supporting the GDP of the good ol' USA.  Being good Americans, but poor capitalists, we will only feature books and products we have read, used, and believe in.  In fact, here's a great one to use as an example:

One of America's greatest historical authors, the late David Halberstam looks at the 1964 World Series between the fabled but fading New York Yankees and the upstart St. Louis Cardinals.  Not a rote historical report on that epic Fall Classic, instead Halberstam uses baseball as a harbinger of radical social change in regards to Civil Rights in the United States.  Here the Yankees epitomize the staid, conservative, and fading generation that dismisses and distrusts Blacks, while the Cardinals stand as a new breed - a racially integrated group that in the year of the Civil Rights Act that echoes Martin Luther King's eloquent dream of a nation where Blacks "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  A dream that wouldn't blossom fully until the children of that era grew to have children of their own.
Halberstam was an fabulous writer able to put down on paper an easy read that nonetheless leads the reader to thoughtful introspection.  Here Cardinal fans will find fascinating stories about some of their heroes.  Bob Gibson and Bill White are featured often.  One of the most powerful and lasting books about the sports world I have ever read, and one that I harken to often.  It is highly recommended, and of the highest caliber.
     - Review by Michael Turner 

Available in Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, or download to your Kindle.  Or if you wish to catch up on the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, there is no better resource on the web than Bob Netherton's wonderful Throatwarbler's Blog.  Enjoy!

Cards Wainwright, Holliday Play Key Roles In NL Victory

For the first time in 14 years, the National League has won Major League Baseball's All-Star Game 3-1, and the home-field advantage in the 2010 World Series that comes with it.  Now all the St. Louis Cardinals need to do is get there.  St. Louis entered the break only 1 game behind Cincinnati in the NL Central Division, and with 5 players making the trip to Anaheim, California for the Mid-Summer Classic they certainly have a shot of taking advantage of the preferable post-season schedule.  If so, they can thank Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday for the roles they played in last nights game.

With the NL trailing 1-0 in the top of the 7th inning, Holliday followed former Cardinal Scott Rolen's 1-out single with a single of his own to kick start a rally.  A foul-out and walk loaded the bases for Brian McCann's game-breaking two-out double that cleared the bases, with Holliday scoring what proved to be the deciding run.  The clutch hit by McCann earned the Atlanta Braves catcher MVP of the game.

Now leading 3-1, NL Manager Charlie Manuel handed the ball to Wainwright.  Put in a jam with 1-out when his teammate Holliday misplayed a fly-ball off the bat of John Buck for a double (it hit right in his glove, how's that not an error).  But after walking Ian Kinsler, Wainwright coaxed Vernon Wells into a ground-ball force-out.  Wainwright then dismantled the Angel's Torii Hunter, getting him to flail aimlessly at breaking ball to escape the inning and preserve the lead.  San Francisco's Brian Wilson pitched a perfect 8th, and LA Dodgers closer gave up a lead-off single, but then closed out the game for the boys from the Senior Circuit.

As for the other Cardinals present, Yadier Molina started and played 4 innings celebrating his birthday with a single in his only at bat.  Albert Pujols went 0-2 with a strike out, getting robbed by Ichiro Suzuki on a line-drive to right-center as the Mariners RF made a tough running catch while looking into the setting sun.  Chris Carpenter did not make an appearance in this years game.

With no Major League games or activities scheduled Wednesday, it is tradition for baseball fans to look forward to what the second half of the season will bring.  Or they may fret.  The fact that Carpenter did not play raises more questions about his health after being struck on his right forearm by a line drive on June 28th.  The former Cy Young winner has struggled since, especially with his usually sharp curve ball.  Carpenter has lacked bite and command on the pitch.  The Cardinals must have Carpenter healthy if they expect to enjoy the fruits of Tuesday's NL win.

Health is a concern also for 3B David Freese (bone bruise) and Ryan Ludwick(calf) who are expected to come off the DL soon.  The timetable is less certain for SP Brad Penny and the discomfort he's been experiencing in his back and shoulder since going on the DL May 22.  And there are expectations that SP Kyle Lohse can return by late August from surgery to repair the sheath covering the muscles of his pitching forearm.  But that is a rare surgery for a pitcher, and I'm not counting on him to be back and effective this season.

