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Saturday, May 31, 2003

BITCH, BITCH, BITCH I'd have to say this is our low point for the season. Yes, our record was worse five weeks ago, when we got tagged by the Atlanta Braves in three straight. Yes, our record was worse even two weeks ago, after we had dropped seven of eight to the Reds and Cubs. But what's most disconcerting about our latest string of losses is that it's now June -- 1/3rd of the season is officially over -- and the Cardinals aren't showing any signs of turning things around.

It used to be that you could compare our record to the same point last year and come out ahead. After all, last year's team was 14-19 on May 7th and wound up winning 97 games. But last year's team turned things around by June. After May 7th, they went on a 16-3 run. By contrast, the 2003 Cardinals are still spinning their wheels at 27-27.

And the road ahead doesn't appear to get any easier. First we play the scorching-hot Toronto Blue Jays, then we play the Orioles (whose record, believe it or not, is virtually identical to ours), then we face the twin terrors from New York and Boston. If you can't beat the Pirates at home, then you're not going to fare much better going into Yankee Stadium and Fenway.

But my pessimism runs deeper than that. Why? Well, I'm just going to throw this out there... But I think it's possible -- I'm not certain about this -- but I think it's possible that the Cardinals are playing as well as they're going to play this season. In other words, we may be, at our core, a .500 team.

Is that crazy? I mean, it sure doesn't seem that way. We have so much talent. And so many of our losses have been of the flukey/abnormal variety. And wait til Izzy comes back. And so on. Sooner or later, goes the rallying cry, we're going to turn things around.

But who on our team is going to turn things around? Almost everyone is playing as well, if not better, than you'd expect. Pujols isn't going to improve on his .359/.420/.689 AVG/OBP/SLG. Rolen's numbers are the best of his career. Edgar Renteria is also playing his best baseball ever, as are Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Mike Matheny, and Eduardo Perez. J.D. Drew and Jim Edmonds are playing as well, or better, than expected. So is Miguel Cairo. Even Tino is doing what we projected him to do, and it's doubtful he'll improve much going forward.

The only Cardinals who count as genuine disappointments are Jason Simontacchi, Steve Kline, and Eli Marrero. That's it.

So if the Cardinals are really going to turn things around, if they're really going to prove they're more than a .500 team, then our outstanding players have to play even more outstandingly (doubtful) or Simontacchi and Kline are going to combine for 20 wins the rest of the way (even more doubtful).

There's only one glimmer of hope left for this team and that is (our much publicized) record in one-run games: 2-14. If we'd played even .500 ball in one-run games (a big if considering our iffy bullpen, but I'm grasping at straws here) we'd be 33-21 and in first place. In other words, if we can start winning the close ones, we just might climb up the NL Central ladder. Until then I'll remain a pessimist.

Friday, May 30, 2003

FROM WILL CARROLL, who is the source when it comes to injury scoops:
"If the Esteban Yan deal didn't tell you that the Cardinals weren't telling you everything, you won't listen to me. Jason Isringhausen and the Cards are throwing up smoke screens, having Izzy pitch simulated games where no one can see him while talk of rehab assignments is lost between the smoke and the mirrors. What's let out into the media has as much spin as a Tiger Woods iron and as much clarity as Tom Waits on a Jim Beam bender. There's double talk about back-to-back and day after night, but hidden between the lines is the fact that Isringhausen is not going to single-handedly rebuild a dreadful pen, even if healthy...and he's not."

One of the great things about baseball is that any team can beat any other team on any given night. It's not like the NFL, where a Bengals upset is about as rare as a base hit by Chris Widger. Hell, just for the fun of it let's run the numbers... Here are the deviations between the teams with the highest and lowest winning percentages for the 3 major sports, averaged out over the past 3 years:

Highest: .652
Lowest: .375
Difference: .277

Highest: .812
Lowest: .083
Difference: .729

Highest: .715
Lowest: .215
Difference: .500

As you can see, there's far less difference between the best and worst baseball teams. Even the Tigers stand a relatively decent chance of taking a game here and there from the Yankees, Red Sox, or Mariners.

Which brings us to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates aren't nearly as bad as the Tigers. They're not even as bad as the Brewers. But they are bad. They're 11th in the league in team pitching and defense, and 13th in team offense.

But tonight they looked liked champions. They absolutely spanked the Cardinals. They beat us on the mound, at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths. They had better starting pitching and better bullpen work. They had more singles and more extra-base hits. They got more lead-off hitters on and delivered more clutch hits. They beat us up, plain and simple.

But the Cardinals need to beat up on teams like the Pirates if we want to win. The last three years we've won the NL Central, partly by thumping the Pirates to the tune of a 33-13 record. We need to treat the Pirates like they were just some variant on the Nuggets or Bengals or Clippers. Because if you can't beat up on the Pirates at home, who can you beat?

Thursday, May 29, 2003

DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS The Cardinals' last three-game winning streak was on May 4th. The last couple weeks they've been treading water, one step forward one step back, hovering around .500, unable to separate ourselves from the muddle that is the National League Central.

With Matt Morris on the mound, tonight's game offered us a golden opportunity to do just that. But as usual with this team, our killer instinct failed. It was my least favorite kind of game -- the kind that afterwards dissolves into a series of "what ifs."

What if Edgar had handled Berkman's one-out smash in the 8th?
What if Taguchi had thrown to the right base that same inning?
What if the Cardinals hadn't left the bases loaded in the 6th?
What if we had been able to turn that seemingly certain 3-6-3 DP in the 4th?
What if Tino's drive in the 6th hadn't died at the warning track?
What if Rolen had been able to nip Bagwell on that slow roller in the 6th?
What if Pujols hadn't overrun the ball the same inning?
What if our relievers had been able to retire Jeff Kent?
What if Pujols hadn't grounded into a double play in the 9th?
What if we had stranded fewer than 10 runners?

It was just one of those games. The bad parts were ugly and the good parts seem, in retrospect, like one big cock tease.

A few thoughts:

• Should La Russa have pinch-hit for Morris in the 6th? Morris still had good stuff, but the Cardinals were down by two runs and we did have the bases loaded with two outs. If you lift Morris, you have to rely on our notoriously unreliable bullpen, but it seemed like a decent risk to take given (a) that the Astros have one of the top 2 or 3 bullpens in the league and we may have had our best chance against a shaky Brad Lidge; and (b) the Cardinals were playing without a key bat (Edmonds) and with a short bench (Cairo and Palmeiro were pressed into the starting lineup), so it's reasonable to think we'd have diminished opportunities to come back in the late innings.

Now, you could argue that La Russa made the right move -- he kept Morris in and the Cardinals did have the lead going into the 8th. Or you could look at it another way: the Cardinals still needed three more runs when all was said and done; we could have scored even more runs than we did off of Lidge (who was awful) if we had struck earlier; and Morris didn't quite pitch well enough to secure the win anyway (the tying run in the 8th was his). I don't think there's a right answer on this one -- it's not like La Russa had Morris hit for himself in the 9th, as he did in last year's NLCS -- but it's yet one more "what if" that I can't help entertaining.

• Here's how Mike Shannon called Tino Martinez's at bat in the 6th inning, two on, one out, Cards down two runs: "Swing and a THREE-RUNNER! How 'bout that! Way to go, Tino! [beat, sound of crowd cheering] No, it's gonna fall short." Such miscalls are nothing new to anyone who's listened to Shannon, but that didn't make it any less painful. In contrast, Wayne Hagin was excellent tonight. His mic-work in the 7th inning, when the Cards mounted their comeback, had just the right energy, pitch, and flair. It was thrilling. I don't have much of a read on Hagin yet, but tonight he was excellent.

• J.D. Drew is now hitting .325 with a .566 slugging percentage. He's not showing any of the patience he showed in the past (only two walks so far, which is particularly aggravating since Drew should be our everyday leadoff hitter), but I still think it's safe to say that Drew's recovery from surgery has been a success.

• The folks on Baseball Tonight recently suggested that Vina's absence has thrown our whole defense out of whack. The thinking is that we rely on such crisp timing, and that our infielders are so rhythmically simpatico, that removing one player causes the whole house of cards to fall down (similar to the entire Rams offense sputtering on account of Warner's faulty thumb). I'm not sure I buy that, although the anecdotal evidence is somewhat convincing. The other night Renteria was on the receiving end of a feed from Miquel Cairo, and he couldn't get a handle on the ball, presumably because it wasn't in the same breadbasket that it would have been with Vina. And tonight, of course, there were miscues galore. Renteria flubbed a ground ball, Morris mis-timed a relay throw, both Rolen and Tino disconnected on a slow nubber. I'm not willing to admit these things wouldn't have happend if Familiar Fernando were out at the keystone spot, but I do buy that our patchwork lineup is making everyone just a little more jittery than usual.

BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK Last night the Braves started the game with 3 straight homers by Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, and Gary Sheffield. Considering that Chipper Jones finished the previous game with a walk-off homer, that made four straight homers by the Braves.

I've been thinking about Furcal lately in light of some comments I made about Scott Rolen on Monday. I suggested that Rolen could well be the NL MVP so far, as he's had the best combination of big offense and big defense. Well, turns out that nearly all of my arguments apply even more suitably to Rafael Furcal. Furcal is hitting .341, and he's 7th in the league in OPS with 12 doubles, 7 triples, and 8 home runs. He's not nearly as strong with the glove as Rolen is at third, but still, this is a shortstop we're talking about. And for whatever it's worth, he's playing for the team with the top offense and the best record in the league. Until further notice, consider Furcal your frontrunner for MVP.

EDMONDS UPDATE III Edmonds suffered some separation of his ribs from the cartilage, after making a diving catch in last night's game, and is expected to miss at least the next few games. He'll be reevaulated over the weekend and the DL is a possibility. I don't think I need to point out what a blow this would be, especially since the first two weeks of June include games against the surging Blue Jays, the Red Sox, and the Yankees.

