Perhaps You Might Be Interested

29 April 2011

The Lance Berkman Factor

Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman celebrates a home run (Getty/Bob Levey
I remember when I heard the news that one of my most favorite players was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.  I was bartending at the time, and as I came into work my customers broke the news to me.  I was delighted.  I knew this player was solidly in the autumn of his career - a career that seemed to be snowballing to the end because of injuries.  But I did not care.  I cherished the idea that his ability to take over any given game with his bat was only matched by a tremendous amount of baseball savvy.  I believe I did in fact dance a little jig once I determined they weren't pulling my chain.

The year: 2004.  The player: Larry Walker.

Now it is deja vu all over again.  In the past off-season I was thrilled in a like manner with the news that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak had fought off the efforts of his Chicago Cubs counterpart and secured Lance Berkman for a year.  I did not dance a jig this time, but I was pleased.

I knew of Berkman's knee injury.  I knew that he had in his past played a passable if ugly outfield, but had been relegated for years to first base.  I had concerns, but the pluses of having this guy with the Birds on the Bat far outweighed the negatives - despite the overwhelming response of an underwhelmed media.  I did not hesitate to claim a charter membership in the Lance Berkman Fan Club  amongst the Cardinal fans on twitter.

But I never thought Berkman would be this good.  Apparently, the Houston Astros never thought he'd be this again, either.

Berkman returned to his old stomping grounds this week and destroyed Houston in Minute Maid Park.  He laced 8 hits in 14 at bats during the series, including 2 home runs, two doubles, and drove in eight runs.  That gives a slashline of .571/.571/1.143 and and an incredible OPS of 1.714.  On Thursday, Berkman raked in a 4-5 night, 2 homers, a double and 11 total bases.  He had a home run, a single, and 4 RBI in the Cardinals 9-run sixth inning alone.  His 3-run blast that inning was from his weaker right side giving St. Louis a lead it wouldn't relinquish and made a winner of starting pitcher Kyle McClellan.  He also added a solo shot in the ninth.

And he wasn't simply a weapon with the bat, he showed some glove with at least two eye-popping catches in right field.  His wonderful running catch deep in the right field corner on Wednesday was a big factor in St Louis holding off the Astros late inning rally.

Berkman is now batting .410 on the season, which is second in the Major Leagues behind teammate Matt Holliday's .432 mark.  Berkman's 8 HR is second in MLB and he ranks 3rd in RBI with 22.  He is also riding a streak of seven straight games with multiple hits.  Additionally, he ranks first in the majors with 66 total bases, first in slugging at .795, second with an OPS of 1.263, and fourth in on-base percentage with .467.

It's a helluva start for a player deemed to be over the hill.  But his knees have been given a chance to heal and provide a solid base from which he can hit the ball with authority.  And he has.

It is only April, and the baseball season is a long one.  It is not out of line to remain concerned if Berkman's health will hold up enough to maintain his regained power.  But unlike Walker, Berkman does not suffer from a degenerative condition that leaves his short-term future cloudy.

If he stays healthy, Berkman could leave Mozeliak open for questioning his judgement in signing the Big Puma.  No longer wondering why the GM went out on a limb to sign Berkman, but rather "why for only one year?"

25 April 2011

Yadi Gives Cards Last Laugh

It was a dark and stormy night again in the midwest.  But this time mother nature spared the St. Louis area long enough for the Cardinals and Reds to finish their early season three game set.

Oh, there was rain.  But the thunder came off the bat of Yadier Molina with a huge two-out three-run home run (you can access the video via this link) off Cincinnati starter Edinson Volquez to provide all the scoring in the game, and give a little shot to Brandon Phillips and the contentious Reds.  Yadi sprinted around the bases reminiscent of Phillips HR trot on Friday. 

For his heroics, Molina got a taste of lightening in the form of an Aroldis Chapman purpose pitch during his next at bat in the eighth.  Many observers saw that coming, given that the Reds and their fans blame Molina for the brawl last summer as much as Cardinal fans blame Phillips.  And while Yadi did sprint around the basepaths, he did it with his right arm raised in the air.  

This was a real pitchers dual, not a poor hitting display as is usually the mislabeling of a game with few hits and fewer runs. St. Louis sent out Jake Westbrook on short rest to face Volquez. Westbrook clearly has been the Cardinals worst starting pitcher this season, coming in with a record of 1-2 and had given up 23 runs in only 18 1/3 innings.  He also was the only starter in the National League who had not yet reached the sixth inning.

Volquez entered haunted by demons of his own.  His first inning ERA was 29.25 when he started the game.   But he was much better tonight, and escaped the first with only a zero on the scoreboard.  And he was sharp, allowing baserunners but always managing to get a key strikeout to avoid runs.

Westbrook was even better.  Through six innings of work, he allowed just 3 hits and worked around three walks while recording four strikeouts.  One of his walks was to intentionally pass Joey Votto after Brandon Phillips stroked a two-out double.  Westbrook did what he does best when he's on, getting Jonny Gomes to meekly ground out to short.

After Molina's thriller, the bullpen can in and shut down the Reds.  Shut them down hard.  Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez each got two strikeouts in their respective inning of work.  Then Mitchell Boggs again came into the ninth to seal the victory.  Reigning NL MVP Joey Votto touched him for a double with one out, but Boggs wasn't fazed and struck out Gomes and Jay Bruce to notch his third save in three chances.  Just don't call him the closer yet, he just happens to be the guy called on in the ninth so far - according to manger Tony La Russa.

After the game, Molina was undaunted. "Every time you hit a home run, what do you want?" Molina asked rhetorically. "You want to be mad? Or sad? No. You've got to enjoy it, man. Especially me. I don't hit a bunch of home runs. Every time I get an opportunity to enjoy it, that's the way you have to play this game. Fun." 

Well Yadi, Cardinal Nation enjoyed it.  And apparently Brandon Phillips enjoyed the weekend's entertainment too, despite the Reds losing two of three in the series.  He blew a kiss to the fans after making the first out in the ninth. 

Man, there's going to be some fun to be had between these teams all season long.

24 April 2011

Should Cardinals Let The Grass Grow?

The St. Louis Cardinals are a ground-ball machine.  And no, I am not referring to the pitching staff.  I mean the hitters.  The Cards are currently leading the entire Major Leagues with 28 Grounded Into Double Plays (GIDP's), with a healthy lead in the NL (the Pittsburgh Pirates come up short yet again with only 20 GIDP's).

The Redbirds have an astounding 18 GIDP's at home in Busch Stadium in only 11 games.  Compare that to a (still) healthy ten in the team's ten road games.  Granted, in the first home-stand of the season many GIDP's were caused by a scuffling lineup rolling over on pitches and managing only weak grounders to the opposing middle infielders, while in the last five games at home it's been sharply hit balls that account for many of the double plays the team has endured.

Perhaps it's time to let the grass grow at Busch III.

That may seem like a joke, but maybe we should take a moment to consider it.  In the last five games at Busch, Colby Rasmus has three GIDP's.  Tyler Greene and Nick Punto have one each.  On the current home-stand, the entire team has a total of eight.  The three players listed represent a large portion of the team's speed.

If the infield grass was let to grow a tad higher, perhaps those grounders turn into productive outs - moving the runner up.  At worst, they may have only been force outs.  And this is important, as 11 of this season's home GIDP's  came with at least one runner on base with no outs with no runs scored in the inning - true rally killers.  Additionally, four GIDP's at home have been super rally killers, transforming two on, no out opportunities into wasted innings.  Missing that many wonderful chances to post runs has left the team vulnerable to the bullpen implosions suffered in 2011.

