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Thursday, July 31, 2003


Now that the trade deadline has passed, teams look like the final versions of themselves. We know their tendencies, their top performers, their weaknesses. With all that info, I thought it would be fun for the Redbird Nation cabal to try our hands at making the picks baseball nerds usually make only at the begninning of the season.

So I asked the RN crue to make their best guesses on who would win each divisonal title, the wild cards, the AL and NL penants, and the World Series. Also, I asked everybody who they thought would win the individual player awards (MVP, Cy Young). Not who they thought should win, but who would win (we'll cobble together our choices on who should win at the end of the season).

I figure with the mounds of data four months of a season provides, we should be able to guess pretty accurately. Shouldn't we? We'll see.

AL MVP Boone Ramirez Delgado Ichiro Boone Ramirez
NL MVP Pujols Pujols Pujols Pujols Pujols Bonds
AL CY YOUNG Halladay Mulder Halladay Loaiza Halladay Halladay
NL CY YOUNG Smoltz Smoltz Schmidt Brown Smoltz Smoltz
AL EAST Red Sox Yankees Yankees Yankees Red Sox Red Sox
AL CENTRAL White Sox White Sox Royals White Sox White Sox Royals
AL WEST Mariners Mariners Mariners Mariners Mariners Mariners
AL WILD CARD Yankees Red Sox Red Sox Red Sox Yankees Yankees
AL CHAMPS Red Sox Yankees Red Sox Yankees Yankees Red Sox
NL EAST Braves Braves Braves Braves Braves Braves
NL CENTRAL Astros Cubs Cardinals Cardinals Astros Astros
NL WEST Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants
NL WILD CARD Phillies Phillies Phillies Marlins Phillies Phillies
NL CHAMPS Giants Phillies Giants Giants Giants Braves
WORLD CHAMPS Red Sox Yankees Red Sox Giants Giants Braves

ST. LOUIS IS ON THE CLOCK... It's looking more and more like J.D. Drew should put that downpayment on that home off of Clarkson Road. The A's had been interested in Drew, but they got Jose Guillen instead. The Yanks had been interested in him, but they got Aaron Boone instead. The Marlins had been intrested in him, but according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Cardinals aren't expected to trade Drew, so the Fish are turning their eyes toward Matt Stairs and bullpen help. On top of all this, La Russa recently said about Drew, "I want him here." And you know Tony wears the pants in the family, so you can take that one to the bank.

The question now becomes: will the Cards do anything at all? It seems fairly obvious we need to get some pitching help. We're only 2 games out of first with 55 to go, Oswalt is probably gone for the season, and we're carrying Josh Pearce and Pedro Borbon Jr. down in the pen? Move your ass, Walt.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

C'est bon!

Interesting to see Chris Widger behind the plate again last night. Surely Matheny needs a break from all the work he’s been getting but I couldn’t help but think he might have asked for the night off due to the presence of uber-flake G. Steve on the mound.

When Guerrero dropped Edgar’s fly ball you could almost hear Hrabosky salivating at the chance to scold “the lackadaisical approach taken” by Vladdy and instruct all us viewers, who are surely watching our first game ever, as to how to catch a ball. When the replay showed that Vlad kept his eye on the ball and used the sacred “two hands” approach, only to have the ball pop out for no apparent reason, The Bumbling Hungarian was conspicuously at a loss of words.

The recent induction of Gary Carter into the Hall of Fame brings the glaring omission of Ted Simmons back into my own personal spotlight. I am not going to stump for Simba to be in the Hall because it has been done very convincingly right here. It just seems like there should have been a little more interest in him. I am convinced that most sportswriters, the guys who vote for the Hall of Fame, knew that Simmons was way smarter than any of them and had no idea how to handle that.

I’m always amused by the application of the terms “smart” and “stupid” as applied to baserunning. Pujols’s run from first to third on Tino’s hit in the ninth was an enormous play in the game last night. I was gritting my teeth when I saw him make the turn and challenge the .30/06 that is Vladimir Guerrero. He makes it and you think “What a smart play. That guy has some balls.” If he gets gunned down, though, he made a stupid play.

If getting sent to the bullpen for ten days results in a complete game with no walks, I vote we send Tomko out there for twenty days.

“Rolen grounds into a lot of double plays but he hits the ball really hard, so that high number of DPs is deceiving.” - Dan McLaughlin last night. This is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Hey Dan, hitting the ball hard makes it easier for the fielders to turn DPs. I’ll add this tidbit to the time when Danny Mac had no idea what Russian babooshkah dolls were and silently lament his affiliation with the blessed birds.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003


• Garrett Stephenson won for the first time since June 17th.

• It was his first complete game since Aug. 5, 2000 (a five-hit shutout against the Braves).

• Entering tonight's game, the Cardinals were 1-23 when they scored 2 or fewer runs. (The lone win? A 2-0 Matt Morris shutout May 19th against the Cubs.)

• Stephenson tonight had six 1-2-3 innings. He retired the last 14 batters of the game.

• G-Steve also walked no one. He jumped ahead in the count to 22 of the 31 batters he faced. He threw 3 balls to four different hitters, and retired each of them, including Vlad to end the game.

• Livan Hernandez weighs 240 pounds.

• Scott Rolen homered, doubled, and drove in both runs exactly one year after his acquisition from the Phillies. The Cardinals are 93-72 since his arrival.

• Rolen said after the game, "We've won some 9-8 games but not many 2-1 games this year." Actually we haven't won any 9-8 games this year -- a couple 9-7s and a 10-8, but no 9-8s.

• Stephenson on the mound looked as carefree as a guy popping bubble wrap. The time of the game was 2:04, our shortest of the season.

• Stephenson on July 20th, on his demotion to the bullpen: "I'm disappointed because I don't think I deserve it... If you feel like you deserve to go, OK, then you go and you deal with it and try to get things going. But what am I going to do? Go down to the bullpen and sit there?" Stephenson on July 29th, on La Russa's decision to let him bat in the 8th inning: "This is Tony's game. I respect Tony's decision."

WILSON, WE HARDLY KNEW YE I'm really gonna miss Wilson Delgado. That gentleman can hit weak grounders to the middle infield as consistently as any player who's ever put on the uniform.

MORE CHATTER Should we keep passing along these rumors? There's sort of a weird principle in place -- the more rumors there are out there, the less any one of them has merit. But we think it's fun playing this game of "what if," so without further ado, here's the latest batch of trade whispers:

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Marlins are aggressively pursuing J.D. Drew, with talks heating up on a 3-way deal that would send Pirates P Jeff Suppan to the Cardinals. (Dealing Drew to net Suppan would be a disgrace, sorta like using a mako shark as bait to catch trout.)

And according to the Seattle Times, the Mariners are interested in trading for a 3B, with Tony Batista and Aaron Boone being possibilities, while there are also rumors involving the Mariners and -- here comes that man again -- J.D. Drew. According to the paper, Cards officials went up to Seattle on Sunday to scout local lazybones Freddy Garcia, but when he got shelled they ended up turning their eyes to that day's winning pitcher, perenniel "prospect" John Thomson of Texas.

Oh, and one real roster move -- the Cards activated Miguel Cairo, which strengthens our bench by designating Wilson "the Other" Delgado for assignment.

Monday, July 28, 2003

WHAT'S NEXT? The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asks, "will Jeff Suppan stay in St. Louis after this four-game series concludes?" He certainly made a case for himself today, scattering 7 hits and one walk on his way to his second shutout in the past month.

The Cardinals, you may recall, could have had Suppan back in January. His track record was only so-so, but he hadn't missed a start in over four years, plus he could have been had for a song -- he ended up signing with the Buccos for some change they found in the sofa cushions, at $1 million a year.

But for some reason we decided to go with today's losing pitcher instead. Bret Tomko has had a worse career than Suppan, costs over 3 times as much, is two years older, and required a bullpen arm in exchange to the Padres (Luther Hackman). I wonder if Suppan/Hackman (and maybe even $2.3 million left over to sign Finley) would have been worth 3 games in the standings over Tomko/Hermanson/Fassero/et al...

SHAKEUP IN CINCY So Bowden and Boone are out in Cincinnati, which is scary, mostly because there are some great GMs-in-waiting who would love the job up there. Brad Kullman, who currently serves as the Reds' assistant GM, is one of the most progressive young minds in baseball. And of course, Paul DePodesta, assistant GM in Oakland and the wonkish Hermione to Billy Beane's wizardly Harry Potter, has publicly stated that he's ready to step up to full-fledged general management. Cincinnati, which has the youngest team in baseball, and a great nucleus in Kearns and Dunn, would be an attractive fixer-upper for either of these young Turks. Obviously that would not bode well for the Cardinals long-term.

RUMOR UPDATES from Webster Groves beat reporter Kevin:

Rick Hummel -- aka "The Commissioner" of the Post-Dispatch -- today said on KFNS radio that he did not beleive the Cardinals would trade any position player of consequence, including J.D. Drew and Fernando Vina. He stated that with Edmonds hurt and the other injury situations (Vina, Marrerro), there was "no way" the Cardnials would trade J.D. Drew.

In response to the Seattle rumors, he said that Seattle could talk about getting J.D. Drew all they wanted but that doesn't mean they were going to get him.


From Sporting News:

Some GMs are wary of the close relationship between the A's Billy Beane and Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, fearing that if they trade with one, their player could end up with the other and then get sent to a division rival.