CARDS PROSPECT Dan Haren had his second straight solid start in AAA. Haren, you may remember, absolutely dismantled hitters in the Southern League, then got called up to Memphis and got dismantled himself in his first start. But he's got his sea legs now -- last night he gave up 2 runs and 3 hits in 7 innings, walked one, struck out 6. The Cards don't have much need for him right now (not one of our pitchers has missed a start, and our front five has a 3.69 ERA), so hopefully Haren will continue to marinate down on the farm.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

THE CUBS CHEAT! First it was the ticket scalping scam, in which the Cubs engineered an illegal profiteering scheme to rip off its own fans, and now this: the pitching mound at Wrigley Field is too high. Apparently some anonymous team filed a complaint about the Cubs' groundskeeping practices, so Major League Baseball checked it out. Sure enough, the pitching mound was 2 1/2 inches higher than league standards. Could this be why Cubs pitchers lead the league in strikeouts? Probably not (after all, they average 8.5 K's per game on the road, which is comparable to their 9.1 K's per game at home), but it's fun to sling accusations around.

GOOD CHRIST We owe Jason Simontacchi an apology. This website has been poking him all season long, accusing him of being a Memphis Redbird in Cardinal drag. But did he ever come up huge tonight.

We needed this game. An Astros win would have guaranteed them at least a split on the road, and our hitters weren't having much luck with flutterballer Jonathan Johnson. (This of course doesn't apply to Scotty Rolen, who was once again a Jedi Master with the bat.) Our hitters provided only 3 runs for the Simo Man (this is what Mike Shannon called Simontacchi all game long, every time he mentioned him, even casually). But Simontacchi tamed the Astros hitters inning after inning.

He actually seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Except for Berkman's homer, the Stros reached 2nd base only twice, largely because Simo didn't walk anyone. In the ninth inning he powdered a 3-2 fastball past Berkman for the first out, retired Hunter a blink later, and then, after getting Merced on a fly to left, he pointed heavenward (Simontacchi is a born-again Christian) and flashed the most pleasant smile you ever saw.

Even the AP writer covering the game was surprised by Simontacchi's complete game. His initial report concluded with this line: "Cal Eldred worked the ninth for his fifth save in seven chances." Apparently the sentence was written ahead of time and got sent out accidentally with the game recap. But this wasn't one of those crazy bullpen specials. It was instead the most satisfying game of Simontacchi's young career.

EDMONDS UPDATE II Edmonds will miss at least the series finale on Thursday and a team spokesman said the injury to his bruised ribs would be re-evaluated this weekend.

THE BEST FANS IN BASEBALL Did you see the Yanks- Red Sox game tonight? I only caught the ninth inning, but that's where all the drama was anyway. The BoSox chipped away at a 5-1 Yankees lead, stringing together hit after improbable hit off of Mariano Rivera, with Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman lurking up in the skyboxes like characters from the Addams Family (I swear Cashman wears anti-reflective black grease under his eyes). And with each pitch Yankee Stadium became a rising tsunami -- it was like Manchester United/Real Madrid out there: cheering, stomping, screaming. I swear at one point I heard someone beating war drums. The fervor didn't let up, and when the Yankees pushed across the winning run on a bases-loaded walk, the place went bonkers.

I mention this game because it contrasts so sharply with the mood at Busch Stadium last night. Granted, the Cardinals lost 7-4 and the game didn't offer much in the way of excitement. But it was a tight game until very late, we're playing one of our arch-rivals, and yet the place sounded like a mausoleum. Some polite applause here, a vendor hawking peanuts there. Jim Edmonds stepped out of the box about 10 times during one at-bat, and I swear I expected him to build a nest out of dirt and gum wrappers, curl up, and fall asleep.

It's fashionable nowadays to call St. Louisans the best baseball fans in the country. And I'm as likely as anyone to defend that notion. Cardinal fans are as polite and as principled and as loyal and as knowledgeable as any fans out there. But in some ways that's the problem. Sometimes I wish our crowds were more impolite and unprincipled, more raucous and bloodthirsty. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not asking Cards-Astros to turn into some lunkheaded Flyers-Rangers bloodfest. But a little more of the hysteria I saw in Yankee Stadium tonight couldn't hurt.

UPDATE Jim Edmonds made a diving catch on Brad Ausmus' flare to end the top of the second, but injured his side in the process. He's getting x-rays now...

GAME NOTES, Astros 7 Cards 4

• Smart, great bunt by Eddie Perez in the 2nd inning to make it 1st and 3rd with nobody out for Edgar. I haven't seen so many surprise bunts from a Cardinals team since the 80s, and we appear to be having some success with it.

• Chris Widger, despite his great throw to nail Biggio in the fifth, doesn't belong in MLB. C'mon, Walt and Tony, with 7 superstars (Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Drew, Renteria, Morris, and Williams) on the roster, all you guys have to do is fill in the blanks with credible big leaguers. A line-up with Widger and Taguchi back to back doesn't cut it. It's not a joke when I write that I had as much confidence in Tomko getting a hit as either one of those guys.

• So Taguchi looks and plays like a 12 year-old.

• Terrible baserunning by Renteria with one out in the 2nd to run through Oquendo's stop sign only to get easily pegged by Merced, who gunned him down from shallow right field. Only one out and some of our big guys coming up. Damn.

• Tomko did a pretty good job of keeping the ball down tonight, but their good hitters feasted on his low fastball. He got ahead of most guys, too. But when is he gonna learn to just win? I hope soon, because we really need him if we're gonna take the title.

• Thank God Craig Paquette called it quits. I thought for sure Tony would have him back with the team soon, figuring out a way to stick him in there 3 or 4 games a week. But the last thing we need is another low OBP guy like him.

• Twice, Kent made one of the toughest plays in the game -- the running towards traffic while keeping your eye on the ball, over-the-shoulder catch. The second one was particularly impressive. Such defense from him is unexpected, and painful.

• Great thinking and hustle by Pujols in the 6th to draw a bad throw from Berkman off Rolen's fly out and take second base. It's difficult to come up with different ways every day to call this guy great.

• Mark mentioned to me on the phone that it's a curious decision by LaRussa to stick Yan in a close game when he's right off a plane, and I think he's right. Then again, nobody available out there inspires much confidence. I like Brian's, and the Daily Redbird's and Go Cardinals' sizing up of Yan. Boy, could we use his Duncanization.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

YAN THE MAN Back on April Fool's Day, my cousin Mark and I convinced our brothers that the Cardinals had traded Jimmy Journell and Kiko Calero for Esteban Yan. The joke indicated (a) that we have the lamest sense of humor of all time; (b) that we're a little too obsessed with the Cardinals; and (c) that we have ESP, as the Cards indeed landed Yan this morning.

Is Yan any good? Well, his first pitch as a Redbird sailed out of his hand and landed squarely on Adam Everett's shoulder. If that pitch -- and his pitching line (1 inning, 2 hits, 2 earned runs) -- is a harbinger of things to come, then you can add Yan do the dustbin of bullpen wash-outs.

But I actually feel good about this pickup, tonight's game (and April Fool's joke) notwithstanding. The good fellows over at Daily Redbird and Go Cardinals have covered this ground already, but we stand a good chance of coming out ahead on this deal. Consider:

1. Yan's numbers the last couple years have been fairly solid. Not great, but solid. He's been atrocious this year (7.40 ERA), but that's in only 23 innings, which isn't much of a sample. Career-wise -- that is, in the 437 innings before this year -- he's been fine.

2. Yan's peripheral numbers are quite good. He sports a strong 25/7 K/BB ratio, and, as Josh Schulz indicates, a sizable chunk of his ERA can be chalked up to the Rangers' porous defense.

3. Yan is a legitimate strikeout pitcher, with 7.6 punch-outs per nine innings over his career. He throws in the mid-90s and has been known to reach 98 on the radar gun. Yan is one of the few guys in our bullpen who has an actual "out" pitch, something he can blow past hitters. Most of our other arms out there seem to rely on guile and game theory. Yan offers more clay for Duncan to mold.

4. He's only 28 years old, so he's got some room to grow.

5. The Rangers are picking up most of the tab on Yan's one-year, $1.5 million contract.

6. We didn't give up much to acquire him. Rick Asadoorian is a former first-round pick by the BoSox, and although he's got a good trim physique and some nice tools (good glove, good legs, great arm), he strikes out a lot and he's never been able to hit much. He's only 22 years old and he has better plate discipline than he did his first couple years in organized ball, so this loss could come back to bite us, but I doubt it. Getting bullpen help now is a bigger concern, and in that regard Yan's a perfectly acceptable gamble.

FROM BASEBALL PROSPECTUS "Speaking of nicknames, there's none more apropos than Stinko Martinez. Through Sunday's game, the future Veterans Committee Hall-of-Famer has an OPS of just .359 in the month of May. The logical alternative, Eduardo Perez, has been hitting well, but the Cards have needed him in right field since Eli Marrero has been hurt. The problem hasn't received much attention since most of the Cardinal regulars continue to hit well, but if Martinez's slump is of the career-ending variety, they may be a hitter short at the corner positions. Possible solution: Jon Nunnally, whose .306 EqA at Memphis is the third-best in the minor leagues."

Monday, May 26, 2003

A RUPTURED TENDON That's what Fernando Vina has, and it's going to shelve him for two to four months. We've all taken shots at Vine on this site, and most of those shots were deserved, despite Vina's recent hot streak. But make no mistake: Vina's injury is not good for the club, for several reasons:

1. Our up-the-middle defense will suffer. Vina seems to have lost a step in the field, but he's still one of the premiere secondbasemen in the league, and his reputation with the leather is well-deserved. Delgado is a handy fielder, but he's no Vina, and Cairo is an even bigger drop-off. This deficit looms larger when you consider that our pitching staff doesn't strike out many hitters (13th in the league) and we need a sure hand at 2B to handle all those groundballs.

2. None of Vina's replacements can hit their way out of a paper bag. Miguel Cairo and Wilson Delgado are classic La Russa ballplayers: scrappy multi-situational players who have little patience at the plate. If they match Vina's .310 OBP it would be a considered a success, which is sad.

3. Our bench is now that much worse. Except for Smilin' Eddie Perez, the Cardinals have had a big problem with their part-timers. Move Cairo into the everyday lineup and everyone else slides up with him -- our #1 option after Perez is now Orlando Palmeiro; our #2 option is Delgado; our #3 is... who? Bret Tomko? Chris Widger? The guy has trouble reaching base by fielder's choice (he hasn't reached base yet). Given our lousy bullpen, we're gonna be in a lot of tight, one-run games in the late innings. And right now our manueverability is reaching zero.