Of course this all supposition.  If the grass was longer, and the ground balls slower, the Redbirds could have even more  GIDP's (perish the thought).  Or well struck grounders for hits instead could become standard ground outs for Cardinal batsmen.  I know of no way to quantify this, not being a stat freak (gimme some help?)

But here's something to keep in mind.  Pitching coach Dave Duncan has pruned and preened his staff to be worm-murders - preaching the sinker and his pitch-to-contact philosophy.  With an infield defense focused on offense, would higher grass and slower ground balls mollify the middle infield's lack of range?  I know only one way to prove my theory - practice it.  Have the grass mown long.  There are proven eye-ball analysts sitting (or standing) in the Cardinals dugout every day their in Busch III.  It wouldn't take long for them to get a feel for the way it's working.  And if the experiment raises the hackles of TLR, Dunc, and the Ol' Redhead it's an easy fix to return to the way it was.

I'll admit, this all sounds like a joke.  But with the double-play hindering St. Louis' run differential, raising the issue for debate isn't really such a ridiculous a thought.

23 April 2011

Video of St. Louis Tornado

I just ran across this video.  It shows the formation of the tornado that hit Lambert International airport in St. Louis, and has some of the best, close-up pics of the damage there:

Cards Win As Reds, Phillips Blow Into Town

A foul wind blew into St. Louis Friday afternoon.  And no, it was not the big mouth of Cincinnati Reds 2B Brandon Phillips.  Mother Nature unleashed her fury with devastating tornadoes that damaged Lambert International Airport, and delayed the highly anticipated start of the Cardinals-Reds series.  The game was played amongst the debris.  And now the NL Central is part of the debris as the Redbirds roost alone atop the division - 1/2 game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Forgive me if I sound flippant about the storm sitting cozily in warm weather in Tucson.  My son lives in Ellisville with his mother.  I have friends and family in Maryland Heights, Overland, Florissant, and Hazelwood.  Additionally, my mother still lives in southern Illinois which has not been spared by the recent weather.  I am very concerned about the news.  My prayers go out to the entire area.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa showed a heapin' helpin' of Hall of Fame cool for playing chicken with the weather.  LaRussa made a last minute decision to start Miguel Batista against the Reds, knowing full well what the forecast portended.  And he was vindicated when the game was delayed six pitches in.  Reds manager stuck with scheduled starter Edinson Volquez, and he was done without throwing a single pitch in the game.   Perhaps Baker knew what he was doing with Volquez, who's given up 6 HR's, 20 hits, and 17 runs in 22.2 innings thus far this season.

When the storm abated and the game resumed, Kyle McClellan also resumed his anticipated start (technically in relief).  With no outs and a runner on second, McClellan escaped the first without damage.  And he continued to perform as he has all year - 6 innings pitched, 2 ER, 7 hits, 3 BB, and 2 K's on 93 pitches.  Actually, it may have been his worst start of the season - if it was indeed a start.

Ryan Theriot is proving himself to be quite the brown-noser, proving Cardinals GM John Mozeliak correct for bringing the former Cub aboard.  Theriot went 3-4 with a double, and scored 2 runs to get the home team to an early lead they never relinquished.  Theriot is now batting .321 as the replacement for light-hitting Brendan Ryan.  Albert Pujols managed 2 RBI's, and the Lance Berkman Fan Club was thrilled as the Big Puma keeps impressing, matching Theriot's line exactly.  Yadier Molina again had one big hit, a two-out RBI single in the fifth that gave the bullpen the space needed to lock down the victory.

Is it fair to lump the job former reliever McClellan did into the body of work the bullpen did tonight?  I don't think so.  Their performance stands alone.  Eduardo Sanchez was called upon in the sixth inning to save K-Mac in a two-on no-out situation.  The rookie showed jitters, throwing two wild pitches that lead to one Red run, but limited the damage and escaped the jam.  Jason Motte worked himself into a jam, giving up two singles in 2/3 of an inning.  He gave way to Mitchell Boggs who went old-school, pitching over an inning to earn his second straight save.

Let us not forget about the man who created the hype of this series and the burgeoning rivalry between the clubs - Brandon Phillips.  He was the one Red to get good wood on a McClellan offering, depositing his second home run of the season into the left-centerfield bleachers in the fifth.  Phillips showed some class by not grandstanding the performance - he hustled his way home on what had to be a satisfying home run trot.  Cardinal Nation hates him, but his antics upped the hype, and has the final two games of the series on national TV - Saturday afternoon on FOX, and the Sunday night game on ESPN. Here's what the Reds All-Star second baseman has to say after tonight's show:

  You can follow him on twitter @DatDudeBP.  Honestly, he's one of the best MLB players to follow. 
We have national TV, national media, controversy, adversarial competitors, and two good divisional teams facing off in late April.  This rivalry is everything the Cards-Cubs should be, it's Yankees-Red Sox for the rest of the nation.  It was an exciting win for the Redbirds tonight.  I can't wait for tomorrow.  I can't wait to see how this drama plays out through the summer.

22 April 2011

This Cool, Red-Hot Cardinals-Reds Rivalry

It's only April, and we are barely 10 percent of the way through the St. Louis Cardinals summertime sojourn, but the season seems ripe for a big series.  Behold, it is upon us as the defending NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds cross the Rubicon Mississippi, and invade the battlefield of Busch Stadium tonight to begin a three game tussle.

It's a long awaited confrontation heightened by the hijinks of last August.  This nascent but vibrant rivalry has been brewing since the 1800's, began budding when former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty was hired by Cincinnati for the same position, and bloomed with The Brawl last season(video).  Add a jigger of the intensive on-field antagonism of managers Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker, fill to the top with a healthy dose of Scott Rolen, and stir with the inflammatory controversy of Brandon Phillips' comments:
"I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is [bleep] and moan about everything, all of them, they're little [same bleep, plural], all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."
What you have brewing is an intoxicating cocktail that is served best flaming hot, and is to savored.  Yes, I find this flowering rivalry quite cool.

What wasn't cool was the kicking of frustrated futbol-star Johnny Cueto ripping up Chris Carpenter with his spikes, and the career-ending concussion to Jason LaRue.  Sissy-kicking gets you kicked out of the club, Mr. Cueto.  It's a bigger offense to my sensibilities than shoplifting t-shirts.

This entire brouhaha really was ordered by the big mouth of Reds All-Star second baseman Phillips.  Before what appeared to be a crucial series last August, Phillips made statements about how the St. Louis team were a bunch of whiners, and how he hates the Cardinals.  While whine is not a part of this recipe, the hates the Cardinals thing makes a wonderful garnish.  His comments were met with an icy reception across Cardinal Nation, however this observer thought that his shot across the bow was quite cool.

I mean, what is he supposed to say?  The usual, boring platitudes that most professional spout out these days?  Humbug on that.  The Reds team liked their make-up last year, and were ready to take down the Yankees of the division.  He put his confidence on the bulletin-board for all to read and fit his mates for battle.  Phillips and his mates lost that battle, but won the war - and proved their mettle.

Now the teams meet again, tied for the division lead and looked to be running side-by-side all season.  Without Phillips fanning the flames of rivalry, this would just be another early season intra-divisional series.  Now we've got fun, folks.  Good ol' get-in-your-face, spit-on-your-shoes fun.  

Spring flowers in a long-awaited showdown before Memorial Day.  Such things are rare in baseball.  And myself, I will drink in every drop of this new Cardinal-Reds Rivalry cocktail because victory will smell so sweet.  

Let us all wish that Mother Nature doesn't crash our party, leaving us with naught but karaoke this weekend.  Singing the blues about how our awaited refreshment was spilt.

21 April 2011

You're Better Fans Than This, Cardinal Nation

It has been a very tough first three weeks for Cardinal Nation.  It has been horrific for St. Louis reliever Ryan Franklin.  He has suffered through repeated beatings on the mound.  And he doesn't know why.

