NL Champs

The Hardball Times
Baseball News Blog
ESPN Baseball
Baseball Library
Baseball Primer
Cards Home Page
Diamond Mind
Birds on the Bat
Fox Baseball
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Archive
Cardinals History

Go Cardinals
Get Up, Baby!
Cardinals Link Blog
Pure Cards Obsession
Cardinal Nation
Redbird Reasoning
Cards Clubhouse

NL Central Blogs
Cub Reporter
The Big Red C
View From Bleachers
The Cubdom
And Another Thing!
Astro in Exile
Astros Daily
Reds Daily
Value Over Replacement Blog
Honest Wagner

Baseball Musings
Bronx Banter
Transaction Guy
Rich's BB Beat
Will Carroll
Mike's Rants
USS Mariner
Baseball Crank
For Rich or Sporer
Aaron Gleeman
Only Baseball Matters
Athletics Nation
The Raindrops
Dodger Thoughts

ESPN Stats
Baseball Reference
THT Stats
M.L. Charts
Dugout Dollars

Rob Neyer
Bernie Miklasz
Peter Gammons
Jim Baker
Tom Verducci
Ken Rosenthal
Jayson Stark

Best of RBN
Great Cards Moments Parts 1 2 3
Tony LaRussa
Parts 1 2 3 4 5
2003 Wrap-Up
Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6
Who's King
Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6
Jocketty's Trades
Redbirds: The Movie
Mike Shannon Tribute
Stan Musial Tribute
Lou Brock Tribute
Hub Kittle Tribute
Jim Edmonds Tribute
Cardinal Nicknames
Cardinal Uniform
All-Entertaining Team
Our Hall of Fame
Best Fans in Baseball
Best Names Ever
All-Hoosier Team

Site Meter
Syndication made possible by MakeRSS at
Weblog Commenting by

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

SEARCHING FOR RICK ANKIEL If someone had told me back in March that the Cardinals would basically sit out the September pennant race, I'd have guessed that the team had transmogrified into the late-'90s, McGwire-era Cards: big fat individual numbers surrounded by an emaciated supporting cast. Instead we've basically ended the race by playing some of the most inspired ball in Cardinals history, leaving only a few areas of drama before the postseason starts, namely:

1. Watching that Magic Number at left shrink and shrink.

2. Watching to see who we might play in the playoffs. The contenders for the first round are: L.A., Atlanta, San Fran, or San Diego. We'll know more about how we match up with the Pads and Dodgers after we go head-to-head with them over the next two weeks. Otherwise I'd say it's six/half-dozen with each of them; they worry and unworry me equally.

3. Watching to see what kind of cool numbers the team can compile. Will we win 102 games (the most since 1944)? Will Pujols hit 50 dingers (he's on pace for precisely 50 right now)? How many ribbies will Rolen collect? Can Izzy lead the league in saves? Can the Cards have four 16-game winners (again, haven't done that since 1944)? What about three 40-HR guys? Should be fun stuff to watch.

4. This would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago -- but will Rick Ankiel pitch good, meaningful baseball in a Cardinals uniform again? This is one of the hottest side stories in baseball right now, with most of baseball pulling for the kid for humanitarian reasons alone.

His minor-league numbers are pretty dazzling: 23 strikeouts, 2 walks, an ERA under 1.00, and -- best of all -- he seems to be getting better and stronger the higher he goes up the ladder. Can it continue? Hell, who knows. No one has been able to diagnose what ailed Ankiel to begin with, so it'd be foolish to pretend we know the prescription.

But there are two things that have me more excited than I might normally be. First of all, Ankiel is not only showing good control, but with only two walks in 23.2 innings (against 23 K's), he's showing better control than he ever did. I know I might get arrested here by the Small Sample Size Police, but Ankiel's 0.76 walks-per-nine is better than his previous season low of 2.80. And it's much better than the 4.5 walks-per-nine he had in the major leagues before he went haywire.

The other reason for optimism is that, since his meltdown, Ankiel has occasionally shown flashes of brilliance -- like his 1.34 ERA and 1.85 BB/9 totals in the '01 rookie leagues -- but he's never done this well above A ball, even for one game. You may remember that Ankiel pitched a swell game vs. Randy Johnson at the start of the '01 season. But even then he walked three guys in only five innings.

Obviously, though, there are the usual cautions: Ankiel has pitched only a handful of innings so far, it was against bush-league competition, he's been largely inoculated from an all-out media blitz (which would change if he made it to St. Louie), and, most importantly, we never know when or if Ankiel will be officially "cured." Sadly, it's all too easy to see Rick getting up here and winging a few to the backstop (and no matter how well I gird myself for it, I know it'll feel like a knife to the gut).

But suppose Ankiel comes up here and pitches swimmingly -- what will that tell us? After all, it's only September baseball, without much heat from the pennant race, and Ankiel will most likely be used in comfy, mop-up settings only. So if he passes that test, what about spring training, or next season, or the next time Ankiel is in a stretch-drive game, or in a playoff game? Is his syndrome over, or merely hibernating? Who knows? But it'll be fun to take the plunge and find out.

CARROLL KISSES, MAKES UP Will Carroll sent me a nice email yesterday, clarifying and defending some recent swipes he made at the Cardinals. He goes further with this write-up in today's Under the Knife column:

My pal Brian Gunn of Redbird Nation called me to task for my jabs at the Cardinals' rotation. I'm an admitted Cubs fan, but try hard to stay objective and honestly, I don't hate the Cards. I may not wear my Cards jersey anymore, but that's simply because J.D. Drew moved on. I remain unconvinced about the Cards rotation, but the fact that it has been so successful is testament to Dave Duncan and Walt Jocketty. Jocketty gave Duncan what he works with best: older pitchers with talent who have had mechanical and injury problems. Chris Carpenter is one of the top stories, showing some light in the darkness of labrum statistics. You'll probably remember last August, when I was regularly unconvinced by the Florida Marlins. As far as the staff goes, they'll be better when they get Steve Kline back. He should be back when eligible on September 12th, plenty of time to let Tony La Russa see he's healthy.
My reaction to all this: hey look, we got a link in Baseball Prospectus!

SELF-LOVE ITEM OF THE DAY I did an interview with a cool online pub called SportsFan Magazine recently. Hopefully I represented Redbirddom well -- check it out if you get a chance.

Monday, August 30, 2004

BASEBALL BALLET, REVISITED Speaking of grace on the ballfield, our good friend June passes along this apt photo:

A CHANGE OF HEART I got a kick out of this pair of comments --

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon before Sunday's game: "They're much more talented than we are at this stage of the game, but I enjoy playing the Cardinals. You don't like the losses, obviously, but I really believe the competition has made us a better club. It has elevated our game. I think because of it we're going to be a better team next year."

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon after Sunday's game: "Quite frankly, I'm tired of talking about St. Louis. I'm glad to see them leave."

Sunday, August 29, 2004

BASEBALL BALLET You can't do much to convince someone who's not into sports to fall in love with them, but occasionally I've tried. At times I've found myself arguing with bookish sorts that baseball is like any three-act narrative, with heroes, villains, dramatic tension, and far less predictable endings than you're likely to find in most movies, plays, or novels. Other times I've tried to argue (with women, mostly) that baseball is nothing more than ballet for guys. After all, I don't watch SportsCenter to get the stats or the scores, which I can get more quickly and thoroughly over the Internet. No, I watch them for the highlights, the Web Gems, the look of the ball leaving the bat on a home run, and the entire kinetic thrill of bodies in motion.

There were a number of great things about this weekend -- we swept three from the Bucs, continued our streak of winning road trips, gave most of our starters a rest, saw Pujols go to .300/30 HR/100RBI + for the fourth straight year, improved our record to 42 games over .500, widened our division lead to 15 games, and surpassed our win total from last year. But the real treat about Birdinal baseball these days is that you can sit back and sink into the games without fretting too much about the scoreboard. (That doesn't explain why I chucked a shoe against the wall when the Cards fell in extra innings the other night, but I'm trying to make a point here...) Our comfy lead going into September makes it easier to enjoy the ballet of baseball. So rather than discuss anything that happened on the field this series, hopefully these pix from Yahoo! will speak for me:

PLAYA HATER WATCH Two weeks ago we chronicled a few digs that medhead Will Carroll had taken at the Cardinals. We should probably turn it into a regular feature after this item buried in one of his recent columns:

Is Ankiel the savior for a shaky Cards rotation in the late season?
Excuse me? Did you all know that the Cards rotation -- the one that leads the majors in quality starts, that's 44-13 since June 1st -- is in need of saving?

Okay, to be fair, maybe that winning percentage is a bit skewed, what with our great offense. And to be even more fair, maybe Carroll was just referring to the last few weeks or so, when a few of our starters have been hit hard. So let's take the team's quality starts over the past month and compare them to... oh, I don't know; pick a team out of a hat... say, the Chicago Cubs:
             Games  Quality Starts

Cardinals 28 17
Cubs 28 14
Wait a second -- the Cubs? Isn't that Will Carroll's team? Wonder how often he's talked about their shaky starting rotation.

FINISHERS Bernie Miklasz passes along these neat stats re: the Cards' success in the late innings:

Through Wednesday, the Cardinals led the National League with 40 comeback wins. From the seventh inning on, they were outhitting opponents .269 to .223 and outhomering them 53-30. They had outscored opponents by 78 runs after the sixth inning, a margin more than twice as high as the next-closest mark in the majors. (The Yankees and Rangers were next, with a 34-run differential). The Cardinals' 213 runs after the sixth were tied with San Francisco for most in the majors, and their 135 runs allowed were the fewest in the majors. By comparison, the 1987 NL champion Cardinals had just a one-run advantage (243-242) after the sixth inning, and the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals were actually outscored by 13 runs after the sixth inning (221-208).
One very small quibble: both the '82 and '87 Cards pitched more innings than they hit from the 6th on due to their superior records at home (where, if your team wins, you usually pitch but don't hit in the 9th). But still, the 2004 Cards have an uncanny knack for clamping down as the game goes on, which is not only the biggest difference between this year's team and last, it's also what has transformed us from a very good team into a great team.

