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New Look, Same Results

Posted by JE Powell

The Cardinals have a new look in many ways this season, but as the title suggests, they are having the same results so far this season. Pujols? Gone. Nick Punto, Octavio Dotel, Edwin Jackson, Arthur Rhodes, and the always great for a post game conference Tony LaRussa? All gone. Wainwright is back, but Chris Carpenter is on the DL (it seems those two can never pitch in the same season for very long). Rafael Furcal is in (for a full season this time) and Carlos Beltran is manning right field. Yadier Molina will be around for the next six seasons (including this one) and Freese is picking up where he left off last season. Yes, there have been quite a few changes, buy the winning continues. Matheny has been doing a good job managing games, in my opinion, and for the most part I like this seasons team.

While the season is still very young (just 1/10 of the season has been played) I am a little concerned by the offense. Why, you ask? They have been putting up good numbers offensive numbers overall, right? Well, yes, they have. The Cards are currently 2nd in runs scored, 1st in batting average, and 1st in OBP. So, it seems, on the surface, that the Cards offense is getting the job done. However, the Cards have been shut out a couple of times this season and have had spotty issues with converting runners in scoring position.

The other issue is the bullpen. Using the “I know it when I see it” technique, it seems to me that  the bullpen could have some issues this season. The Cards could easily be 14-5 rather than 12-7, but the bullpen blew two of the games against the (ugh!) Cubs.

Yes, I am being a little nitpicky, I freely admit that. The season is young, you say. I agree with that. Allen Craig and Lance Berkman should be back sometime in May and Adam Wainwright pitched much better in his 4th game back than he did in the previous three. I cannot argue with you there. So why are you nitpicking, you say? It’s just kind of what I do. I have said it before, I am a “expect the worst, hope for the best” type of fan. In my opinion, it helps to curb the disappointment when they lose and increases the joy when they win. So, I will root however the hell I want, dammit. (There is nothing like reading a blog that has unwarranted aggression towards its small reader base, is there?)

All in all, I think the Cards are on the right track and I am certainly happy that they are in 1st place and have reached the first (of many, hopefully) milestones of being five games over .500. Next stop, 10 games over. One last thing, part of me was hoping that the Cards would pull a Seattle Mariners when Alex Rodriguez left and win 110 games. Pujols’ leaving for an ungodly contract is similar right? Like the Mariners did, why couldn’t the Cardinals be an even better team? I guess it’s kind of hard to be better than the best and last year they were the best, so I guess I should just shut up and count my blessings, so to speak.

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What We Have Learned So Far 4-17-2012…

Posted by JE Powell

It is still early in the season, only 1/16 of the season has been played, and the Cardinals sit at 7-3 and in 1st place in the Central division. So, as the title of this suggests, what have we learned? (Also, I am playing around with this being a recurring column several times through out the season, probably every two to three weeks as the season progresses).

  • We have learned that Adam Wainwright has a long way to go to get back to the form he had before Tommy John surgery. Wainwright has allowed 11 earned runs in just 8.2 innings as of the time of this writing and has not looked good.
  • Matt Carpenter has looked, so far, like a very good replacement for the replacement (Lance Berkman) for Alber Pujols. Matt Carp has 1 HR, 10 RBI, and is batting .409 so far. Whether he can keep it up remains to be seen, but so far, he is looking pretty good.
  • Despite David Freese and Berkman missing several games apiece (arguably the Cardinals two best pl ayers) the Cardinals have still won games and have done it in style, amassing the most runs in the Majors in this young season.
  • Jon Jay hit 10 homers all of last season and has two already this year, which puts him on pace to hit 32 or so. Of course, he could lose some playing time when Allen Craig returns, and the likelihood of Jay hitting that many over the course of a full season are fairly low anyway, it is still good to see him showing some power early in the season. His current .344 batting average is looking pretty good to. His .382 OBP aint to shabby either.
  • Jake Westbrook lost 20 lbs in the off-season and has looked very good through two starts this season. I hope his limited (read: one inning) of work in the 2011 post-season lit a fire under his ass and he is out to prove something this year. With Chris Carpenter currently on the DL (and it’s starting to look like it could be at least until the All-Star break due to needing to build up arm strenght) the Cardinals will need Westbrook to be at his best…and then some.
  • Lance Lynn has filled in nicely for Carp and is now 2-0. Hopefully he can have a 2011 Kyle McClellan like start until Carp returns or the Cardinals find a veteran starter, if Lynn doesn’t become a permanent fixture in the rotation.
  • Wainwright and Carpenter never seem to be able to pitch a full season together, but hopefully they will both be healthy and at the top of their games should the Cardinals make the playoffs.
  • Mike Matheny seems to manage the bullpen similar to the way Tony La Russa did, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That was one of my concerns about Matheny, but so far I am content.