For example, before the Cubs acquired Kenny Lofton, the Cardinals worried that if they traded J.D. Drew for the Blue Jays' Kelvim Escobar, Ricciardi would send Drew to the A's, who in turn might flip him to the Cubs. ...

St. Louis is investigating the market for virtually every available starting pitcher and could end up acquiring a higher-end potential free agent such as Escobar and a reliever such as the Brewers' Mike DeJean. The Cardinals aren't wild about moving Drew, but they also aren't wild about paying him a potential $5 million next season in arbitration.

And this from ace baseball brain Lee Sinins:

Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty was reportedly scouting Mariners P Freddy Garcia and Rangers P John Thomson when they pitched in Seattle yesterday.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

LANCE PAINTER, 1993-2003 Poor Lance. Over the course of his nine-year major league career he's battled his way through a sprained ankle, a torn labrum in his shoulder, a hamstring pull, a strained left shoulder, an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery, and a severely torn right hamstring. And yet there he was, out there today in the 95-degree midsummer soup, at age 36, trying to pitch his way through yet one more inning. He never did finish the 7th inning, all because of a play that had to be the strangest of the entire Cardinals season. I'm not sure what the weirdest aspect of the play was. Was it:

a.) That Salomon Torres, oh-for-18 this year and one of the worst hitters I've ever seen, would make contact on an 0-2 pitch.
b.) That, on the way to covering first, Painter would go down as if someone was lurking nearby in the Texas School Book Depository building.
c.) That Painter went down nearly the same way back in April in Coors Field, but with an injury to a different part of his body.
d.) That Tino Martinez simply froze when he heard Painter scream and allowed Torres to slide safely into first.
e.) That Adam Hyzdu was trying to steal home on the play. I guess he figured, my guy's not gonna hit the ball, maybe I can just steal a run. He crossed home plate about one second after Torres tapped the ball.

I'm telling you, it was the strangest play of a strange game in a very strange year.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Think Woody's tired? His ERA by month:


He's on pace for 233 2/3 innings, which would be a career high.

Friday, July 25, 2003

HA HA HA From a Post-Dispatch article today:

The Cardinals' newest starting pitcher, Jeff Fassero, reported no problems from his first start since August 2000. The 40-year-old Fassero pitched an effective four innings in his start against the Padres on Tuesday, throwing 76 pitches without requiring an IV afterward.

The Sporting News came out with their annual list of baseball's 50 best players as determined by a poll of MLB executives. This list is usually about a year behind, I think (Derek Jeter #20, Bret Boone #36...huh?). The Rednut representation is #32 Jedmonds, #30 Matt Morris, #25 Scott Rolen, and of course, Bert Pujjy at #3.

The article opens, "There are three tiers of players in baseball. The first consists of Alex Rodriquez and Barry Bonds. The second is Albert Pujols. The third is everybody else."

Our Prayers Answered

From the Post Dispatch:

The Cardinals did acquire a lefthanded pitcher on Thursday, purchasing the contract of Pedro Borbon Jr., from the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. Borbon, 35, appeared in 56 games for the Houston Astros last year and has played for four major league teams over 11 seasons. His career ERA in 4.45. Borbon was assigned to Class AAA Memphis.

Cancel your October plans. The Series is ours now.

Actually, to dig a bit deeper, how many of us got excited over the Rick White signing last year? All he did was become virtually unhittbale down the stretch, Santiago homer notwithstanding. It's a stretch to think that this will pan out but.... Should Pedro show that he can get out lefties effectively down at Auto Zone Park he could be quickly moved into a role vacated by a traded Kline/Painter/Fassero. LaRussa, and most modern managers, love having that lefty specialist. And all they usually need to do is get one guy. See Assenmacher, Paul; and Orosco, Jesse.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks. Go get a few big leaguers, Walt.

DEADLINE DEALS Sir William of Rosslyn, Va., a.k.a. Rowdy Dog, who's been a Cardinal fan since the Long Hot Summer of '68, writes in with the following:

Our beloved Redbirds honestly haven't had it all year, with or without Matty Mo. The bullpen has been lousy at best. Clutch hitting has become a lost art (especially with 2 outs). The 64$ question becomes...(Drum roll, please) what side of the fence do the Cards go come trading deadline ? I'm for acquiring youngsters. This team IS NOT going to win it all without more arms. Don't become the Blues of baesball. Build a Champion, not a strictly playoff bound team...

Actually that's an 84 million dollar question: should the Cardinals buy or sell by July 31st? Should J.D. Drew stay or go? Should we take down Sterling Hitchcock's hat size or not? Do we try to win it all this year, or should we advance-order 2004 N.L. Champs t-shirts?

Those are hard questions, and I wouldn't want to be in Walt Jocketty's shoes these days. But let's try on Walt's wing-tips anyway and take a stroll through Six Big Questions at the 2003 Trading Deadline:

1. Can we overcome the Astros (and also outlast the Cubs)? Can we win this year? Mathematically speaking, yes. The Cardinals are within striking distance of first, 3 1/2 games behind the Astros with 61 games left to play. At the same point in the season of 2001, the Cards were 8 1/2 games out of first, behind five teams for the wild card, and we came back to win the division. So clearly it's do-able.

2. Well of course it's mathematically do-able, but should we get our hopes up? Frankly the Cardinals wouldn't need to play much better than they're playing now to win the division. The Astros are on pace for 89 wins. If the Cardinals win as many games the rest of the season as their runs scored/runs allowed figures suggest, they'd win 87 games. If they won at the same rate as they have up until now, but broke even in one-run games the rest of the way, they'd win 87 games. The difference between 89 and 87 wins is, as you know, mostly luck. The Astros are solid, but they're also an old team and the back end of their rotation is dubious. The Cubs improved themselves with their recent trade, but it doesn't seem like enough to get them over the hump. In other words, I think the Cardinals still have a legitimate shot to win this thing.

3. Will Matt Morris help the Cardinals this year? No. At least not in any significant way. According to Will Carroll, Matty Mo's injury (on the second metacarpal of his right hand) is in an extremely precarious location. Because even slight soreness in that area can affect fine-motor movements, Morris will be useless until he's totally healed. So the 3-6 week estimate probably skews closer to 6 weeks, or even longer. Also, a broken hand means that you can't throw or raise your pitching arm during the entire healing process, so even when Morris does come back he'll have reduced strength and velocity. (Curt Schilling, for example, was topping out at an un-Schilling-like 93 after his return from a broken hand.) What's more, the Cardinals minor league teams end their season on September 1st, so even if Morris returns by then he'll have nowhere to go on rehab assignment. And lastly, even if Morris does return, fully healed, by September, there's no guarantee he'll straighten out the mechanical glitches that have plagued him the last several weeks. Add it all up and I think you have to conclude that Matt Morris' season is, for all intents and purposes, over.

4. What do the Cardinals need to make up for the loss of Morris? We're still scoring more runs than anyone in the National League, on the strength of monster years from our stars and serviceable years from our also-rans. So we don't need bats. But we do need arms, preferably 7 or 8 of them. Whenever Woody Williams doesn't pitch, we're in trouble. Our other available starters -- Tomko, Simontacchi, Stephenson, Haren, and Fassero -- have a cumulative 5.58 ERA. And our bullpen might be worse, a meat locker of proven losers.

But the situation isn't hopeless. For one, Matt Morris is more replaceable than you'd think. The Cardinals have been able to stay in contention despite run-of-the-mill seasonal numbers from Matty Mo (a 4.16 ERA), and we've even managed to break even during his eight-week sojourn into the Heart of Darkness (an 8.91 ERA). The Cardinals could cobble together a passable rotation by finding a moderately decent pitcher who eats innings and keeps the ball in the park. And because our heat-seeking defense is so good at tracking down baseballs, you'd want somebody who can muster a lot of ground balls. The good ol' boys at BP recently threw out some names that fit the bill: Mike Maroth, Cory Lidle, Ismael Valdes, Brad Penny. I'd add to the list Tomo Ohka, Steve Trachsel (although he does give up a lot of longballs), Solomon Torres, Chris Carpenter (woops -- scrach that), Victor Zambrano, and Kevin Jarvis. Most of those guys could be had cheap, and could turn our rotation from sorry-ass to so-so in a hurry. And with our hitting, so-so is a net gain.

As I mentioned in our Midseason Report, the Cardinals bullpen wouldn't be so bad if you just weeded out two culprits: Fassero and Yan. A bullpen of Painter, Kline, Eldred, and Izzy could scuttle by just fine if you swapped out Fassero and Yan for serviceable, even sub-mediocre, arms like, say, (St. Louisan) Brian Boehringer and (former St. Louisan) Luther Hackman. Remember: our hitting is good enough to take us far, so we can go a long way just by plugging our holes with some adequate, low-grade spackle.

5. Should we trade any big names to plug our holes? We could trade J.D. Drew, but as I mentioned the other day, I don't believe in dealing a guy when his value is low. I know Drew has been a source of angst for many Cardinals fans, but it's also my belief that teams nearly always make bad deals when they dump a guy out of frustration (anyone remember the Yankees sloughing off Rickey Henderson?). We could deal Chris Narveson, who's finally healthy and pitching well down in AA, but, hell, you need somebody to throw the ball when Woody Williams declines in a couple years, and the rest of our farm system is barren.

