I drove to Kansas City and watched the Royals play the Indians on a very, very chilly night of baseball. Felt like I should’ve been watching the Chiefs, as cold as it was. I rooted for the home team, but they eventually fell in extras thanks to some poor work out of the bullpen. But I got to see my first Major League game of the season. I’ll be going soon to Busch.
On to Cardinal baseball.
Today was a double header, which the Cards ended up splitting with the Nationals. You always want to win 2 obviously, but I’ll take the split and hopefully tomorrow we will take the series win as well. As the saying goes, if you can win every series, you’re doing pretty good.
It was even better combined with the Cubs splitting their double header and losses by the Reds and Brewers. These four teams are now tied for first atop the central division, all at .500.
Both games with the Nats and the Cards, the teams were two runs apart. In the first game of the doubleheader, Westbrook was far from sharp. But he also didn’t get a lot of help behind him. The problem with the Cardinal defense is that it is simply ‘adequate.’ Sometimes things that aren’t recorded as “errors” is still sub-par defense. A ball that Theriot only knocks down that a better shortstop would record an out on. Tyler Greene making a poor throw to 2nd, allowing them only to get 1 out instead of the double play. And then the obvious errors: the drop balls, the missed catches, etc. We knew from the beginning that the defense would not be the best it’s ever been. And that’s why the pitching and the hitting needs to be as sharp as possible.
Ankiel getting his first plate appearance in the first inning of the first game got a nice round of appreciation applause, which was great to see. Ankiel took out a half page ad in the paper thanking them for their support. Great move, Rick.
In the second game, Jaime Garcia was again plagued by poor defense, but managed to pitch good enough to nail the win, both for himself and the team. Also in the night game was the first save opportunity since LaRussa announced that Ryan Franklin would no longer be his pitcher of choice in save situations. Mitchell Boggs got the nod and locked in the save. And all of Cardinal Nation breathed a sigh of relief.
In both games, the Cardinals continue to rake. Everyone was getting hits, even guys like Punto and Descalso. And the big guys continue to do what they’ve been doing. 23 hits among the two games is certainly not too shabby.
Two for one baseball,
In 2000, the Cardinals won the Central Division and was paired against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. Cardinals manger, Tony LaRussa made a surprising move, opting to start rookie pitching sensation, Rick Ankiel in Game 1 of that series, rather than established starter Daryl Kile. In the 3rd inning, millions of Cardinal fans watched Ankiel implode on the mound. Ball after ball sailed over the catcher to the backstop as suddenly Rick Ankiel could no longer find the strikezone. He ended up walking 4 guys, throwing several wild pitches, allowing 4 runs to score.
Ankiel and Cardinal fans alike called it a fluke. And because the Redbirds advanced to the NLCS, it seemed like nothing more than an answer to future trivia questions. But in the NLCS, Ankiel again could not find the strikezone against the New York Mets. He was booted after only 20 pitches when 20% of his pitches again found their way to the backstop.
This time the Cardinals would not advance, as the Mets went on to take the series and advance to the World Series.
Flash forward to 2010.
This time Ankiel is a name known to all baseball fans. But he’s no longer known as a hard throwing kid in his rookie season, sporting highlighted blonde hair. He’s a griseled veteran, who has transformed himself into an outfielder with an elite arm. He worked himself back to the Majors, as a potential offensive threat as well. He did well with the Cardinals until there was no room for him any longer. He spent some of the season, playing with the going-nowhere Kansas City Royals before being traded to Atlanta.
How interesting it is that Rick is back in the postseason, playing for the very team that he first fell apart against. But this time he has stepped up to the challenge. Not only has he been successful, he has been the hero. In game 2, Ankiel hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning.
Before I get into Cardinal baseball, how about that Yankee game? 8 home runs by 7 different players? And not of them is A-Rod? Are you kidding me? You figure there are a lot of balls getting hung over the plate that game to have that kind of a homer happy night. So I’m surprised that Alex didn’t get in on the action, much less to go 0-5. It also shows you how much under ability these guys have been playing all year. This is what the Yanks are capable of doing when they’re running on all cylinders. Every guy down the lineup 1-9 has the ability to put the ball in the stands. Half of their lineup could be cleanup on almost any other team in the league.