The Cardinal offense has been sickly for most of the first half.  The Redbirds have not taking advantage of opportunities, either through poor at bats with runners in scoring position or by getting thrown out on the basepaths.  Holliday's bat has always been better in the second half, and Pujols - though not sporting the stats of his MVP seasons - is always a force.  Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick have been solid as well.  But it's the middle of the infield, and catcher that have created holes in the line-up.  SS Brendan Ryan has suffered through a disaster campaign, and lost his job to Tyler Greene.  Skip Schumaker at 2B is raising his average, but at .255 for averageand just on-base at a .318 clip, he's been disappointing.  And despite being chosen to start in Tuesday's All-Star game, Molina is only hitting .233.  Molina and Schumaker have hit in the bigs, and expecting them to improve through the rest of the summer is not out of line.

If Penny can return soon and be as effective as he was before he got hurt, if Jaime Garcia has the stamina to continue his special rookie season, and if the Cardinal offense can string a few hits together this team has Wainwright pitching like a Cy Young winner and a bullpen that can close down the end of a game.  With fingers crossed regarding Carpenter, I am optimistic this Cardinal team can take advantage of that extra home game in the Fall Classic and hoist an eleventh Championship Banner on opening day 2012.

13 July 2010

Jay Provides Spark, But Where Will He Play?

St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Jon Jay has been asked only to fill-in during his rookie year, but he's doing his best to break into one of the best outfields in the National League.  Called up from Triple-A Memphis on July 3rd to replace the DL-bound Ryan Ludwick, Jay has been a revelation.  Since then his exciting play has been a much needed catalyst for the club's disappointing offense.
     The 25 year old product of the University of Miami made his first big league appearance earlier this season, and performed well both as a starter and as a pinch-hitter.  He is currently amidst a NL-best 11-game hit streak and is batting .377 for the season in 34 games.  But in this latest 8 games stretch with St. Louis, Jay has really turned it on - hitting at an even .500 clip with 2 HR, 9 RBI and has scored 12 times for a slugging percentage of .594.  Unbelievably, he has either scored or drove in a run in 10 of the 24 innings the Cardinals have scored since he joined the big league club.  That's a direct effect in 41.7% of all Cardinal rallies.

     Timely hitting is one thing, but Jay has also shown a high-level of baseball smarts.  The best example is the third inning of Sunday's Cardinals game against Houston.  Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez cruised through the St. Louis line-up, retiring the first 10 batters and looking quite relaxed pitching from his wind-up.  With St. Louis down 2-0 and needing to shake things up, Jay noticed the Houston infielders playing back and laid down a bunt for a hit (the first such hit of season for the team).  Rodriguez now had to pitch from the stretch, and St. Louis pounced.  An Albert Pujols single and a Matt Holiday 3-run homer gave the Cardinals all they would need to go into the All-Star break on a needed high note.

       Jay's awareness of the situation and ability to make things happen did not get by St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa.  As reported by Joe Strauss in Monday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, LaRussa remarked about Jay, "He does what the situation demands. He's aggressive and he's intelligent. That's a good combination for any player. He's been very impressive."  Ironically, those comments may spell the end of reserve OF Randy Winn with the Redbirds.  The Cardinals picked up Winn following his release by the Yankees, and Jay - performing quite well in his initial stint in the majors - was sent down to make room.  LaRussa explained that first demotion as an opportunity for Jay to continue to play every day.  But he and the organization did admit that Jay had "impressed".  While providing a jump to the ball-club initially, Winn is now suffering through a 2-27 slump.  There is now little justification for the Cardinals in keeping him over the impressive Jay.