THE BLUE BALL YEARS That was the name my brother Matt gave to this era of Cardinals history, where the team has gone to the postseason in four of the past eight years but hasn't seen their success, er, climax in a World Series victory. (Although perhaps we shouldn't complain too much, as the cases of blue balls in Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston have now advanced into something like gangrene, amputation, and/or death.)

Dan over at Get Up, Baby! now has a cool post up where he compares the starting lineups of our past four division-winning teams (1996, 2000, 2001, and 2002) against this year's model. His conclusion? The '04 Cards are awesome -- but then again, so was that '00 team, what with Big Mac and Thrill at first, Vina's best year in a Cardinal uniform, and Lankford last superlative year in the Lou. Hard not to wonder what may have been if Ankiel had kept his head on straight that year.

REGIONALISM REDUX Last week Eric Gagne said Adrian Beltre won't get recognition as MVP because of East Coast bias, despite the fact that 14 of the last 16 MVPs have played in the Western Division. And just the other day Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated said this about San Diego's Jake Peavy:

He's a bit overlooked this year because he missed a few starts, doesn't have a tremendous win total, and suffers from the usual bias toward teams that play in the Eastern time zone.
How usual is this East Coast bias? And how would you measure such a thing? I took a stab at it by (a) taking all the MVP and Cy Young Award winners since the six-division format began in 1995; (b) throwing out all the award winners who also led the league in Win Shares (because presumably the voters got those ones "right," so you wouldn't expect any bias based on region); and (c) seeing whether the discrepancies showed some kind of coastal favoritism.

For example, in 1995 Mo Vaughn won the MVP award for Boston with 24 Win Shares. Edgar Martinez, who played most of his games in the Pacific Time Zone, had 32 Win Shares but finished only 3rd in the balloting. So we'll chalk that up as an example of East Coast bias, even though, obviously, there are several other ways to explain the voting: RBI bias, or ballpark bias, or anti-DH bias, or whatever.

Nevertheless, if there is a such thing as East Coast bias, you'd expect to see it in the voting trends, otherwise it's not worth talking about. So here are the votes where Win Shares disagreed with the writers (and for the record, if a guy from the Pacific Time Zone got jobbed, I considered that East Coast bias, even if the guy who won didn't actually play on the East Coast):
   Award    BBWAA Winner (WS)     Shares Winner (WS)      "Bias"

95 AL MVP Mo Vaughn (24) Edgar Martinez (32) East
95 NL MVP Barry Larkin (30) Barry Bonds (36) East
96 AL MVP Juan Gonzalez (21) Alex Rodriguez (34) East
96 NL MVP Ken Caminiti (38) Jeff Bagwell (41) West
97 AL MVP Ken Griffey (36) Frank Thomas (39) West
97 NL MVP Larry Walker (32) Piazza (39), Gwynn (39) East
98 NL Cy Tom Glavine (23) Kevin Brown (26) East
98 AL MVP Juan Gonzalez (28) Albert Belle (37) --
98 NL MVP Sammy Sosa (35) Mark McGwire (41) --
99 AL MVP Ivan Rodriguez (28) Roberto Alomar (35) --
99 NL MVP Chipper Jones (32) Jeff Bagwell (37) --
01 AL Cy Roger Clemens (19) Joe Mays (22) --
01 AL MVP Ichiro Suzuki (36) Jason Giambi (38) --
02 AL MVP Miguel Tejada (32) Alex Rodriguez (35) West
03 NL MVP Barry Bonds (39) Albert Pujols (41) West
A number of things in that table may strike you (what struck me is that Jeff Bagwell, owner of one MVP award, may have deserved three; another is that Barry Bonds, owner of six awards, may have deserved even more -- in '95 he finished 12th in the balloting!).

You might also notice that there's not a great case for East Coast bias since 1998 or so. I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but the late 1990's are also the dawn of the Internet Age, where any sportswriter could get up-to-the-minute scores online. The traditional take is that players in the Pacific Time Zone got screwed nationally because East Coast papers went to press before games out West were finished. But it's absurd to claim that nowadays. If there's still regional bias in award voting, then I don't see it.

THE CARDINALS OF THE KREMLIN There's a good new Cardinals blog out there that I forgot to mention in last week's roundup. It's called The Hunt for a Red October, and it's written by Benjamin Franklin, an 18th-century American statesman and inventor.

DREW IT AGAIN So the Diamondbacks may not be able to sign their #1 pick, Stephen Drew, younger bro of J.D. If Drew isn't signed, he'll go back into the amateur draft, which sets up a potential repeat of 1998...

Thursday, August 26, 2004

WHAT IF YOU THREW A BASEBALL GAME AND NO ONE CAME? They say there were 19,000 people watching tonight's contest in Cincy, but I think they used the same counting mechanisms they used in Chicago in 1960. The crowd had to be closer to 19 than 19,000, which lent a weird sense of irreality to the proceedings, like maybe the two teams were playing underwater or something. I swear at one point I heard someone in the stands sneeze.

But unfortunately this one counted, regardless of whether anyone was there to record it. (The scoreboard wasn't working all game, which added to the ghostliness of things.) Each inning I expected something to happen -- a ball to explode off Pujols' bat, or a 500-foot home run by Adam Dunn, or someone to crack open a bottle of that vintage Cardinals Magic -- but the two starting pitchers (who both went the distance, by the way) made sure they suppressed all uprisings.

Carpenter was almost perfect (although unfortunately the operative word is almost). It was the fourth time this year he pitched 8 innings and gave up one or no runs. Only two guys got to second on him all night -- one on an error, the other on a home run trot. The latter was of course Sean Casey, whose jack in the 6th was the only interruption to Carpenter's steady rock-and-fire-rock-and-fire efficiency. All in all, a brilliant performance, just not brilliant enough.

Aaron Harang, on the other hand, was brilliant, from start to finish. It may have been the best performance by a mound opponent this year: 9 innings, only 4 baserunners, 106 pitches, 73 strikes. The most amazing thing was the way he treated our Big Four of Walker, Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds: collectively oh-for-14 with 4 K's, and only two balls out of the infield. Wow.

He did get a little help along the way. In the 8th inning Renteria hit a bomb to right center that Austin Kearns made a diving, sprawling catch on. And the next batter, Reggie Sanders, got robbed by another diving play, this time by third baseman Felipe Lopez. Two of the best back-to-back grabs I've seen in a long time. At that point you just had to tip your cap to the Reds; they outplayed us, pure and simple.

The real moment of truth for Harang came with two outs in the ninth. Up 'til that point, the Cards were only a Tony Womack away from being no-hit. But Walker's nubber through the infield brought up the final showdown: Big Bad Albert, potential winning run at the dish. The crowd -- all 19 of them -- came alive, sounding more like 19,000 at last. And just like a week ago against Cincy, Pujols ended the game by bouncing out to the left side. Damn Kryptonite.

So the Cards drop a rare road series, and in truth they quite easily could have been swept. (Although, to be fair, the Reds quite easily could have been swept too -- each game was decided by one late-inning run.) I think it's too soon to draw any conclusions about the current mood of this Cardinals team, but they don't look quite as spunky as usual, even with the big come-from-behind win last night. Rolen, for one, looks extremely tired. No hits in 11 ABs in the series, plus an uncharacteristic error. It might be wise to rest him for a game in Pittsburgh before the SoCal niners come to town on Tuesday.

I will say one thing, though: it feels very weird to be fretting about a team that's gone 17-7 on the month.

KAP KONTROVERSY What follows is an authentic, on-the-record phone interview I conducted with Major League Baseball from inside my head:

[phone rings]

MLB: Hello, Major League Baseball speaking.

RBN: A ten-game suspension for Julian Tavarez? Just for having gunk on his cap?

MLB: Who is this?

RBN: Redbird Nation. You don't recognize my voice?

MLB: Sorry, Redbird, you sounded like someone else. As for the stuff on Tavarez's cap, first of all it wasn't just any old gunk --

RBN: -- all right, dirt, whatever.

MLB: No, pine tar. Key difference.

RBN: How so?

MLB: Pine tar is a foreign substance. You can't have it on your cap. Tavarez did, so we suspended him.

RBN: So just having it on your cap is enough to get you busted?

MLB: Check out the rule book. 8.02(b) -- you can't have on your person, or in your possession, any foreign substance. If you do, you're out the game, if not several games.

RBN: I don't get it. Biggio, Thome, Vlad Guerrero -- they all come to the plate with pine tar caked all over their batting helmets. No one tosses them out.

MLB: Because they're not pitchers. 8.02(b) only applies to pitchers.

RBN: I still don't get it. Steve Kline has been in hundreds of games with gunk all over his hat -- Gagne too. Are you sure there isn't a double standard here with Tavarez?

MLB: You're missing the point. The infraction is the foreign substance. Kline's hat is dirty, but that's dirt from the playing field. Totally incidental. Same with Gagne and his sweat-stained cap.

RBN: Okay, so what is it about this pine tar? Isn't it something that only helps batters?

MLB: It can help pitchers too -- not much with the fastball, but you put it on a breaking pitch and you'll see the ball do some crazy things. Altering the grip or shape of a baseball will always be an advantage to the pitcher.

RBN: Okay, so I get all that. But hasn't Tavarez had this stuff on his cap all year? In fact, this was the third time the umps inspected him. Presumably he had the same caps, same gunk, and yet this was his first ejection. What gives?

MLB: There were a few differences this time. First of all, Tavarez and La Russa admitted to Joe West that the substance on his cap was pine tar or resin or some similar foreign substance.