Ok, on to the NL Central. What a bittesweet day of baseball. The Cardinals played a hard fought game against Pittsburgh and actually came up on the winning end to stretch their streak to…….4 games. I can barely believe it. The sad news? The Brewers fought back Glavine and his quest for 300 in their win over the Mets and the Cubs won as well. So, the Cardinals still sit at 6 games back of first place and gain nothing on Chicago.
I’m happy for the win though. This kind of back and forth game is the kind of game that Cardinals would win last year and have been losing this year. And even though it seemed back and forth, they never really let the Pirates fully get their foot back in the door and pretty much stayed in control the whole game. Still, I wish the Redbirds would have been able to put them away sooner. You just can’t get in the habit of letting teams hang around in games, especially when we go back to playing higher caliber teams. Both runs that were scored off of starter Adam Wainwright were runs scored with two outs. A sac fly or something may happen when you have 0 or 1 outs, but once you have 2 outs, you have to do everything possible to shut that door.
That said, I felt the Cardinals played hard. Ryan Ludwick laid our for a terriffic play in left field. And Scott Rolen came in hard to homeplate on a play that he should have been out on by a mile. But the catcher couldn’t come up with the ball and Rolen was safe. Great baseball. Though, the Pirates may want to invest in a new catcher. He made two mistakes today that cost his team and earlier this season he did the same against the Cardinals. I can’t remember what game, but I remember another similiar play when he couldn’t handle a simple relay throw for the out.
These next games against the Pirates are getting to be pretty much must-wins for the Redbirds. Sweeping or taking 2 of 3 from the lower teams in the division are a necessity if the Cardinals expect to cotinue competing for the division. That said I think I should explain the following.
I’m not naive when it comes to this team. I know that they have played horrible ball this year. I know that they barely held onto the NL Central title last year when they were AHEAD for most of the year, let alone trying to climb back into contention. And I’m painfully aware that even if this team somehow makes it into the postseason that they’re chances are almost nil. Anybody else remember the 2004 World Series when we didn’t have Carpenter? Yeah, their are other pitchers and other games, but don’t think that the 2004 loss and the 2006 win don’t have anything to do with Carpenter. There is something about going out there with your dominant ace against the other team’s dominant ace that boosts your team’s self esteem, not to mention pushing everyone else on your staff back and deeping your rotation. Losing Carp has been the biggest blow of the season thus far.
Nevertheless, I have faith. Blind faith, maybe. But faith none the less. I believe my team can do it. Or maybe more accurately, I WANT to believe my team can do it. But this is what baseball is all about, right? Every team’s fan has that sort of faith on Opening Day. They all say, “We signed free agents!” “We called up our top prospect from our farm system!” “It’s a new year!” Now, it’s the All-Star break and fans of some teams like the Royals and the Devil Rays have resigned themselves to another season of under 500, poorly executed baseball.
But the rest of us still have hope. Not all of the teams will be rewarded. The Mets, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies will not all make the posteason. In fact, only half of them will. Yet all of those teams are only 6 games or less back and it is ‘possible’ for any of them to do it. So I hold onto the hope. It’s certainly better than giving up on a season. How many people gave up on the Redbirds last year? Like they say, in baseball, anything is possible.
I’d like to hear from anyone else on this topic. When do you say enough is enough when it comes to your team? Do you hold onto hope until the bitter end, until that magic number for the first place club finally reaches 0? Or is that just asking for disappointment such as was the case for Houston fans last year? Is there a point in the season where you finally admit your team is too far gone, even if they have not ‘technically’ been eliminated? I’m really interested in thoughts about this. Obviously baseball is a good starting point, but if you have another sport you’d like to bring up on this topic, I’m open to that too.
Alright boys, time to get busy tonight, taking another one away from the Pirates.
The Cardinals have been so hot lately that I am almost afraid to write a post, lest I do anything that brings them bad luck. But I am confident that our boys will continue their current winning ways and hopefully extend this hot streak to eight games and beyond.