That leaves Vina and Marrero as our only tradeable commodities. The Cardinals have a $4.5M team option on Vina for 2004, but that doesn't look like a wise investment given Vina's age, the emergence of Bo Hart, and the $5M++ salary we're going to owe Pujols in arbitration. I could see trading Vina to someone like the Dodgers, who need a real second baseman, for someone like Guillermo Mota. But beyond that I'm not sure we have a lot of chips to cash in.

6. Is there any other way to get what we need? Remember the horror stories coming out of Boston a couple months ago, how the Sox had the worst bullpen in recorded history? Well, right now the Red Sox have four relievers with ERAs under 4, which the Cardinals would kill to have. How'd they turn themselves around? They had to give up a fair amount for new closer Byung-Hyung Kim, but they got two other guys for almost nothing. They signed gay-basher Todd Jones (3.48 ERA) off of waivers, and acquired Scott Sauerbeck (3.95 ERA) from the Pirates for a sack of peat moss. There are all kinds of guys like Jones and Sauerbeck out there, particularly now that teams are looking to dump salary.

But you have to spend to get them. The Cardinals front office says it can't ante up any more money. But as Derek Zumsteg recently pointed out:

Payroll budgets are numbers spun from thin air, along with the amount of money a team loses. They're based on things like attendance, merchandise sales, and for teams that didn't expect to compete, they're likely running way ahead of projections, too. The team doesn't turn into a pumpkin if they pick up half of a $7 million salary and that puts them at $81.5 million instead of just under $78 million. There is no team besides the Expos in major league baseball that could not go out and find the money to add another player.

This is particularly true when you consider that a playoff run by the Cardinals would be well worth the extra couple million you'd spend in pro-rated contracts.

So, to recap: the Cardinals aren't in a great position to make a charge back into the World Series. But we're good enough, and close enough to first, that in my opinion it'd be silly to throw in the towel. We can make a legitimate stretch run with a middling starter and a pair of relievers who will go out and give you an ERA under 6. You can find each of those things with a little savvy and a few extra coins. After that you roll the dice and see what happens.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Mattmo's injury left me a bit distraught and my mind wandered to baseball issues non-Birdinalic. Here's the question I wanted to research: in all of baseball history, which team's clubhouse was filled with the most talented players? I figured it was more likely to be a recent team; powerhouses like the '27 Yankees and '29 A's really only had ten or twelve first-rate players on them. Then I looked at the '93 world champion Blue Jays. Remember those rascally little Canadians? If you wanted to chow down on the post-game food spread, you'd have to muscle past

John Olerud
Roberto Alomar
Tony Fernandez
Joe Carter
Rickey Henderson
Paul Molitor
Shawn Green
Carlos Delgado
Dave Stewart
Al Leiter
Jack Morris,

and a few other really solid guys like

Devon White
Pat Hentgen
Todd Stottlemyre
Juan Guzman
Mike Timlin
Mark Eichhorn
Duane Ward,
and Rednut heroes
Danny Cox
Ken Dayley
and Woody Williams.

Pretty impressive, huh? But the best? I don't think so. How about these goliaths who suited up for the '97 Indians (who of course lost the series to a team bought with Wayne Huizenga's KKK money):

Jim Thome
Tony Fernandez
Omar Vizquel
Matt Williams
Manny Ramirez
Brian Giles
Richie Sexson
Kevin Mitchell
David Justice
Marquis Grissom
Julio Franco
Sandy Alomar
Sean Casey
Kevin Seitzer
Bip Roberts,

and on the mound
Orel Hershiser
Charles Nagy
Jack McDowell
Bartolo Colon
John Smiley
Albie Lopez
Jose Mesa
Mike Jackson
Steve Kline
Paul Shuey
Eric Plunk
Danny Graves
Paul Assenmacher,
and the icing on the cake,
Jeff Juden

Whew. That's gotta be the most talent in one clubhouse at one time, right?

THE BALLAD OF MATTY MO Last night I was telling my girlfriend about our ace pitcher going down with a broken hand, how he'll be out for several weeks, and how, as I put it, "this basically ends our season." She asked, "So they're just going to stop playing games?" She wasn't kidding.

"No, no," I said, "they gotta play the games." And that's what it comes down to, I guess -- you gotta play the games. Whether you got pitching or not, you gotta throw someone out there and play the games.

It's been a sad season for Morris. Back in May, I remember thinking he was finally ready to take over for Schilling, Unit, and Kevin Brown as the best hurler in the National League. He had just thrown two straight shutouts, he had a 2.04 ERA in April and May, he had nasty stuff, two years of gritty playoff experience, and he was just coming into his prime.

And then came the troubles: 8 straight starts giving up 4 or more runs, a ballooning ERA, tinkerings with his mechanics, denials from management about his bad shoulder, confessions about his bad shoulder, brief periods of rest, dispiriting sessions with the press, more examinations and self-examinations, more worries, more bullshit.

And then finally, on Monday night, Matty Mo was looking normal again. He got ten full days of rest, he enjoyed a pleasant visit from Flynn Kile before the game, his girlfriend was in the stands, and on the mound he looked to have some of his old stuff back. He whistled a 92 mph heater past leadoff hitter Ramon Vazquez for strike two, then gunned him out on the same lollipop curve he was throwing back in May. Three pitches later, his hand was broken.

Now, before we set up any crisis hotlines over here at Redbird Nation, there are a few things you should keep in mind to survive the summer:

1. Despite a couple of encouraging pitches on Monday night, I'm still not convinced that Morris' shoulder is 100%, and I've always thought that a nice long stint on the DL might do him some good. If it takes six weeks for his hand to heal, maybe his shoulder will follow. So it's not the worst deal in the world -- six weeks of bitter medicine now to protect the $12.5 million we have invested in him for 2004.

2. Morris' string of bad pitching began on May 29th. The Cardinals were 27-25 at that point, and they've been 24-24 since. In other words, they were a mediocre team when he was pitching well, they were a mediocre team when he was pitching horribly, and they'll probably be a mediocre team when he doesn't pitch at all. That might not sound too inspiring, but if the Cardinals can scuffle along in mediocrity and get to 84-85 wins by the end of the year, they might well still have enough to win the division.

3. Last year the Cardinals lost Darryl Kile on June 22, and their replacement was Andy Benes, he of the 8.47 ERA. You know the rest of the story -- Andy became Kile reincarnated, with a 1.58 ERA the rest of the way. Does that mean that Stephenson or Simontacchi or (egads) Jeff Fassero will step in and fill Morris' shoes for the next few weeks? Not necessarily. But I'd believe it sooner than I'd have believed, back in June of 2002, that Andy Benes was capable of greatness.

4. When all else fails, take your lumps. Maybe Morris' injury allows us to look in the mirror and fess up -- it's just not our year. Look at last year's Mariners. They came off a 116 win season, seemed ready to climb the mountaintop, and then they suffered a meltdown from their ace pitcher (Freddy Garcia) and a back-breaking injury to one of their key stars (Edgar Martinez). But they turned out okay, right? Right now they've got the second best record in the American League. Why? Because they've got a strong core to their team, just like the Cardinals do.

I haven't given up on the season; I'm still going to root like hell for the Cards to pull it out. But I have to admit, there was a small part of me that was relieved last night when I came home and saw the final score (I wasn't able to watch any of the game). It was like finding out an elderly relative had died after a long illness, like making peace with the inevitable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

DISASTER KMOV-TV in St. Louis just announced that a CAT scan has revealed that Matt Morris has a fractured wrist. Our #2 starter is now Bret Tomko.

THROW SPAGHETTI AGAINST THE WALL Try to follow the logic here. Jeff Fassero's ERA is 7.17. On the season he's allowed 50 hits -- including 7 home runs -- in 37.2 innings. And lately he's been pitching worse than ever. He has given up a hit or a walk in 18 straight appearances dating back to June 1. Over the last month he's appeared in 11 games, and in 8 of those 11 games, he gave up at least one run. The three times he did not give up a run, he allowed 5 hits in 2 innings. Only one time did he get three outs before giving up a run, and in that game he pitched one inning, gave up a single and a double, and stayed in the game only because Edgar Renteria pegged a Giant runner at home plate. Mind you, that was his best outing in the past five weeks.

So if you're Tony La Russa, what do you do?

a.) Release Fassero immediately.
b.) Wait til the Cardinals can trade or sign adequate bullpen help, and then release him.
c.) Scale back his workload (he currently leads the Cardinals pitchers in appearances).
d.) Maintain his workload, but use him in more low-leverage situations.
e.) Make him one of your starters.

As we all know, TLR chose (e). Why?

RUMORS There is a three-way trade rumor involving the Cardinals, A's, and Blue Jays. The A's would get J.D. Drew, the Blue Jays would get Ted Lilly and no word on who the Cardinals would get. Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says he hasn't had any serious talks with the Cardinals. Also, the Yankees and Cardinals are rumored to be working on a Sterling Hitchcock for Steve Kline trade.

GAME NOTES, Crap 5 More Crap 4

• I could use seeing Matty Mo get injured during a few more games so the Fox cameraman has yet another excuse to get more shots of his model hot wife, Heather. In fact, I'd suggest Heather start tomorrow night's game in place of Jeff Fassero. She carves a much prettier picture on the mound, and performance-wise it's a wash.