In the first game of Wednesday's double-header, Franklin was called from the bullpen for his first appearance not as the club's designated closer.  For three years Franklin had been an above-average closer with stretches of brilliance.  But not so thus far in 2011.

With the team down two runs, Franklin pitched an uneventful seventh inning.  In the eighth, Franklin gave up yet another home run - a solo shot to Lance Nyx - that gave the Washington Nationals a 8-5 advantage.
The home run was not crucial to the outcome of the game, but the St. Louis crowd responded with a cascade of "boo's".

After the game, Franklin's frustrations got the best of him and he lashed out at the fans as reported by Fox Sports Midwest's B.J. Rains:
"Sure, I hear it," Franklin said after the game. "I guess they have short memories too because I think I've been pretty good here. It doesn't bother me, but it just shows some people's true colors. You're either a fan or you're not.  
"You don't boo your own team. I don't care who you are or what you say or just because you spent your money to come here to watch us play that somebody happens to make one bad pitch and give up a homer and you are going to start booing him? I've been here for five years, and four years I've been pretty good.
"You should go write stories about the fans booing. They are supposed to be the best fans in baseball. Yeah right."
That last paragraph sent Cardinal Nation into a tizzy throughout the nightcap of the double-header.  The Redbird fans on twitter were brutal - even personal - in the response to those statements.

This scribe is embarrassed by Cardinal Nation throughout this incident.  No, I don't begrudge the booing at the stadium after the home run - that's simply a part of the industry of Major League Baseball.  But the personal and hateful nature of comments about Franklin's performance (and even the man himself) are utterly out of line.

Franklin never asked for the closer role.  It was thrust upon him when Jason Motte obviously couldn't handle the emotional strain of the ninth inning.  And for three years, Franklin has been a more than adequate closer.  A 90% save rate is the envy of most big league teams during his tenure.  And look at the thanks he gets.

Why the bile?  Where does this come from?  Many commenters were absolutely hateful in their comments.  Listening to them, you'd think Franklin was a convicted mother-hugger and father-raper.

This is not Manny Ramirez loafing to get released from his big contract so he can sign another larger contract.  No.  This is a veteran who has done what has been asked of him to the best of his ability.  This year his ability has been lacking - or at least the results have been.  Commitment and perseverance are admirable qualities.  It's the players job to take the ball when called upon.  When he gets the ball is entirely on the manager.

Do not get me wrong.  Lashing out at the fans is not the proper way of handling the situation.  But keep in mind that Ryan Franklin is not a PR professional nor a politician.  Hell, he isn't even a star accustomed to the attention and milking it all the way to the bank.  Once a journeyman starter, he was unceremoniously put into a high profile role and he's done quite well with it.  But the frustrations of letting his teammates, the fans, and himself pushed him to do something that seems way out of character for an Oklahoma boy.

Now Cardinal Nation wants him tarred, feathered and run out of town riding a rail for being human for three weeks.

After the nightcap, Franklin apologized for his comments:
“Obviously these last 2 1/2 weeks have been frustrating for me, and I’m frustrated with myself. I can understand why the fans are frustrated. I’ve loved my time here in St. Louis. It’s my favorite place to play. It’s just a frustrating time for me right now, because I feel like I’m letting everyone down.
“First and foremost, I’m letting myself down. I’m letting the team down and obviously the fans. It’s just been a hard time for me right now, and it’s something I’ve never been through. It’s just really frustrating. Things didn’t come out the right way. It was right after the game and I said things I shouldn’t have said. I apologize for that. It was the wrong thing to say, but at the same time I was frustrated. I am frustrated. I’m just trying to do my best to do everything I can to get back on track. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get back out there and help this team.”
There is a certain irony that Rick Ankiel was treated to a standing ovation the same day Franklin was booed out of the stadium.  Yes, Ankiel put out an ad in the paper thanking Cardinal fans for their support.  It's a shame that there was no support for Franklin, who has contributed more to the success of the Cardinals for far longer than Ankiel ever did.

Cardinal Nation likes to think of themselves as the best fans - knowledgeable and supportive.  But this episode exposes a nasty truth that has materialized the past few years; there is no niceness nor support for players who continue to take the ball while hurt or struggling.  Ask Chris Duncan about it.  Ask Jason Isringhausen.  We don't need to ask Franklin.  Maybe the one to ask is the man that continues to put them in positions to fail - manager Tony LaRussa.

And it's not the dissatisfaction with performance that has raised my ire, rather it's the personal nature of attacks on these players.  So they've disappointed fans.  It is no reason to denigrate them personally, nor to take it personally.  This is just a game folks.  A game played by flesh and blood human beings, not by bits inside a gaming console.  If a player disappoints, hate the game not the player.

To those fans who have shown such bitterness I ask if perhaps you've never been frustrated or disappointed in yourself?  Perhaps you've never acted out of character under an extreme period of stress.  If you swear you haven't, you can throw stones.  But we'll give Franky a bat, and maybe you'll find out how difficult it is to get a fastball past a better athlete than you.  Then we'll stone you for either being in cahoots with the devil or for being a bald-faced liar.

Booing Cardinal players who have performed well in the past, who have never given less than 100% to the team, and who are struggling in the short term is not indicative of the best fans in baseball.  Come on, Cardinal Nation.  You are better than this.

20 April 2011

Cardinals Showcase Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton
With the poorly timed Designated Listings of valuable contributors Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig, the St. Louis Cardinals made a surprising call-up from Triple-A Memphis, first baseman Mark Hamilton.  Additionally, the forgotten Nick Punto was actived from the DL.

Hamilton's recall was surprising.  He is a power bat who plays a position that he will not be filling - first base.  He is most likely to be used as a pinch hitter and a couple of on-the-job training starts in the outfield.

We expected Adron Chambers to get his cup of coffee for the next fortnight, but the organization is suddenly short on available outfielders after a frightful collision that robs us of reading Shane Robinson's last name arching over his smallish shoulders.  It's also in the best interest of team and player for the still developing Chambers to get regular playing time in the minors than rot away on big league pine.  Hamilton, on the other hand, really doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.

What Mark Hamilton needs to prove is value to another team as a Major League player.  It is unlikely that if Albert Pujols finds a different franchise to pony up the paychecks for his demands in free agency, a career minor league player will replace the future Hall of Famer on a perennial contender.  Hamilton's true worth to the Cardinals organization is as a trade chip.  Without playing time with the parent club, he isn't much of one.

This is what I believe the reasoning was behind his being the butt in the seat on the plane to St. Louis.  Hamilton needs to show that his long, looping swing can fulfill his minor league home run totals against top calibre pitching.  A couple of dingers in a couple of weeks would make a non-contending team take some notice of him - especially in the DH League.  It's a little something something St. Louis GM John Mozeliak could find handy to have in his back pocket around the end of July.

Our First Look At Nick Punto

I am excited to finally see Nick Punto sporting the Birds on the Bat across his chest.  The very definition of a super-utility guy, Punto is a weak bat-strong glove infielder who gets in base despite a low BA.  He was a valuable member of many successful Minnesota Twins teams the past few years.

An off-season signing of the Cardinals, Punto arrived in Jupiter belly-aching with an aching belly.  He was diagnosed and supposedly fixed with a surgeons blade.  The sports hernia maybe the very reason Punto was deemed expendable by the Twins.

When the Redbirds signed him, I heard from many Twins fans - either on twitter or via email - that Cardinal Nation was gonna love this guy.  Many in Minnesota thought that letting Punto escape was a bad move.  He's a gritty-gutty gamer, who often was in the middle of good things - cut from the Jose Oquendo sparkplug mold.

Dirt on the uniform and thinking between the ears is Punto's hallmarks. And those qualities will always endear a Cardinals player to this life-long fan.