     This is a wonderful story, but let's not forget our hero only has 34 big league games under his belt.  While it's clear Jay has brought electricity to an unexpectedly staid line-up, his brief time with St. Louis has protected him from the attention of opposing scouts and coaches.  Word has certainly gotten out, and adjustments will be made in the approach to Jay.  The key is his adjustments to those changes.  Other Cardinal rookie outfielders have hit The Show with a splash.  But will Jay sustain the the glory like former MVP and two-time batting champ Willie McGee, or will the holes in his swing be exploited like Rick Ankiel's. 
     Questions like those have Jay's future MLB career in a tremendously wonderful state of flux.  He has enjoyed regular playing time due to starting RF Ryan Ludwick being on the DL with a calf injury.  Ludwick is expected to return soon, and he is a proven player of impact - both with the bat and the glove.  Starting the last two games for hobbled CF Colby Rasmus (mild hamsting strain), Jay showed enough aplomb with the glove to be the back-up In center the team has been looking for since spring training.  But Rasmus is a budding superstar with all the talents  of Jay  - and more.  Matt Holliday in left field already is a superstar, and recently signed the largest contract in franchise history, and he is earning it.  So despite all that Jay brings to the line-up, there is no room left at the inn.
     But bright signs are in his future.  His production as a left-handed hitting outfielder on the bench fills a desire the club has had since spring training, plus LaRussa is renown for giving plenty of playing time to his reserves (often to the chagrin of Redbird fans).   Jay has a real possibility of playing a valuable role on a World Series team.  Or there is the opportunities of the upcoming trade deadline.  Injuries to starting pitchers Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse make the Cardinals buyers, and Jay's solid play - and rookie contract - make him a valuable pawn in the upcoming chess game.  He just might find himself a starting outfielder on some lesser big league team by August 1st.

     That's not something Cardinal Nation wants nor wishes to hear.  But no matter what happens, Jay is taking the right approach.  He told the Post-Dispatch, "I know it's a game. I've got to have fun, fun with a reason.   I'm more of a happy-go-lucky guy. I'm not going to let things bother me. I'm not going to get too high and not going to get too low. I'm just playing the game."

     So far in 2010, Jon Jay is just playing the game the right way, the Cardinal way.  And he's not the only one having fun. Watching him, Cardinal Nation is having a blast.

11 July 2010

St. Louis Cardinals Mid-Season Awards

As a frustrating first half of the 2010 season winds down, it's time to evaluate the winners and losers on the St. Louis Cardinals talented roster. The MLB All-Star Game is traditionally viewed as the midpoint of the season as most players get a three day break to rest, heal, and reset. It also is the perfect time to evaluate what we've seen so far. Here's this humble scribe's breakdown of the Redbirds first half award winners.

  • Albert Pujols:     All discussion of Most Valuable Player (either for the Cardinals, or for the NL) begins with the All-Star first baseman.  While Pujols hasn't always been as clutch in 2010 as fans are accustomed, the slugger hasn't slacked off the pace of his First-Ballot Hall of Fame career.  He is batting .307 with 21 HR, 61 RBI, and 54 Runs scored.  His .412 OBP .577 SLG & .989 OPS slash line is below career norms, but all rank in the top 3 in the NL.  Always finding a way to win, whether through his aggressive but intelligent base-running or his Gold Glove caliber defense (.997 fielding percentage with 3 errors), Albert is the engine that drives the team.
  • Adam Wainwright:    Last season was Wainwright's breakout season, winning 19 games and garnering the most first-place votes for the Cy Young award.  He didn't win that award though, finishing 3rd in the balloting.  That slight seems to have pushed the right-hander to an even higher strata.  He is second in the NL in Wins (13) ERA (2.11) and Complete Games (4).  Taking the torch as staff ace from Chris Carpenter, Wainwright's losses reflect his dominance as much as his wins.  He's suffered 2 losses in 1-0 games, and another loss came in a complete game which he allowed only 2 earned runs.
And the winner is...     PUJOLS. Exceptionally tough decision, based simply on Pujols being everyday player.

Cy Young
  • Wainwright     13-5  2.11 ERA  19 starts 4 CG 1 SHO 136.1 innings 127 strike outs.  
 And the winner is...     WAINWRIGHT.  No one else in the conversation.

Rookie of the Year
  • David Freese:     Freese was handed the job on Opening Day 2010 and is clearly the team's #1 at the position.  A shaky start to the season in the field belied his reputation with the glove, but he settled down and has been solid defensively with flashes of brilliance. At the bat is where Freese has shined, though. His .296 batting average ranks first amongst all NL rookies in batting, staying over .300 until an ankle sprain slowed him down. Currently on the DL, Freese's discipline at the plate and penchant for driving in runs has been sorely missed in the line-up.
  • Jaime Garcia:     Coming into Spring Training after losing most of 2009 because of Tommy John surgery, the highly though of prospect was a long shot for the rotation. Garcia simply forced his way into the rotation with his outstanding performances in camp. The 24 year old Mexican-born left-hander promptly put up numbers not seen by by an NL rookie SP since Fernando Valenzuela. Garcia hits the break with an 8-4 record and his 2.17 ERA ranks just behind teammate Adam Wainright for third in the NL.  Garcia does walk too many batters and has been shaken by errors by his fielders, but these are correctable.  A fantastic curve, a major league fastball, and command of a variety pitches shows there is still room to improve upon his fantastic start.
  • Jon Jay:     Recently called up from Triple A Memphisfor the second time this season, Jay is proving to be the catalyst the offense has been needing.  Since rejoining the Cardinals on July 2, Jay has been involved in half of all the innings the St. Louis offense has put runs on the scoreboard.  The 25 year old OF enters the break on an 11-game hitting streak and is batting .385 in his limited ABs and sporting a very impressive OPS of 1.018 which would be 3rd in MLB if he had enough plate appearances.  
And the winner is...     GARCIA.  As impressive as Freese has been, without Garcia the Cardinals would be challenging the Cubs for irrelevance in the NL Central.