RBN: Exactly. Grime and resin and pine tar -- all that gunk we were talking about -- collects on an unwashed cap over the course of a year, just by happenstance, same as the dirt on Kline's cap or the sweat on Gagne's. By admitting this, surely La Russa and Tavarez weren't fessing up to the crime of doctoring baseballs. They were fessing up to the crime of having incidental gunk on his cap.

MLB: Again, it doesn't matter -- like I said before, just having an illegal substance on your person is enough to get you kicked out. When we found a nail file on Joe Niekro a number of years back, or a thumbtack on Kevin Gross, we didn't need to get into the intetionality of the pitcher or anything like that. We didn't even need to find doctored baseballs. All we needed was the offending object, and in this case all we needed was Tavarez's gunky hat.

RBN: Now, wait a minute -- if that were true you'd have the hat itself. But you gave it back to Tavarez.

MLB: Joe West saw it. So did the rest of our umpiring crew. That's enough for us.

RBN: That's enough to throw Tavarez out of the game, but is it enough to suspend him? I mean, if someone's, say, corking his bat, you'd certainly want to have the bat and you'd want it analyzed. Why then don't you have Tavarez's cap?

MLB: Ask him. Didn't he throw it into the stands?

RBN: You gave it back to him. He's free to do whatever he wants with it.

MLB: But don't you find it odd that he got rid of it so quickly? It's like flushing the dime bag down the toilet before the cops come.

RBN: Well, if you want to extend the analogy you guys basically sentenced a guy to jail because you heard water swishing around in the toilet. There's no evidence of a serious crime.

MLB: We do have evidence. We have baseballs he doctored.

RBN: When? You tossed him while he was throwing warm-up pitches.

MLB: Yeah, but he threw the inning before that. We have those baseballs, and they do show the presence of a foreign substance.

RBN: Where are these baseballs? He threw only 5 pitches -- one was fouled out of a play and is presumably on someone's mantelpiece right now. Another was hit in play and easily could have collected pine tar from a player's bat. So you're talking at the most three questionable baseballs, and that would be if the ump threw out a new baseball on every single pitch. I don't buy it. In fact, I don't think you have any baseballs.

MLB: Okay, maybe we don't.

RBN: What?

MLB: Nothing.

RBN: Dude, I totally heard you admit you were lying.

MLB: No, I just, you know, sneezed, and by coincidence it probably came out sounding like human speech.

[Redbird Nation sighs]

MLB: Look, we do know that the balls Tavarez threw were doing some wicked things in that game. Talk to Lloyd McClendon. His guys told him Tavarez was throwing a 90-mph knuckleball.

RBN: Which guys? Tavarez faced only one batter that game. McClendon was trying to mess with Tavarez's head and now he's just covering his own ass by making up witnesses. Besides, McClendon himself said last year that Tavarez doesn't doctor his pitches.

MLB: Right, when he was his manager and looking out for him. Now that he's on the other team, he has an interest in telling the truth.

RBN: Why do you assume that? Doesn't he have just as much interest in making shit up? Here's what I think: I think you guys don't like that schtik Tavarez pulled by leaving the field and throwing his arms around the home plate ump; I think you don't like that he threw his cap into the stands when your own umps should have confiscated it; and I think you just plain don't like Julian Tavarez. His crime is alot like Driving While Black -- Pitching While Flaky. So you threw the book at him.

MLB: Nonsense. We don't consider the personality of anyone we suspend.

RBN: Well, perhaps you should. I mean, have you heard Tavarez talk about this incident? He makes sense.

MLB: Yeah, Julian Tavarez always makes sense. Same guy who called fans in San Francisco "a bunch of assholes and faggots." Same guy who slammed an umpire to the ground about seven or eight years ago.

RBN: Okay, I'll admit -- Julian has a few screws loose. But the man said he didn't doctor baseballs and he swore on the heads of his own children! Now, forgive me if this is some kind of gross stereotype, but it's been my experience that when Latino men start swearing on the lives of their family they're telling the truth.

MLB: Look, even if Tavarez is more-or-less innocent, even if he had good motives, we have to uphold the rule, and the rules say you can't have gunk on your cap.

RBN: Probably because you don't want the MLB logo obscured for merchandising.

MLB: What, are you a Marxist now?

RBN: No, I'm just upset that there seems to be a double standard. I don't believe you guys have proof of wrongdoing, you only have one grimy cap. What's more, by precedent you've always let this stuff slide in the past. That's a dangerous place to be -- sorta like the Pine Tar Incident twenty years ago, where baseball decided to crack down on something that it had always winked at. According to the letter of the law, they were right. According to the practice of the law, they were wrong. That's called bad policy and, again, a very dangerous place to be.

MLB: You're being hyperbolic. You know how these things work -- we hand down a ten-game suspension, Tavarez appeals, we reduce it to seven games, and by that time it's September, the Cards have wrapped up the division, and you're more concerned with how Rick Ankiel pitches out of the pen than any of this rigamarole. So let it go.

RBN: I would be able to let it go if it weren't for Stinkhat.

MLB: Who's Stinkhat?

RBN: Steve Kline. Krazy Kliner. Says he won't wear his greasecap now for fear of getting busted by the boys upstairs.

MLB: So what?

RBN: That cap's like Samson's hair, man. It gives Kline power and courage. If he gives up a salami to Derrek Lee in the NLCS, I'm blaming you.

MLB: Jesus, I gotta go...

RBN: Okay. Thanks for talking to us. By the way, can you score me any good seats for the playoffs?


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

SWEET RELIEF There. Now that's more like it. Tonight was iffy, bumpy, and occasionally ugly -- the winning run scored on a wild pitch -- but in the end the Redbirds came out on top. So now let's do that thing where I make a series of glib comments:

  • Most of tonight's game looked like a Xerox of last night's game. The Cards again raced to an early lead off a homer to left, saw the Reds chip away thanks in part to a home run by D'Angelo Jimenez, and got stymied by another raw Reds rookie (last night Josh Hancock, tonight Luke Hudson). In fact, the Cards never did get in a groove with runners in scoring position -- they were 0-9 last night, 0-6 tonight -- but unlike Tuesday they got some big hits in the late innings.

  • Before we close the book on last night's loss, check out these two stats: (a) it was only the 11th time all year we lost after taking a lead (how's that for our pitching staff clamping down?); and (b) it was only the second time all year we lost to open a road trip. Wild.

  • There's a story that old-timey Negro League player Buck O'Neil likes to tell about the sound of the ball hitting the bat. Apparently the first time he ever heard Babe Ruth hit a baseball, it made such a crisp, distinctive noise that he never forgot it. A few years later he was privileged enough to hear the same sound coming from the bat of Josh Gibson. Years and years later he was walking toward the ballfield and heard that noise again, for only the third time in his life -- this time from the Bunyanesque Bo Jackson. I think of this sometimes w/r/t Albert Pujols. In fact, Mike Matheny has mentioned a few times how he practices in the offseason with Prince Al, and the ball just sounds so much different coming off of Pujols' bat. I guess the idea is that if you're around baseball enough, you can close your eyes, listen to a guy take a swing, and say "that's Pujols, that's Reggie Sanders, that's Mike Matheny," and so on. But here's the thing: I don't think that would work with Pujols. For one simple reason -- even when he's cheated the ball goes a mile. Take tonight. 1-2 pitch in the 1st, Albert went down for a pitch, swung off balance, and the ball made a whimpering little Matheny pop off the bat. And yet it went over the wall. You had to see it -- not hear it -- to believe it.

  • With George Will sitting down near home plate and Cards owner (and Cincinnati resident) Bill DeWitt up in the box, it must have been Republican Night at the ballpark.

  • I was scared about Woody Williams going into this game, for this reason:
    •                             IN   ER  HR  BB  K   ERA
      Woody vs. Cincinnati 31.3 19 8 14 29 5.46
      Woody vs. everyone else 117.3 46 7 36 73 3.53
      After tonight's game, his ERA is 5.78 against the Reds -- and he's now given up exactly 5 earned runs in 6 innings in four straight starts against the Redlegs.

    • During last night's broadcast Reds announcer George Grande (who's quite pleasant, by the way) said that Jason Marquis was such a good hitter because he was tutored by the Atlanta Braves, who have a great tradition of good-hitting pitchers. But the Cardinals -- with guys like Allen Watson, Todd Stottlemyre, Omar Olivares, and tonight's starter, Woody Williams -- have had their share of pitchers who can handle the bat. Since the Braves dynasty began in 1991, here are the collective hitting numbers for each team's pitchers:
             AVG   OBP   SLG
      ATL .162 .205 .204
      STL .163 .201 .206
      In that time span, Braves pitchers lead the majors with 219 runs created. Cards pitchers are second, with 216.

    • Here's something else from George Grande -- during one of Sean Casey's at bats, he said that the Cardinals have been extremely successful this year at neutralizing the other teams' top hitters. So I decided to check that. Here are the top 15 hitters the Cards have faced this year, divvied up according to whether they did better, worse, or about the same against the Cardinals relative to the rest of the league:

    • Better: Todd Helton, Jim Thome, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez

      Worse: Barry Bonds, J.D. Drew, Ichiro, Sean Casey, Adam Dunn, Miguel Cabrera, Lyle Overbay, Michael Young, Mike Lowell

      About the Same: Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman

      If you're keeping score at home, that's 4 better, 9 worse, and 2 about the same. So Grande may well be right.

    • All year D'Angelo Jimenez has been one of my favorite opponents. He does a lot of things right, but rarely gets noticed as a good player. But man, he's wearing our pitchers out this series: 5-for-9 with a double, a couple homers, and some great plays in the field.