18 April 2011

No More Apologizing for Franklin

This armchair manager has held firm to the idea that St. Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin needed to work out the kinks because they're aren't any better candidates to handle the mental toughness issues of the closing job. But after the ballclub endured the fourth blown save of the young season (in only five opportunities mind you) on Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, even this Franklin apologist cannot support bringing him in such a high-leverage situation any time in the near future.  The time to regroup is now upon us.

A dumbfounded Ryan Franklin,
asea with only his beard
Franklin has been far more effective than pretty in his closing era with the Redbirds.  Relying on his location and savvy with a vast repertoire of pitches, what Franklin has lacked in strikeout ability has always been successfully substituted with the ability to coax weak groundouts from opposing hitters on a minimum of pitches.

Something isn't up to snuff with Franky's stuff this year.  Even when he makes what he thinks are great pitches this season, they are meeting the sweet spot of opponents bats.  Exhibit A: Matt Kemp hitting what Franklin described as a pitcher's pitch a long way into the LA afternoon sunshine.  There is a profound and abnormal lack of movement on Franklin's late inning offerings this season, and that gets him hit hard.  Really, really hard.  And balls hit in the air, too.  Really high up in the air.  Traveling long, long distances in the air.

Mentality So Important
Closing big league games take a special type of mentality.  A closer needs to be tougher between the ears than stronger in the arm.  Confidence is key to get batters to hit your pitch not theirs.  And a short memory is so very important, because all closers get beat in excruciating fashion from time to time.

Leaving such humblings behind to take the ball the next day and get the outs necessary for the win is not something every man can do.  It's something every closer faces at some point in his career.  Some lose their confidence and/or their stuff and lose the closers job.  It's happened before, and it will happen again as long as it is human beings taking the field with their gloves and hats.

Blasting the job he's done, and calling for Franklin's ouster from closer is one thing.  To pin-point a successor is another.  Trading for a reliable replacement is not a real-world answer in mid-April.  Let's take a look at the options available to manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

Miguel Batista - ugh
TLR will most likely fall-back to his usual position in such situations and look to a veteran with experience in the role.  Miguel Batista is the one that fits both those descriptions.  He did have 31 saves in 2005 for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Unfortunately, it took 39 chances to do it.  A quick glance at 41 career saves makes a case, but do the math and you come up with a save rate of 70.6%.  Miggy in the ninth will make Franklin's history in the role look like that of a Hall of Famer.

Jason Motte - meh
Motte has speed on his side.  Unfortunately the straightness of his heat defies the law of physics.  He is extremely capable of allowing the killer walk-offs that currently have Cardinal Nation in a tizzy that he really is unreliable.  Lest we forget, his spectacular failure in the ninth inning of opening day 2009 is the singular event that gave Franklin the closers role.

Eduardo Sanchez - hmmmm
Sanchez has exploded into the Major Leagues with 8 strikeouts in just three innings of work.  First blush, this makes you excited.  But in time, players will get a fix on his stuff and approach and make the subsequent adjustments.  Before I hand such a crucial responsibility on Sanchez, I want to see him get knocked around and come back with the adjustments a professional reliever constantly does.

Fernando Salas - maybe
Salas has been a closer throughout his minor league career.  The focal point of that sentence is "minor league".  This might be his future, but we are dealing with an immediate problem, and there is a more palatable replacement.

Mitchell Boggs - Yes!
Mitchell Boggs
(Source: Getty Images)
Boggs seems to have worked out the slow start caused by a bad back in spring training.  He has heat, and his filthy hard sinker is the envy of the Cardinals pitching staff.  He has some experience in big-league high-leverage situations (though not a saving a one-run lead in the ninth inning).  There is a list in GM John Mozeliak's mind (if not his desk) of pitchers the club planned on grooming this season to eventually replace Franklin as closer, and Boggs is very high on that list.

Boggs has not proven that he has the mental make-up to handle the role, but there is only one way to obtain that proof - throw him in the lake and see if he swims to shore.

If experience is key, Boggs has to get some sometime.  Perhaps as early as Tuesday.

16 April 2011

All Aboard the Berkman Bandwagon

Lance Berkman, Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The train left the station on the afternoon of March 31, 2011 as Lance Berkman was introduced as a St. Louis Cardinal on opening day.  A longtime rival as a member of the Houston Astros, Berkman epitomizes a professional ballplayer - killing your team while never doing a thing to tick you off.  He always seems affable while crushing baseballs all over the field - or over the fence.

But even this avowed Berkman fan has watched in awe as the outfielder-cum-first baseman-cum-outfielder has put on an exhibition this week of what is a true professional hitter.  His two solo home runs last night in Los Angeles against the Dodgers give him 6 HRs in his last five games.  After a disappointing 2010 season that saw his power sapped by a knee injury in spring training, Berkman is obviously feeling more comfortable and confident at the plate. 

He started slow at the plate, but swings kept getting better and balls were struck hard, but his best efforts kept finding gloves.  One way to break out of that cycle is to miss gloves, and Berkman has by transporting pitches to the bleachers.  If a home run finds a glove out there, statisticians don't care.

Of course, this pace cannot be sustained (if it is, this charter member of the #LBFanClub would be calling for PED testing right away).  But there may be a lasting legacy of Berkman's barrage this week.  Pitching coaches and staffs must now respect the return of his power.  With the emergence of a very dangerous Rasmus forming bookends around the very formidable force of the Pujols-Holliday coupling, St. Louis now has a heart of the order as intimidating to pitchers as the MV3 force from last decade.  Intimidation means a higher possiblity of mistakes, and these hitters have a history of punishing mistakes.

I knew I couldn't be the only member of Cardinal Nation who longed to see the Big Puma in a Cardinal uniform.  And I found out that I wasn't.  As I detailed here , Cardinal twitter Nation debated Berkman's approval early on in the season.  In fact, Christine Coleman of Aaron Miles' Fastball blog  declared herself the President of the #LBFanClub - and I have proof:
Christine also gave some some love to the concept (and this humble scribe) in a recent post .

Berkman's easy going manner in the clubhouse and in the papers is refreshing.  His production is invigorating.  And now to one of MLB's largest fanbases, Lance Berkman is finally lovable.

The Report Now on StL Baseball App

A big day for The Redbirds Report.  Mitchell Applications great app StL Baseball updated with version 1.5 for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch today.  The new version now includes The Report amongst its exemplary line-up of 13 St. Louis Cardinals related blogs.  The app is also available for Android devices.

If you are not familiar with StL Baseball, the app gives easy access to recent posts by 13 blogs, as well as stories from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Belleville News-Democrat, KMOX, and  The Stl Baseball app allows you to socialize with other users, save articles, and view the activity stream of other Cardinal fans who use the app.  Fans share their photos related to Cardinal baseball, and you can upload yours as well.  There are sections displaying the 2011 schedule, and an in-depth history of St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

One feature I truly enjoy is the ability to access daily Cardinal news and opinion on my iPhone within the app, leaving me the opportunity to stream audio content in the background in my Safari browser (The Dan Patrick Show is my morning entertainment of choice).

StL Baseball is free, and available in the Apple App Store and in the Android Market.  The latest iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch update has improved the interface making it even easier to find current information on the Cardinals.

The blogs featured in version 1.5 are:
Aaron Miles' Fastball
C70 At The Bat
The Cardinal Nation Blog
Cards Droppings
Cardinal Diamond Diaries
i70 Baseball
Ivie League Productions (UCB Radio Hour and more)
On the Outside Corner
Pitchers Hit Eighth
The Redbirds Report
Stan Musial's Stance
Stl Baseball (Official blog of the Stl Baseball app)

If you have a supported device, but haven't checked out StL Baseball, why don't you do so now.  It's free, but worth more than that.  This was not a commercial advertisement for StL Baseball, but rather a piece of shameless self-promotion.  Now back to our irregularly unscheduled writing.