      Comeback Player of the Year
      • David Freese:     Freese missed a good portion of the 2009 season due to ankle surgery precipitated by injuries sustained in an automobile accident the previous winter.  Though he made the Cardinals 2009 opening day roster, he didn't stick around long.  He was penciled in as the big league club's starting third baseman after a successful return to Triple A Memphis in August, but he put that opportunity in jeopardy with a DUI arrest this past off season.  He has put that problem behind him, and had been a vital part of the Redbird line-up until his current stint on the DL.
      • Jaime Garcia:     Garcia first sported the Birds on the Bat late in the 2008 season going 1-1 while starting one game and appearing in nine others.  He was showing good promise, but suffered a ligament injury and had to undergo Tommy John surgery missing most of the 2009 season.  As 2010 Spring Training commenced, Garcia was ticketed for the minors to rebuild arm strength - at best a relief role in the majors.  But he impressed enough to travel north with the team, and Redbird fans cannot imagine where the Cardinals would be without him in the rotation.
      And the winner is...     GARCIA. Both had tough roads back, but Garcia is more valuable.

      10 July 2010

      Cardinals Cure Norris' Voodoo, Exorcise Demons In 8-0 Win Over Astros

      The St. Louis Cardinals finally found the cure for the strange voodoo Houston Astros starter Bud Norris has had over them in his short career. Entering Friday nights game, the second year right-hander had earned 4 of his 8 career victories against the Cardinals. But a run-scoring double by Albert Pujols in the first inning broke the spell, Adam Wainwright's magical pitching supplied the potion, and Matt Holliday's 8th inning home run delivered the cure as Norris and the Astros succumbed 8-0.

      Norris is best described as a serviceable starter for the Astros, coming into Fridays game with a career record of 8-9 with a 5.29 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 22 starts. Against the Cardinals, however, he became Walter Johnson reincarnated - 4 wins in 4 starts giving up only 1 earned run and striking out 25 in 26 innings and giving up no home runs. That's a 0.38 ERA folks. Bob Gibson is jealous. But the Cardinals cast off his curse, and just when they had to.

      For the first time this season, Holliday homered after Pujols was intentionally walked. It came in the 8th inning, and was the the coup de grace that chased Norris and his voodoo from the game - and Cardinals fan's nightmares - a rocket shot off the back wall of Minute-Maid Stadium. And when Pujols homered deep to right field in the ninth inning it was another rarity in this season of disappointment for the St. Louis offense, marking only the second time this season Holliday and Pujols had connected in the same game. That's the recipe the team envisioned when it signed Holliday to the largest free agent contract of the off-season. Walk Pujols and Holliday will hurt you, don't walk Pujols and he will kill you.

      Other themes of optimism emerged for St. Louis. Rookie OF John Jay was 2-4 and has now hit in 8 straight games dating back to May 30. He now has 8 hits in 14 AB with 2 HR since being recalled on July 3. Infielder Tyler Greene went 1-3 and since his call-up on July 2 is 5-17 with 3 extra-base hits, and seems to be taking over for Brendan Ryan at SS - plugging a gaping hole in the line-up.

      But the wizardry was all Wainwright's. The lanky right-hander tossed 8 shutout innings, giving up only 6 hits, lowering his ERA to 2.11 and giving him 13 wins on the season - 2nd in both categories in the NL. And he blessedly took pressure off the beleaguered bullpen.