• Our bullpen didn't pitch that bad tonight, although it's frustrating that we don't have a guy out there capable of going a full 2 innings without at least being an accomplice in giving up a run.

• Jedmonds illustrated in back-to-back plays at the end of the 1st (when he charged hard on a ball hit well in front of him before diving for the putout) and beginning of the second (got a good jump to field a ball hit well over his head before making his signature over-the-shoulder) how big a difference he makes in CF. The Padres might have broken the game open if not for him. Whether taking into account his offensive stats versus other center fielders or watching his seamless artistry in the field, it's a fact that he's an underrated player even as highly regarded as he is – that rare great who immediately impacts the game both offensively and defensively.

• 27 RBI is a pretty lame total for Drew, even with the injuries.

• What a great play by Nady in the 3rd to quickly field Simontacchi's hit to RF and gun down Matheny at 3rd base. Heads up baserunning by Simontacchi to take 2nd, too. Simontacchi's never gonna be a very productive player, but I always appreciate his approach. And what an awesome play he made to save a run on Tino's horrible throw to him to end the 3rd.

• Pujols almost always gets a good jump on the basepaths. Such smart hitting by him, too, in the 7th to drive in the then go-ahead run by poking the ball through the gap between the 1st and 2nd basemen. Albert's plate coverage is so good, and he's so damn smart and adaptable, that I wouldn't bet against him finishing the season over .370 or even .380.

• Bo Hart averages about one awesome play per every other game. Tonight's came in the 6th. A definite SportsCenter top 10, probably around 5.

• It's disgraceful to see a major leaguer like Gary Mathews, Jr. get doubled off on an infield line drive.

• By the way, I haven't seen Pujols' altercation with Bennett last week unedited, but from the replays I've seen it doesn't look like Bert deserves a suspension. In fact, he showed some restraint on the play. How often is it a guy gets hit and starts to walk down to first but the catcher won't let him? Maybe Bennett deserves a suspension.

Monday, July 21, 2003

MIGUEL OJEDA homered off Lance Painter tonight to win the game for the Padres. Who is he? No one knows. This is the photo CBS.Sportsline had of him in their online game coverage tonight:

Thanks to some crack investigative work by our very own Woodstein, Redbird Nation has discovered that Ojeda is a 28 year old rookie batting .236 in 72 major league at bats. No shame in letting a guy like that beat you.

INJURY BUG Today Will Carroll handed out his Mid-Season Health Report for the National League, which grades teams based on overall health compared to both league and team averages, ability to get players back ahead of schedule, lost time to DL, and effect of injuries on team results. The Cardinals, not surprisingly, were tagged with the second lowest grade of any team in the majors (the Amazin'ly Bad Mets were the only team to receive an F). Here's what Will had to say about our medically challenged club:

"Last year, I became convinced that there must be voodoo in effect somewhere in Busch Stadium. Perhaps there was an unknown Egyptian tomb opened near the bullpen or a black cat constantly crossing the path of the team, but while one year can be a fluke (see: Angels 2002), two years is often a pattern. Matt Morris is injured, but returns to the mound again and again; J.D. Drew looks to be on the Mark McGwire career path minus those pesky monster stat lines; Scott Rolen's back wasn't cured by grass; Fernando Vina has been a non-factor; and the team's best player, Albert Pujols, is one throw away from joining Rick Ankiel as Tommy John rehab partners. In fact, there's not a position without an injury concern on the lineup card. The positives are hard to find, other than managing to get Jason Isringhausen back when Robb Nen and Trevor Hoffman were lost for the season. A team this talented should be running away with the pennant; you know why they aren't. Grade: D "

By the way, if you want to read Will everyday, you should order up Baseball Prospectus Premium, which is available for $27 for the remainder of the season. Not chump change, but still under $2.50 a day.

Cards 10 - Dem Bums 7

Hey did they tear down Chief Nokahoma’s teepee? I mean, I know last night’s game was in Fulton County Stadium but I just couldn’t locate the wigwam out in leftfield where is usually is. The nine homers gave me ample time to study the outfield seating area but I was unable to see it….

The centerfield camera shot gave me a great view of the primo, choicest seats in the house – at field level right behind home plate. These “sell your vital organs for a chance to sit there” seats were occupied by two seven year old girls playing with dolls. No sign of Kobe…

In commenting on Jeremy Burnitz’s tetherball swing Joe Morgan said “Well, one thing about Burnitz, he never gets cheated on a swing, even with two strikes on him.” Now, I think I am in the minority because I actually like Joe Morgan as a commentator, am a little in awe of his accomplishments as a player, and highly respect his work on behalf of baseball in general and the Hall of Fame in particular, but I think a statement like that is just silly. Not as silly as these guys, but silly. Apparently, swinging from the heels like Burnitz (and Edmonds, and so many others) on every pitch, strikeouts be damned, is the new way to play the game. Striking out, which players years ago avoided like a hot dog that rolled under the fridge only to resurface months later, is not a big deal anymore. But, with men on base, especially with less than two out, I still believe that a two-strike swing should be tempered a bit to increase the chances of making contact. Now, I know there are lots of statistics to support the free-swinging theory and I dig the long ball as much as chicks do, but I never heard anybody say that a guy “got cheated” by reining back a bit and advancing the runner.

Why is Mitchell Page called a “Hitting Instructor?” What happened to “coach?” I see “instructor” and I think Driving Instructor. Instructor implies a one time course of learning. Teach, review, pass/fail. Thank you, goodbye. The predictable joke here, of course, somehow involves Page having a brake pedal in the dugout…

Speaking of Page, his “attack” philosophy of not taking any pitches seems to have paid off for most Cardinal lumbermen but it can sometimes burst a rally like a ginzu into a beach ball. Take the bases loaded, no outs situation the Cards had in the 7th – sacks jammed, Bo Hart up. First pitch, DP. Now it’s Drew – first pitch groundout. Two pitches, three outs, about forty seconds, inning over, no runs. Now a word from our friends at Snapper Lawn Care…Where’s the drama?

Think Vina would laugh if he came back and found a Wally Pipp jersey in his locker?

Soooooo glad coach Tom Pettini was “miked up” for the game last night. If not we would have missed his “Yeah! Attaboy Woodrow!” after Woody’s dinger. Fascinating.

That was a $7,000,000 curve Izzy threw to Cora in the 9th. The Brighton Bazooka is back!

Saturday, July 19, 2003

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DICK ANKLE Strange to think that Rick Ankiel, for all his miles, turned just 24 years old today. I couldn't help but think of Rick during today's game, as an even younger Cardinals pitcher enjoyed his day in the sun with his first major league win. Danny Haren pitched at Dodger Stadium in front of 30 friends and family members, defeated the mighty Kevin Brown, and showed he has a bit of a future in front of him. Rick Ankiel is sidelined for at least a year with a torn elbow ligament, has mental demons that none of us can begin to understand, and as for friends and family, his father is currently serving six years in federal prison on drug smuggling charges.

In 1999, the Cardinals called up Rick Ankiel for the first time. Tony La Russa said about him at the time, "Everything they've said about him is true. He's the real deal. He's a great talent and he's got good insides and a good head.'' He was 19 years old.

IN THE DITCH AT CHAVEZ RAVINE Last night I headed out with a couple other Birdnals fans to the pleasant climes of Dodger Stadium. Here are my field notes:

• Dodger Stadium is a classic slice of L.A. architecture -- the free flow of indoor and outdoor space, the use of corrugated roofs, the clean Richard Neutra lines, the San Gabriel mountains resting peacefully amid the palm trees beyond the outfield wall. The whole thing feels casual and hip, and you half-expect to find Dean Martin chumming it up with Herb Alpert or Bob Evans in the crowd.

• There's a story about how Dodger Stadium came to be: When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley was negotiating with the city of Los Angeles in 1957 over the deal that would take the Dodgers out of Brooklyn, he and a county supervisor took a helicopter ride over Los Angeles to look for potential stadium sites. When they flew over the empty 300-acre lot at Chavez Ravine, surrounded by freeways and within sight of the downtown skyline, O’Malley is said to have pointed and asked, "Can I have that one?" The supervisor replied, "No problem." Well, actually there was a problem -- O'Malley had to weather countless legal challenges from the Latino population who owned much of the land. The local word is that City Hall (not a bastion of purity back then) simply muscled out the recalcitrant elements. Now that's an all-American tale.

• Our seats were right along the third base line, about 15 feet away from Rickey Henderson trotting out to left field each inning. Man, the guy looks fit; I'm not surprised if he still gets carded when he walks into a bar. The fans on our side of the field took to him immediately, cheering every little thing he did, going nuts when he cranked that homer in the third. The oldest major leaguer to hit a home run is Jack Quinn, who also played for the Dodgers. Quinn was a pitcher, and he went yard at age 47 in 1932. That leaves Rickey a good three years away from the record, but I wouldn't bet against it.

• Here's some more Rickey trivia: if someone bested Aaron's home run record to the same degree that Rickey surpassed Brock's stolen base record, he'd finish with 1129 home runs.

• In the third inning I got hit in the head with a beach ball while walking to my seats with a handful of Dodger Dogs. The crowd got a real kick out of it (mostly, I think, because I was wearing Cardinals cap), and to be honest I probably looked liked a first-class moron. Dodger Stadium is HUGE on beach balls -- at any given point during a game about 3 or 4 of them are bouncing around like larvae from Mexican jumping beans.