15 April 2011

Theriot Big Piece of Cards Offensive Revival

Lost in the recent explosion of offense from the St. Louis Cardinals is the role shortstop Ryan Theriot has played.  Since taking a day off on April 9, Theriot has been on a tear going 10-24 in the last 5 games of the road trip - a .417 clip.  It is no coincidence that those five games correspond to the 5 straight games the Redbirds have scored at least six runs.

During the off-season, the Cardinals added Theriot to the roster and shipped fan favorite Brendan Ryan to the Seattle Mariners.  Many fans in Cardinal Nation were unhappy with the switch sensing that Theriot would be a major defensive downgrade from Ryan, not to menition his taint as a former Chicago Cub.  Then on opening day, Theriot mishandled the exchange off a poor throw from the outfield and the San Diego Padres scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning.

Plugged in as leadoff man in the Cardinal lineup, Theriot was caught up in the offensive malaise that gripped the Redbird bats during the season opening homestand, hitting just .182 through the first six games.  In fact the last home tilt on April 6 is the only game of the young season that Theriot went hitless.  But since the plane left Lambert International for the west coast, the veteran shortstop's bat has heated up with 12 hits in the six games he has played.

Despite the small sample size, The Riot appears to be the upgrade in the lineup that GM John Mozeliak was shooting for.  Theriot's average is .314, with an on-base percentage of .386 and a slugging percentage of .353 for the season.  He has also been clutch, getting seven hits in 12 chances with two outs and more importantly is batting .500 with runners in scoring position.  Add in a surprising five RBI from the leadoff man, and Theriot has put up numbers vastly superior to the black hole in the lineup the shortstop position was last season.

The questions about defense may be valid as Theriot has already committed four errors this year, though he had two after the first two games.  But the middle infield has not been a wasteland of leather as the most pessimistic of Cardinal fans feared entering the season.  Skip Schumaker looks far more comfortable at second base thus far, and the Theriot/Schumaker double-play combo has jelled early on.

Matt Holliday's return to the lineup, Albert Pujols return to a level of normalcy, and Colby Rasmus' consistent hitting has been key to the resurgence of scoring.  But Theriot has also been a vital part of the offense as well.  Former Cub or not, his performance early in the season deserves some love from the Cardinal faithful.

14 April 2011

The Lance Berkman Fan Club

Lance Berkman's
2011 Topps Baseball Card
If you are one of the hundreds in Cardinal Nation following on twitter, you probably have run across mention of the Lance Berkman Fan Club (hashtag #LBFanClub).  It all began on April 4 of this year when some of the tweeps couldn't show love for the Big Puma because of the "Astros Ick" (wonderfully phrased by @annabell151).

The twitter crowd was split between those who are still under the influence of the heated rivalry last decade between Berkman's old team - the Houston Astros and our beloved Redbirds, and those who saw Berkman as a talented, classy player despite the damage he inflicted on the Cardinals.

I will state for the record that I am in the latter category, and I am proud to be a self-described charter member of the Lance Berkman Fan Club.  There is plenty of room on the bandwagon.  And we're going to need a big bandwagon now, after the awe-inspiring display of power LB just unleashed in the desert against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

April 11:  2-5  2R, 2HR, 3RBI, 8 Total Bases

Berkman started the series with three pathetic at bats against D'backs starter Barry Enright.  But against the Arizona bullpen, LB began to heat up.  In the 7th inning with St. Louis holding an increasingly tenuous 4-1 lead, Berkman took a Sam Demel pitch deep the other way for a solo shot.  Then in the ninth, Berkman did what he was brought in to do, scoring Albert Pujols (and himself, of course) with a two-run dinger, and blew the game open.  It was his first two home runs of the season.

April 12:  3-5 1R, 1HR, 2RBI, 6 Total Bases 

Though the Cardinals lost 13-8 in this slugfest, Berkman again shone at the plate.  In his first at bat  Berkman hit a solo home run again against Diamondback's starter Armando Galarraga, giving him homers in three straight at bats.  He added two other singles in the game, one in the sixth inning that drove in Ryan Theriot.

April 13:  1-3 2R, 1HR, 5RBI, 1 BB, 4 Total Bases

What could Lance do to finally endear himself to the entirety of Cardinal Nation?  How about delivering the ultimate in retribution to a pitcher that had just plunked a teammate?  In the top of the 2nd, struggling Arizona starter Ian Kennedy hit Matt Holliday in the wrist to load the bases.  Kennedy was getting beat up badly and the Cardinal dugout appeared to take the beaning as an insult - especially the pitching staff. Berkman answered the best way possible as he launched a 3-2 Kennedy pitch into the stands at Chase Field for a grand slam to the obvious delight of the pitchers who hooted and offered catcalls to the shell-shocked the D'backs righty.  The score was now 8-0, and the rout was on.

When Berkman was available in the off-season, the Cardinals jumped at the chance to grab the veteran switch-hitter - even upping the offer to  $8 Million for one year to keep the Cubs out of play for him.  It was not only his career offensive production that intrigued, but his easygoing personality and positive clubhouse presence.  The fruition of the former showed itself in the series in Arizona, and Bernie Miklasz gives us a glimpse of the latter here.

Berkman is coming off a lost 2010 season that saw him suffer a knee injury in spring training and then dealt at the trading deadline from Houston to the New York Yankees as the Astros finally committed to rebuilding their aging, disappointing roster.  Berkman had the worst season of his career in 2010, and many felt he had gone past his prime.

The decision to return Berkman's glove to the outfield was heavily debated.  So far, he has not been anything other than he was with the Astros - adequate for the job.  He is no ballerina on defense, but he is a professional veteran who knows the fundamentals.  He knows to keep balls in front of him from getting past him, and can reliably hit the cutoff man.  These are not things we have seen from other, younger, more lithe Cardinal outfielders thus far this season.

Once given the nickname Fat Elvis for his portly appearance, Berkman has noticeably lost weight.  The knee injury of 2010 seems to be behind him, as he is running the bases and in the outfield surprisingly well.  The elbow soreness that slowed him early in spring training this year appears to not to be a problem any longer.

Cardinal Nation is well acquainted with the destructive power of Berkman's bat from his time with Division rival Houston.  The reluctance to love a player that has done such damage to the hometown team is understandable.  But these past three games give testimony to why this fan is bullish on the Big Puma wearing the Birds on the Bat.

So does recent history leave a bad taste in your mouth, or are you a member of the Lance Berkman Fan Club?  Give us  your vote in the comments.

12 April 2011

Why St. Louis Is A Baseball Town

Living in Arizona and being a St. Louis Cardinals fan gives me a unique perspective on what constitutes a true baseball town.  I lived the first half of my life in southern Illinois and a short time in the St. Louis area.  The second half as been spent in Arizona - mostly in Tucson.  Baseball fandom is as different as the geology.

Hard to play wiffle ball with this
standing where 2nd base should be.
In Arizona, baseball has plenty of devoted fans.  The problem is that so few are Diamondback fans.  Most are like me - relocated and distanced from their childhood team.  The D'backs have no adults that grew up rooting for the hometown team, because there was no team when they grew up.

Arizona is full of Red Sox fans, Cub fans, Tigers fans, Yankee fans, and Cardinals fans.  The Dodgers are the true kings of the area.  For generations, every Dodger game was broadcast here.  If the native Arizonans talk about their father's team, it is almost always the Dodgers.  Most everywhere you go in this country, you will see the colors of the above six teams.  It is no different here.