4. Fewer able bodies = fewer trades. Who knows whether other teams actually sought Fernando Vina. The recent rumors (Vina for Alomar, Vina to L.A.) could be based on genuine insider info, but they could also be based on the kind of wishful thinking that infects sports-radio call-in shows. Whatever the case may be, Walt Jocketty can't trade Vina now, and that undermines our ability to upgrade. In fact, after reading Mark's post below, one might reasonably argue that the main thing -- no: the only thing -- separating the Cardinals from utter mediocrity and three crowns in three years is our success with trades. Sure, we have some great homegrown stars (Pujols, Morris, Drew), but by and large the bulk of our talent has come from our ability to pick up bargains and malcontents via trade, then sign them to long-term deals on account of the city's congenial relationship with ballplayers. Vina (like Lankford, Gant, and Bottenfield before him) is the type of veteran stalwart who makes wonderful catnip for Trader Walt. But with a gimpy leg, Vina ain't going nowhere.

5. The Taguchi Factor. Who ever put So Taguchi in a major-league uniform? Why is our front office enamored with him? Why is he the first option out of Memphis? Is it that we're embarrassed about signing him, sight unseen, for a million bucks a year? God love Taguchi -- he seems like the nicest, hardest working guy around, but so does Buddy Bates, and no one ever lets Bates suit up (although I'm sure he could at least slug .300 in AAA, unlike Taguchi). Every time I've ever seen Taguchi at the plate, I'm reminded of the gulf between truly progressive organizations with excellent overseas scouting (the Mariners, the Yankees, the Dodgers), and organizations like ours, whose attempts to mine the Pacific Rim are half-hearted and cosmetic at best. It's time to accept our million-dollar flyer on Taguchi as a sunk cost, and go with someone who could possibly put up some decent numbers, even if it is ex-big leaguer Jon Nunnally (.943 OPS in Memphis).

JOCKETTY'S TRADES In his column last week, Cardinals at the Quarter Pole, St. Louis sports reporter John Hadley of wrote that, "In time, [Brett] Tomko will go down as one of Jocketty's best deals... ever." It got me thinking, What are Jocketty's best deals? Is the Tomko deal really one of his best ever? Walt hasn't ever really struck gold in terms of free agent signings, and our minor league system is pretty woeful.

What about trades? I thought it would be cool to look at all the Rednut trades since Jocketty arrived in 96 (I've left off some small trades, such as the second Hermanson trade and the Christensen trades, as they bore me). I added some analysis and grades, just to make the geek in me giddy.

96 Cards get Todd Stottlemyre from the A's for pitchers Bret Wagner, Jay Witasick, Carl Dale, and OF Allen Battle Witasick was a prospect who went on to have some kinda-maybe-decent years as a reliever, but hasn't really amounted to much. The other dudes are out of baseball. Stotty won 14 games in 96 and 12 in 97, with an ERA under 4 both seasons. Then he entered his chronically injured period, and has subsequently left baseball. B+

96 Cards get Dennis Eckersley from the A's for Steve Montgomery Who is Steve Montgomery? B+

96 Cards get Eric Ludwick, Erik Hiljus, and OF Yudith Ozurio from the Mets for Bernard Gilkey U. City grad makes good. Gilkey had a terrific season for the Mets in 96, then tailed off into oblivion. Sources say he is now working at Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop. Hiljus had a decent 2001 as a reliever with the A's, but didn't do jack for us. C-

97 Cards get Jeff Brantley from the Reds for Dimitri Young. Brantley never turned into the closer everyone hoped, but then again, Young never became the hitter everyone had predicted. Still, the Cards wouldn't mind having Young's bat and glove around today, and Brantley has dopey hair. C

97 Cards get Mark McGwire from the A's for TJ Mathews, Eric Ludwick, and Blake Stein. Yep. A+

98 Cards get Edgar Renteria from the Marlins for Pablo Ozuna, Armando Almanza, and Braden Looper. Looper has had a fine career in the Marlins' pen, Almanza is a middling middle reliever, Ozuna hasn't done much and is hurt. Edgar was a terrific player when we got him and keeps getting better. And, best of all, his best years should still be ahead of him. A

99 Cards get Ricky Bottalico and Garrett Stephenson from the Phillies for Ron Gant, Jeff Brantley, and Cliff Politte. Bottalico for Brantley would've been exactly even, as both guys sucked. But G. Steve has stuck around, and Gant was a cancer in the clubhouse. Or so LaRussa would have us believe. Whatever the truth, Gant became an overpriced utility player. But at the time, he was hitting with some pop -- 26 HRs in 98. Walt should've gotten more. C

99 Cards get Pat Hentgen and Paul Spoljaric from the Blue Jays for Lance Painter, catcher Alberto Castillo and OF Matt Dewitt Aah, sweet Lance Painter -- if only we had him today. B

99 Cards get Darryl Kile, Dave Veres, and Luther Hackman from the Rockies for Jose Jimenez, Manny Aybar, Rick Croushore, and Brent Butler. A blockbuster, in retrospect. Jimenez was the jewel the Rockies sought, and after his no-no in 98, many Birdnals fans were loathe to see him go. He's become Colorado's everyday closer, thriving in that role at pitcher-eating Coors. Butler's seen a lot of playing time for the Rocks but never amounted to much, and Aybar has bounced around, landing most recently with the DBacks, where he is disappearing. Croushore is out of baseball. While neither of them are with the Cards anymore, Veres and Hackman were valuable tools in our post-season runs the last few years. And Kile, well, what can you say? I can still see his parabolic curve ball, buckling the knees of Jeff Bagwell for strike three. Damn. Damn. A-

99 Cards get Craig Paquette from the Mets for Shawon Dunston We got Dunston back as a free agent a few months later anyway. Not that it did us any good. B

2000 Cards get Fernando Vina from the Brewers for Juan Acevedo Acevedo has posted some decent numbers, both as a set-up man and as a closer (he's now setting up Mariano Rivera with the Yankees). And Vina has disappointed the last two seasons -- despite his Gold Gloves. Overall, though, Freddie's been a blessing to the Rednut. B+

2000 Cards get Jim Edmonds from the Angels for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield Let's be honest, it would be nice to have Adam Kennedy as our everyday 2B. But Edmonds has given us MVP performances for 3 seasons now, and he's not letting up. This deal continues a Jocketty trademark -- trade players while they're overachieving. Bottenfield was coming off a career season with the Birdnals, and Jocketty gambled that he didn't have another season like it in him. He was right. A-

2000 Cards get Will Clark and cash from the Orioles for 3B Jose Leon My all-too-brief love affair with Will Clark was a humdinger. The Thrill provided me and my beloved Cardbirds with a gritty enthusiasm and a masculine panache that I'll never forget. What about Jose Leon, you ask? He's hitting .236 for the Ottawa Lynx. A-

2000 Cards get Mike Timlin from the Orioles for Chris Richard and Mark Nussbeck Richard was a 26-year-old prospect when Jocketty traded him, today he's a 29-year-old bum. Nussbeck never did anything. Timlin had a decent year after coming over in 2000, but never earned his big salary and was dumped on the Phillies last year in the Rolen deal. B

2001 Cards get Woody Williams from the Padres for Ray Lankford Amazingly, this trade was a post-deadline deal, which means both players passed unclaimed through waivers. Thank God for small miracles. Woody has become the heart and soul of our pitching staff, as Jeff Gordon writes about today. Lankford got a lot of crap during his last couple years in red, mostly for striking out so much, but his overall numbers never justified it. Nonetheless, once you're in LaRussa's dog house, by definition you become a dog. Lankford's days as a Bird were done. And Woody was never anything special before coming to The Lou. But Dave Duncan made a man of him. And what a glorious, beautiful man he is. A-

2001 Cards get Steve Kline and Dustin Hermanson from the Expos for Fernando Tatis and Britt Reames The once spectacular Tatis fizzled; the Duncan-less Reames sank (another recurring theme -- good pitchers going bad when they leave STL, bad pitchers becoming good with they arrive in STL). Kline had a terrifc 2001 and 2002, although now he's sinking too. Hermanson is one of those players whose name you remember but you can't quite recall if he sucks or not. He sucks. B

2002 Cards get Chuck Finley from the Indians for Luis Garcia and a player to be named As long as the player to be named isn't Pujols, this was a steal. Let's hope Chuck gives us another crackerjack half a season. B+ [NOTE: Mike at The Daily Redbird points out today that the player to be named was Coco Crisp, who is tearing it up with the Indians' AAA Buffalo club. He's getting on base and stealing bases by the boatload. He'll most likely be the Indians' lead-off hitter next season. As Mike says, "that takes a little bit of luster off the deal." I'll say. I'm revising my grade: B-]

2002 Cards get Scott Rolen, Doug Nickle and cash from the Phillies for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin Obviously the key to this trade was Doug Nickle. I mean, who is Scott Rolen? What can he do for a team? No, seriously -- this was a great deal for both teams. The Phillies had to unload Rolen before he became a free agent at the end of the season, and the Cards needed to thicken the middle of the lineup. Bud Smith may still turn out to be a nice major league pitcher, but I doubt it. And, anyway, he'll never be half as valuable as Scott Rolen. Polanco should go to bed every night thanking God for letting him kiss .300. Timlin was a salary dump. A

2003 Cards get Brett Tomko from the Padres for Luther Hackman Tomko was a career underachiever with the Padres with a 4.50 career ERA and, reportedly, a bad attitude. So far with the Rednut, he's got a record of 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA. Nothing stellar. Yet. Hadley thinks Tomko will turn it around and dominate. I'm not so sure. He's got good stuff on occasion, but he is 30 years old. And he costs us $3.3 million a year; Hackman costs the Padres $245,000. The difference is the equivalent of one Chuck Finley. That being said, I don't think much of a case can be made for Hackman over a starter with Tomko's raw ability. My judgement is a little premature, but luckily no one's career is riding on it. B

Jocketty has almost single-handedly kept the Cardbirds awash in talent the last 8 years. With little to nothing to deal, he's improved our lot almost every season. We're lucky to have him.

ROLEN ALONG The lopsided final score of 10-5 actually made today's game seem closer than it really was. The contest was in doubt for about 7 minutes -- that is, from the moment Woody Williams hit his second batter of the first (to load the bases with Lance Berkman up) until the bottom of the inning, when Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen cranked run-scoring doubles. After that the rout was on.