• In his second at bat, Pujols laced an 0-2 pitch from Ishii for a beautiful single into right field. Tony Gwynn claims that Pujols' batting average has been dropping (he's .245 since June 30th, 13 for his last 53) because he's trying to pull everything. Now, Tony "Dunk It Into Left" Gwynn isn't the most objective guy when it comes to going the other way, but I trust his evaluation more than I trust my own, and it was nice to see Pujols cracking an easygoing single to the opposite field.

• The kids in front of us were having a good time imitating the Pizza Hut vendor droning "GET YOUR pizza here...." Ever notice how similar vending is to bird-calling? Vendors, like birds, need a distinctive melody to stand out from competitors, link up with mates, and close deals. I can clearly recall the roaming concessionaires at Busch Stadium; they each had their own sales call. There was the guy who rasped out “beER heRE!,” the guy who warbled nasally, “get your frosty BudWEIS-uh!,” and then, my favorite, one vendor who called out in an unbroken monotone, “beer bud bud bud bud bud beer bud beer bud beer bud bud bud bud bud beer bud…” over and over.

• I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that the Phillies lost, but I also started to think about it and I decided they're my pick right now to go to the World Series.

• Every time I'm at a ballgame I scan the crowd and expect to see hot chicks. My friends, that's a recipe for disappointment. The only way you'll see gorgeous women at a sporting event is if you're at a Lakers game, or near the wives section at a New York Rangers game, or sitting in Busch Stadium next to the Anheuser-Busch box.

• The fans went berserk when Gagne entered the ninth with "Welcome to the Jungle" blasting over the PA. Judging by the crowd response, I'd say Gagne is easily the most popular Dodger at this point, although the generous helping of Axl didn't hurt. I started to wonder what my entrance music would be if I were a closer. I chose the Beastie Boys' "Gratitude." My cousin Mark chose "I'm a Fool To Do Your Dirty Work." My buddy Kevin had a pretty good one: "The Ride of the Valkyries."

• The Dodgers are pulling a Cincinnati Reds on us. They're now averaging over 7 runs a game off our sorry pitching staff. As we were leaving the park, a Dodger fan put his hand on Kevin's shoulder and remarked, "it's gonna be a long half for you guys." My head said: "Wait a minute, if anyone's playing over their heads and due for a fall, it's the Dodgers, not the Cardinals." But my heart said: "I hear you, buddy."

• After the game while sitting bumber-to-bumper in the stadium parking lot (which holds 16,000 cars and offers the quintessential L.A. driving experience), some guy yelled out his window "GO DODGERS!" and then added "FREE KOBE!"

TOO LATE, SUCKERS According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are "extensively scouting" Orioles Ps Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson, while they have also shown interest in Blue Jays P Cory Lidle and Yankees P Sterling Hitchcock.

Friday, July 18, 2003

GAME NOTES Dodgers 8, Little Red 5

• You couldn't ask for more "no doubt" home runs than the 3 supplied tonight by Jedmonds, Puj-factor, and Edgar.

• What's going on with regularly sure-handed Edgar's fielding lately? He was lucky to recover after missing Henderson's one hopper in the first, but rushed to make a wild throw on Beltre's grounder in the hole in the 4th. It was kind of funny, though, because when Beltre got to second, he and Edgar chatted away very friendly just before Edgar snuck in to receive Tomko's pickoff. Edgar and Adrian are probably having a good laugh about it at a bar right now.

• There was a guy decked out, like a pimp at bed time, in a Dodger blue robe with leopard lapels and cuffs, and an Eric Gagne beard. It was one of the most creative and funniest fan costumes I've seen, and of course the guy felt honored and went crazy when Gagne strutted in from the bullpen for the 9th. The best part of it, though, was when priceless Vin Scully first spotted the guy in the 6th and asked, his voice sincere and wondrous, "Aren't people amazing?"

• Solid play to his left by Bo Hart to field Lo Duca's grounder for the 1st out of the 6th inning. And he made an excellent play to his right last night. Bo's dropping off at the plate, but his defense has been steadily excellent (barring one costly error a few weeks ago -- the guy's human).

• Shawn Green, tagging from first, stole another one on Jedmonds' tonight (after taking second on him on a would-be single that Jedmonds lazed out on last week, although if Renteria had held onto Jedmonds' perfect throw on that one Green was toast). I hope players don't start doing that all the time, because Green's proving that they can if they want to. An accurate and strong arm can't compensate for extreme laziness.

• It'll be a miracle if we can win the division with this bullpen. I bet no team has ever taken a division title with a bullpen as bad as ours. And our starting pitching was good earlier this year, but of course now is pretty damn bad, too. We're hurting, and I think it'll be hard to acquire the caliber of players we need to turn this thing around. It's bad news, but at least we have the joy of watching guys like Pujols, Jedmonds, Rolen, and Renteria day in and out.

IN THE BOX In regard to our post last night about memorable batting stances, here's Gary Cozine's take on some of the odder stances out there:

Gary Sheffield: Jackson Pollock working on a drip painting with the bat as the brush and the sky as his canvas
Sammy Sosa: a guy dodging an invisible punch to the gut
Craig Counsell: a chimney sweep who acts as if he's missed a spot
Jeff Bagwell: a weightlifter doing squats or getting ready for the limbo
Moises Alou: a four-year-old Girl Scout needing to pee
Joe Morgan: a Russian immigrant trying to get water in January

Perhaps the most famous description is Ted Lyons' take on Stan Musial's stance, which he said reminded him of "a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops were coming."

Got any more? Send 'em in.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

GAME NOTES, Hideo Nomo 6, Cardinals 3

• For the most elegant argument against the Cards repeating as NL Central champs, simply check out the game preview before tonight's game. It's our first game after a three-game lay-off. Starting pitcher: G. Stephenson (4-9, 4.58).

• Count me among the people who weren't thrilled to see two Cardinals in the home run derby. Why? Because I think it's a trap for injuries, fatigue, and goofed-up swings. Sure enough, Jim Edmonds, who already seems like he's put together with silly string and krazy glue, missed tonight's game on account of tweaking his shoulder during -- you guessed it -- the home run derby. Not that we could have used his 28 homers in our lineup or anything.

• I love seeing Rickey Henderson back in the majors. It's usually a freaky thing to see a star in a new uniform -- remember seeing Jack Clark in a Sox uniform for the first time, or Tommy Herr in a Twinkies uni? ("Tommy Herr in a Twinkies uni" might be the most effeminate phrase I've ever typed in my life.) What's cool about Rickey is that he looks good in any uniform, any style, any season. He's the Gisele Bundchen of ballplayers.

• Speaking of uniforms, this is the ninth one Rickey has worn in the bigs, and the fourth he's worn for a California team. No player has played for all 5 California teams, but 7 other guys have played for four (Mike Aldretti, John D'Aquisto, Dave Kingman, Elias Sosa, Stan Javier, Jay Johnstone, and Derrell Thomas).

• E-Rent's GIDP in the second inning was his 12th of the year. I notice that he's been grounding into a lot of twin-killings lately, partly because he doesn't seem to be jacking the ball the other way as much as he did early in the season. He's on pace for 20 GIDPs this year, which would be a career high.

• Does Pujols have the meanest sneer of any batter in baseball? He looks out to the mound as if every pitcher slept with his wife.

• Garrett Stephenson Factoid #1: His first name is a contraction of the first names of his two grandfathers, Gar and Barrett.

• Garrett Stephenson Factoid #2: With two taters surrendered tonight (including a humiliating bomb to Hideo Nomo), he's now on pace to give up 38 home runs, which would be the 27th highest total of all time.

• One of the great things about baseball is how different everyone looks in the batter's box. (Roger Angell is a connoisseur of the form.) Jeff Bagwell always looks to me like a plastic army man in the box. Tony Fernandez: a guy dipping his toe into a cold pool. And Rickey Henderson: a guy trying to drive the smallest compact car in the world.

• The Cardinals must know something the rest of the league doesn't against Dave Ross. Against the rest of the NL, the catcher has gunned down half of the 14 baserunners trying to steal against him. But the Cards have been running silly against him -- 7 stolen bases in 3 games, including (last week) Tino's first swipe of the year and Bert Pujols's steal of third.

• Email from my cousin Mark during the game: "so drew gets 4 days off and he STILL doesnt start? in a game where edmonds isnt starting? i dont get it." Add in the fact that Drew hits .326/.395/.598 vs. righties and it becomes even more confounding. I mean, I know the guy is banged up, but come on -- he's getting dangerously close to the permanent DL for a missing scrotum.

• By the way, I'm pretty adamantly opposed to any trade of Drew, despite my frustrations with him. Why trade a guy when his stock is at its lowest? I suppose you could sell some team on Drew's perpetual upside, but I wouldn't think you could get enough competitors for his services to turn a good deal for him.

• Among the fans at tonight's game: Tom Hanks and Rick Ankiel.

• I was rooting hard against Eric Gagne, mostly because the guy confessed he wasn't trying his hardest during Tuesday's All-Star Game. He admitted he would have pitched Hank Blalock differently if it was a regular season game. "It was an All-Star Game and you just want to have fun," Gagne said. "I was going to throw him my fastball and see what he could do." Sure, the Cardinals probably won't go to the World Series, and they probably wouldn't make it to Game 7 if they did, but I hate to think we'd be playing on the road during that game because Gagne was just playing for kicks the other night.