Despite a long and valued history of great college teams and the Cactus league for spring training, baseball is not ingrained in the very fabric of everyday life like it is back in the Midwest.  My father learned the nuances of the game from an old man that watched the kids play in a vacant lot near the house.  He taught me those lessons.  I have tried to expand upon them.  I rarely meet a native Arizonan with that type of background.  And we all have grandmothers and/or mothers who are devoted Cardinal fans.  There is no such animal in Arizona, because there was no team.  And Los Angeles is a long way away.  Vin Scully is great, but if you never go to a game, you just aren't the same sort of fan.

How I spent my summers growing up in the Midwest
I have been a Cardinals fan since before I can remember.  I really didn't have a choice.  Dad listened to Jack Buck announce the games every night on a transistor radio as the family watched TV.  He would turn it up for everyone to here when something exciting happened.  Our family vacations often centered around a Cardinals game.  St. Louis was a two hour drive.

Now I live in Tucson, a two hour drive from Phoenix.  I have driven that freeway to see a game a few times - always to watch the Cardinals.  Twice have I gone to see someone else, and both times the tickets were free.  I went because I love baseball, not to see the D'backs play.

Once, there was excitement for baseball in Arizona, especially for one magical October.  Every baseball fan remembers the 2001 World Series.  Arizona vs. Yankees.  The Diamondbacks were Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Byung Hyung-Kim.  Juan Gonzales, Steve Finley, and Miguel Batista were big heroes as well.  But the payroll was too much to bear, and the team was torn apart.  Without a historical fanbase, the fair-weather fans drifted away.  That would never happen in St. Louis.  Never.  The memories of our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmas won't allow it.  And that ever renewing legacy is the reason St. Louis is such a great baseball town.

11 April 2011

Cardinals Win Paints Smiles on Fans Faces

Baseball is a funny thing.  It has a long, gringing season that gives ample opportunity to separate the good teams from the bad, but often comes down to the last day to determine which team is going to the playoffs.  It is also an oddity in the world of sport, defined by failure.  A player who only fails at the plate has had a successful season, a team that has only lost 65 times is very likely to advance to the post season.

But it is the strange emotional make-up of fans that intrigues me.  We live and die all summer with every game our team plays, but we remain fans forever regardless of ultimate success.  A terrible loss can ruin our day.  Likewise a big win can make the world seem brighter, the future looks greater, and the mundanity of our normal lives is a lighter burden to bear. Such is a day like today.

The St. Louis Cardinals may have hit rock-bottom with Saturday Night's horrific loss.  Closer issues, offensive issues and bullpen issues ruled the news and stories of Cardinal Nation.  Pillows were abused, beers were quaffed, faces were long and dark

But Sunday's return of Matt Holliday and a (relatively) huge outburst of offense in Sunday's 6-1 defeat of the San Francisco Giants exposed points of hope and optimism.  Kyle Lohse appeared to be fully recovered from his forearm injury, pitching masterfully and efficiently for 8 innings.  The return of Holliday appeared to be the tonic the offense needed, putting the pieces of the line-up where they belong.  Baserunners appeared in quantity and were advanced in a purposeful fashion.

The victory showed that Cardinals fans had stepped too close to the edge too soon.  The team is off to a slow start, but even with the bats being quiet the team is a handful of breaks away from being 6-3 instead of 3-6.  The starting pitching is very strong, and is a strength that looks to be sustainable.  Albert Pujols is still in a funk that will not last.  And while Holliday cannot carry the team himself, he adds a punch that was so lacking in his absense.

Now the Cardinals move on to my neck of the woods, taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.  The D'backs are a team in transition and very well could be the weakest club the Redbirds have drawn in 2011.  Arizona offers up some dangerous talent in Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson & Ian Kennedy, but have holes in their roster.  If St. Louis is a contending team - as a quick glance at the talent would lead you to believe - this is a series the Cardinals should win and bolster their confidence.

Excitement will greet the late game tonight. Now that Pujols' 60 Minutes piece has finally aired, it's time for all that offensive frustration to explode out of him.    And when it does, us fans will find the world an easier place to live in.  That alone is a reason to watch.

Albert Pujols a Special, Big Man

Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was on CBS' 60 Minutes last night.  Ordinarily such an honor is bestowed on someone who has exhibited a particular brand of dishonor.  But last nights episode was not one of those times.

Most of Cardinal Nation is well aware of the big man's humanitarian deeds, but he has kept a low-profile about his charitable work and much of the nation is not as familiar with it.  His St. Louis-base Pujols Family Foundation is involved with children suffering with Down's Syndrome, and with assisting impoverished children in his native Dominican Republic.

After Sunday night's 60 Minutes piece, now the nation knows.

What No One Knew
There was one jaw-dropping piece of information about the giving nature of Pujols.  It took place late last season as the Cardinals were at the end of the road-trip that decimated their playoff hopes.  In Houston, after another demoralizing loss, Pujols quietly left Minute Maid park and headed to Texas Childrens Hospital to meet a patient he had heard about - 13-year old Brandon Johnson.  Brandon is suffering from a malignant brain tumor.

Pujols showed up to give Brandon the bat he had used to hit his 400th career home run - personally autographed - and visited with the boy and his family for an hour. There was no video just still photographs. In a follow-up segment on the 60 Minutes Overtime website, segment producer producer Draggan Mihailovich explains that Pujols never mentioned this act, that he heard about it from a third party, and Johnson's grandmother supplied the photographs used in the televised piece (Brandon's story starts at the 10:45 mark).  Mihailovich also states that Pujols' agent was not aware of the story.

On the 60 Minutes Overtime web page, is this comment by nanjimenez:
Thank you 60 Minutes for sharing this story about Albert Pujols! This is the kind of sports player I want to see and hear about! The story was great, I love it. But I love even more that a young man, Brandon got to meet and spend a lot of personal time talking to Albert. What a grest unselfish person to give that much time to Brandon, a kid with brain cancer from So. Texas. And not to mention the bat! I know how much this meant to Brandon and his Mom and to me, his Grandma. He talked about Albert's visit for months and when 60 Minutes called asking for an interview, well, let's just say he's been on cloud 9 ever since! Brandon is an Astros fan but he will never ever forget Albert!
 We have seen such acts of kindness from athletes in the movies.  Perhaps we have seen video of such things as a photo opportunity.  But for Pujols to do this with that bat - for an Astros fan, no less - displays a special kind of character.

A special act of kindness from a special, big man.

You can purchase this Albert Pujols baseball on the Pujols Family Foundation website (100% of the proceeds go to the charity.  There you can find out more information, make a donation, or volunteer your time to the cause.

10 April 2011

My Wish for Today's Cardinal Lineup

Here's today's St. Louis Cardinals lineup (via Matthew Leach):

1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Craig RF
6. Freese 3B
7. Schumaker 2B
8. Laird C
9. Lohse RHP

And here is the lineup this armchair manager would take out to the home plate umpire:

1. Skip Schumaker 2B
2. Colby Rasmus CF
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Matt Holliday LF
5. Lance Berkman RF
6. David Freese 3B
7. Gerald Laird C
8. Kyle Lohse RHP
9. Ryan Theriot SS

Notes on why:

  • I think Skip is the only Cardinal taking good at bats consistently
  • Colby must get back on the horse after last night's debacle
  • I would play Berkman today with Holliday back. Berkman's getting good swings but bad luck
  • Freese needs to play to get hitting stroke back.  He's so important for St. Louis in this season
  • I didn't play Yadier Molina because I respect TLR's knowledge when to rest the all-star's knees
  • I like Theriot to be the second lead off guy.  I'm not a fan of batting pitcher 8th, but now is the time

Share your ideas on today's lineup in the comments.
And today is the day the Cardinals season turns around!