The schedule really helps the Cardinals in this series. Today's game featured a rematch of last Wednesday's starters, and the results were predictable, with Woody Williams running his mark to 7-0 and Pete Munro auditioning for the New Orleans Zephyrs. The next three days we face Jeriome Robertson (who handled us pretty well his last time out), Jonathan Johnson, and Tim Redding -- that's an entire series without either Wade Miller or Roy Oswalt taking the mound. Augie Busch must be pulling some strings upstairs.

As for our hitters, pretty much everyone teed off -- Drew, Pujols, Edmonds, Tino, Matheny, etc. But the key hits seemed to come from Rolen, which leads me to ask a question that didn't occur to me until today: Is Scott Rolen the MVP of the first third of the season?

Scott Rolen is 5th in the league in OPS, and only one guy above him (Edmonds) plays a key defensive position (the others are Pujols, Bonds, and Sheffield). Baseball Prospectus has a great catch-all stat, Runs Above Replacement, which estimates how many runs a player generates above the replacement (or AAA-level) player at his position. The NL leaders:

1. Barry Bonds
2. Gary Sheffield
4. Albert Pujols
5. Rafael Furcal

Clearly Rolen is one of the top hitters in the league this year -- he's reached base by the boatload, and he has the third most extra-base hits in the NL. The question becomes, how much do you value his defense? Again, Rolen plays a key defensive position, and he plays it superbly. He's made only 2 errors, he has the second most assists of any NL 3Bman, and he's turned the most double plays of any third-sackers in the league. That seems like the makings of an MVP to me.

Now, I of course don't know whether Rolen will actually win the MVP Award -- and frankly I don't much care whether he does or doesn't, as the baseball writers tend to overvalue a lot of meaningless "hype" stats (like, for example, team record, batting average in September, number of walk-off homers, etc.). But Rolen makes good MVP copy even from the BBWAA's point of view -- he's a humble guy who busts his tail off, he grew up a Cardinals fan, he's looking for redemption from his years in Phillly, all that feel-good crud. Come to think of it, all that crud does feel pretty good.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

MIDGAME REPORT I had to go furniture shopping this afternoon, so I filed this Redbird Nation report after five and a half innings:

PITTSBURGH (RN) -- The Cardinals jumped out to a commanding 6-2 lead over the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, losers of all 8 home series this year. Jim Edmonds and Scot Rolen accounted for the big blows this afternoon, with three-run shots in both the 1st and the 5th. Looks like an easy sweep for the Redbirds, their first three-game winning streak in three weeks.

Garrett Stephenson has struggled with his command so far, allowing 9 baserunners through 5 innings, but he remains optimistic about his chances for a win. "It's only the Pirates," said the Cardinal righthander. "I mean, look at those guys. Aramis Ramirez hitting clean-up? Randall Simon at first? Rob Mackowiak? I can't even pronounce that shit."

Cards' skipper Tony La Russa also has faith in his boys. "We're a superior team. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Look at the way we pulled out that win on Friday night. This team doesn't give up."

Questions persist about the Cardinals shaky bullpen, but bad-boy Steve Kline lay to rest all fears: "We've turned the corner. This one is in the bag."

The pre-ordained sweep allows the Cardinals to keep pace with the Chicago Cubs, who took 2 out of 3 from the Astros in Houston.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

GAME NOTES, Rednut 6 Pirates 0

• A tale of two Jedmonds: 1st inning Jed can't get to second base after he hits the ball off the right field wall and it trickles back to Reggie Sanders, and 5th inning Jed closes like lightning on a ball hit about 25 yards away from him by Kenny Lofton (and reminds the arrogant Lofton how to play the position).

• I love Rolen and Renteria on the basepaths together. They did another double steal tonight in the first, just in time for Tino to strike out.

• Ever since Duncan mentioned to the Post-Dispatch that Morris needs to work on reducing his pitches in the first couple innings, he's done just that. His early concentration and sharpness have improved greatly in his past few performances. And I didn't get his final pitch count but tonight's shutout was as economical as I can remember seeing from him.

• Lately, Vina is shutting up his detractors on this site. I'm sure we'll be back, though.

• 3 innings, 3 Cardinal double plays.

• the little things: how does Reggie Sanders not get to third base on Reboulet's ground ball up the middle for the 1st out of the 5th inning. That's a guy just punching the clock.

• Great diving play by Eddie Perez in the 7th. His offense this season has been surprising, but I think we could all envision him having a couple stellar months at the plate. His defense in RF and 1B, on the other hand, has been an exceptional, welcome surprise. With his diving plays and strong, perfect throws home from right to gun guys down at the plate, he's made more highlight reel appearances this year than the past couple combined. I've always kind of liked him and thought he was a rare solid bench presence for us, but he's starting to make me really, really like him.

• I'm SHOCKED Morris didn't drill Lofton with one out and nobody on in the 8th. It's a little embarrassing that we haven't put one in that asshole's gut yet. Steve Kline came close last night, but that's not good enough. Don't our guys remember him mocking our dugout after he delivered the game-winning hit for SF to end our season? I've never seen a player do that before, in any sport. Usually they celebrate with their own team before they even have a chance to think about mocking the other guy when he's down. I'm not a big fan of hitting guys, but Lofton is one of those special scumbags who's earned it.

• Solid game by our guys all-around.

MITCHELL PAGE No doubt, the Cardinals blogosphere is the most intelligent in all of baseball. Mike over at the Daily Redbird and Josh over at Go Cardinals are bright as hell, and it took both of them to alert me to an article by Phil Rogers at, about Cardinals hitting coach Mitchell Page. Rogers' essential point is this: the Cardinals' production the last couple years is due largely to our ability to put the ball in play. For Rogers -- and indeed, for Mitchell Page as well -- taking pitches and risking strikeouts are Cardinal sins.

At the All-Star break in 2001, the Cardinals had 617 strikeouts and 292 walks. Then Mitchell Page took over as the team's hitting coach. In the second half of the season we reduced our strikeout total to 472, even if, predictably, we reduced our walks too, to 237. The Page approach was already taking hold (although to be fair, some of these drop-offs may be explained by the departure of Ray Lankford).

Over the next couple years the Cardinals, under Mitchell Page, have done a far better job of making contact. When he arrived we were 4th in the league in K's; we finished 2001 9th in strikeouts, then had the fewest strikeouts in the league in 2002 and have the fewest this year as well. But our walk-rates have plummeted as well: 8th in the league in 2001; 11th in 2002; 14th in 2003. That's not an encouraging trend. And as Josh ably points out, Page's approach flies in the face of at least a generation's worth of objective analysis.

To be sure, putting the ball in play isn't a meaningless skill. Certain game situations (i.e., any time you need to move a runner over) discourage strikeouts. What's more, you could argue that making contact plays to our competitive advantage, in that it forces opposing defenses to make plays, and by and large opposing defenses aren't as good at converting live baseballs into dead outs as well as we are. Call it the Angels Method, which of course has it's time and place.

But overall these advantages are slight, and don't outweigh the negatives. Except in rare cases, all outs are equal. So working against a particular kind of out (i.e., a strikeout) at the expense of taking pitchers deeper in the count (and tiring out frontliners, getting to the bullpen more quickly) and drawing walks (and inevitably, producing more runs) seems preposterous.

Ealier today the Daily Redbird contrasted Page's approach with the approach of the Oakland A's as described by Michael Lewis in Moneyball. If there's one imperative to the A's success, it's this: take pitches. The School of Page says the opposite. It says: swing away. My fear is that, at the end of the year, the A's will be wearing the championship crown and the Cardinals will be wearing the crown as the Hardest Team in the NL to Strikeout. That seems to me a lesser honor.

Friday, May 23, 2003

AGAIN, WOW Here's the deal. The Cardinals aren't going to win the NL Central with their pitching. Yeah, we've got two golden geese (Morris, Woody) at the front of our rotation. Yes, we've got a couple guys (Tomko, Stephenson) who show up and twirl a good game now and again. And sure, we have some passable relievers (Crudale, Hermanson, Izzy waiting in the wings). But those guys won't make our season.


Because the Cardinals suck unless they score a ton of runs. We're only 3-20 when we score 5 runs or less. 3-20!

That's the bad news. The good news is this: this team can score runs. Lots of 'em. And when we do, look out -- we're virtually unbeatable, 21-2, when we score more than 5 runs. So in general, you could say that when we make it to run #6, we win; when we don't, we lose.

Tonight we had to go to runs #7,8, 9, and 10 to pull this thing out. It took contributions up and down the lineup, and our boys came up large. Edmonds hit a key early home run. Tino turned the game around with a smack into the left-center seats (for his third homer of the year in pouring rain). Pujols cranked out hit after hit (his first ever five-hit game, to put him into the NL lead in batting and slugging and OPS). With the Cardinals one strike away from a loss, Rolen hit a monster home run to put us ahead. Even Bret Tomko joined the hit parade before J.D. Drew's two-out triple off the top of the wall (thank you, Kenny Lofton). We needed almost everyone, and the roll call of heroes and demi-heroes was long.

Say what you want about our competition (no one gets extra credit for teeing off of the Brian Boehringers and Brian Meadowses of the world), but this was a great win for the team.

WOW Was tonight's win the greatest Birdnut win of the season thus far? Tiny Tino's jack-a-roo felt real good; Rolen's 9th inning bitch-slap went down like a tall glass of milk; Tomko's pinch hit was a shiver of pleasure (except for poor Chris Widger, whose bat got passed over by LaRu in favor of Tomko's); and that suicide squeeze was inspired. If it weren't for Simontacchi's ugly outing and Silent Cal blowing the save in the 9th, I'd be giddy. But I'll settle for slap-happy.

THIS JUST IN Mark Prior is getting lit up by the Astros. Six runs in the first. Call it schadenfreude, but I'm happy to see that guy acting his age for once.

Jason Simontacchi is making an impassioned and eloquent plea to sign Chuck Finley. His argument? 72 pitches in 4 innings, 9 hits, 5 doubles, 2 homers, 6 earned runs. And this to a team that's scraping the bottom of the NL in runs scored.