It’s been awhile, so I have a few things to say.
First, I know I promised a post regarding a sort of "midseason report" of the Redbirds. I am not going to dedicate a whole post on this now for two reasons. One, I’m not too worried that anyone was eagerly awaiting this post and therefore nobody will miss it if I don’t write it. Two, I would pretty much be saying the same thing that everybody already knows and if you would a midseason report you can look about 1,000 places on the internet. Every media outlet possible has written one.
So instead it will be combined with this post, which will be more of a "how awesome is this seven game winning streak" post.
As we all know, June did not go well. But, I have every reason to believe that July and the rest of the season will continue to go better. And the two biggest reasons for that are in the bats of Edmonds and Rolen. Pujols is a constant. We know that. And, for the most part Rolen is too. Still, there are times he is good and there are times he is GREAT. Edmonds….well, he’s off and on, but man, when he’s on, he is unbelievable as well. And both of these guys are heading into the unbelievable category without looking back.
Edmonds average for the first 3 months of the season was .213, .271 and .279. He’s hitting .283 so far in July. More importantly, he’s hitting with more power, as evidenced by his slugging percantages, again by month: .427, .329, .443. And in July? .652. Obviously, a huge difference. Not only that, but he’s hitting the long ball more frequently. Edmonds had seven homers all together in the first 3 months of the season. He’s already up to 4 in July alone with half the month left. Same goes for Rolen. He had ten homers in his first 3 months and he’s also up to 4 already this month.
Still the biggest reward for improvement goes to catcher Yadier Molina. No doubt, this guy is a big league starter for his defensive ability, not his offensive. So whatever he does at the plate is icing on the cake. And, he’s been piling it on lately. Molina has gone from a .192 slugging percentage in April to slugging .500 in July.
Clearly, we’re on an upswing. So, for those of you who say we still can’t win 100 games this year, I wouldn’t bet too early. It’s still entirely possible.
The Cardinals have been fun to watch this past week and they look like they’re having more fun too. Who wouldn’t be? They’ve won seven straight, sweeping the Dodgers and almost the Astros in the process. They’re doing everything we’ve come to expect from these guys the past few years. They’re taking great pitchers deep, they’re playing incredible defense, (who else is loving vintage-Jimmy??), they’re pitching quality starts, the bullpen isn’t giving up runs in the late innings. In fact, each game against L.A. showcased a different aspect of this team’s talent.
- Thursday – Hitting the long ball. Cardinals win with Albert’s walk-off homer.
- Friday – Pitching. Carp goes the distance, pitches a 2-hitter and gets the win.
- Saturday – Small ball. Rolen gets the walk-off single.
- Sunday – Everything. Good pitching, even better hitting to beat up on the Dodgers.
The walk-off wins lately, especially, have brought a smile to my face. Thursday, Pujols goes deep to win the game for the Redbirds. So, on Saturday with the game on the line, the Dodgers choose to intentionally pass Pujols. Good call. Except, this time it’s Rolen that brings the walk-off win. If enough of the Cardinals start hitting, the opposition won’t have enough bases to intentionally put them all on. During this series especially, it’s getting harder to put Pujols on, not just because of Rolen, but suprisingly because the guys in front of him. Eckstein, always the scrappy hustler, has been getting on base a ton (every game this series), but so has Duncan in the two spot. This has been great to see. In his earlier appearnces, he showed a lot of power, but not a lot of patience at the plate. But, in his last two starts against L.A. he went 6-8.
The rotation has been great as of late and let’s hope it stays this way. As I said, Carp went the distance in his start and earned player of the week honors, so congratulations to him for that. He also didn’t give up a home run.
If I could pick one category for the Cardinals to improve in, in the second half, it would be for the starters to give up less homers. How many times have we said of a Cardinal starter, "He only made one mistake during the game, but it was a home run." Sometimes that "one mistake" has cost us a win. Other times, it’s been multiple mistakes, but had they not given up the homer, we still would have won.