      The voodoo curse of Bud Norris has been lifted. But not necessarily broken. After the Cardinals scored their second run in the 2nd inning, Norris retired 13 in a row. He still has a 1.81 ERA against St. Louis in his 5 starts. And, perhaps, spun a little more voodoo devilry as CF Colby Rasmus had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. No word yet on the severity. If Norris is to blame for that, he would indeed be a Santerian priest.

      This post originally posted on Bleacher-Report

      09 July 2010

      Cliff Lee to Cardinals - NOT!

      A quick follow up to my post from last night.  The heady but misguided rumors of the St Louis Cardinals trading for Seattle Mariners left-handed starter Cliff Lee proved to be just that - misguided.

      The Texas Rangers traded valued rookie Justin Smoak and 3 minor leaguers to the Mariners for Lee.  The Mariners will also send $2.5 million to the Rangers to subsidize the $4 million still owed to Lee, with the Rangers on the hook for $1.5 million of Lee's salary this season.

      ESPN reports the trade is not completely finalized.  With the Texas Rangers in bankruptcy hearings associated with the sale of the team, there still could be trouble with the trade.  MLB is currently running the team, and it is unknown if the Rangers taking on $1.5 million in salary "is going to be an issue" with the bankruptcy court.

      In this writer's mind, the boost the trade gives to the Rangers playoff chances, the low financial investment in the trade should be easily offset by gate and merchandise receipts.  I believe the trade will be allowed.

      Apparently talks between the Mariners and the New York Yankees fell apart this afternoon, thus proving there is a God and that he loves us.

      I said it wouldn't happen.  I was correct.  Leaving only my prescience to match my humility.

      Too hot to do too much?  I recommend curling up in the A/C or stretching by the pool to read Peter Golenbock's wonderful book" The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St Louis Cardinals and Browns".
      Click on the add to order the tactile book or download to your Kindle.  I have read it twice, and would never hesitate to recommend it to any fan of baseball.

      Still Questions About Carpenter's Health

      After St. Louis Cardinal starter Chris Carpenter took a Kelly Johnson line-drive off his right (read: pitching) forearm in the first inning June 28, questions remain about the lingering effects.   Carpenter remained in that game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and seemed to be okay as he went 7 innings giving up 3 earned runs in a no decision.  But many observers noticed the lack of sharpness on his curve.  Carpenter followed that up with his worst non-injury shortened start as a Cardinal on July 3 against the Brewers.  It's then that questions about Carpenter's health began to surface.   Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and Carpenter insisted that his health was fine, with the Redbirds starter explaining, "I wouldn't go out there if I had an opportunity to hurt myself.  My arm is fine."  This lead me to question the veracity of injury disclosures by the club.

           Now Roger Hensley of raises the same questions.  Since Carpenter first made his appearance on the field wearing the Birds on the Bat, the Cardinals have never made the playoffs without him in the rotation deep into the season.  With the thought of what a forearm injury did to Kyle Lohse's season - and the debacle of the recent series in Colorado - the sleep of Cardinals Nation is suddenly troubled by nightmares of a dream season slipping away.

           As I drain my Budweiser to drown such thoughts, this Redbird fan prays such pessimism is unfounded.  Maybe Carp is just having a down year.  Adam Wainwright's growth into a true ace of the staff means the Cardinals still have as formidable 1-2 punch in the rotation as anyone in the National League.

      Relax Cardinal Fans, Maybe Rockies Just Have Our Number

      Fans of The St. Louis Cardinals have their feathers a flutter after getting swept by the Colorado Rockies in 3 games at Coors Field.  Blowing leads of 9 and 7 runs in the first two games, the Cardinals were blown-away by Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez in the 3rd game Thursday as Jimenez out pitched Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.
           The gut-wrenching sweep has left fans and sportswriters alike wringing their hands and pushing the panic button.  Tweeters were all a twitter about the demise of a season so full of promise, people openly questioning if (future Hall of Fame) manager Tony LaRussa has lost it, and folks ready to trade a bullpen that had been a rock until the last handful of games.

           But this isn't the first time the Rockies have stunned the Cardinals with a sweep - and big innings.  It happened just last season.