How hard can it be to find a couple millions dollars to sign Finley? Ask Richard Nixon. Remember? John Dean told him it'd cost the White House a million dollars to hush up the Watergate witnesses, and Nixon said, "John, I could get us a million dollars in cash by tomorrow." Aren't there any Nixonian apparatchiks in the Cardinals organization who can set up some kind of slush fund for Finley's left arm?

HERESY In his Bernie's Bits column, Bernie Miklasz mentions the unmentionable: benching Constantino Martinez in favor of Eduardo Perez. Bernie's argument is based purely on numbers: Eddie's are terrific this season, Tiny Tino's are horrific. This, of course, isn't news to us. Redbird Nation has been making the case against Tiny for months going on years.

But, to be honest, Eddie's career numbers aren't stellar, and he's had a limited number of at-bats this season, so Bernie's sample size isn't very big. Giving Eddie -- a sub-average defensive firstbaseman -- the everyday job would be a risk, no matter how poorly Tiny has been hitting (for the last 3 seasons). I'd propose that righty Eddie start against lefties, lefty Tiny against righties. Let their numbers accrue, see who's looking better after a month.

But will LaRussa ever have the testicles to bench a $7 million player?

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The cold war between the Cardinals and Astros (which began a couple years ago when both teams tied for the Central Divison crown, and continued in April when Billy Wagner accused our team of being "cocky") briefly simmered over into a hot war last night, when Pete Munro drilled Albert Pujols and Woody Williams retaliated by plunking Jeff Kent. Kent grinned spitefully, walked to first with his bat raised, then defiantly stole second base to prove some kind of point. After the game Kent facetiously declared that "Woody can hit me any time he wants in the butt with that 80 mile per hour fastball of his."

Funny, that was the same fastball that Woody challenged Kent with in his next at-bat after the HBP, the same fastball that Woody reached back for on a 3-2 pitch, the same fastball that Kent whiffed on.

Tonight Bret Tomko had an ideal opportunity to send the Astros into third place -- the pitching matchup vs. Jeriome Robertson tilted strongly in his favor. But instead Tomko got hammered about as hard as the reviews for the Matrix Reloaded, surrendering a couple long doubles to our arch-enemy Jeff Kent, a bomb to Richard Hidalgo, and the first ever big-league home run to 156-pound Adam Everett. Last night the Astros picked a fight, and tonight the Cardinals shrunk away from it.

GAME NOTES, Astros 5 Dead Red 2

• My least favorite final score in a baseball game is 5-2. It's an awesome football score, though.

• I love these opposite field home runs Pujols is hitting. Where do you pitch that guy?

• With Pujols' work ethic, he could be a very good, sure-handed first baseman, but I'm not sure he'll ever be that in left field. He's okay out there, but I don't know if he has much potential to be more than adequate. It's so frustrating that Jocketty and LaRussa didn't do the obvious and make him our new first baseman before we signed Tino, a contract we saddled ourselves with for 3 seasons. I love to say I told you so, and if the Redbird Nation writing staff released our emails before we signed Tino, you'd see that his signing was a very dark day in our lives.

• This officiating crew is bad. Biggio was clearly safe at first after Rolen bobbled his 3rd inning grounder.

• Why was Brett Tomko throwing Jeff Kent batting practice fastballs?

• Thanks to Lance Berkman for swinging at ball 4 on a 3-0 count before grounding out to kill their 3rd inning rally.

• Terrible communication by Vina and Perez on Hidalgo's 5th inning fly ball that dropped between them, before Matheny missed another short hop on Perez's terrific throw home, allowing Bagwell to score.

• Can't La Russa sit Jedmonds on a day when J.D. Drew starts? Contrast our outfield last night, Pujols-Jedmonds-Drew, with our outfield tonight, Cairo-O.Pal-Perez. One of the best in the game offensively and defensively vs. truly 3rd rate offensively and defensively. An unnecessary stunt that La Russa frequently pulls that justifiably drives his detractors nuts.

• Kerry Robinson is terrible. Speed doesn't help when you're never on base.

• Vina actually had a very good OBP this past week (.500). Brings his OBP for the season to a sub-mediocre .312, which is a great improvement over his sub-sub-sub-crap-mediocre performance before this week.

• Can't I say anything nice? Oh yeah, Dustin Hermanson looked very good tonight.

MORE GAME NOTES, Birdnut 7, Astros 4

• Matheny swung at a terrible Munro pitch up and in to pop up for the 1st out of the 2nd inning.

• Every time the Cardinals beat the Astros, I imagine George Herbert Walker and Barbara Bush screaming at each other, crying, upending some of the rooms in their home. It's my favorite thing to think about after a game.

• Adam Everett looks like a sure defensive improvement over Julio Lugo for the Astros at SS.

• Usually when the home team's announcers complain about inequal strike zones it's baseless, but Woody Williams certainly had a bigger strike zone than Munro had, at least in the first couple innings.

• Vina's terrible overthrow home in the 2nd, allowing Kent to score, was our first error in 92 1/3 innings; last month, we had a 103 errorless inning streak. Wow. The '46 Cards can put that in their pipe and smoke it.

• Speaking of Fred Vine, he's been hot lately. I'd still be one of the happiest guys around if we got somebody good in a trade for him, but it's gotta be a pitcher's worst nightmare to face the Cardinals when Vina, Matheny, and Tino are all hot, because when Drew's playing right they'd have to face 8 and 1/2 great hitters. Then again, I think it's a near mathematical impossibility for Vina, Matheny, and Tino even to get on base in the same game. In fact, I'm willing to bet $500 that any time the 3 of those guys reach first base by hit or walk in the same game, it's a comfortable Cardinal victory.

• Uncharacteristic of Renteria to ground into that double play in the 3rd to kill our rally -- he must have thought he was Tino for a second. Ensberg made an interesting decision on the play, too, in choosing to go for the double play rather than gun down Bert Pujji at home, especially with Woody Williams on the hill.

• The Astros' announcers commented on how Jimmy Williams looked "a little hot" after Puffer walked Vina in the 4th. Wouldn't you be pissed off if your pitcher just walked Vina? That takes some serious effort, and you'd have to believe he was a turncoat or something.

• Pujols is ripping inside fastballs like it's child's play.

• Great, diving, clutch play by Tino to get Ausmus out on his would-be bases-clearing double in the 4th. That must have deflated the Astros a bit.

• You've gotta think that Karl Rove and G.W. are also pretty pissed off when the Cards take down the Astros. Sweet, sweet victory.

• Brian mentions heap of crap Joe West below, and I'll go further by calling him the worst ump in baseball. I don't know why MLB didn't kick him out of the game permanently a few years ago when they trimmed so many other crappy umps -- at the end of the year, you can rest assured that you could make a highlight reel of West making atrocious calls behind the plate and at all the bases. His calling Rolen out for leaving too soon tonight, which is almost never called unless the ump's pretty damn sure, could certainly make the reel.

• Biggio's definitely not the same player he was a couple years ago. I wonder if it's injuries he'll recover from, or whether he's begun the great decline.

• What's the secret of Woody Williams' fastball? It doesn't look or clock that awesome, but sometimes he just blows it past people, as he did to Bagwell, Kent, and Berkman in the 6th tonight.

• Woodrow threw 122 pitches in his last outing and 123 tonight. Even for a veteran, I think that's a bit much, and just hope it doesn't catch up with him. Very strong performance, though, tonight. He and Morris might have to battle it out for a place on the All-Star pitching staff so they can get us home field advantage in the Big Dance.

• It's pretty unfair that the Astros have rookie fireballer Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner and we've got what we've got. That sad, I'm starting to feel slightly more comfortable with our pen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Was JeBags ever accused of assaulting his ex wife's mouth with a fist full of collagen? Good Christ.

Good to see Drew starting to hit the ball. This is probably a bad habit, but I'm getting comfortable setting my watch to his .300 bat every other day.

Finally, Cal Eldred might be the next Lee Smith. Er, I mean Leota Smith.

GAME NOTES Cardinals 7, Astros 4

• Our loss last night was so bland that no one on Redbird Nation even bothered to mention it. But tonight's game gave us a lot to say, so let's get to it:

• The Houston TV guys (Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies, I believe) mentioned the lastest rumor swirling around Vina -- this time the grapevine has him going to L.A. For whom, I wonder. The Dodgers have plenty of pitching (and some great arms out of the pen), and unloading Vine's salary could free up money to sign Chuck Finley. But we've learned not to trust these rumors too much.

• Pujols' three-run jack in the first looked like a dying quail off the bat. But it kept carrying and carrying... How can Bert's elbow be too weak to throw but strong enough to muscle balls the other way out of the park?

• Some hoosier in a J.D. Drew jersey caught Pujols' home run ball. When he held it aloft I felt a swell of St. Louis pride. Seriously.

• Munro was apparently trying to rope-a-dope the Cardinals, figuring if he threw enough meatballs we'd be swinging so hard and rounding the bases so much that we'd eventually tire out.

• Renteria stopped and chatted with Bagwell after his single in the first. My cousin Mark wondered what those two guys talk about. One possibility: Bagwell's ex-wife.

• Tino's bat speed is so slow that he practically has to start swinging before the pitch is thrown if he wants to make contact.

• Woody Williams has historically done quite well down in Houston (5-1 lifetime entering the game), which is where he was born and raised. I wonder if other players get a boost from their hometowns. Does Tino hit well when he plays in Tampa? Does Crudale pitch well when he plays before his Mom and Dad in Petco Park? Someone should study this. Hop to it, Stephen Hawking.

• J.D. Drew's catch in the first underscored just how much ground he's able to cover in right. He could play center for many teams, and his range is up there with the best RFers in the game (Ichiro, Vlad... Larry Walker's wheels aren't what they used to be, but he still gets better reads than anyone).

• Houston's first run scored on a crazy play. Runners on first and third, Berkman took off for second, and Matheny threw down to Vina. Berkman pulled up short, goading Kent to go home from third. Vina looked back Kent, sprinted after Berkman, seemed to tag him, then apparently panicked about Kent trying to score and blindly heaved a throw home. The ball was ten feet over Matheny's head, like Vina was trying to beat the shot clock. It was the Cardinals first error in 92 2/3 innings and only our second in 195 innings.