The Cardinals have collectively given up 107 home runs, which isn’t suprising considering that two Cardinal starters are in the top 5 in the NL for home runs allowed. Marquis tops the list (21) and is joined by Mulder (18). Though it doesn’t factor into the team home runs allowed, Jeff Weaver (who has yet to start for the Cardinals) also has 18 this season during his time in Anaheim. Even young Reyes has gotten into the act. Despite his excellent pitching peformances, he’s given up 7 homers so far this season….exactly equal to the number of games he’s started.
All in all, though, the Cardinals seem to now just be starting on all cylinders and it’s exciting and it sure beats how I felt during our longer losing streak not too long back. Weaver’s start against Atlanta tonight will be pivotal for what’s in store for the Cardinals the rest of the season. With Mulder still out, it would be great to see Weaver really step it up and fill the role during this time. And who knows? If he shows he has something left, maybe we’ll be able to get something for him down the road.
It’s no easy task, however, as their 43-49 (.467) record is misleading. Atlanta has suddenly emerged from the bottom of the NL East heap. They’re riding a 5 game winning streak, including a sweep of the Padres since the Break. Even more impressively, have been their ability to show that they still plan to be competitive for the post season this year. Less than a month ago, they were 13 games under .500 thanks to a 10 game losing streak, in last place in the NL East and had the fourth worst record in the Majors, behind only the Cubs, the Pirates and the Royals. At 9 games back of the Wild Card, they didn’t seem to have a prayer to make the post season. They’re now only 6 games under .500, tied for 2nd in their division and have moved to 5 1/2 games back of the Wild Card. Met’s fans are very confident (and have every reason to be), but there are still nine games to be played between the Mets and the Braves. If the Braves stay hot, it will be an interesting second stretch.
Hopefully we’ll help the Mets out this week by sweeping the reigning NL East. Or at least taking 2 of 3.
On a completely different subject, it’s been very exciting to watch Josh Kinney pitch in a Cardinal uniform. He played college ball in my hometown and it’s always great to see someone like that reach the big leagues. Hope he has a great career in front of him.
Next, I’m going out of the country Wednesday morning and it might be awhile before I get to watch Cardinal baseball again, so I’m going to live blog some of Tuesday’s game. More than likely, I will have to leave for the airpot before it’s all over with, but it will give me something to do as I stay up all night. I would love for anybody who’s around to join in the live blog with comments of their own.
One more thing and then I’m going to end this ridiculously long post. The current score between Pujols and the Cubbies is:
Pujols homers = 31 Cubs wins = 35
Welcoming a Weaver win,
I’ve been quite busy this weekend and obviously away from the blog. I’m preparing to go out of town for work.
In my absence the Cardinals have played two games against the San Diego Padres, losing the first and winning the 2nd. Also, in my absence, players (and a coach) were fined in the Cubs/W. Sox scuffle. Most notably, Barrett got suspended 10 games. I hope they don’t reduce it. And, of course, you have to make mention that the Royals won a game against the Yanks. So, there you go.
Back to the Cardinals.
In the loss, the Cards got stomped 7-1. This was due more to great Padres defense than lack of Cards hitting. The Padres made some very good plays all around the diamond. And, clearly Suppan was far from sharp. He surrended 7 runs in just 6 innings, not to mention 3 homers.
Luckily, that game was quickly put behind us and the Redbirds came out yesterday and won 4-3 behind Sidney Ponson. And this guy is having quite an interesting season. He’s now 4-0, the only Cardinals starter to not have suffered a loss. And, he’s our number 5 guy. Of course, he can’t take a lot of credit for his wins. He’s never gone more than 6 2/3 and most of the time going a lot less than that. He gives up his share of runs, but has either escaped with a no-decision or gotten the win through a lot of help from the bullpen. He can take all the credit for his hitting though. He’s batting a ridiculous .375 with a even more ridiculous .500 on base percentage. But, remember the stat for innings pitched? Yeah, he’s only had 8 at bats.
And of course, major props to Yadier Molina for ending the game on a pickoff throw. You think runners would learn by now, wouldn’t you?
I’m currently watching tonight’s game against the Padres and there’s been a lot of good stuff so far. So, I’m sure another post isn’t too far behind.