    • Pujols' bunt single in the 8th was vintage Pujols. He homered in the first, stroked a double in the 3rd, and then, with the Cards two down in the 8th, saw the third baseman playing deep and laid down an aesthetically ordinary but effectively wonderful bunt. Tony La Russa has adopted relentless as the team buzzword this year, and no one embodies that more than Pujols. The guy's constantly pressing for an advantage, anywhere he can get it. If the other team is lax getting the ball back into the infield, he'll gun for the extra base. If a pitcher falls behind him 3-0, he'll exploit the next pitch he leaves over the plate. And if the infield is back, he'll nab a little bunt hit off of you. He's greedy in the best sense of the word, and that base hit he laid down in the 8th tonight was huge.

    • Think the Reds are sick of Jim Edmonds? He has 8 bombs against them this year, and he's robbed them of two home runs in the field, giving him 10 net homers vs. Cincinnati on the year. After he hit that game-tying homer in the eigth, you got the impression a victory was just a matter of time. And it was.

    • Tuesday, August 24, 2004

      ROLEN'S TRAVELS When the story of Scott Rolen is told at the end of his career, hopefully at some podium in Cooperstown, it'll be told in two parts: his years in Philadelphia will end in a haze of rancor and misunderstanding, and his years in St. Louis will seem like one big warm embrace.

      But the real story isn't so cleanly bifurcated. As this Post-Dispatch article suggests, Scotty was far from happy his first season wearing the Birds on the Bat:

      Rolen admits 2003 bothered him... Abstaining from specifics, [he] said, "There were things that were allowed to slide that I didn't understand. At some point, you look around and ask, 'What the heck's going on?' Right now, guys are having fun coming to the ballpark. It's a game and everybody's having a great time. Last year it was like a job. What shoe was going to fall next? What's going to happen? Is somebody going to get upset in the clubhouse?... Last season was not comfortable. It was not fun."
      Rolen goes on to clear the air about some shit that went down at the end of last season, although evidently it still rankles him that Tino Martinez was shipped out of town in exchange for some beads and a couple of smallpox blankets. "I'm still not exactly sure why he's not here," said Rolen.

      Rolen also gets in some digs at the malingerers on the Cardinals roster last season:

      Rolen was among a cluster who wondered why some teammates so freely used injuries as an excuse to miss time. Again refusing to cite names, Rolen notes those players were included in last winter's heavy turnover. "For whatever
      reason, you look around and those guys are happy to play where they're at now," he said.
      Rolen might not name names, but we'll throw out a few -- here are the guys on the team who missed time with injuries and now play elsewhere: Tino, Drew, Vina, Marrero, and Dustin Hermanson. It's doubtful he's talking about Tino (he defends him elsewhere in the piece) or Marrero (whose injury was pretty serious). Smart money is on Vina, who seemed to be sending out pissiness vibes from about May of '03 onward, and possibly even J.D. Drew, who has a rep as a shirker and a sissy. I've always wanted to believe that Drew's injuries were more serious than they were perceived, but I would not at all be surprised if Rolen -- the ballplayer's ballplayer who'd man the hot corner on crutches if he had to -- didn't take kindly to Drew and all his skulking.

      Whatever the case, Rolen seems to be genuinely happy now. Professionally, he's worked out some kinks in his swing, and personally, he's weathered a few family health scares. And best of all, he's no longer in Philadelphia, a place where, says Rolen, "You were supposed to hate the other team, hate the media, hate everything" (which makes you wonder if Larry Bowa, a notorious red ass, isn't the worst possible guy to manage that team and feed all that crankiness).

      This past January the papers in Philly wrote a series of articles whooping it up over the fate of Scott Rolen. The Philadelphia Daily News gloated that the Phillies would romp through the NL East, while "lo and behold, Rolen's new team in 'heaven,' St. Louis, is cutting payroll as it prepares to finance its own new stadium." Jim Salisbury also pitied our poor, backsliding ballclub in St. Louis and asked snidely, "Wonder what Scott Rolen is thinking these days?"

      Well, Jim, he's probably thinking, "thank God I'm not 6 1/2 games out of the Wild Card."

      Monday, August 23, 2004

      FUN WITH P/PA! You know it's a slow Monday when the Cards don't have a game and you find yourself looking at the pitches-per-plate-appearance numbers over at ESPN's sortable stats page. The Cards have three of the 20 most patient hitters in the league: Jim Edmonds (4th in P/PA), Rolen (14th), and... Tony Womack? Yup. He comes in at #18 in terms of pitches per plate appearance.

      Now, this doesn't mean that T-Dub is drawing a lot of base on balls. He's on pace for only 43 in 145 games, and his walk rate is the same as it was in 2002, his last full season of play. But luckily he's sporting the highest BA, OBP, and SLG of his entire career, and has been one of the more productive second basemen in the league (although that's partly due to injuries to other 2Bmen like Marcus Giles and Junior Spivey).

      But the reason I checked out the P/PA numbers to begin with is because I was interested in Albert Pujols. He set a goal before the season to draw 100 walks, but he's on track to fall short of the mark. Plus I've noticed that his strikeouts are up and his walks are down since the All-Star break:

                        K/100 PA    BB/100 PA
      Pre-All Star 6.6 13.6
      Post-All Star 10.1 10.1
      So I wondered if he had changed his approach and started swinging at more pitches. Not really. He saw 3.64 pitches per plate appearance before the break, 3.56 after. So he's been more aggressive, yes, but not egregiously so.

      But even if Pujols has been less patient, it's been paying off. Both his slugging and on-base percentages are up since the break, which suggests that Pujols' pre-season goal of 100 walks might have been throwing him off his game somewhat. The fact is, Pujols still walks a lot, and he's got enough bat speed to go up there looking to swing.

      How much bat speed? Well, check this out: Pujols strikes out only 16% of the time after falling in an 0-2 hole. Compare that to Rolen (39%), Walker (50%), and Edmonds (53%). That's pretty amazing.

      Sunday, August 22, 2004

      EDGAR 11, BUCS 4 For awhile it seemed like this game might be like Saving Private Ryan, with all the good stuff in the beginning, but Edgar and Walker and Co. provided us with a few late fireworks to cap off a nice third act. Some notes:

    • Despite the 10 hits allowed, today we got Good Matt Morris. Almost none of the hits off him were hard and he was getting his curveball over, striking out 6 in 7 innings. If you look at Morris' peripheral numbers (WHIP, K/9 IN, stuff like that), they're not too much different from our other starters. The one thing that jumps out at you are the gopher balls -- 1.5 per 9 innings -- which account for his shabby 4.58 ERA. It seems our other pitchers benefit from good sinkers, whereas when Matty misses it's with his curveball up in the zone, hence the homers. (Although to be fair, even those are dropping -- only 4 allowed in his last 11 starts.)

    • The Pirates' slogan this year is "Every Day is Game Day." That's about as inspirational as "We Play Out the Schedule."

    • Despite dropping four of five here in the Lou, the Pirates are still on pace for 76 wins, their most in five years (thanks in part to a tremendous deal with the Padres, Giles for Bay and Oliver Perez). After Thursday night's game they were only a half-game behind the Phillies in the Pennsylvania standings, but this weekend caused them to backslide a little.

    • Renteria's AB in the first was the second best battle I've seen all year, after this one, of course. Here's how it went: called strike - swinging strike - foul - foul - foul - ball outside - ball inside - foul - foul - foul - foul- foul - foul - foul - ball up and in - home run to the opposite field. In some ways Renteria's duel with Vogelsong was even more epic than Cora's with Clement, because it turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead (whereas Cora's was simply the icing on the cake before Gagne Time). Just astounding focus.

    • A couple weeks ago Renteria went 5-for-5 against the Mets and said he felt something click that day, as if, four months into the season, he had finally found his stroke from last season. He might be right. Before that game Renteria's line was .286/.330/.409. In the two weeks after that game it's .353/.377/.510.

    • I liked the curtain call for Renteria in the first, and the one for Walker in the 8th was nice too, and the three last night weren't bad either. But I sorta hope these curtain calls don't become too much of a "thing" at Busch. They strike me as sorta self-congratulatory (if not autoerotic), and I'd prefer if we doled 'em out more sparingly.

    • Mike Matheny has a new batting stance -- he's now crouched up like a guy sitting in a lawn chair. Last night was MM's first night with the stance and he went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer (the other two times he was robbed of hits). Today he went 2-for-4 again with a double (and again, even his outs were hard -- his first AB he smoked it right at the second baseman). If Matheny actually starts hitting, our lineup will give pitchers very few places to hide.

    • When did Craig Wilson start appearing in the box score as "Craig A. Wilson"? I'm guessing that with that Viking 'do he's got going, the A stands for "Aragorn."

    • Nonsense stat of the day:
                               Games    Grand Slams
      Larry Walker, MTL/COL 1,845 5
      Larry Walker, STL 13 2
    • But that's not even the best thing about Walker's slam. The best is that Steve Kline, who was on first by way of an error, scored the first run of his entire 8-year career. After he crossed home plate, he sorta stood in the back of the greeting line for Walker, perhaps the only time Kline has ever willingly taken a backseat to anyone.

    • ODDS AND SODS Here's a grabbag of stuff filling up a folder on my virtual desktop:

    • Cardinals blogs are popping up like mushrooms after the rain. Go check out The Cardinal Virtue, Random Redbird Reasoning, or, if you like your Cardblogs cut with mixed-drink recipes, head over to a website called Fuck Your Couch.

    • Who's the AL MVP? The statistics don't help us out much. Win Shares Above Replacement has it (1) Sheffield (2) Matsui (3) Hafner. Runs Created Above Average has it (1) Ichiro (2) Hafner (3) Mora. And Value Above Replacement has it (1) Mora (2) Carlos Guillen (3) Tejada. And then of course you've got to consider Manny, Vlad, and I-Rod. I'm guessing Manny will win it -- and he's a solid choice -- but it's a tough year, because most of the big stars are in the NL. If Bonds, Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Abreu, or Beltre were in the AL, he'd be the frontrunner.