           On June 5, 2009, the struggling Rockies came to St. Louis for a 4-game set.  The Cardinals weren't lighting the world on fire at the time, but did come into the series tied for the lead in the NL Central with a 31-23 record.  The Rockies were in sad shape at the time.  Colorado had fired Clint Hurdle as manager after a disappointing 18-28 start and found themselves 14.5 games out of first in the NL West.  New manager Jim Tracy was 8 games into his tenure, and entered Busch III with a 3-5 record as skipper and fresh from a victory over the Houston Astros.  In the first game of the series, it was a tight game entering the 7th inning with the Rockies leading 2-1 and Adam Wainwright on the hill for the Redbirds.  Wainwright walked Ian Stewart to lead off the inning and was promptly replaced by Dennys Reyes who then walked 2 and gave up a single and a run before being himself relieved by Jason Motte.  Motte allowed 5 more runs to score before Jess Todd was touched for a 3-run homer by Ian Stewart to compete a 9 run inning for Colorado.  Sound familiar.  Rockies won that game 11-4.
           The Rockies used a 4 run 9th inning to cap a 10-1 victory in the second game.  Another 4 run inning  - the 8th - helped Colorado to a 7-2 win the next night.  And the sweep was completed with Jason Marquis getting the win in a 5-2 game.
           Cardinal Nation wasn't pleased with such a poor showing against such a poor team - angst that would eventually lead to the trade with Oakland for former Rockies start Matt Holliday.  But the Rockies were not such a poor team.  The sweep of the Cardinals exemplified how Colorado's new manager had kick-started the team and they went nuts, going 67-38 after the series and made the playoffs.

           The Cardinals recovered nicely, finding their mojo in the second half.  The Holliday trade was a big boost, but Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were unstoppable after the All-Star break, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan picked up their play, and the team breezed into the playoffs (before getting inexplicably swept by the Dodgers.  Things happen like that happen in the playoffs - see 2006).
          While this recent series sweep has Cardinals fans describing the club as pathetic and begging the team to stand up, it was one series against a good team.  Lost amongst the hue and cry dominating cyberspace and radio sports talk is one important point - the Rockies are a damn fine team.  Before the season started well-listened to national radio talk show host Dan Patrick picked Colorado to win the World Series this year, and he was not alone.

           The Cardinals being swept in a road series against these Colorado Rockies isn't the end of world, Redbird fans.  History tells us so.

      Show your appreciation Cardinal Nation and Stand for Stan

      [Credits: (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

      08 July 2010

      Don't Look for Cliff Lee to Join Cardinals This Season

      Cliff Lee is on the trading block.  That's what the rumors say.  And rumors are floating everywhere (it seems) that the St. Louis Cardinals are buyers for starting pitching because of the injuries to Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse.   These rumors aren't just twitter or talk-radio generated.  Respected national and local sportswriters are speculating on the matter.  Bloggers are crazily abuzz - as us will bloggers do. 

      The Seattle Mariners lefty starter has been sensational after starting the season on the disabled list.  He is 8-3 with a miniscule (by American League standards) ERA of 2.34 over 103.2 innings with 5 complete games and 1 shutout.  The Mariners are going nowhere fast.  They are 34-50, in last place in the AL West, and 16 games behind the Texas Rangers.  It's been a sorely disappointing season, and the rumors of trading a valuable commodity like Lee for a crop of young, cheap top-tier prospects seems like a prudent course.  And the Cardinals could put together a package with Shelby Miller, Allen Craig, John Jay and/or Tyler Greene.  

      That's an incredibly steep price to pay.  Then you have to add in Lee's contract.  There is approximately $4 million remaining on Lee's contract for this year.  Not too steep for a team with valid pennant expectations.  But Albert Pujols' contract is due for renegotiations or worse (free agency negotiations - Heaven forbid), the Cardinals have plans for those players.  As Derrick Goold stated this past January those younger (read cheap) players are needed to keep the club's $100 million dollar budget within reason of sustainability.  If the franchise is to carry the contracts of Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Chris Carpenter it must rely upon a roster full of players making the minimum salary but playing above their pay.  Oh, let's not forget Adam Wainwright's wonderfully low long-term contract will be expiring in 2013.  After shedding the likes of Luke Gregerson, Brett Wallace, and Jess Todd last year to boost the roster, how can GM John Mozeliak responsibly trade away even more of the desperately need roster fillers for a short term need?  And unless team President Bill Dewitt opens up the wallet - and unless Mozeliak is deranged - he won't.

           One can use a broad brush to paint my logic over the names of Dan Haren, Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano (maybe for chief groundskeeper), or just insert any SP on a losing team.