In the meantime……go Redbirds.
The old adage is, "Good teams will find a way to win. Bad teams will find a way to lose."
Right now, the Tigers are the definition of that "good team." They are, quite frankly, the hottest team in baseball. The Royals are…..well….not. And as the best team in baseball plays a series against the worst team in baseball, there have been some interesting games.
Today was no different
After the Tigers put up a 0 in their half of the first, the Royals countered by putting up 6 in their half of the frame. More than half of these runs came through back to back to back jacks by their 5-6-7 guys. This would allow most teams to breathe a sigh of relief.
But, not the Royals.
They had lost their last 12 games and the Tigers were riding a 5 game winning streak as well as one win away from playing .700 ball. And, they also saw a similiar lead quickly evaporate in the 2nd game of this very series. That game they were up 4-0 at one point and ended up dropping the game 8-5.
So, even after being up 6-0 every Royals fan knew that they were a long way from being out of the woods. And sure enough, The Tigers slowly started climbing back. They started by cutting KC’s lead in half in the top of the 2nd. They would add 5 more runs on top of that in the next 6 innings to have 8 runs at the end of 8. KC would muster one run in 4th and one more in the 6th to have a tie ball game at the end of 8.
In the top of the 9th, Detroit would take the lead for the first time this game by getting 5 hits; 3 of them homers to make it 13-8. KC threatened with a couple of baserunners, but were unable to plate any.
KC (4) – Graffanino, Berroa, Mientkiewicz and German
Detroit (4) – Thames (2), Monroe, Rodriquez
This marks the 2nd time in 3 days that KC has hit 4 home runs and still lost. It shows that home runs don’t win games and they certainly don’t win championships. At least not home runs alone. It takes more than that.
It’s the same reason why I’m against a salary cap in baseball. Everybody complains about the Yankees that they can buy whoever they want. Now, I really like the Yankees, but do you seem them winning the championship every year? Nope. Because, even if you have the best team on paper, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win it all.
This is also why I get worried when the Cardinals seem to be getting too dependent on an Albert Pujols home run. If everyone isn’t participating, you aren’t going to win.
I asked in an earlier post what would it take for the Cardinals to win it all. I pointed out that for 2 straight years we had the best team in baseball. So, the best record doesn’t equate championships.
And the Royals should serve as warning that a lot of flashy home runs don’t necessarily even will the game, let alone a series or even the World Series. It’s about more than that. It’s about a team that depends on each other and knows that when one person is down, someone else will pick them up. It’s about small ball, hit and running, squeeze plays and excuting the easy plays.
The Royals don’t seem to be doing a lot of these things and don’t seem to be playing a lot of "team ball" right now.
I hope the Cardinals take note of that and stay consistent in their team effort. If they do, maybe this will be our year.
Speaking of the Cardinals, we play tomorrow agains the San Diego Padres. Suppan will be first up for the ‘Birds, coming off a win in his last start. It sure would be nice to close out this road trip with a sweep, or at the very least, the series win.
Off day today. That means I am getting major laundry done and I will also probably check in on the early games throughout the evening. Those would include:
- Tigers/Royals – The Tigers go for their 6 straight win, while KC goes for their 13th straight loss. Guess their "players only meeting," didn’t solve any problems.
- Phillies/Mets – The Mets will try to distance themselves even more from the 2nd place Philliess. They’re currently 5 games up from the Phils, who are tied with the Atlanta Braves.
- Nationals/Astros – Houston and the Nats are 6 and 11 games back, respectively, and at this point, just trying to stay afloat until the All-Star break.
Another interesting fact. 4 teams are playing .600 ball right now and the Redbirds are one of them! One team, the Detroit Tigers, are one win away from playing .700 ball. And, they will likely achieve that tonight playing the Royals. Very impressive, even if it is early in the season. I look forward to playing them next month.
.500 ball is currently good enough for first place in the AL West. Last year, 2 games over that was what it took to make an NL West champ (the Padres), but this year a team playing .506 ball would be in last place there. Arizona is tearing up the division.