    • Speaking of MVPs, check out this quote from Eric Gagne after Adrian Beltre's game-tying and game-winning home runs the other night:
      "He's amazing. That's the MVP right there. Nobody can get him out... He's the MVP by far. It's easy. East Coast people won't see it, but it's easy."
      Um, Eric? Only one MVP in the last eight years has played on the East Coast (Chipper Jones in '99). Of the 16 MVP awards handed out in that time, fourteen of them went to players out West.

    • Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen are each on pace for 40 home runs. They probably won't all make it, especially if they rest down the stretch, but it should be noted that only one team outside of Coors Field has had three players hit 40 home runs in one year.

    • Dayn Perry has this reaction to the news that Juan Peron -- er, I mean, Bud Selig -- has essentially been named commish-for-life: "If Selig has a legacy, it's that under his watch owners, by and large, began treating their teams like fungible assets, tax shelters and income-generators rather than baseball clubs. We're left with a sport that's now a cartel trafficking in threats and extortion."

    • I liked this note from the AP report of Saturday's game: "The Cardinals haven't had a losing week -- Monday through Sunday -- since May 3-9." Gulp.

    • ANTHONY REYES WATCH Last summer we followed the exploits of Danny Haren during his trek through the minors. Now we can follow Cardinal-to-be Anthony Reyes (not to be confused with recent bullpen addition Al Reyes). Last night in Tennessee, Anthony struck out 11 in 7 shuout innings, and added a home run of his own for good measure. Over his last two starts covering 14 innings, Reyes has struck out 26 guys against only one walk. It's becoming more and more obvious why the Cards felt comfortable dealing Chris Narveson to Colorado -- Reyes is our future hotshot now.

      Friday, August 20, 2004

      CAP FLAP The latest brouhaha down at Busch is absolutely priceless. I can't decide what's the best part. Is it Tavarez putting his arm around home plate ump Ron Kulpa and suggesting they grab a beer after the game? Or is it Tavarez dumping all his caps on McClendon's desk? Or is it McClendon storming out of his office, slamming the door, and weepily cutting Tony La Russa's photos out of his friendship collage?

      Didn't I tell you that Joe West has to be the star of every game he works? He kicked out Tavarez just for the hell of it. After all, if there was an illegal substance on the cap it would have been confiscated.

      What I'd do if I were Tony LaRussa....

      Give Larry Walker this Sunday off. Joe West and his mysterious strike zone will be back behind the plate Sunday. Given Larry's abominable performance Thursday (0-5 with three Ks and two GIDPs) it seems wise to just keep him away from any plate with Mr. Illegal Pitch behind it.

      Enter Ray King in a contest sponsored by these guys. Bet on Ray. Clean up.

      Use Cal Eldred more. His performance has picked up significantly recently, which coincides with an increased workload. The team apparently isn't going to pick up any right-handed bullpen help (and the marquee September call-up is a certain enigmatic lefthander) so it would seem prudent to keep Eldred in top form down the stretch. One would presume that he, Izzy, Tavarez, and one of the starters would make up the right-handed side of the postseason bullpen.

      Take and hour and watch the Sklar brothers hilarious show where they campaign to get Jose Oquendo in the Hall of Fame. Then, join the movement. He did, after all, strike out Deion Sanders looking.

      Use Marquis as a pinch hitter. Just a few times because it's cool.

      Understand that everyone knows I wear glasses. Taking them off and putting them in my shirt when I run on the field fools nobody.

      "Call" on Renteria every time he stretches his arm above his head during a game. This happens about once every minute so the hilarity should be non-stop. Imagine "Yes, Edgar, do you have something to tell the class?" Every time. Oh, that would be great. And surely Edgar would call his agent and ask to re-sign right away. I'm a funny manager guy.

      Hopefully I'd have already done this, but assure Lankford he will be back on the team Sept. 1. I'm guessing this has happened and was the only reason ray accepted the minor league assignment.

      Just drop the posing and fly down to Houston this weekend and kick Dusty Baker's ass. Dusty's kind of big, though. Better bring Dunc.

      Write this on the underside of my cap - "Infielders cannot just go play the outfield. This is the majors. It's hard."

      Secure a visa to visit whatever planet Roger Cedeno seems to escape to during some of his at bats. Go there; convince Roger to return to Missouri. Hope for the best.

      Disappear from the dugout mid-game and show up in the Fox Sports Booth to whale away on Al Hrabosky with a fungo bat. (Sub in Jeff Brantley for Hrabosky if it's an ESPN game.) All that "He's not Herzog so he sucks" crap would end right there.

      Three words - Nurture The Mullet.

      CARDSAPALOOZA I've heard some people complain that the Cards aren't getting the attention they deserve this year. But in this day and age it's nearly impossible for a team with the best record in baseball not to get a lot of press, and to my eyes it seems the Cards have had their fair share: they've been the Fox and ESPN games of the week many times, their game highlights frequently kick off SportsCenter, and they've been #1 in every power ranking I've seen for weeks on end.

      But if you're still not convinced, take a look at the outpouring of love for the Birdinals all around the web recently. First there's Peter Gammons' homage to GM Walt Jocketty, which has this interesting quote from Tony La Russa:

      "There may not be anyone else who has brought the types of star players to one team the way Walt has. It started in 1996 when he got Todd Stottlemyre to make us a contender, and it's gone on and on to Mark McGwire and Darryl Kile, Jim Edmonds, Rolen, Edgar Renteria... Star players, star people."
      We've talked about this alot, but the job Jocketty has done over the years really is astounding. Has any one GM ever acquired, via trades, a surefire Hall of Famer (McGwire), a possible Hall of Famer (Edmonds), and a more-than-possible Hall of Famer (Rolen)?

      Next up is Eric Neel's hosanna to our first baseman, guy by the name of Pujols. It includes this startling passage:
      Look past Bonds, if you can. Who defines the next era? Who is the magnetic center of the new world? Some would say A-Rod... But is he a monster? Does he intimidate? Do you TiVo Yankee games just to watch his ABs? Is there a charge -- the pitcher's sense of dread mixed with the fans' sense of anticipation -- in the air whenever he steps in? I don't see it. I don't feel it. Not the way I do with Pujols.
      I'm biased, but Neel seems about right. That's why it was so shocking, on Wednesday night, to see Pujols ground meekly to third to end the game with the winning runs on base. I got that weird sense of bafflement I get when, say, Bonds fouls out to the catcher. Half of you can own up to what just happened, but the other half of you suspects that your TV is malfunctioning.

      Batting third is Tim Kurkjian, ESPN's resident chipmunk, who has a lot of nice things to say about Jim Edmonds. About Jimmy's swing, he writes:
      It is Ernie Els-like, you wonder how the ball travels so far when he swings with seemingly so little effort and force.
      Kurkjian also brings up the possibility that the Cards will become the first team since the Big Red Machine to have three players (Edmonds, Rolen, and Pujols) in the top 4 of the MVP voting at year's end. I honestly don't know who, besides Bonds, that I'd put ahead of any of those guys. Abreu? Loretta? Possibly. But if I was filling out a ballot today they'd probably be #5 and #6.

      Lastly, there's Ken Rosenthal's long discussion in The Sporting News about the healthy possibility that the Cards will go deep into the postseason. But he doesn't gloss over the hurdles this team faces, namely:

      Will Isringhausen remain sound? Will Marquis tire in his first full season of starting? Will the team's best pitcher, right-hander Chris Carpenter, wear down after missing all of last season because of shoulder surgery? Once the postseason begins, other issues will arise. What if the Braves' Jaret Wright, unbeaten in his last 15 starts and 9-0 in that span, turns into this year's Josh Beckett? What if La Russa again shows a tendency to overmanage, losing with the better club as he did in the 1988 and '90 World Series with the A's and the '02 NLCS with the Cardinals?
      Good questions all. But I do like our chances, even if you buy Will Carroll's logic that the Cards have won too many one-run games to go deep into October. Then again, we've dropped two straight games by one run, so even Will must admit that we're as sturdy as ever.

      Thursday, August 19, 2004

      NOT OUR NIGHT This was a strange one. Scott Rolen made two errors, one a dropped popup and one right through his legs. Larry Walker came up four times after a Tony Womack single -- twice he whiffed, twice he grounded into a DP. And the Cards got a dramatic two-out, game-tying home run from Reggie Sanders in the bottom of the ninth, then turned around and dropped the game in extra innings. It was their fourth loss in a row to the Pirates. Very strange.

      This is not to say the Bucs didn't deserve to win. Oliver Perez was on tonight, routinely ratcheting it up to 96 mph on the radar gun. He's probably one of the ten best pitchers in the NL at this point, and, at only 23 years old, figures to be a major thorn in the Cardinals' side for years to come. This is especially disconcerting given his awful facial hair (is there anything worse than high-maintenance stubble?).

      I don't have much more to say about this game, but I will say this: Joe West, who worked home plate tonight, is just about the worst umpire in all of baseball. (I'd put him second from the bottom, just ahead of Jerry Crawford.) It's bad enough that West has no discernible strike zone, even worse that he has to make himself the star of every game he works. He baits players, holds grudges, goes out of his way to make "startling" calls (I didn't see the illegal pitch call he made against Oliver Perez, but I'm betting he made it up just to show everyone who's boss). Last May, West called out Scott Rolen for failing to tag up from third base on a flyball, but the replays showed that Rolen clearly left on time. As I wrote back then, West is "the type of smug, complacent ump who gets so bored that he needs to insert himself into the action now and again." I'd put him in the same category as small-town cops and high school administrators -- petty tyrants who throw their weight around simply because they can.

      SO FAR SO GOOD Dan at Get Up, Baby! takes a look at Rick Ankiel's first start in Double A. Not bad, Rick. Not bad at all...