Holliday's Return Should Help Cardinals Offense

The St. Louis Cardinals hope to get a big lift today as slugger Matt Holliday returns to the line-up.  Out since the second day of the season due to surgery to remove his appendix, the Redbird outfielder has successfully paid off the team's gamble to not put him on the 15-day DL.

Holliday has been sorely missed in a line-up that has found runs extremely hard to come by.  The Cardinals offense has been consistent in 2011 - consistently ineffectual both in the number of hits and for power.  Despite playing only one game out of St. Louis' eight thus far, Holliday accounts for a full 33% of the Cardinals home runs.

Protection for Pujols
Brought to the ballclub to provide protection for Albert Pujols, his absence has been glaring.  Pujols is hitting a meager .167 and worse, he is only slugging at a .267 rate. Cardinal Nation is hoping that Holliday's return boosts Pujols to his usual outrageous production.

But Holliday offers more than that.  His presence changes the whole dynamic of the line-up.  With Holliday back, the heart of St. Louis' order is much more frightening to an opposing pitcher.  It is what manager Tony La Russa imagined coming into the season - numbers 2-5 would be Colby Rasmus, Pujols, Holliday, and Lance Berkman.  Rasmus is one of the few Cardinals hitting well, and adds danger to the two-hole.  Berkman has been hitting the ball hard, but not getting much luck.  And it's simply a matter of time before Pujols' bat heats up to normal.

Cards Need To Improve Run Support
The Cardinals starting pitching has been fantastic so far this season, but has little to show for their superlative effort.  Getting only 2,6 runs/game in support, the pressure on the staff is suffocating.  Add in the alarming number of mental mistakes the position players are making and one gets the feeling that a Cardinal starter could lose a game while pitching a no-hitter.

Perhaps adding Holliday is the tonic for the belly-aches all Cardinal fans are suffering.

Breaking Down The Cardinals Loss & Franklin's Third Blown Save

Another blown save by Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin.  Another St. Louis loss.  This one in the most excruciating fashion imaginable.  The San Francisco Giants were down to their last strike.  Runners on 1st and 2nd, and Mr B-12 himself - Miguel Tejada - at the plate.

Let's stop right there and recap a bit.  Jaime Garcia was absolutely masterful tonight.  He had no-hitter stuff.  But in the fifth inning, a Garcia pitch gets away and hits Pat Burrell up around the head and neck.  Next, Miguel Tejada grounds a single between short and third.  Then former Cardinal Mark DeRosa shortened his swing, punched a little flair to right, and the Giants took a 1-0 lead.

In the top of the sixth, Skip Schumaker drew a walk, two groundouts moved him to third, and he scored on a wild pitch.  Then in the eighth, Colby Rasmus hit a towering home run to the deepest part of AT&T ballpark to give the Cardinals the lead.  Miguel Batista gave up a two-out triple to Nate Schierholz, but then struck out Freddie Sanchez swinging to take us to the ninth.

In the top half of the inning, and desperately needing an insurance run or two to take some pressure off the struggling Franklin, the Cardinals manages to sandwich a weak fly out between two soft ground outs. A rather uninspired effort at a time when more was needed.

So we reach the bottom of the ninth.  Franklin comes in and promptly got Aubrey Huff to ground out.  The next batter was Buster Posey.  Posey then did something Cardinal fans had forgotten could be done.  He shortened his stroke and took a decent pitch the other way for single.  It was a fabulous piece of hitting - one I wish some St. Louis player would do (Skip is doing that this season...he's it).  Franklin looked to be a bit rattled at this point and walked Pat Burrell.  Giants rookie first-baseman Brandon Belt pinch-ran for Burrell.

Now, Cardinal twitter Nation started going beserk.  Everyone seemed to know what was coming.  Aaron Rowand was coming up, and the end was nigh.  But the ever-fading Rowand hit a fly ball caught by right-fielder Lance Berkman.  So in walks Tejada.

Franklin gets a called striked on a fastball.  It was a good pitch.  Then Tejada fouled off a nice sinker.  Up in the count, Franklin put a pitch in the dirt, but Tejada took it for a ball.  Tejado ruined a 1-2 fastball by fouling it off.  Next, Franklin threw a splitter in the dirt, but Tejada didn't go fishing.  Another pitch out of the zone, and we have a full-count.

This was a very exciting at bat.  The two veterans were really in a battle.  Franklin hadn't made a mistake, but neither had Tejada.  With the count full, I was certain that Franklin would bust him in on the hands and he did.  What I didn't expect was the bat speed of Tejada to get around on the pitch and rip it just foul down the third base line.  It was the perfect pitch from Franklin, but at 91mph, I guess it didn't have enough oomph.

After Tejada fouled off another cutter to stay alive, the at bat was getting interesting.  Franklin started out having control, but after the last two foul balls I began wondering what the Cardinals closer would do.  What he did was throw a fastball around the plate that Tejada got a good swing on.  He struck it well, and lifted it into left-centerfield.  The crowd thought he got it all - and I did too.  But Franklin had missed the sweet spot of Tejada's bat.  Jon Jay and Colby Rasmus raced back towards the warning track and converged on the ball.  A sure out to end the game.

But No!  As unbelievable as it seems, Rasmus had it in his glove and had it pop out.  He used two hands as our dads taught us, and he dropped it.  Posey scored.  Belt raced around from first and scored the winning run.  I could not believe what I just saw.

The play looked strange.  While it was no can of corn, it was a play you see major league outfielders make all the time.  But Jon Jay was very close to Rasmus as the ball came down, and it appeared to this observer that Rasmus may have been worried about a collision at the last second.

Why was Jay right there?  Did Colby fail to take charge of the play?  He's the center-fielder - it's his call.  Did Rasmus flake out and think Holliday was the left-fielder?  I doubt Holliday has the range to be right there like Jay was.  Perhaps it was too loud as the Giants fans thought it might be a home run off the bat.  If that's the case, it would be tremendous breakdown in fundamentals for a Tony LaRussa managed team.

LaRussa didn't give much insight, as he was testy in the post-game interview.  Understandably so, since this had to be one of the most brutal losses he's had to endure in his long managerial career.  And coming at a time when his ball club could really use the win.

And an even bigger question lies with Franklin who was clearly quite emotional and shaken after suffering his third blown save in four chances this season.  A question mark at the end of the bullpen is not what a reeling team that can't score runs needs.

Another unfathomable facet on this nightmarish night was the fact that it was scored a double for Tejada.  How can that possibly be?  The ball hit Rasmus in the glove - that must be an error.  Must be.  I'm a fan of home cooking as the next guy, but this is another example of how official scorers in Major League baseball have become nearly as corrupt as the judges in a professional boxing match.  A travesty.  A sham.  A mockery.

There was no comment I heard from Jaime Garcia about not getting the win out of such a brilliant performance.  I'm not sure I would understand all of what he would have to say, but I am certain that this Arizona-based scribe could pick out the curse words.

08 April 2011

Cardinal Nation Needs to Remember April 2010

It's been that kind of start for Tony LaRussa's Cardinals
Source: AP
Cardinal Nation got a breather yesterday from it's collective meltdown about the team's ineffectual offense. St. Louis manager also got a breather from questions about the ballclub's ineffectual offense. And now that we've caught our breath, maybe it's a good time to gain perspective by revisiting our mindset last April.

April 2010 was heady times indeed. Can you remember what it was like? Albert Pujols was raking. Adam Wainwright was dealing.

Remember when Brad Penny was pitching better than he ever had. Jaime Garcia was a godsend as a rookie. The rest of the NL Central was toast.

I remember last April. I was telling my fantasy football league that I was going to quit as commissioner because I was going to be too busy rooting my Redbirds on to the World Series.  The Cardinals were winning. We were a little concerned because Chris Carpenter wasn't sharp, but he had time to round into shape. Fans had time to boo newly signed slugger Matt Holliday because he wasn't clutch in run scoring opportunities. Skip Schumaker was the main buzzkill - both with the bat and the glove.