• Runs Per Game
Dodgers vs. Cardinals: 7.00
Dodgers vs. Everyone Else: 3.47

BEANE VS. JOCKETTY, ROUND 1 According to the Oakland Tribune, the A's are interested in J.D. Drew.

Race will forever be an upfront issue in the USA. Unfortunately there will always be racist morons, white, black, and otherwise. With sports receiving more and more national exposure and scrutiny, many activists have seized the stage to promote their cause and themselves, not always in that order.

One of the current “hot topics” in baseball is the declining number of American born blacks that are in all levels of professional baseball and the NCAA. There are some excellent articles on the subject like this. I can remember back in 1989 there was a slight ripple of local discussion about the fact that, when Jose DeLeon pitched, the Cardinals had 9 non-whites in their starting lineup (Pena, Guerrero, Oquendo, Ozzie, Pendleton, Coleman, Thompson, McGee.) The Cub-chasing Bird Unit led the NL in attendance that year and topped 3 million fans yet again so it seems pretty obvious that St. Louisians, at least, had no problem supporting a team like that.

Brian did an excellent post on this situation months ago that came up with the census-based conclusion that the racial makeup of MLB basically mirrors that of the population in general. See below (Taking this right from Brian’s post):

----------------------------------MLB %-----USA%
Hispanic or Latino-----------17.2---------12.5

"Latino players are slightly over-represented, but by and large the composite picture of Major League Baseball is, in many ways, a microcosm of America as a whole. Not many industries can claim such balanced representation across the board, which is one of the few things that baseball can justifiably celebrate." - Brian

Unintentionally, it seems (although some would surely find a way to say it was intentional, which is ridiculous), MLB has become the truest representation of the diversity of our nation. The "model" leagues, the NFL and the NBA, are mostly and/or predominantly black. My first question: For all the uproar recently about the dearth of blacks in MLB where is the same for the lack of Hispanics or Asian-Americans in either of these sports? I’m not making light of the topic, just pointing out that an even larger ethnic group than African-Americans is pretty much completely shut out of two sports (even though he's the size of the Amoco sign on Skinker, Yao Ming is still just one guy) and nobody seems to give it much notice. "Oh, but we/they don’t care about those sports," some say. Well, then why isn’t that reasoning good enough for those writing about the declining participation of blacks in baseball? Why isn’t "We just don’t care about it" good enough?

My second question: Why should the decline of black participation in baseball be such "a troubling issue?" Why is it appropriate to view it as a sad state of affairs? Simply because participation was higher before? All this attention paid to black participation in sports seems to me like a ridiculous reinforcement of the stupid idea that the easy and most likely way for young blacks to succeed is though sports. To focus so much on something like baseball only perpetrates the myth that blacks, more than other groups, need athletic opportunities to become successful, which is laughably naïve and horribly insulting. To imply that a certain racial group needs to be "over-represented" (in relation to its representation in the population as a whole) in a sport does a disservice to that group by discounting its potential for success in every other field.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

TRADE RUMORS These are from Hadley-On-Sports, so take them with a grain or two of salt:

ARMS RACE: There are a variety of rumors, circulating, regarding which teams and players the Cardinals are discussing in an attempt to bolster their starting pitching.

As I reported two weeks ago, the Cardinals have been in talks with Yankees for some time now. Discussions have revolved around Jeff Weaver and Sterling Hitchcock. As I mentioned a few weeks back, I can't imagine the Cardinals taking on Weaver's contract unless the Yankees devour a mondo bite.

Recent talks have focused on Sterling Hitchcock. The Cardinals' brass believes Hitchcock can still be a factor as a starting pitcher (currently a middle reliever).

Rumors have the Cardinals in talks with Oakland regarding Tim Hudson. I can't confirm that report. In fact, considering the All-Star game and travel, I suspect there is no way I will confirm that rumor in the next 24 hours.

The Cardinals have openly admitted to interest in Sidney Ponson (Baltimore). I do know that the Cardinals remain focused on Javier Vazquez. If the Expos stumble out the blocks after the All-Star game, don't be surprised to see Vazquez circulated through the local rumor mill.

With the Yankees looking to make a few moves (including Armando Benitez) they are looking to deal quickly. Hence, if the Cards pull the trigger on a deal soon, the Yanks seem the likely partner at this point.

BTW ... the Cardinals did take one more look at Rickey Henderson over the weekend before deciding to pass... The White Sox would have to struggle mightily after the All-Star break before considering a deal that would include Mark Buerhle... Insiders report that Chuck Finley has become a non-factor. The Cardinals have made an offer to Finley, if he bites, he could still don the 'Birds ... but if he doesn't bite soon ... that offer will vaporize... Scott Schoeneweis (Anaheim) is a name to remember.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

MIDSEASON REPORT If someone told you before the season began that Pujols, Edmonds, Renteria, Rolen, and Woody Williams would all be having career years, you’d say we were a lock for first place, right? If, on top of that, you were told that we were leading the league in batting, slugging, and on-base percentage, that we were scoring more often than the New York Yankees – and that Edmonds was on pace for 48 homers and Pujols was flirting with the Triple Crown – you’d think we were turning the division into a rout. Right?

But we aren’t in first place, much less routing the NL Central. We’re in second place heading into baseball’s nominal second half. So how’d we get here? What’s gone wrong, what’s gone right? Redbird Nation presents to you our grab-bag Midseason Report:

Losers The perception among Cardinal fans is that our team is made up of a bunch of losers. Sure, the thinking goes, we’ll average 15 runs a game against the Rick Hellings and the Glendon Rusches of the world, but we’ll fritter away the close ones, choke when the going gets tough. But is this really true? The stat you hear all the time is our record in one-run games: 5-16. What you don’t usually hear is our record in two-run games: 12-5. In fact, if you took all the gut-check games – ones in which the score was within 1 or 2 runs from the 7th inning on – we’re 26-30. Not good, not even average, but not as horrendous as 5-16. What it comes down to isn’t anything mystical – it’s not that our team isn’t trying hard enough, or that they fail the character tests, or that they’re losers. It’s got to be something else. Something like…

Our Bullpen No surprise here – our pigpen sucks. Our lineup has been explosive. Our rotation, a hair below average. But our bullpen is atrocious. 27th of 30 teams in adjusted runs prevented, third-last in the NL in bullpen ERA, second-last in bullpen WHIP, and a staggering 42 home runs allowed. Eeriest of all, our relievers have no stuff. They strike out only 6.15 guys per 9 innings, a paltry figure that indicates that for the most part our guys have no “out” pitch. (The problem is worse now that Calero, who had a live heater, is done for the season.)

Who’s to blame for this lousiness? Eldred and Simontacchi have been okay, Izzy’s been solid, Painter fine, Kline so-so (although not worth his salary), Springer and Hermanson were shit, but now they’ve scattered to parts elsewhere. No, the bulk of our ineptitude can be laid at the feet of two gentlemen: Esteban Yan and Jeff Fassero. I know that sounds unfair. But our relievers have given up 21.5 runs more than you’d expect (given the game situations they enter into), and 16 of those excess runs are due to Fassero and Yan alone. What’s worse, La Russa uses these two guys more than any two relievers on our team, and not just in mop-up games. Clearly this is a failure of management. But this fiasco began many months ago, before the season even started, and it came from on top…

Our General Manager Walt Jocketty is the best big-game hunter in baseball. Just look at the nucleus of this year’s team: Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Renteria, Morris, and Williams. Pujols and Morris are homegrown, but the other four are products of trades. Here are the players Walt gave up to get them: Pablo Ozuna, Armando Almanza, Braden Looper, Kent Bottenfield, Adam Kennedy, Ray Lankford, Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin. Nearly half those players are out of baseball.

So give Walt credit. In the post-McGwire era, Jocketty has managed to make the team more competitive while completely overhauling our core. (Only two regulars remain from our team 4 years ago, and the Cardinal with the second longest tenure on the team is 29-year-old Eli Marrero.) The nucleus of this team is as powerful as any in baseball. Consider: four Cardinals finished in the top ten of Baseball Prospectus’ Mid-Season Baseball Awards. Or, if you want a more visceral illustration, simply recall tonight’s All-Star Game, with Cardinals batting 1-2-3 at the top of the NL batting order. That’s not just extraordinary; that’s Big Red Machine extraordinary.

Where Walt hasn’t been so good is coming up with sinews and tendons to connect all this muscle. A few of our role players have been surprisingly good – Eddie Perez, Bo Hart, Palmeiro, Calero. But for the most part our roster runs ankle-deep with the likes of Widger, Girardi, Delgado, Robinson, Springer, Cairo, and the aforementioned Fassero and Yan. This is the 2003 St. Louis Cardinals – a few all-stars and a lot of non-stars, the haves and have-nots. You might even say that the Cardinals, with five bonafide stars and a thin group of reserves, have the best basketball team in baseball.

So you might ask, what’s the big deal? Scrubs are supposed to play like scrubs, right? Well, teams lose pennants all the time for want of a few nails. Flashback to 1980. The Cardinals had some of the most talented players in the National League – Hernandez was coming off an MVP Award; Simmons and Hendrick were two of the best players at their positions; Garry Templeton (not Ozzie Smith) was regarded as the top young shortstop in baseball. But there was no glue to hold the team together. The bench was weak; the bullpen was weaker; the back end of the rotation was a mess. (Sound familiar?)