      Wednesday, August 18, 2004

      PASS THE MIC A few weeks ago ran a piece by Tom Verducci in which he picked his favorite baseball broadcasters of all time. I can’t complain much about his choices – personally I’d’ve picked Jack Buck over Harry Caray for play-by-play, but beyond that, who am I to say? I mean, I’ve never even heard Red Barber or Ernie Harwell or Curt Gowdy for more than ten seconds in a row.

      So I thought it might be fun to do the flipside of this article. But rather than draw up a list of my least favorite broadcasters, I’ll give you a list of my least favorite broadcasterisms – on-air tics, opinions, and idiocies that drive me up a wall. At first I thought I'd do a Top Ten list, but that's sort of a clam. Besides, I know you're busy, so instead I present to you my 9 Baseball Broadcast Pet Peeves, in no particular order:

      1. No one sucks.

      Announcers often seem like they're covering a Little League game -- every hitter is dangerous, every pitcher has good stuff, and the newest player on the roster is a great pickup who gets a honeymoon period for at least a year.

      But the main beneficiaries of broadcaster largesse are veterans coasting by on reputation alone. Just tonight Al Hrabosky and Dan McLaughlin went on and on about what a fine pitcher Danny Graves was, even though he was getting hit hard, and even though he hasn't been sharp for two years now. In the same way, Jeff Bagwell is considered a top-shelf first baseman, despite a steady drop-off in value.

      Baseball announcers rely on rep particularly when it comes to glove men. Most guys in the booth don't know how to discuss defense beyond throwing around numbers of errors and excessively lauding certified Gold Glove winners. This generosity toward glove men sometimes bleeds over to entire glove teams. The goofiest example of this? Earlier this year Chip Carey intoned, "The Cardinals, as usual, terrific infield defense: Rolen, Luna, Womack, and Mabry." Okay, Rolen, sure, he's terrific, but then Luna? Wom -- ? Huh?

      Sometimes announcers go way out of their way to stroke the hometown players, for no particular reason. Take this comment about Brad Lidge from earlier this year, courtesy of Houston color man Bill Brown:

      "Only 1 out of 6 in save opportunities last year, but that’s deceptive, because your middle reliever is usually facing the heart of the order in the 8th inning, and many times your team regroups to come back and win."
      Do you follow that logic? See, those blown saves by Lidge were actually good things, because they allowed the hometown nine to collect a few come-from-behind wins. It would have been a lot more interesting -- and accurate -- if Brown had simply said Lidge sucked at saving games last year.

      Now, I know that's easy for me to say -- after all, broadcasters must maintain schmoozy relationships with managers and players, who are valuable sources for quotes, scoops, tips, and insights. But I don't see any reason why announcers can't do a sort of good cop/bad cop thing in the booth, where one guy (usually the ex-player) plays the role of organizational shill, constantly hyping the home team, while his partner plays Mr. Cynic. The dynamic would certainly be more interesting than the knee-jerk fanny-patting you hear from up in the booth.

      2. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

      This one bugs me. Broadcasters frequently frame the action on the field to retro-fit whatever philosophy they want. For example, if a guy knocks a base hit on the first pitch, the announcer might praise the guy for "being aggressive and going up there and swinging the bat." But if the same guy swings the bat and grounds out to second, then he was being too aggressive, not patient enough. Either way the broadcaster is right.

      The worst at this is Joe Morgan -- at times he just seems plain old dishonest. A few weeks ago a runner was caught stealing, and Morgan said something like, "He definitely got in under the tag on that one. Watch, you'll see on the replay..." And then ESPN showed the replay and, sure enough, you could see that the runner was clearly tagged out. Did Morgan admit his mistake? Of course not. Instead he said, "Well, you really can't tell from that angle." And he does that all the time. Heads, he wins; tails, you lose.

      3. Dog Bites Man

      This refers, simply, to stating the obvious. My favorite recent example was from Brian Doolittle, who recorded this recent tidbit from the broadcast booth: "Scott Rolen is the type where if you make good pitches you will get him out a certain percentage of time." Very illuminating.

      Sometimes a baseball broadcast comes across as little more than a glurge of banalities: "you gotta put some runs on the board," "he likes his pitches out over the plate," "those walks will come back to haunt you," "you gotta put pressure on the defense," "the pitcher needs to own the inside of the plate," and on and on and on.

      To be fair, I can empathize with the difficulty of filling up an entire telecast with interesting things to say. I mean, imagine if you had to improvise for three hours straight, and someone was there to record everything you said. No doubt you'd say a lot of stuff that was just plain boring, or self-evident, or cliche. Hell, just last week Mike Shannon let author (and Cardinals fan) John Grisham take a turn behind the mike and do some play-by-play. He could not have come across as a bigger hack -- banalities and non-sequitors, one after the other. And mind you, this is a man who uses words for a living. The fact is, it's very hard to talk continuously, live, without an editor, for hours on end.

      So I appreciate the task. I just wish that when broadcasters were at a loss for something to say, they didn't fall back on the same old bromides, and instead went with their impulses and talked to us like fans. Or else they should go in the other direction -- get all technical and high-falutin' on us.

      When I first read Keith Hernandez's book Pure Baseball about 8 or 9 years ago, it was a revelation. Mex talked about the strategic cat-and-mouse games between pitcher and batter, the rationale behind various fielding schemes, and the intricacies of, say, holding runners on. After reading the book, I wondered why we don't get more of that talk from folks in the broadcast booth. I mean, there are some announcers who are good at that stuff (and Tim McCarver, for all his flaws, is one of the best), but we need more analysts who can actually analyze. That's practically the entire rationale for having ex-players up in the booth in the first place. But it often seems as if the guys who know a lot can't articulate what they know, and the guys who can articulate what they know don't know a lot. Frustrating.

      4. Glove Inflation

      This is almost a subset of Peeve #1: a tendency to dispense superlatives that aren't deserved, especially when it comes to defensive plays. This is true any time a fielder hits the turf. Doesn't matter how easy the play is -- even if it's one of those cleat-first sliding catches that 99% of big leaguers can pull off in their sleep -- if a guy leaves his feet you're bound to hear rhapsodies gushing from the booth.

      I remember last year in Kansas City Aaron Guiel made a running, leaping, backhanded grab in right field. But the broadcaster was so busy bursting an aneurysm to heap praise on Guiel that he didn't notice, on the replay, that Guiel was playing the hitter too far to pull, got an awful jump, and then took a big wide loopy route to the ball. Yes, he recovered to make the catch, but it was a very routine play with cosmetic enhancements.

      5. Misuse of Stats

      Big pet peeve. Most announcers are completely innumerate. It's bad enough that so few of them have adopted the language of sabermetrics, which long ago realized how overvalued fielding percentage was and how undervalued on-base percentage was. (For example, most broadcasters talk about what a great year Tony Womack is having because his batting average is 5th-best among NL leadoff hitters. Unfortunately his on-base percentage is only 11th-best among that same group.)

      But my bigger problem with announcers is their obsession with meaningless numbers. I'm sure a lot of this stuff is coming from some producer in the truck somewhere, but do we really need to know how a hitter does against any particular team? I mean, what do I care that Craig Biggio is hitting .310 lifetime against the Cardinals when I know that some of those ABs came against Joe Magrane? It says nothing about the matter at hand. Announcers in general are completely preoccupied with batter/pitcher matchups. You hear phrases like, "Roger Cedeno is hitting .400 against Brian Boehringer in his career." Yes. In five at bats.

      One of my favorite examples of booth innumeracy took place a couple weeks ago, when Mets broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Fran Healy were talking about Barry Bonds. Hernandez thought he was the greatest hitter on earth, whereas Healy thought Pujols may have passed him. Their exchange went like this:
      Hernandez: Do you know how hard it is to hit .352?

      Healy: Well, the argument against that is that Bonds gets a lot less chances to make outs.
      Chew on that one for awhile. You might find yourself entering the realm of no-mind, the way you would by pondering a zen koan for a really long time.

      Here's another fun example of statistical follies, from King Kaufman over at

      The Anaheim Angels had just scored a bunch of runs with two outs in their game against the Chicago White Sox Thursday when ESPN flashed a graphic saying the Angels score 40 percent of their runs with two outs. "Uh," thought I. "Is that a lot or a little?" I mean, it seems to me that a pretty healthy percentage of runs are going to score with two outs. There are only three possibilities -- no outs, one out or two outs -- so if everything were distributed evenly 33.3 percent of all runs would score with two outs. And since it sometimes takes a while to get runners around the bases, it makes sense that more than a third of the runs are going to score after two are gone…
      Forty percent just didn't seem that high to me, but analyst Buck Martinez launched into a lecture about how that stat reflects the Angels' scrappy personality, that they never give up on an inning, etc. and so on. It was a measure of their character, he said.

      As it turned out, at the beginning of that game the Angels had scored 39.3% of their runs with two outs. The AL average was 37%. Evidently that 2% difference was enough to prove whatever point Buck Martinez wanted to make about the Angels' tenacity, a view he probably held regardless of what the numbers said.

      6. The Myth of Continuous Motion

      I don't know what to call this one exactly, but it's definitely a pet peeve. It's when announcers linger over some mistake -- usually an error or a guy thrown out on the bases -- and harp on it as the key to everything that happens afterwards.

      Example: August 6th, Cards vs. Mets on FSN. Matt Morris leads off the inning by coasting into second on a throwing error by Kaz Matsui. Marlon Anderson pinch runs, and So Taguchi bunts him over. And the Mets broadcaster, Ralph Kiner, gripes, “So instead of two outs, now there’s a runner on third one out.”

      Wait a minute -- why did Kiner presume two outs? Didn't the whole inning change after the error? Isn't that what set up the Cards sacrificing out #1? But Kiner wouldn't stop harping on it, and it really got on my nerves. The fact is, you can't just hypothetically extract one play and assume that everything else would proceed unaltered. Every play in baseball begets every other play. And yet mark my words: the next time a guy hits a home run after a caught stealing, you'll never hear the end of it, even though the hitter probably got a fat pitch precisely because of the dude who got gunned down on the bases.