• Drew's stroke is back. His first two ABs: two pitches, two clean singles to right center, as if Munro was Drew's own personal Jugs machine.

• Woody plunked Kent with one-out in the 4th, clearly payback for the HBP to Pujols earlier in the game. I can't stand Jeff Kent. He's moving up on my list of least favorite players in baseball:

1. Turk Wendell
2. Kenny Lofton
3. Moises Alou
4. Pedro Martinez

Why is Wendell on the list? April 2001: J.D. Drew belted a long home run off Wendell (then playing for the Mets), so Wendell drilled the next batter, Mike Matheny. Wendell got ejected immediately, and he griped and griped about it after the game, accusing the umps of having a double standard. As Wendell asked rhetorically, "when Ankiel is out there and he throws balls everywhere, why don't they throw him out of the game?" That comment makes him the #1 asshole in baseball.

• Scott Rolen was thrown out in the 5th for failure to tag from third on a flyball. But Fox Sports Midwest simulcast both Rolen's tag and Hidalgo's catch, and Rolen's foot is CLEARLY on the bag when the ball lands in Hidalgo's glove. Joe West, who called him out anyway, strikes me as the type of smug, complacent ump who gets so bored that he needs to insert himself into the action now and again. Tonight he single-handedly cost us a run.

• This game was much closer than it needed to be, with Jeff Bagwell as the horrific potential winning run in the bottom of the ninth. But just as soon as the drama got too intense to bear, the game ended -- 20,000 fans looking grand slam got a double play instead. A wonderful anticlimax.

• MLB has evidently done a good job speeding up games -- this is the first 3-hour game we've played in three weeks.

• How's this for a strange stat: the Birdnals are now 9-0 in games determined by 3 runs.

• A knot of teams sits atop the NL Central -- the Cubs still cling to first, with the Cards, Astros, and Reds each a game and a half behind. (Tonight the Cubs lost their third in a row for the first time this season. They were the last NL club to experience a 3-game losing streak. The Red Sox still haven't lost 3 in a row.) At this point in the season there's no identifiable frontrunner in our division. The Reds' pitching staff is a leaky boat, but they may have enough offense to plug the holes. The Astros and Cubs seem for real too. My scientific, 100% objective opinion puts money on the Cards, but this summer should be a dogfight.

CHARITY NOTE isn't known as a do-gooder service, but this is a personal concern of ours and I think it's a worthy cause, so indulge us for a moment if you can:

The ALS Association is dedicated to improving the quality of life for those affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. This year they're celebrating Lou Gehrig's 100th birthday in Cooperstown, New York and holding a raffle to be part of the experience. For $100 you earn a shot to be part of a select group of 10 pairs of guests who will attend receptions celebrating Gehrig's life, get a private tour of the HoF's never-before-displayed Lou Gehrig artifacts, and spend time with Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts and Gaylord Perry. The winner receives air fare, hotel accomodations, Hall of Fame Game tickets, meals, and other cool stuff. Visit the St. Louis Regional Chapter of the ALS Assocation if you're interested.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

FIRE SALE Jayson Stark reports that the Marlins may start unloading players if they don't start winning soon (didn't they just do this a couple years ago?). He gives the early line on "Most Likely Marlin to Be Dealt Before the Deadline: Mike Lowell to the Cubs, who have been pursuing him relentlessly for months." That can't be good for the Cardinals -- Lowell has been, after Scott Rolen, the best thirdsacker in the NL.

But the Cubs aren't our only rivals looking to upgrade. Here's Stark again: "The Astros are poking around for another veteran starter, preferably left-handed. So it wouldn't be surprising to see them make a run at the still-unsigned Chuck Finley."

Frankly that would suck.

CARDS BEST INFIELD, REVISITED In a post earlier today, Matt referred to a debate about the best defensive infield in Cardinals history, and he handed out letter grades to each of the Cardinals around the horn.

Bill James (who Matt also references) did the same thing for fielders with the Win Shares method he developed with Jim Henzler. I'll give you his results, but first a couple caveats about the grades:

1. I only have career grades for the fielders in question. You can use James' book to figure out peak totals, but it's incredibly difficult to do without a computer and a lot of resource material. So the career totals will have to suffice. (But it does create some distortions -- for example, Keith Hernandez is given an A-, but his fielding numbers include his declining, gimp years with the Cleveland Indians. So take that into account.)

2. James himself admits that his system is not 100% accurate. The quest for eminently reliable fielding analysis remains a work a progress. But James also contends that his system "works far better, and errs far less, than any other systematically published data." In other words, take his rankings with a grain of salt -- but not too much.

So, onto the report cards:

TINO: A+ (4.5)
VINA: A (4.0)
ROLEN: A- (3.7)
Team: 3.55 (B+)

HERR: C+ (2.5)
OBIE: C+ (2.5)
OZZIE: A+ (4.5)
Team: 3.3 (B/B+)

So by this one measure, the 2003 is stronger. But it's really not fair to weigh a firstbaseman's accomplishments as heavily as the other infielders, for obvious reasons. So let's count the 1Bmen as half, and see what we get:

2003: 3.41
1982: 3.24

Hm. The 2003ers still come out ahead. Now you can quibble with several of the grades -- Hernandez, for example, was surely an A+ in his prime (Rob Neyer calls him "arguably the greatest defensive firstbaseman ever"). And Herr never struck me as the best in the business, but he was great on the pivot, so his C+ surprised me (and indeed, James' system gives him the highest fielding rating for any NL secondbaseman in 1981). Same with Renteria. I consider him more surehanded than rangy, but his C seems too harsh.

How do they stack up agains the historic Cardinal infields? (Note: I don't have a grade for Whitey Kurowski because he didn't play 5000 innings at his positions. So I'll give him a B+, as his fielding percentages and range factors were consistently above average, and James ranks him as the top fielding thirdbaseman in the NL in 1944. Not ideal, but it's the best I could do.) I'll run the figures the same way, scaling the firstbasemen downward:

WHITE: A- (3.7)
JAVIER: B- (2.7)
BOYER:B+ (3.5)
GROAT: A- (3.7)
Team: 3.36 (B/B+)

MUSIAL A- (3.7)
MARION: A+ (4.5)
Team: 3.96 (A)

We have a winner. A clear winner, in fact. According to this measurement, the '46 Cardinals (who won the World Series on a famous fielding stutter by BoSox shortstop Johnny Pesky) are the finest diamond glovemen of all the teams above. That would be true, incidentally, even if we gave Kurowski a C.

This assessment rings true: Marty Marion is, along with Ozzie and Mark Belanger, among the very few greatest fielding shortstops of all-time, and his double-play partner, the Old Redhead, was the best secondbaseman in the league throughout the late 40s and 50s. Just for the fun of it (provided you aren't already sick of this fielding talk), I'll include Rob Neyer's list of the Cardinals all-time all-defensive team, from his new Big Book of Baseball Lineups:

P Bob Gibson
C Mike Matheny
1B Keith Hernandez
2B Red Schoenedienst
3B Ken Boyer
SS Wizard
LF Stan Musial
CF Curt Flood
RF Mike Shannon

Old Abner has done it again.

WHINER Today's includes a list of the biggest whiners in pro sports. There are several of the usual names: John McEnroe, George Steinbrenner, Pete Rose.

But according to Chip Carey and Steve Stone of WGN, there's one name missing: Jim Edmonds. During Monday's broadcast they referred to Edmonds as the biggest whiner in all of baseball.

Let's be clear about something: Edmonds doesn't whine. He does, however, spew angst. Whenever Jedmonds strikes out, it's like he's bearing the weight of the world. He grimaces, he aches, he slumps his shoulders, he writes bad high school poetry. Sure, Edmonds likes to jaw with the umps now and again, but most of the time he's just asking if his swinging strike would have been called a strike. Besides, Edmonds is a chatterbox, one of those guys who chats up everyone on the field (he even gabs with batboys, clubhouse attendants, etc.). How Carey and Stone tabbed him as the game's biggest whiner is beyond me.

PAST OR PRESENT? Today's stltoday poll is very interesting: Which is the best fielding infield in Cardinals history?
A. current: Rolen-Renteria-Vina-Martinez
B. '82 champs: Hernandez-Herr-Ozzie-Oberkfell
C. '64 champs: White-Javier-Groat-Boyer
D. '46 champs: Musial-Schoendienst-Marion-Kurowski

Bill James has a book out where he ranks, based on some very sophisticated statistical analyses, most of the players who've ever played ML defense. While it would be interesting to compare them using his process, I went directly to my gut feelings on A and B (I didn't have the pleasure of witnessing '64 or '46, or having similarly wonderful gut feelings for them).

First, I use the grade point average method:
ROLEN: A+ (4.5)
VINA: A (4.0)

HERR: A (4.0)
OZZIE: A+ (4.5)
OBERKFELL: B- (2.75)

So on the GPA scale, our current team beats them, mostly on the relatively un-okay okay-ness of Obi-Wan.

On the other hand, Ozzie may well be the best defensive player in history of the game (best I've ever seen, although Andruw Jones gives him a run for his money), at the most important position. Far better than Renteria, who's exceptional. And Hernandez, after J.T. Snow, is the best defensive first baseman I've ever seen (what a phenomenal and smart all-around player Hernandez was -- it's a shame he doesn't have a managerial interest or temperment). A little better than Tino, which is saying a lot. Herr and Vina are a push. But there's no getting around the fact that Rolen, universally thought to be among the greatest ever to play third base (Brooks Robinson was awesome, but even in his highlight reel his arm isn't as impressive as Scotty's), is way, way better than Obi.

It's close, but I voted for our current guys.

The results right now:
current: 42%
'82: 39%
'64: 9%
'46: 8%

MILLER TIME Today we're facing Astros phenom Wade Miller down at The Crooked E. I say "phenom" because that's what he's been called for a few years now by some baseball hootie-hoos. In fact, he's considered by many to be such a promising stud that in my simulation keeper league, he was drafted in the 2nd round -- ahead of dudes like Chipper Jones and Curt Schilling and Jedmonds. At 26, he's not terribly young (by comparison, Mark Prior is 22), but he's still a few years away from a pitcher's prime. And his numbers the last two years -- 3.28 ERA in 2002, 3.40 in 2001 -- are damned good.