Enter Whitey Herzog. Whitey’s true genius, I think, was his ability to blow up a competent but frustrated franchise and make the hard choices to build a winning team. Case in point: Ted Simmons. As Bill James writes, "Simmons was virtually an institution in St. Louis, a pillar of the community. Bigger than the ball club. Whitey asked him to play first base, for the good of the team. Simmons said he’s think about it. Whitey told him he could think about it in Milwaukee." The same thing happened with Templeton – he didn’t fit with the program, so he was gone. A couple years later it was Hernandez who didn’t fit in. Gone. Whitey filled the holes left by these players with useful spare parts (Landrum, Braun, Tenace) and misfits deemed too limited or too stubborn to play regularly on other teams (Lonnie Smith, Darrell Porter, Joaquin Andujar). In other words, Whitey stopped concentrating on building a collection of superstars and started concentrating on building a team.

Does this mean that the Cardinals should slough off Pujols, or Edmonds, or Rolen? Of course not. But if this first half demonstrates anything, it’s that we can’t rely on those names alone to carry us. One of the bedrock assertions of sabermetrics is that there’s no excuse for carrying leaking holes on your roster, as talent is both plentiful and cheap. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to find such talent, but it does mean that it’s there – and you’ll find it, as long as you have the right scouts and the right decision-makers and the right organizational philosophy. Look what the Diamonbacks have done this year, replacing Schilling, Unit, Mantei, Spivey, and Counsell with farmhands and role players like Brandon Webb, Jose Valverde, Matt Kata, Alex Cintron, and Andrew Good. Or look at last year’s Cardinals, who got good performances from guys like Rick White, Mike Crudale, and Jason Simontacchi when some of our more reliable guys went down. The Cardinals need to find these kinds of role players again, or we’ll become just another version of the 1980 Cardinals, or the 1982 Expos, or the 1996 Mariners – failed teams who couldn’t cobble together enough average players to play the positions not manned by great players.

Injuries One byproduct of our weak bullpen is that it has forced us to put more and more pressure on the arms of our starting pitchers. So far, Woody Williams has held up surprisingly well. Morris, as everyone knows, has not. I’m not the first one to point out that the Cards’ hopes rest on the weakened shoulders of Matt Morris, but it bears repeating. Even if we should somehow back into the playoffs, there’s no way we’ll go anywhere without a decent starter to compliment Morris.

The most frustrating thing about Morris is that no one really knows what’s wrong with him. Is it mechanical, anatomical, psychological, what? Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus recently addressed these concerns:

An MRI this week led the Cardinals to say there is no structural damage in the shoulder, but is this telling us that they just don't know the cause, or is this the sleight-of-hand we often see from organizations attempting to keep information from reaching the public? The statement "structural" sounds exact, but in fact is quite vague. Is a labrum structural? Without definitive word from a source I trust, I'm just guessing, but I'm led to believe that a muscular injury has led to Morris' mechanics being thrown off, leaving the ball up and his velocity down. What the problem is and how it must be treated will give us an idea on if Morris can return to form or if lack of health will take down a talented St. Louis squad. The Cardinals, for now, will get Morris a week of rest and hope that it will do the trick. Morris will get his next start on Monday, a full 10 days after his last one. Needless to say, a lot of concerned citizens will be hinging on the outcome.

There are some other wounded soldiers who will obviously play key roles in our attempts to gain some traction in the second half. Rolen has been playing with a stiff neck that doesn’t seem to be healing, and his numbers have been down lately. His condition bears watching, as does J.D. Drew’s. As one Redbird Nation writer put it, "Drew will always be the future of any club; he will never be the present." The second half may offer clues to the age-old question: is Drew a trouper who’s had some bad breaks, or is he just a wuss? Other injuries to watch: Chris Carpenter (progressing more slowly than we all hoped), Vina (thank God for Bo Hart), and Marrero (thank God for E. Perez and a moderately competent year from Mike Matheny).

Silver Linings Students of Birdinalia are hoping that the Cardinals can keep their string alive of playing blistering baseball down the stretch. Our record after the All-Star break each of the last three years: 50-27, 50-26, 44-31. That’s a cumulative .632 winning percentage (or 102 wins over a full season).

There’s reason to doubt we’ll duplicate (or quadruplicate) this success. For one, the Cardinals were able to add quality second-half talent the past few years (Rolen, Finley, Woody Williams, Will Clark), but our depleted farm system, as well as a series of injuries, have handcuffed us from making any upgrades this year. And two, part of our success stems from the fact that we’ve played NL Central patsies down the stretch. Our division still doesn’t have a team that can dominate us, but the Cubs, Reds, and Pirates are all better than they’ve been in recent years, so it won't be the cakewalk we're all accustomed to. What’s more, the Astros have been underperforming as much as we have, and with both Oswalt and Kent rounding their way back into starting roles, the 'Stros figure to give us a serious run for the money.

Can we pull off another second-half hot streak and win the NL Central for the fourth year in a row? I still think we’re the frontrunners. We have the most reliable talent base in our division, and some of our bad luck from the first half should turn around. And of course our division is weak enough that we’re fully capable of coming out on top. But will we finish on top? I'm not all that good with predictions. Let’s watch the games and find out...

THIS TIME IT ROCKS I've been an unmitigated supporter of the All-Star game determining home field advantage in the World Series since Selig announced it last year. I've never given a crud about one moment in an All-Star game before. In fact, I haven't watched an entire All-Star game in years. And I've gotten a little sick of watching players loaf around and play slap-and-tickle with each other out on the field. Who watches sports for that crap? Like most fans, I watch sports in large part for the competition.

This year, for the first time in a long time, there was competition galore. It was clear the players wanted to win, the managers wanted to win, the Umps wanted to call a good game. When that four-eyed nerd Gagne blew the game, I shouted at my TV; when Furcal launched one to the warning track in the last AB of the night, my fat ass jumped in the air; and when his shot fell 5 feet short, I beat my wife (okay, that part's not true). I was rooting for the NL hard -- and all beacuse the game would have huge significance to me should my Cardnut make it to the WS.

Alas, my team lost, I was crushed. And that's what sports are all about.

DEMOLITION DERBY Whitey Herzog would be rolling in his grave if he would hurry up and die so I could make this joke. Two Cardinals in the Home Run Derby? And here's a bit of trivia: who is the only current Cardinal to have won the Derby? That's right, Teenie Martini in '97. But thank you, Jedmonds, for taking a dive rather than injuring yourself. I truly am surprised.

I must say, I was a tad bit disappointed that Pooh didn't win, especially after his majestic performance in the semis, in which he tied the record for most home runs in a single round and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Pooh also tied Sammy Sosa's mark for the most home runs in any Derby, and mashed the longest ball of the night, a ridiculous 478-foot blast. I know it was all meaningless, but since the man is going to be 5-10 HRs short of the Triple Crown, I think it would have been a nice consolation (if one is needed) for him to have the crossed-bats trophy on his mantle. I was fooled on his last out--I thought it was gone. But it wasn't.

Monday, July 14, 2003

BRAWL NOTES Al Pujols 1, Gary Bennett 0

• I think Pujols deserved to get hit. I always like when a player who admires a homer gets drilled in his next AB. Granted, Pudgy's was a game winner, and that's different from making love to a meaningless homer in the 4th inning, but it's still showboating. I'd have hit him. When players stop caring about being showed up, they stop caring about the game. And Eaton's bean-ball was a ninny one. A looping curve, painless. He just wanted to send a message to Bert and succeeded. And Bert had every right to glare out at him as he walked to first.

• Bennett, however, messed this thing up. He got in Pujols' grill, said something to piss the big boy off, and got himself shoved like when Jimmy Cagney jammed grapefruit in that broad's face. After the game, Bennett claimed he was "telling Pujols it was a curveball." I doubt that. The night before, when Pujols was nearing home, Bennett was hovering near homeplate, mouthing something to the Cardinals waiting for Pudgy's triumphant return. Whatever it was he said, Rolen started screaming at him (I'm lip reading here) to "get the fuck out of here." Woody Williams looked at Rolen with an astonishment not seen since that dude in the yellow hat watched Lee Harvey Oswald get shot right in front of him. Clearly, Bennett was livid at Pujols and it lingered into the next day.

• Ump Mark Carlson tossed Eaton immediately after the HBP. Bochy went nuts about this, as he should have. Pitchers and teams almost always get a warning before anyone is tossed for nailing a dude. No matter how much anger there was the night before, today's a new day, and deserves a new set of parameters. Unless, of course, Carlson had a little talk with either Bennett or Eaton before the game and warned them then.

• Renteria and Perez shot the out of the dugout to defend their Latin chum. But first to the fray was Tino, who seems to love to scrap it up (which I love about him almost as much as I love his .281 batting average). And Rolen sprinted out there like George Brett during the pine tar incident. I thought (and hoped) he was going to launch a haymaker at Bennett. But, alas, the scuffle was just that -- a scuffle. Fist fights are too rare in baseball these days. For more thoughts on baseball brawling, check out this terrific column by ESPN's Bill Simmons from a few years back.