           So this sage's advice to Redbirds fans is to pray that Brad Penny's set-back is minimal, that Kyle Lohse's muscle sheaths make medical history, or that Blake Hawksworth finds salvation at the altar of Dave Duncan's genius.  No other prayer from Heaven is bound to help this staff this season.

           If you disagree - or if you have viable trade options in mind - let the world know in the comments.

           If you disagree, or have some viable trade options, let everyone know in the comments.

      07 July 2010

      Failure Is Just Part of the Game

      With the sour, bitter taste of the ninth inning yesterday unwashed from our mouths, Angela Weinhold has a nice historical take on what to expect after the break from our Cardinals:  Tony LaRussa And The Second Half | Baseball Digest.

      The despair and frustration on twitter last night did not have the cathartic effect one gets from listening to the blues after your wife walked out.  But the sun did rise today.  And the good of last nights game comes back to the front of my mind.  Tyler Greene was good.  Aaron Miles showed he's still  a pest with the singles.  Felipe Lopez's HR makes the case that his bat when utilized every day is sharp, and when Flip's bat is sharp it is dangerous.  Hawksworth was effective if not efficient.  And we got to see Pujols and Holliday both hit well at the same time, and lose the game.

      Baseball is a game of failure.  If you fail 68% at the plate you get a huge raise.  To succeed, you need the ability to maintain a calm mindset.  Never get too wrapped up in the moment, because you got to get after it again tomorrow.  So Ryan Franklin finally stunk one up during the first half of the season.  It happens.

      Here's to forgetting the ninth, and building on the great things that happened in the game.  Then Angela can amend her article with a nice, happy entry about 2010.

      How Frustrating Have Things Been?

      A frustrating season leads to abuse of Licensed Apparel

      This season of Cardinals baseball has cost me fingernails, hairline, and lots of beer-money. But most of the burden has been borne by my cap.

      • Every time Brendan Ryan has air-mailed a "Dan Quisenberry"  to 1st, I've thrown the hat
      • Every time Colby Rasmus has loafed, I've tossed it to the floor.
      • Every time Matt Holiday or Albert Pujols has popped up or weakly grounded out with RISP, I've bit the bill.
      • And every time Tony LaRussa has yanked a starter who's in command but in a jam to bring in "I eat at" Dennys Reyes, I've sweated through it. This later situation usually leads to violent stomping on my cap.

      Needless to say, my trusty cap is looking more towards the All-Star break than I am looking forward to my next Budweiser. But there is hope for my much-abused companion.  Tyler Greene has his shot to eliminate the tossing.  Colby will continue to mature and keep my hat on my head.  Timely hitting will become a second half hallmark of the Redbirds, and my teeth will only be used on Toasted Ravioli.  Alas, there is no hope for the sweating & stomping, as TLR will continue to "eat at Dennys".

      I have made a solemn promise to my chummy chapeau, though.  When the Cards finally leave the Reds and the rest of the NL Central full of despair for the playoffs, I will buy one of these snazzy numbers to abuse:
      Cardinals Shop at
      I implore the team - from Skip Schumaker down to Nick Stavinoha - to do the right thing.  Win one for the hat!

      Oh No! LaRussa Says Carp Is OK

      [This post first published 05 July 2010 on Insensitized

      Joe Strauss has reported on that Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa "voiced confidence in Chris Carpenter's fitness a day after the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner endured a three-inning outing, one of his three shortest starts as a Cardinal."  Hmmm, how do I take this.

      It doesn't take much to remember the last time we heard an injury to a vital Cardinal starter was no big deal.  Ludwick's calf is not even history yet.  Neither is Brad Penny's shoulder.  They're both on the DL currently (and we're praying that they come back healthy).  Troy Glaus' shoulder should heal up fine by May 2009 - right?  Kyle Lohse's forearm was completely healed after the past off-season.  And back on April 10, 2007, an ESPN article had this wonderful piece of prophesy:
      According to a statement issued by the team, there was no evidence of an acute ligament injury -- a problem that would have required surgery and likely would have finished Carpenter's season.
      It was "an acute ligament injury" and it did finish him for basically 2 seasons.  I could research more of these injury misinformational official statements, but why waste time when even the most casual Redbird fan is already saying, "Scott Rolen's shoulder" or "Mark Mulder's arm-slot".  There is a pattern here.