      7. Do the Hustle

      Al Hrabosky recently: “You gotta love Marlon Anderson – first-ball fastball hitter.” No, actually I don’t gotta love that. I mean, don't get me wrong. I like briskly played games, I like infield hits, and I like guys who sprint out of the box on a dead run (are you as amazed as I am these days at the number of guys standing and admiring their doubles off the wall?).

      I'll admit that hustle is more exciting than, say, sloth. But even more exciting than hustle are wins. Nonetheless, announcers still tend to reward spunk and aggressiveness, regardless of the context. If a guy is running all the way -- even it means he goes knee-first into an outfield wall, as Jim Edmonds did last year during a 12-3 blowout -- the boys in the booth will give him an A for effort. As Joe Sheehan once wrote,

      The thing about baseball that makes it different from other sports is that the absence of movement is often more valuable than movement. Not getting thrown out trying to advance is an invisible play that gets no reaction, whereas taking a base or getting thrown out trying is effort everyone can see. The learned behavior for baseball players is that the praise they get for hustling outweighs the criticism they receive for making bad decisions.

      This over-regard for hustle is part of a larger problem -- that is, the tendency of certain announcers to turn the scorebord into a moral battle. If a team wins, it's because they want it more; if they lose, it’s because they lack heart, or killer instinct, or whatever. Or so they say.

      You can see how broadcasters -- particularly ex-players -- might fall into this trap. After all, they themselves once played the game, and it's only natural that they framed their successes and failures in the most human terms. No one wants to think he succeeds because of some trend, or on account of the Law of Large Numbers. It's much easier to attribute on-field actions to attributes like hustle, or desire, or even chemistry.

      8. Tanker Trunks of Testosterone

      This pet peeve is related to the one above. Announcers -- and again, they're often ex-players -- tend to revere machismo. Many of these guys played in the late '60s and '70s, and blame many of the ills of the modern game to a lack of balls. The end result is a lot of Bob Gibson nostalgia and a lot of talk about how pitchers need to take back the inside of the plate. I guess it's true to some extent, but it's a hobby horse that announcers are all too willing to jump on.

      But it's not just talk about the inside of the plate -- it's the whole unwritten code among manly baseball men that leads to ridiculous opinions, such as this one from Jeff Brantley, who thought Mike Hampton should put So Taguchi flat on his ass for daring to bunt off him after a home run. It's all pretty annoying.

      9. Sap

      Sometimes the world of baseball broadcasting reminds me of Hollywood in the 1950's and '60s -- lot of a milquetoasts like Tab Hunter, Doris Day, and Rock Hudson. I'm praying that broadcasting will take the same route film did in the 1970's, when stars like Pacino, DeNiro, and Hoffman brought more unconventional voices, more ethnicity, and more rough edges to the movies.

      This is not to say that announcers should become a pack of shrill, yapping dogs (Steve Lyons and David Justice come to mind). But too many boothmen use the same vocal modulations, the same chipper inflections, on every play, as if they're recording a phone greeting for their answering machine.

      Contrast that with Joe Buck. Yes, he can come across at times as just another whitebread ironist, but he still has twice the personality of almost any announcer out there. Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking, "yeah, twice the annoying personality" -- but in some ways that's precisely the point. A good announcer should get under your skin. At least Buck mixes it up now and again and risks sounding silly or pissing people off. Hell, that was part of the fun of watching Howard Cosell all those years ago – he was someone to engage in, to argue with.

      I guess what I'm asking for is an authentic human voice out of the broadcast booth. What baseball needs is more people like Mike Shannon doing games. Or you know what? I would just settle for more people like you and me -- you know, fans.

      Tuesday, August 17, 2004

      JACKPOT Okay, this is getting ridiculous. The Cardinals are now at a point where if they play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they'll win 100 games. 100 games! They've won in the triple digits only once in the past 36 years -- only twice in the last sixty years -- and now, with seven weeks left in the season, it's just ours for the taking? What did we do to deserve this? Did the entire city of St. Louis lead the league in puppies saved, or volunteer minutes at the soup kitchen? Or is this some big set-up? Is Someone Upstairs telling us to sit down and enjoy it just so He can pull the chair out from under us?

      I don't even care anymore. The ride could end tomorrow and I'd still be thankful for all the thrills this team has given us. Take tonight's game. I missed the first five and a half innings, and turned on the TV to hear these words from Joe Buck:

      "Two outs now, so it'll be up to Matheny."

      And I'm thinking, screw Tinkers to Evers to Chance -- those are the saddest of possible words: "It'll be up to Matheny." Matheny, of course, bounced into a force out. And from what I could gather from the scoreboard, it seemed like it just wasn't the Cardinals' night.

      For starters, Brandon Claussen -- who had gotten bombed for 7 runs in only 3 innings his last outing -- was pitching a whale of a game. This was no mean feat, especially when you consider that Claussen is a lefty and we have guys who do this against southpaws:

                 AVG   OBP   SLG
      Walker .357 .500 .548
      Pujols .400 .490 .800
      Rolen .397 .543 .706
      Edmonds .329 .398 .598
      Renteria .444 .510 .700
      Mabry .359 .435 .564
      So for Claussen to be pitching so well -- only one run allowed in six innings -- it had to mean that the Cards' sterling 11-2 record against the Reds this year was about to take a hit. Or so I thought.

      Making matters worse, Matt Morris came out for the seventh having already thrown 106 pitches. And he really looked gassed. Felipe Lopez drilled a double off him to deep right, then Morris hit Jacob Cruz with a pitch. Ryan Freel helped Matty get the first out by bunting the runners over, but Morris was able to gather himself to get D'Angelo Jiminez on a force play at home.

      (Digression: Jiminez took a weak, defensive swing that resulted in the dribbler to Renteria, which set up the tag at home. Why did he take such a bad swing? Because he was in the hole 1-2 and wanted to put the ball in play to get the runners home. I saw some stats last weekend during the Cards-Braves game that sorta astounded me. They showed the league-wide batting averages for each pitch count. And here's what got me: for every single count in which the hitter does not have two strikes, he hits, on average, well over .300. And for every count with two strikes, batters hit well below .300. Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but I didn't know it was so black and white. It seriously seemed like players hit about .340 with fewer than two strikes and about .220 with two strikes on them. If anyone has the precise figures I'd love to see 'em, but it's changed the way I watch baseball. The odds of making an out shift dramatically with two strikes, and Jiminez's at bat tonight illustrated that.)

      Anyway, back to tonight's game. So Morris had two outs, runners on first and second, and seemed out of the inning... until he walked Sean Casey on four pitches. He was up to 123 pitches, was having trouble finding the plate, the bases were juiced, and Big Adam Dunn was at the dish. Mind you, Dunn is the major-league leader in HRs, and he's a lefthander. Morris has served up the most lefthanded home runs of any pitcher in baseball. Time to call in Steve Kline.

      And then the damnedest thing happened: La Russa let Morris pitch. Crazy? Perhaps. I mean, Morris got Dunn to ground out to shortstop (with two strikes, of course), but one could argue that this proves nothing, in the same way that getting hit on 17 and drawing a four doesn't prove you're a good black jack player.

      But in retrospect I think it's possible La Russa made a solid choice. The reality is that the Cards are 15 games up. Our primary goal is to win ballgames and capture the NL Central, but let's be honest -- a close second is to prepare our team for the playoffs. By allowing Morris to go toe-to-toe with one of the game's best sluggers, with all the chips on the table, La Russa was challenging his pitcher to bear down, focus, step up. And Morris responded, saying after the game, "I felt like my old self again. That's what I play the game for, to be in situations like that. And it's just nice [La Russa and Duncan] have the confidence in me to face the big lefthanded bats and get out of it."

      Now, I can't really argue against you if you think that's just a bunch of psychological hokum. But then again, I'm not a major-league pitcher, and I don't know what makes Matt Morris tick, and I'm open to the idea that he needed a kick in the pants. I mean, if Morris can't get the last out in the 7th inning of a fairly meaningless game in mid-August, how in the world will he be able to pitch in the cauldron of the NL playoffs? It was a gutsy move by La Russa, and in retrospect it seems like a pretty justifiable gamble.

      But of course, even after Matty Mo wriggled out of his jam, the Cards still had to win. No worries. In the bottom of the 8th the Cards got a hit by pitch to Rolen, an RBI single by Edmonds, a bases loaded walk to Womack, and then, of course, the grand slam (the one that Adam Dunn didn't hit an inning earlier) off the bat of Larry Walker. The Busch Stadium fans gave big valentines to Larry Walker before his first at bat in a Cardinal uniform, but that was just for being Larry Walker. This is the first time the hometown crowd gave him some love he actually had to work for. It was a nice moment.

      So this close game ended with a lopsided 7-2 score, another victory for the Cards. The team is now 55-18 since their middling 23-22 mark back on May 26th. That's twelve weeks ago. Here's how many losses the Cards have had each week since:


      I know most of you can grasp how incredible that is, but if there are any foreigners out there who happened to be raised on cricket and need a little guidance, I'll tell you this: baseball doesn't usually work that way. It's not like 400-meter swimming, where a Michael Phelps can employ good form and churn out a win simply by increasing his lead, inch by inch, with each repetitive stroke. See, a baseball season usually works more like pinball -- lots of up and downs, a few jackpots, lots of gutter balls.

      But not for this Cardinals team. They haven't had any serious setbacks or letdowns in almost three months. And every time you think the ball is going to roll in the gutter they ring the jackpot again. Seriously, it's getting ridiculous.