• All this fighting got me thinking: with which Cardinal would you least want to get into a bar fight? My list:

1) Rolen (big, bad temper, Hooze)
2) Kline (insane)
3) Matheny (we know he carries a hunting knife at all times)

Least intimidating Cards:

1) Morris (would fold after a slap in the face)
2) Jedmonds (he'd call time out after one exchange so he could fire up his bong)
3) Yan (he looks terrified even when he's sitting in the bullpen)

• What sucks about this fracas is that Pujols will probably be suspended. I'd guess two games, mostly for throwing that punch. Which, let's face it, was a little embarrassing. As my cousin Matt would say, he throws a punch like Karen Foss.

• On the flip side, we face the Pads again next week in San Diego. First off, we can always hope for a bigger, better brawl. And, more importantly (I guess), we've been destroying the Padres.

As for the Cardnut, it's nice to head into the All Star break with a sweep and a little blood in the mouth.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

BIRDS ON BATS I discovered a new website called Dressed to the Nines, which depicts the uniforms for every team and every year since 1900. The searchable database allows you to see the evolution of the Cardinals home and road uniforms in the form of little cut-out-doll renderings. Some cool findings about our hometown apparel:

• The interlaced StL cap logo apparently goes back to the 19th century (and perhaps earlier; it may even be biblical).

• But the StL (well, technically it was just an "SL") disappeared from the cap in 1909 and didn't reappear for 32 years (that means the Gas House Gang never wore it).

• The Cards wore pinstripes off and on from 1918-1929. (Imagine how wild those Cards-Yanks series would have looked if we'd kept the stripes, all that black-and-red verticality.)

• The birds-on-the-bat logo appeared for the first time in 1922. Rogers Hornsby also won the Triple Crown that year, proving that those perched Cardinals are more powerful than Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant, and Les Paul's solid-body electric Log combined.

• Incidentally, the introduction of cardinal birds on the uniform marks a significant change in the meaning of our team nickname. The name Cardinals originally appeared in 1900 (before that we were known as the Brown Stockings, Browns, and Perfectos), but it had nothing to do with birds. Rather, it referred to the cardinal red trimming on the uniform first used in the nineteenth century.

• When the seesawing-birds logo first appeared, the two cardinals sat on a black bat (Shoeless Joe's perhaps?). At other times it was a red bat (most likely the miniature red bat my brothers and I received on Mini-Bat Day at Busch Stadium in 1980, which, we soon realized, was the greatest technological advance in indoor sports history). The yellow bat didn't appear until 1951.

• Our 1927 jerseys displayed a huge WORLD CHAMPIONS logo over the left breast. We'd never won a Series before, but man that's cocky. The baseball gods made us wait another year before we got back to the big dance. (The baseball gods, by the way, are Alexander Cartwright, Connie Mack, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.)

• The Cards wore blue caps (sometimes with a red bill, sometimes without), both at home and on the road, from 1940-1963. This means that Stan Musial never wore the all-red Cardinals cap during his entire career (1941-1963).

• The familiar red cap with the interlaced StL appeared for the first time in 1964, whereupon we promptly won the World Series.

• Our uniforms haven't changed much since 1964. The only deviations: buttonless tops and stretch waistbands from 1971 to 1991, and, of course, those lovable aqua-blue road unis from 1973 to 1984. My most vivid blue uniform moment -- Willie Dean McGee, '82 Series, Game 3, streaking into left center, leaping over the wall to snag that drive by Gorman Thomas, landing with his back to home plate like the damn bluebird of happiness.

• As a whole, the Cardinals' uniforms over the years are classier -- and therefore less interesting -- than most other teams'. For a real treat, go to Dressed to the Nines and check out these doozies: 1916 Giants (plaid, plaid, plaid); 1975-1986 Astros (Sid and Marty Krofft rainbows); 1917 White Sox (white pinstripes on blue unis); 1972 Padres (mustard yellow tops and pants); and the 1976 Indians (walking pints of blood).

Friday, July 11, 2003

BASEBALL CRANK and Redbird Nation buddy Dan McLaughlin has a fascinating post today on Defense Independent Pitching Stats for the NL Central -- DIPS, for short. DIPS attempt to unearth a pitcher's true ERA, independent of the lousy or sparkling defense behind him. It's a helpful tool in sussing out who's to blame for a pitching staff's woes.

Some of the conclusions that didn't surprise me: Kerry Wood is worse than his ERA, Stephenson is WAY worse (his ERA is 4.30 but adjusted for DIPS it's 5.66), Wade Miller is much better, Mike Williams sucks (so get ready for Jocketty to pursue him).

One huge surprise is Glendon Rusch of the Brue Crue. This guy's performance this season has been staggeringly bad. His ERA is 8.61 -- that's Matt Morris in July territory. But adjusted it's 4.43 -- perfectly respectable. McLaughlin concludes that it's probably a sick mix of half-assed defense, some bad pitch choices, and rotten luck. I blame Bud Selig, as I do for everyhting, including this.

More former Cardinals (excluding late entry Brian Jordan) I’d hate to have run into me while blocking the plate:

Danny Cox – probably would have a gun strapped on somewhere
Bob Horner – Hornerlanche!
Felix Jose – his job as a teenager: breaking large rocks with a sledgehammer
Lee Smith – it would be a slow motion roll-over
Rex Hudler – The Hurricane. I’m sure he had some type of battle cry that kicked in when he rounded third.
Floyd Rayford – see Bob Horner….
Mark McGwire – but it would be a nice, compact collision from a nice, caring man.

Anybody recognize this?
32 innings, 3-1 record, 21 Ks, 3 BBs, ERA under 3.00????
You are looking at the last four games of Sir Sidney Ponson, who will be one of the hottest commodities at the trade deadline. What’s more impressive is that these numbers came against the Blue Jays (twice), the Yankees, and the Mariners. Sheeshh. It’d sure be nice to slide El Sid in that gaping maw behind Woody Williams in the Cardinals “rotation.” But who goes to Bal’mer? They’d no doubt want Journell or Haren or both. Jocketty may send one of those guys but he almost certainly will try hard to send a high salary guy away, like the dump of Timlin in the Rolen deal last year. Then, of course, Sidney would be “won over by the St. Louis fans” and sign a long term deal….

Can you really claim to be the best fans when you still do the Wave?

I got a call from my friends in Alaska last night during the game and apparently several glaciers calved off into the ocean during Odalis Perez’s time on the mound.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

A couple of good Redbird Nation readers report their shock that Brian Jordan wasn't included in my list of battering rams heading into home plate. Jordan, as you know, was a strong safety for the Falcons who some called the hardest hitter in the NFL back in the early 90's. And he's built like a brick. This is going to sound false, but I honestly jotted his name down and forgot to transcribe it into my computer. My bad. Jordan would mess you up real good.

GAME NOTES, Trolley Dodgers 9, Cardinals 4

Four things are abundantly clear after tonight's game:

1. The Cardinals have officially hit their low point for the season. Whether it gets any lower, I don't know, but we're threatening to slip below .500 for the first time since May, and we haven't had a longer losing streak since April. We just got swept at home by the struggling Dodgers, who just got swept by the struggling Padres. We gave up 9 runs to a team that hadn't scored as many in over two months. And there's not a Finley, or a Calero, or an Ankiel in sight.

2. Whatever small sliver of hope you had that Matt Morris may be okay has officially vanished. His fastball was topping out at 85 mph tonight and he had no break on his curve. Weren't we just told that Morris had fixed his mechanics, that Dunc and La Russa were thumbs-up after Morris' latest bullpen session? Either (a) Morris forgot everything he allegedly straightened out; or (b) La Russa and Duncan have no idea how to evaluate (much less fix) what ails their ace pitcher; or (c) we were lied to by La Russa or Duncan or Morris or the Post-Dispatch. None of those scenarios has me swelling with confidence.

3. Jim Edmonds is lazy. I defended Jedmonds from those who accused him of zonking out of games, but I'm going to have to eat my words. In the second inning tonight Shawn Green slapped a routine single to right center. Edmonds trotted a few steps over, picked up the ball like he was plucking daisies, and before he even realized what was going on Green was motoring safely into second base (Renteria was unfairly charged with an error for failing to handle Edmonds' poor throw). What struck me about the play wasn't so much that Green caught Jed napping; it was that Green knew Jed would be napping. He hestitated for about one nanosecond around first before kicking it into fifth gear, as if the Dodgers advance scouts had told him before the game, "Jim Edmonds takes a lot of what he does for granted, so run silly on him if you can." Green later scored.

4. Jeff Fassero is done. No one likes telling 40-year-old pitchers they're done. It's awkward and it's sad. So if Tony La Russa is looking for the proper words to say in such a situation, we've drawn him up a script. It goes like this: "Look, Jeff, you've had a hell of a career. Some good years up in Seattle and Montreal. A one-hitter nine years back. But hey, let's face it, you've been struggling. Seems I can't bring you into a game these days without a few runs scoring. And that ERA -- what is it, 7.49? You're making old Yanny look like Christy Mathewson. It's time, Jeff. Now, I'm not wild about your possible replacements. Danny Haren isn't close to ready, and Crudale's been flaky as hell down in Memphis, but on a good day they can find their asshole with a GPS, and in all candor I can't really say that about you. But retirement doesn't need to be a bad thing. I did it; Dunc did it; hell, even Big Mac did it. And apparently you get a Jaccard's watch from Walt and Augie takes you out to a nice dinner at Tony's. So Buddy'll help you clean out your locker, I'll give you time to say goodbye to the fellas, and then we're gonna have to turn you into glue."