Do you remember?

Now Skip is about the only Cardinal with a hot bat (and looks improved in the field). Matt Holliday's appendicitis has proven how valuable he really is in the heart of the order. It's baseball, things change. Things flip around in a hurry.

April 2010 turned out not to be a harbinger of the entire season for the Cardinals. In fact, do you remember that the San Francisco Giants grounded into ten double plays in their first four games in April 2010? A bad April didn't doom them.


07 April 2011

A (slightly) New Look for The Redbirds Report

After scrubbing my 13th attempt at formulating something/anything useful about Wednesday's Cardinal debacle by the freeway against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I got nothing written.  Those in the know would say it was the best thing I've ever posted, but I'm not that snarky and refuse the license.

In the free time amid my angst, I embarked on a long-time goal - to improve the look of this repository of self-promotion and esoteric wit.  My goal was to leave this limited platform to slicker, more flexible fields for athletic literature.  Alas, certain upcoming events leave me hesitant to mess with the system I've got working here on Google is supposed to update the look of Blogger soon.  Expect this blog to look like gmail.

So I tweaked a background here, played around with fonts, tightened a font-size there, and generally goofed with every element until I came up with a whole new look that surprisingly looks much like the whole old look.  

I hope it makes it easier to see the stories I have written.  I make no promises that my writing style will make the stories easier to understand.  But I do enjoy using the vocabulary I built from years of having my grandmother foisting Reader's Digests on me to complete some silly exercise (and they did it in every damn issue, and still do).
Towards More Picturesque Speech.  Bah!
If you think it looks better, let me know in the comments.  If you don't like it, let me know in the comments.  If it's the first time here, let me know in the comments.  And if so, and you're not coming back - keep your damn comments to yourself.  Just kidding.  As far as you know.

Now, I shall rest my bleary eyes.  Perhaps to dream of hits in a land where the double play and the two-out pop up have never been known.

06 April 2011

Cardinals McClellan Does Good, Pujols Clutch in Win

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle McClellan took the ball at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.  This night was a little different for the career reliever - this time the his name was called with no outs in the first inning.  The hometown boy from suburban Florissant MO made his first big league start after spending three years as a bullpen stalwart.

Perhaps showing a bit of understandable excitement and nervousness, McClellan gave up a lead off double to Jose Tabata, but recovered to strike out the next two Bucs batters before making his one singular bad pitch of the game to Lyle Overbay - a 421-foot home run to stake the Pirates to a 2-0 lead.  McClellan shrugged that shot off to strike out Pedro Alvarez to end the inning.

McClellan Settled In
After that, McClellan was sharp.  He kept the Pirate batters off balance with his variety of pitches, changing speed, and location that lead to 7 strikeouts in his 6 innings.  McClellan avoided trouble until the sixth inning when Andrew McCutcheon and Lyle Overbay stroked back to back one-out singles.  Facing what would ultimately be his last batter, McClellan induced Pedro Alvarez to ground into the double play.

McClellan's work was over after that, leaving with the score tied 2-2.  He scattered six hits while issuing only one walk and striking out seven.  Perhaps the strikeouts took a toll on his efficiency as he needed 95 pitches to complete his six innings of work.  But clearly McClellan showed what pitching coach Dave Duncan has said for a while - McClellan will be a solid starting pitcher.

Bats Don't Help McClellan
Meanwhile, McClellan needed to be sharp as the Cardinals batsman failed to do enough to get him the 'W' he deserved.  In the bottom of the first, Colby Rasmus and Albert Pujols drew one-out walks but the rally fizzled as Lance Berkman was called out on strikes and Allen Craig flied out.  In Berkman's defense, he had an extended at bat, peppering the red-clad crowd at Busch Stadium with well struck foul balls.  But he never got a chance to straighten one out as he was rung up by umpire Kerwin Danley on a call that had Berkman visible upset.

Berkman got his revenge on Pirates starter James McDonald in the fourth, leading off with a double.  Allen Craig followed that with a single to score Berkman.  David Freese then walked to extend the rally, but the bugaboo of the Cardinals so far in 2011 - the double play - raised its ugly head again.  Skip Schumaker was the offender this time.  Gerald Laird couldn't get the clutch two-out hit, striking out to end the inning.

Setting the Table
A theme of the game for the St. Louis offense was the table-setting at the top of the order.  The fifth inning is a prime example.  Ryan Theriot stroked a one-out single and moved to third on Rasmus' single. Cardinal Nation held it's breath as Albert Pujols came to the plate, hoping that he wouldn't ground into another rally-killing double play.  Though he didn't drive the ball as we've been accustomed to (spoiled by) in the past, he did get the ball in the air and his sacrifice fly scored Theriot.  A Berkman pop fly to shortstop ended the inning with the score 2-2.

Theriot showed some leadoff man moxie in this game, getting on base three times with a single and two walks.  Rasmus also set the table with two singles and his fifth walk of the young season.  Rasmus' OBP is now .550, good for fifth in the NL.   These two Redbirds were also instrumental in the winning run for the home team.

In the seventh, Theriot walked and Rasmus singled in front of Albert Pujols.  Pujols stroked a ground ball single to score Theriot from second and give the Cardinals the 3-2 lead.

Miguel Batista pitched 1.2 scoreless innings of effective, but sleep inducing, relief.  Honestly, can't he pick up the pace a bit?  If St. Louis' defense is suspect, slowing the game down to drowsy isn't going to improve their alertness.  Trevor Miller allowed a walk in the eighth to put two runners on, but struck out Pedro Alverez to end the threat.  Closer Ryan Franklin did allow a two-out single in the ninth, but did get the save without overdone dramatics.

Cardinal Nation Relaxes
McClellan was the story in this one.  His won-loss record is still stuck on 0-0, but to say he didn't factor in the decision is a misnomer.  His six innings were key, and in his first career start mimicked Jaime Garcia last season in effectiveness - showing how close the battle in 2010 spring training for the fifth starter spot actually was.  And the table setting of Theriot and Rasmus relaxed the vexation of Cardinal Nation, if only for one night.

Now if the team can string two games of stringing together baserunners, we will feel much better before the upcoming west coast road trip.

05 April 2011

Cardinals McClellan To Make First Start for Hometown Team

Kyle McClellan grew up in Florissant, Missouri as a fan of the Cardinals.  Tonight in St. Louis, a dream will come true for the Redbirds righthander as he will make his first big league start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Hazelwood West High grad has been a fixture in the Cardinals bullpen since 2008.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan has been high on McClellan's potential as a starting pitcher for some time now, noting his command of a variety of pitches that are effective against batters on both sides of the plate.  That versatility has served the Cardinals well out of the bullpen, but hasn't stopped the ball club from grooming McClellan as a starter the past three springs in Jupiter. In 2009, he was insurance in case Chris Carpenter was unable to answer the bell after Tommy john surgery.  Last spring, McClellan was very impressive in the battle to claim the fifth starter role, but lost out to Jaime Garcia, who was simply even more impressive. Coming into this season, the Cardinals clearly had McClellan pencilled into the role, but made him earn it.  And earn it he did by getting batters to beat the ball into the ground, showing necessary stamina, and posting a minuscule 0.78 ERA.

McClellan was St. Louis' best performing starter in Florida.  But that was spring training.  Tonight, the game is for real.  The true test for the hometown boy to make his dreams come true.  I am bullish on McClellan's capabilities as a starting pitcher in the big leagues.  He has passed muster in his previous trials and has earned the right to take the ball in the first inning under the lamps of Busch III.   I - and all of Cardinal Nation - will be rooting shamelessly for him to succeed in what is truly his home ballpark.