      Monday, August 16, 2004

      THE BOYS OF BRUMMER: THE ANSWERS Let's forget for a moment about tonight's ho-hum 10-5 win down at Busch, and instead take a stroll into the past. Last Saturday my brother and I posed a few trivia questions about the '82 Cardinals. Here are the answers:

      1. There are two Redbirds whose '82 season was their only season with the club. Who are they?

      ANSWER: Kelly Paris and Steve Mura

      Neither Paris nor Mura played in the postseason. Paris was traded in the offseason to the Reds for the immortal Tim Strichek, while Mura was plucked by the White Sox in the free-agent compensation draft and won only one more game in the bigs.

      2. If Joaquin Andujar hadn't been able to pitch Game 7 of the World Series because of his injured knee, who would have started in his place?

      ANSWER: Dave LaPoint

      I don't know if LaPoint would have dropped the ball in Game 7 of that Series, but he certainly did in Game 4. The Cards took a four-run lead on the Brewers into the seventh inning, but LaPoint bobbled a shovel pass from Keith Hernandez, the Brewers ended up batting around, and before you knew it the series was tied. Afterwards Herzog fumed about the dropped ball by the portly LaPoint, "If it was a cheeseburger he wouldn’t have dropped it!"

      3. In the middle of the season, Gussie Busch's wife asked which Cardinal to get her bags at the Grand Hyatt in New York, mistaking him for a bellhop?

      ANSWER: Tito Landrum

      The other anecdote you hear about Landrum -- which still makes the rounds in St. Louis -- is that he had an affair with Jack Buck's wife Carole. Uhh... doubtful. My favorite memory of Tito is from Game 4 of the '85 NLCS, when he collected two hits in one inning vs. the Dodgers.

      4. Which former Cardinal served up Willie McGee's first major league hit?

      ANSWER: Al Hrabosky

      McGee came into this game as a pinch hitter against the Mad Hungarian and promptly drove in Keith Hernandez and Gene Tenace.

      5. Complete this quote from Joaquin Andujar: "You can't worry if it's cold; you can't worry if it's hot; you only worry if you get sick, because..."

      ANSWER: The complete quote is "You can't worry if it's cold; you can't worry if it's hot; you only worry if you get sick, because if you don't get well, you die."

      So true.

      6. Keith Hernandez tried unsuccessfully to block his '83 trade to the Mets. To which team did he successfully block a trade the day before?

      ANSWER: The Houston Astros

      I have no idea how this went down, but that's the way it was reported in the book Whitey's Boys. If anyone has any details, please send them along.

      7. Three members of the '82 squad still reside in the Lou. Who are they?

      ANSWER: Bob Forsch, Ozzie Smith, and David Green

      8. There were 17 pitches in the '82 season in which the Birds tried a suicide squeeze. How many were successful?

      ANSWER: Fourteen

      Amazing. Of the three misses, two were fouls and only one was an out. People downplay "the little things" these days, but back then -- when the you could finish above .500 by scoring under four runs per game -- those successful squeeze plays were much more potent.

      9. Losing 5-4 in the ninth inning of game 2 of the World Series, which Brewer swung and missed a fastball on a hit-and-run, so that the runner was caught stealing?

      ANSWER: Robin Yount

      But Yount didn't miss many that year. His '82 season was the very best individual season of my entire baseball childhood (I became a serious fan around '79 or so). In fact, I don't think anyone bested Yount's '82 season until Barry Bonds in '93. McGwire probably passed him in '98, then Bonds turned around and passed him in '01. And I'm not sure anyone in my lifetime will surpass that season (unless it's Bonds himself).

      10. What pitcher did the Redbirds beat 14-3 on opening day in '82?

      ANSWER: Nolan Ryan

      Ryan righted himself to have a pretty good 1982, but check out this article if you want a fun read about the bad luck he experienced a few years later.

      11. Which member of the squad has a son in the Braves minor league system?

      ANSWER: Tom Herr

      His son Aaron plays for the Braves' AA affiliate in Greeneville. By the way, does anyone remember how often Jay Randolph, the Cards' old TV broadcaster, used to mention Herr's hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania?

      12. Which Cardinal yelped during the World Series victory celebration, "Hooo-ee! I been to two county fairs and a goat roast, and I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this!"

      ANSWER: Darrell Porter

      You can find this tidbit (and more!) at the post I had the most fun ever putting together, The Greatest Moments in (Recent) Cardinals History, Parts 1, 2, and 3.

      13. Dave LaPoint stumbled into the Cards' hotel lobby at 3 a.m. during a road trip to find who teaching a bellman how to throw a forkball?

      ANSWER: Cards' pitching coach Hub Kittle

      As long as I'm linking to old Redbird Nation pieces, here's our ode to Hub after he passed away earlier this year.

      14. Had the Angels defeated the Brewers in Game 5 of the ALCS and advanced to the series, which pitcher would have faced Bob Forsch in Game 1 of the World Series?

      ANSWER: Ken Forsch

      Can you imagine??? That would have made the cover of Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, and Der Spiegel all at once.

      15. Which Cardinal has performed in three plays at the Muny?

      ANSWER: Ozzie Smith

      In one of those plays he starred as the Wizard in "The Wizard of Oz." I kid you not.

      16. When the '82 Cards clinched the NL East on September 27th, how long was their longest losing streak?

      ANSWER: Three games

      Right after clinching, the Cards had a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season up to that point.

      17. David Green now owns a successful business that does what?

      ANSWER: Grooms dogs

      That detail tickles me, especially considering Green's hard road in the majors (after problems with alcohol, as well as constant fear for his family back in war-torn Nicaragua, Green's playing career was considered a bust).

      18. Which member of the '82 team appeared in the most World Series in his career?

      ANSWER: Lonnie Smith

      Lonnie went five times, with the Phillies in '80, the Cards in '82, the Royals (dang!) in '85, and the Braves in '91 and '92. He was pretty good in those Series too, popping four home runs, but he's best known for a faux pas he made in Game 7 of the '91 Series. He took off from first on a hit-and-run with no one out in the 8th, but didn't score on Terry Pendleton's double because Chuck Knoblauch deked him into thinking he was taking the relay. Lonnie was stranded at third and the Twins went on to win the game 1-0 in 10.

      Incidentally, the other members of the '82 Cards to win rings with other teams: Gene Tenace ('72-'74 A's), George Hendrick ('72 A's), Tito Landrum ('83 Orioles), Doug Bair ('84 Tigers), Dane Iorg ('85 Royals), and Keith Hernandez ('86 Fucking Mets).

      19. Who used to come to the ballpark early to learn a slidestep change from Dave LaPoint?

      ANSWER: Jim Kaat

      The amazing thing about that is that LaPoint was 22 at the time and Kaat was 43. That's about how old LaPoint is now.

      20. Every winter, which Cardinal pops in tapes of the Birdinals' World Series wins and watches them again?

      ANSWER: Ken Oberkfell

      One time my Dad and my brothers sat next to Ken Oberkfell's parents at a ballgame. They had driven from central Illinois and were literally straight off the farm. Supposedly they were also the nicest folks you could possibly imagine, just thrilled that their son had made good in the bigs. Add in the fact that Obie still gets fired up by our '82 champion team and I think that earns him a spot in the Redbird Nation Hall of Fame.

      Sunday, August 15, 2004

      SLOPPY SECONDS There was a sense coming into tonight's game that the Cards were getting a little rudderless. They had just dropped two of three, with both losses among our sloppiest games on the season -- first Thursday's pratfall in Florida, then Saturday's clunker, which featured Jason Marquis' worst start in over two months, a key flyball lost in the sun, and a late blown lead.

      Tonight's game figured to be more of the same. Danny Haren was pitching, the Cubs were making it awfully easy to coast for a few games, and during the pregame show ESPN's Rece Davis said that the Braves saw this series as an NLDS preview whereas Jim Edmonds thought it might be a good chance for the players to pad their stats. Okay, that wasn't exactly how Rece put it, but that was the gist of it.

      But if there's one lesson we've learned about this Cardinals squad, it's that they're virtually slump-proof. And oddly enough, it was the Braves who looked like they were sleepwalking tonight. They bobbled a few balls, threw wildly a couple times, threw to the wrong base at least three times, and allowed Reggie Sanders to take second after the Braves infield fell into mass hypnosis following a foul pop-out -- a true stolen base if there ever was one. In the second inning alone the Tomahawks gave the Birdos about 12 extra outs.

      You'd like to think the Cards would have won this game even without the Christmas gifts -- after all, they did get two moon shots from Rolen and a home run by Pujols (one of the rare players who can go deep even when he gets cheated on his swing). But the early lead did wonders for Danny Haren's confidence. He looked a bit scattershot early on, but after the second he was able to come right after hitters, walking no one and bringing high heat all evening long. All in all, it was a good win and a surprisingly effective road trip. Some additional notes:

    • If this was, as the Braves would have it, an NLDS preview, then who on the other side should we look out for? Three guys in particular stand out: Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, and Chipper Jones. Here are their lifetime stats against the pitchers on our staff:
    •             AVG   OBP   SLG
      Furcal .390 .429 .542
      Giles .341 .362 .682
      C. Jones .340 .478 .660
    • The two managers in this series, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, have combined for 4,057 wins at the helm. Just for comparison's sake, the other NL skippers have, put together, 6,898 managerial wins.

    • Pujols is tied for the league lead in homers, with 36, along with fellow 24-year-old Adam Dunn. I thought it would be unusual for guys that young to lead their league in dingers, but a brief look at tells me that lots of guys led their league in homers at younger ages: Glaus, Griffey, Juan Gonzalez, Canseco, McGwire, Bench, Tony Conigliaro, Killebrew, Mantle, Mays, Kiner, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth. Not bad company, though.

    • With the Braves now out of the way, only 4 of the Cardinals' final 14 regular-season series are against teams with a record currently above .500. (The Cubs are in even better shape -- they don't play a team with a record above .500 unti the last weekend of the season.)

    • This is only the second series the Cardinals have ever won at Turner Field. Entering this season, they had played nine series in the Braves' ballpark and won only once, in August of 2000.

    • Home