I am pretty happy with the way the season has been going so far. I certainly hope that the Cards have enough talent to keep winning and, in my opinion, I think they do. Freese and Berkman should be back before to long and Craig could return sometime in May. The Cards are the only team in the division that look worth a damn right now, so I am wishing for them to get a big lead in the division early and run with it. My over taxed heart cannot take another late season run like the Cards had in 2012.

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National League Standings Predictions: March Project

Posted by JE Powell

Last week I made my AL Precictions and here (but, perhaps a little late) is the NL Predictions:

NL East

  1. Atlanta Braves–I picked them last year over Philadelphia last year and I am sticking with them this year, too. The main problem last year was health and they should be healthier this year.
  2. Philadelphia Phillies–They are getting older, but the pitching staff should keep them in the running for the division.
  3. Miami Marlins–Adding Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle will help, but I don’t think they are as good as the Braves or Phillies.
  4. Washington Nationals–Another improved team, but this is a tough division.
  5. New York Mets–There is nothing suggesting this team will finish anywhere other than last place.

NL West

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks–Finished first last year and will again this year.
  2. San Fransisco Giants–Great pitching staff, but not enough offense.
  3. Colorado Rockies–Still a middling team.
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers–They have the real MVP and the Cy Young winner, but are not good enough.
  5. San Diego Padres–Little pitching, even less offense equals last place.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals–Of course this is who I am going to pick to win the division. Losing He Who Shall Not Be Named (not Voldemort) could hurt, but getting Adam Wainwright back and the addition of Carlos Beltran will certainly help.
  2. Cincinatti Reds–Had some good additions, but losing Ryan Madson for the season hurts.
  3. Milwaukee Brewers–They lost Prince Fielder, but managed to keep Ryan “I Got Caught Cheating, But Managed To Get Off On A Technicality” Braun. Not as good as last year.
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates–Pirates’ fans have a reason to be excited, but no competing for the division excited.
  5. Chicago Cubs–Bad, but not as bad as the Central’s last place team.
  6. Houston Astros–They will be bad. but at least they will be out of the NL Central next year.

So, that is how I see things going down in the National League. Later this week will be my Awards predictions.

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American League Predictions: UCB March Project

 

Posted by JE Powell

Every March the United Cardinal Bloggers’ Monthly Project deals with predictions. You can see mine from last year here, though I wasn’t very accurate. I will do my best to be better this year, though. And maybe I will be because of the extra Wild Card round. At least for who makes it in, I suppose, not necessarily in what order they finish. Also, I refrained from making final record predictions this year because I just wanted to predict the division standings. So, here goes.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers–Adding Price Fielder will make them an even better team over last season. A team that won 95 games.
  2. Cleveland Indians–If the movie Major League taught us anything it is not to count the Indians out.
  3. Kansas City Royals–Young team with up and comers. Should be an interesting year.
  4. Minnesota Twins–I picked them to win the division last year and they finished last. Health has been an issue. Probably will continue to be.
  5. Chicago White Sox–New manager, lost Mark Buehrle and have lost other key players. Looks like a rebuilding year.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees–It’s hard to pick against them to win the division.
  2. Boston Red Sox–Bobby Valentine should bring a little more discipline to the team and that should improve an otherwise good team.
  3. Tampa Bay Rays–Good team, but Red Sox should be improved, so it knocks the Rays down a peg, so to speak.
  4. Toronto Blue Jays–Languished around .500 most of last season and probably will this year, too.
  5. Baltimore Orioles–This is the Orioles. No reason to think they aren’t. Last place.

AL West

  1. Texas RangersI am picking them to finish first, just on principle. I am (admittedly) still a little bitter about the whole Pujols ordeal (despite my previous posts).
  2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim–Improved with the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. But I cannot let myself pick them to finish first, again, based on principle.
  3. Seattle Mariners–Probably better than last year.
  4. Oakland A’s–They are trying to move to San Jose and have traded away several promising young pitchers. This team is not going to very good.

I fully admit that some of these picks are a little biased, but dammit, I just cannot bring myself to pick the Angel’s. But there you have it, a letter opener*, er, I mean my picks.

*See Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie to get this reference.

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UCB Roundtable Question March 5th

Posted by JE Powell

The February UCB Roundtable

Even though this is the February Monthly Project, due to the amount of participants, the questions have spilled over into March and on the 5th I proposed the following question to my fellow United Cardinal Bloggers:

With Molina now signed for an extra 5 years, do you think that either
Bryan Anderson or Tony Cruz could be used as trade chips at some point
this season? Or do the Cards hang on to them as backups and start
looking down the road for Molina’s eventual replacement?