But this year he sucks. 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA, 28 Ks to 22 BBs. Let's hope the 2003 Wade shows up today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

OH GREAT Today's Post reports that Joe Girardi may be back in a few weeks, and the Cardinals may rely on him now that Marrero is going to be out awhile. While we're happy that Girardi's spinal injury seems to be healing, we fear that his return to the diamond may result in something catastrophic, like Tony La Russa actually using him in a baseball game. Girardi is one of the game's all-time great guys, but he is in no sense a major leaguer -- he is, as we mentioned in an earlier post on Keith McDonald, the archetypal catcher who lingers around on account of good citizenship.

David Lee Roth once said that rock critics love Elvis Costello because Elvis Costello looks like a rock critic. I think the same principle applies to managers. They tend to fall in love with bright, genial, fundamentally sound (and often fundamentally lousy) players because that's exactly what so many managers were when they themselves played. And a lot of those guys (Bruce Bochy, Johnny Oates, Jeff Torborg, Joe Torre, Al Lopez, Ralph Houk, all the way back to "Uncle Robbie" Wilbert Robinson) were catchers.

Monday, May 19, 2003

ETC. The Cards bucked a couple trends with their win today. Entering the game, we were 18-7 when scoring six or more runs -- which is pretty lousy, actually; last year we were 51-6 when scoring 6 or more. But we're far worse, of course, scoring less than six runs. Only 2-13. Think about that: doesn't matter if we score no runs, doesn't matter if we score five; in all those games we're a .133 team. Actually after today's 2-0 win we're a .188 team (3-13) when scoring less than six. That tells me that a truly lopsided portion of our success belongs to our hitters.

Another trend was our famous record in tight ballgames. Before today we were 6-16 in games decided by one or two runs, but close to a mirror image -- 15-4 -- in games decided by 3 or more runs. Again, today we swam against the tide by gritting out a 2-0 win.

THREESOME How scary is the Cubs' troika of Wood, Prior, and Zambrano? Zambrano was outdueled by Morris today, but the kid's only 21 years old and he pitched brilliantly. Prior is 22. Wood is the grandfather at 25. They're all signed through 2004 at least (Wood avoided arbitration in the offseason and is working on a long-term deal), they're all improving, and they all throw serious heat.

Provided Dusty Baker doesn't shred their arms first (Wood has thrown the most high-stress pitches in baseball, and Zambrano and Prior are in the top 15), and provided none of them goes Ankiel on us, they're going to be around for a long long time.

SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT "We could have won at least two of these games. One hit or one play here or there would have made the difference." -- Cubs manager Dusty Baker after today's loss to the Cardinals.

Baker is right -- his team could have taken 3 of 4 with a timely hit here, a key play there. What's refreshing about this from the POV of a Cards' fan is that the shoe was on the other foot not more than a few days ago. WE were the team falling short; WE were the team dwelling over missed opportunities and bad breaks.

Whether the Cardinals are playing better baseball or benefitting from better luck, I don't know. But I'll take the win. If we had split this series, it'd have felt like a loss, as the Cubs are still in the driver's seat. But you know they must be feeling antsy about it...

CUBS FACT OF THE DAY Antonio Alfonseca was born with six fingers and toes on each hand and foot. This oddity led his teammates on the Marlins to nickname him "Pulpo" -- Spanish for octopus.

VINE Tony LaRussa appeared on KMOX this morning to vehemently deny the Vina trade rumors. He said that he was angry because the reports may hurt Vina's already fragile relationship with the Cardinals, and the fact is that Walt Jocketty hasn't even been speaking with the Mets.

It will be interesting to see how Vina responds. He has been hitting well recently and having some very good at bats. But Vina is obviously a player who needs to feel wanted. His bitterness over the trade discussions this spring shows that Vina could become a clubhouse cancer if he is continually mentioned as trade bait. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit I've always been a Vina fan (I even bought a signed Vina bat a few years ago) mostly because of his intensity, but I was disappointed with his reaction this spring. Trade rumors are a part of the business of baseball and major leaguers should be able to handle that. Let's hope Vina uses this as motivation and keeps up the good offensive progress. If not, he'll make himself even more vulnerable to a trade.

DUSTY Have you seen Dustin Hermanson's ERA lately? It shrunk to 2.79 after Sunday's gutsy inning against the Cubs. Hermanson's peripherals are still bad (a 7-to-9 K/BB ratio, and 3 bombs given up out in only a handful of innings), but he may be turning some kind of corner. The guy's got good raw material (he was the third overall pick in the draft at one time, and still has a nice low-90s fastball and a slider with some bite); perhaps he and Duncan are about to do something with all of it. It'd be a nice story, as Dustin has a rep as one of the biggest underachievers in all of baseall.

FROM THE DAILY REDBIRD, a first-rate Cards fan blog:

Dan Haren got rocked in his first start at AAA tonight. He gave up six runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings to an Oklahoma RedHawks lineup that features several very good AAA hitters, guys that have played in the majors... It was good for Haren to go up against some guys who can hit at the major-league level, and though he struggled, I'm sure he'll bounce back. So now everybody can calm down about the kid a little bit (especially me). He doesn't turn 23 for four more months!

Go to the Daily Redbird for more details...

MORE DEFENSIVE To elaborate on Matt's post below, the Cardinals fielders, at least statistically, are far stronger than the Cubbies this year.

Take fielding percentage. The Cardinals are first in the league (on only 15 errors), the Cubs 15th (with more than twice as many gaffes). In fact, our entire team has made only three more errors than the total for the Cubs PITCHERS (that includes your three errors, Mark Prior).

Or look at Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures the percentage of balls in play turned into outs. Cardinals: first in the league. Cubs: 8th.

How 'bout Zone Rating, which records the percentage of balls fielded by players in their particular 'zone'? Cards, second in the NL. Cubs, 10th.

Prior's a headstrong guy and of course he's going to support the guys playing behind him. No foul there. But the leading fielding indicators demonstrate just how strong our defense truly is. It may be the best group of gloves we've put on the field since the Ozzie-Herr-Hernandez years. And there's no Lonnie Smith on this team.

DEFENSIVE So Mark Prior tells anyone who'll listen yesterday that the Cubs are a better team than the Cardinals. It's by no means an outrageous statement (he does play for the Cubs, after all) and I even admire his chutzpah in telling the world about it. But elaborating for Steve Stone on the WGN pre-game today, he acknowledged that while the Cardinals have a "slight edge" offensively, the Cubs have superior pitching and defense.

True on the pitching, but DEFENSE? Prior's supposed to be smart, but his counting of gold gloves puts him below a first grade math level. He's nuts. Is there a single Cub starter that you'd take defensively over our starters? The only real question marks are Pujols vs. Alou in left, Matheny vs. Miller behind the plate, and Tino vs. Choi at first. In each instance, I'd probably take our guys (although I need to see more of Choi -- he looks rangier than Tino, but I don't think I've ever seen Tino miss picking a ball out of the dirt). Everywhere else we lap them. In fact, I'd be surprised if upon further mano a mano examination any team could challenge us credibly for bragging rights as best defense in MLB.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

WHAT'S UP? Something smells funny in the air around Busch today. In addition to the trade rumors wafting around the stadium (mentioned in the previous post), I just heard from a St. Louisan that when a caller to a post-game radio show asked the hosts about the rumors, the radio guys said "We've made a decision that we aren't going to talk on the air about anything until it's confirmed."

Add to that a strange silence on the Post website -- still no article about today's game. Could the paper be waiting for a bigger headline than the 6-3 win?

We'll see. Stay tuned.

RUMOR Correspondent John, sitting at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon, reports that a Busch Stadium usher told him and others that the scuttlebut behind the scenes is that Vina has been or is about to be traded to the Mets for Alomar and Benitez.

Now, of course, if this is true, there must be another Cardinal going to NY with Freddie, and most likely one who costs us some money.

One name comes to mind: Tino.

I suspect the rumor is false, but we'll keep you posted. John is sniffing around as I type this trying to get more dirt.

ROY OSWALT has been placed on the 15-day DL with a strained groin, which means Wednesday's starter against the Cards will be Jeriome Robertson (7.57 ERA) rather than Big Roy (3.68 ERA).

TODAY'S PAPERS Chicago Tribune: "[White Sox starter Jon] Garland is believed to be drawing interest from several teams, most notably St. Louis. One source said the Cardinals had inquired about the 23-year-old right-hander earlier this month. Sox general manager Ken Williams wouldn't confirm or deny any talks. A potential deal with the Cards would likely involve J.D. Drew, a talented 27-year-old outfielder who hit his third home run of the season Friday night against the Cubs."

Chicago Sun-Times: "The reaction in St. Louis was disbelief over a published report that the Cardinals are talking to the White Sox about trading outfielder J.D. Drew for pitcher Jon Garland, the former Cubs first-rounder. One baseball observer pointed out that no club in its right mind would deal an All-Star-caliber player such as Drew for someone whose potential is as a fourth or fifth starter in a rotation."

NUMBER OF WALKS THE LAST FIVE WEEKS Scott Rolen 24, Fernando Vina 0

NINTH-INNING RUNS SCORED so far this year: Cardinals 9, Opponents 31

Saturday, May 17, 2003

IZZY IS NO ABRAHAM LINCOLN Lately, I've heard Cards' broadcasters, columnists, and fans over-hoping what Izzy's return to us will mean. When he does return, he won't be able to pitch every day, and perhaps only a couple times a week. And who knows how good he'll be? So I don't think the "once Izzy gets back = we've got a good closer and our bullpen is saved" equation quite works. And I'm afraid the White Rat's old adage, "I'm only as smart as my bullpen," is true, and right now ours is making Tony LaRussa look about as smart as Brit Hume. It's up to Walt Jocketty to smarten him up a bit, and I don't think Izzy's possible return should impede his resolve to get us a reliable arm out there, pronto.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS Do you think it's awkward being in the Cards' clubhouse these days? It seems like the same guys always screw up in the same way for this team. Today it was Steve Kline, surrendering another 9th inning homer, and Miquel Cairo, surrendering his dignity by popping out with Edgar on third and one out in the last inning.

In my mind this team has become a clique-ish high school, with the cool kids (Pujols, Rolen, Renteria, and most of our starters) on one side, and the losers (basically our entire bench and bullpen) sitting at their own little table.