      What raises my antennae about Carpenter is his poor showing in the first start after taking a line drive off his pitching forearm.  Last year, Kyle Lohse's problems first surfaced after being hit by a pitch on his right forearm on May 23rd.  Lohse had 2 DL stints last year, and never regained the stuff he had in the first two months last year.  This year, he complained to Derrick Goold that "I don’t feel like anything is wrong, it’s just I keep missing up in the zone. I keep looking for something mechanically."  Sound like TLR on Carp yesterday?  Uh huh.  Yep.

      I care not to panic, but I cannot disregard what is a clear trend over the past few years.  All these might just be cases of LaRussa's optimism and romanticism of the toughness of baseball players.  Or this trend could simply be repeated misdiagnosis by Head Team Physician Dr George Paletta and Head Trainer Barry Weinberg.  But they all have come under the ownership of Bill DeWitt - either with Walt Jocketty or John Mozeliak as GM .  Perhaps he learned a thing or two about diverting away from the truth from his good friend George W. Bush.  Getting to the heart of the matter with Cardinal injuries has become as tiring as getting hard facts from the lesser Bush's administration during the build up to the Iraqi War.

      Whether through ineptitude or truthiness, I will have to take these pronouncements from the club with a sizeable grain of salt (as big as Fredbird).  But all will be fine if Mr. Carpenter's next start is as sharp as Waino's was.

      Share your horror stories about Cardinal injuries in recent memory by leaving a comment.  Or tell me how off-base I am.  But please Stand for Stan.

      Waino Goes All The Way, Again

      courtesy MLB.comIt was a superlative performance by St Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright on the day he was named to his first All-Star roster. Wainwright only needed 99 pitches to dispatch the Brewers on Independence Day, and provided all the fireworks needed with a
      bases-loaded 3-run double in third inning. Marred only by a solo shot by fellow All-Star Corey Hart after being staked to a 6-run lead, Wainwright cruised to his 4th complete game of the year.

      And his 4 complete games already this year had me raise a question on twitter about who’s had the most Cardinal CG’s since John Tudor’s outstanding 1985 season. My twitter friend Bob Netherton had an answer for me. And what an answer! On his Throatwarbler’s Blog, Bob broke down the Cardinals team leaders in complete games.

      This got me thinking of a new question. Tony LaRussa is generally considered the manager most responsible for situational relief pitching and the constant parade of RP we now see in the latter innings of games. So how does Wainwright’s first half compare with other SP’s LaRussa has managed in his long career?

      Bob broke down the Cardinals CG history since 1985. TLR didn’t truly become infamous for his hook until he started managing the Oakland Athletics. 1987 was his first full season as the A’s skipper, so that makes a good comparison with Bob’s research.


      1987      8- Dave Stewart

      1988     14- Dave Stewart (Bob Welch was 2nd on the club with only 4)

      1989      8- Dave Stewart

      1990     11- Dave Stewart (Mike Moore was 2nd with 3)

      1991       7- Bob Welch

      1992       4- Ron Darling

      1993       5- Bobby Witt (Ron Darling had 3, no other CG’s)

      1994*      5- Bobby Witt

      1995**     2- Steve Ontiveros & Todd Stottlemyre


      1996       5- Todd Stottlemyre

      1997       3- Matt Morris

      1998       2- Matt Morris

      1999       2- Darren Oliver & Jose Jimenez

      2000       5- Darryl Kile (R.I.P)

      2001       3- Woody Williams

      2002       1- Matt Morris/W. Williams/Andy Benes/Chuck Finley

      2003       5- Matt Morris

      2004       3- Matt Morris

      2005       7- Chris Carpenter     Won Cy Young Award

      2006       5- Chris Carpenter

      2007       1- Braden Looper & Anthony Reyes

      2008       1- Adam Wainwright & Braden Looper

      2009      3- Chris Carpenter & Joel Pineiro

      2010      4- Adam Wainwright (so far)
      * 114 games due to strike

      ** 144 games due to firing
      It’s apparent on LaRussa’s teams complete games are tough to come by. But with 4 in the first half of the season, Wainwright is on pace to match the most complete games for a TLR managed club since the day of that old war-horse of the A’s – Dave Stewart. And that includes Chris Carpenter’s uninjured brilliance with the Birds on the Bat across his chest.

      It’s quite apparent the lanky right-hander from Georgia is dead set on collecting this year’s Cy Young Award – Ubaldo Jimenez and Stephen Strasburg be damned!