THE RIGHTHANDED LEFTY You sorta knew the game was over in the fourth inning, when the Cards got runners on the corners with no one out -- and Rolen and Renteria due up -- and failed to score. Prior K'd Rolen, then punched out E-Rent on a strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out, and at that moment you knew we weren't likely to do much damage today on offense.

Prior did give up a homer to Pujols in the 8th (apparently Prior gets a little homer-happy after 90 pitches, and Pujols got to him on pitch #107), but for the most part (Bret Tomko's gem notwithstanding) this was Prior's day. He even cuffed Tomko for two singles and a double in three plate appearances.

Mark Prior is going to make all our lives miserable for awhile. He arrived out of college fully formed, featuring the kind of power-control combo that it took Big Unit several years to perfect.

But a better comp for Prior is Steve Carlton. Prior is a righty and Carlton is, of course, Lefty, but they're both tall flamethrowers who had success immediately after reaching the bigs. Like Prior, Carlton played for our key divisional rival, and he used to murder us year-in and year-out (and like Prior, he could hit a little too). It seemed like every time the Cardinals played a series against the Phils, you had to concede at least one game to the opposition, and that would be the game started by big Lefty Carlton. I fear the same may be true of Prior.

Friday, May 16, 2003

"THE STABBIN' CABIN" This is seriously the name of Barry Zito's San Francisco apartment/love shack/date-rape palace.

GAME NOTES Redbirds 7, Chubs 4

• Woody Williams was shaky early -- he fell behind hitters, he walked a few guys, he plunked Grudzieazvdlanek. As in his start against the Reds, it took Woody some time to find his rhythm. I usually associate this problem with knuckleballers, pitchers with explosive stuff, or Scott Baio in Zapped! -- guys who have to labor to harness their magic.

• Edmonds catch on Hee Choi's towering drive in the third was a beautiful thing. Have you ever seen a guy cover so much ground to snag a ball? Andruw Jones maybe? Torry Holt?

• Matt Clement hit 3 Redbirds tonight, but none of them seemed intentional. He does have a wild streak -- he's knicked over 50 batters in less than 5 years in the bigs.

• The Cubs lineup just isn't the same without Sosa. Tonight their 1-9 hitters reminded me of the Tim Blackwell-Scot Thompson-Ivan DeJesus Cubbies. I miss playing those guys.

• Dreeeeeewwwww... Wow. 514-feet, off the top of the scoreboard, maybe the longest homer I've ever seen in Busch (outside of one McGwire hit off Livan Hernandez in '98, which caromed off the Post-Dispatch sign on the third-deck tier in center). Some guys have ugly home runs -- Edmonds', for example, always seem like glorified pop-ups. But Drew's homers are smooth, pretty, majestic. This one was his prettiest yet. I watched the replay about 7 times on TiVo.

• If Drew is healthy and playing like J.D. Drew, we may well have the best outfield in baseball. The Braves (Sheffield, Andruw, Chipper) can give us a run for the money, as can the Reds (Dunn, Kearns, Griffey), the Red Sox (Manny, Damon, Trot Nixon) and the Giants (Bonds, anyone else).

• I haven't seen the hidden ball trick in a long time. We gotta make sure we do this soon. Here are the top 10 ways to win the World Series:

10. Squeeze Play
9. Back-to-Back-to-Back Homers
8. (tie) Pickoff / Balk
7. Inside-the-Park Home Run
6. Mercy Rule
5. No Hitter
4. Triple Play
3. Unassisted Triple Play
2. Walk-off Grand Slam
1. Hidden Ball Trick

• The Cubs had runners on first and third, two outs, down by one, top of the sixth. Why did Dusty leave in Clement to hit (and strike out)? It wasn't like he was pitching a decent game. It had to be because Cub relievers threw 10 innings (and 145 pitches) yesterday.

• Woody slammed the door on the Cubs about as well as a senior-citizen greeter at Wal-Mart. He kept allowing piddly little rallies -- a run here, a couple baserunners there. It wasn't pretty, but he bulldogged his way to a win anyway.

• I'm not quite ready to anoint Cal Eldred the Cardinals new "closer." So he saved one game that he entered with a 6-1 lead and another that he entered winning 7-4 (and Lenny Harris, Mark Grudzielanek, and Alex Gonzalez at the plate). Let's see how Cal does in a high-leverage situation before we put a Superman S on his chest...

• ...But he pitched well nonetheless. Real good win tonight.

MINORS This from St. Louis correspondent Kevin:

In today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they have published all the minor league stats for the Cardinals. They are hard to read, but if you can sort it out, they make for interesting reading.

Some interesting things that pop right out: Jimmy Journell is having a lousy year. He's 1-5 with a 5.63 ERA. He also, in 40 innings, has struck out 32 but walked 15. Compare that to Nerio Rodriguez, a right hander, who has a 2.58 ERA and in 53.1 innings has struck out 42 and walked 7.

Also, only one player at Memphis is hitting over .300, and he's only had 6 at bats.

We seem to be in better shape in AA with the Tennessee Smokies. Dan Haren, who has been discussed here, is doing great. We also have a Rhett Parrott who has pitched 6 less innings than Haren but has the same amount of strikeouts and only 3 more walks.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

PHEW... If the 2003 Cardinals were a single player, they'd be J.D. Drew.

You all know Drew's story: busted into the bigs like a missile, cranking 5 homers and hitting over .400 in his first cup of coffee. But he failed to cash in on that early promise, struggling with tricky injuries and trickier breaking pitches. He finally seemed to put it all together in the first half of 2001, spraying line drives all over the park, running down everything in the field, gunning down runners on the basepaths. He finally looked like he was here to stay, a star, maybe even an MVP... until he sank back into the morass, beset by more injuries and more unfulfilled promise.

You all know the story of the 2003 Cardinals too: busted out like a missile, sweeping the Brewers in our opening series at Busch. We failed to cash in on that early promise, struggling against Arizona and Atlanta. Then we finally seemed to put it all together, with great starting pitching, timely hitting, explosive home runs. It looked like we were here to stay, a first-place team, maybe even a World Series team... until we sank back into the morass, beset by injuries, frustrations, and more unfulfilled promise.

And so here we are in the middle of May, and the questions for this team are the same as they are for Drew: are we ever going to cash in on all that potential? Are we a good team waiting to bust out or a bad team destined for frustration?

The glass-half-full crowd says we're real good -- after all, we have the best everyday lineup in the league and a steady rotation anchored by two virtual aces. The glass-half-empty crowd says none of that matters if we don't get a real bullpen. That's why we're inching along at .500.

Ah, say the optimists, but we were below .500 at this point last year, 18-20 after 38 games, and we won the division running away. The pessimists respond that we were 23-15 at the same point in 2001, and 22-16 in 2000, and even in those years it wasn't so easy to run away and hide.

The Cardinal boosters say we're still only 4 games out of first, and the team in first is bound to collapse, just like they always do. The Cardinal naysayers say there are still three teams ahead of us in the standings, one of them is a team that whupped us in 6 straight, one is the mighty Astros, and the other is the Chicago Cubs, and they aren't your father's Cubs this year.

You can go back and forth like this all night. At the end of the day, the jury's still out on the 2003 Cardinals. Like Drew, this team can go either way. Which is why today's win -- which got us back to .500, which wiped the slate against the Reds, which put us in good spirits with the Cubs coming to town -- felt so good. It felt sorta like anything could happen from here on out...

GAME NOTES, Rednut 6 Reds 3

• Thank you, Garrett Stephenson.

• Hard to believe, but Tino's 7th inning RBI was his first in the month of May. Conversely, with his 8th inning double, Eduardo Perez put his OBP over .440 for the year. Screw the $7.5 million on Tino -- that's been misspent already -- Eduardo should at least be able to compete with Tino for the everyday 1B job.

• Great to see Jedmonds hit that homer, because he's looked really frustrated after his at bats lately. He still looks like he could use a day off, though.

Matheny's new nickname: Rey Matheny (see below)

OL' RELIABLE Today the wizardly Lee Sinins printed up a list of the worst OPS's vs. the league average among active players with 2500+ plate appearances. One name stuck out:

1 Rey Ordonez
3 Rey Sanchez
4 Pokey Reese
5 Brian Hunter

BLOW OFF WORK Cards are on ESPN today. Thundershowers are moving through St. Louis in the AM, but skies should be clear by game time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

FADE TO BLACK In today's Post-Dispatch, sports ace Bernie Miklasz puts his finger on the well springs of the Cardinals' woes: bullpen, Vina, Tino. The bullpen, as we've noted on this page numerous times, was a disaster waiting to happen from the opening pitch of the season. Jocketty went into opening day with a bunch of retreads and half-wits in the pen, gambling that Dave Duncan could work his magic one more time. And, with this bunch, it'll require nothing short of sorcery. So far, it hasn't happened.

But all the pre-season rumors about trading Vina tell me that Jocketty and the Cards brass knew Freddie's best years -- wait, his decent years -- were behind him. My guess is that they just plain couldn't find any takers. We were stuck with Vina.

Tino, however, is a different story. Outside of nostalgia-addled Yankees fans, no one I knew thought Tino was worth signing to be our everyday first baseman, much less worth paying $7 million a year. He's been on the decline for about four years now, averaging a .330 OBP since 1999 (by comparison, the Pirates' 1B Kevin Young has about the same OBP over that time, and he's considered by many to be the worst first baseman in baseball). And, as Miklasz points out, he's a chronic rally kliller. 3 for 30 with runners in scoring position this season is just plain impotent. Meanwhile, Pudgie chances a season ending injury to his throwing arm in left field beacuse the Cards can't afford the embarrassment of paying Tino $7 million a year to ride the pine. A disasterous signing that Jocketty should've forseen. I mean, my friends could see it coming, and they ain't no geniuses. In fact, a few are quite dumb.

To me it's clear: the Cards have dug themselves into a hole. Not in terms of our record, but in terms of what we can reasonably expect for the rest of the season. The bullpen, unfortunatey, is merely performing to its potential. Tino and Freddie will up their numbers, of course, but we can't hold out much hope that they'll improve upon their sub-mediocre 2002 performances. History tells us that old, tired ballplayers don't turn their careers around in the middle of a season. They fade away.

Without some big, dramatic changes, so will the Rednals.