Anderson will need to prove something if he’s going to be traded, no value there at all right now.

Cruz may be in AAA this year just to get some every day work.  Keep in mind, Cruz plays multiple positions, so he’s not “blocked”.  Anderson has very little future in StL, unless he can make it as a bench player.

 My prediction: 2012 sees Anderson as the backup, Cruz in AAA.  2013 sees Cruz in StL and Anderson elsewhere.
Bill Ivie
I-70 Baseball
Most likely Bill has it right on the nose.  I don’t see either of them going anywhere (save Memphis) anytime soon, but Cruz does seem to be the one with the inside track on a long-term gig with the Birds.


That said, if Cruz shows he has more trade value and Anderson can be a solid backup, it’s possible that their roles could be reversed.  Matheny has been in Anderson’s corner and may want him to stick around and learn under Molina.
Daniel Shoptaw
C70 At the Bat
Definitely believe either Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson (or both) will be
useful trade chips. Either might be especially attractive to an American
League team because of the DH.
Mark Tomasik
Retro Simba
Funny you asked, I just wrote a piece on that for i70 last week (am I learning the art of shameless self-promotion yet?)

I don’t think Cruz or Anderson would bring too much to the trade table personally. If Molina goes down for a significant amount of time, you can bet Mo is on the phone bringing someone in to start at catcher for the Cards.

Also, these guys will be 31 when Molina’s deal expires, don’t expect them to hang around that long and wait for a starting spot.

I think the Cardinals would be wise to use of their many high draft picks this year on a catcher or two and start grooming Yadi’s replacement, because I don’t believe he’s currently in the system. If they are unsuccessful at that venture, they will have to go out and sign a Free Agent.

Chris Mallonee
I-70 Baseball
Not a lot I can add to this one. Bill and Daniel both hit the nail on the head. Tony Cruz as backup is the most likely scenario for now, but I have my doubts about Anderson as well. Only time will tell with either.

As far as waiting for Yadi’s eventual replacement, I don’t think either Cruz or Anderson will be the one. We’re talking as many as 8 years before it would be a full-time job. Most likely, Cruz will wind up included in a package swap over the next season or two. In turn, if Anderson doesn’t develop they would likely sign a FA backup while they wait on other talent (somewhere in the future and with ample time) to develop.
Corey Noles
Not a lot I can add to this one. Bill and Daniel both hit the nail on the head. Tony Cruz as backup is the most likely scenario for now, but I have my doubts about Anderson as well. Only time will tell with either.

As far as waiting for Yadi’s eventual replacement, I don’t think either Cruz or Anderson will be the one. We’re talking as many as 8 years before it would be a full-time job. Most likely, Cruz will wind up included in a package swap over the next season or two. In turn, if Anderson doesn’t develop they would likely sign a FA backup while they wait on other talent (somewhere in the future and with ample time) to develop.
Daniel Solzman
Redbird Rants
redbirdrants.com
Considering that Cruz has a lot of quality time in the system already and some useful experience at the major league level, I think he’s pretty solid as the backup this season.  Even if Molina gets injured, the Cardinals would be hard pressed to find a better option, because Cruz knows the staff and seems to have a good rapport with the pitchers.  He also managed a reasonable 0.2 WAR in just 72 plate appearances while playing 5 different positions in 2011.  In baseball terms, he’s incredibly cheap for a good backup catcher, so he is worth keeping around another full year at least.  I wouldn’t have an issue with him taking the plate every 5th game to be Westbrook’s personal catcher this season.

That said, a really good year by Anderson could be enough to give someone, somewhere the idea that he’s worth acquiring as cheap insurance.  If the Cardinals are borderline on making a run or not around the trade deadline, Anderson’s name would make sense as a throw-in to finish off a deal.  Some organizations really believe that you can never have too much depth at catcher.  Some AL teams may simply be looking for an inexpensive C/DH combo guy. When you think in terms of guys the Cardinals would/should be willing to move, I think Anderson makes more sense than Cruz right now.

Dennis 
Pitchers Hit Eighth
I also don’t see either one of them as trade chips. If they are traded for some reason it will be as part of a package where they are the afterthought. It’s a toss-up as to who wins the back-up role and assuming Molina is healthy we’re talking 20 games. I don’t see how anyone proves much worth in 20 games. So in a way, if the starter in AAA is productive he may have more value because he demonstrated the ability to play daily.
Chris Carelli
Redbird Rants
Tony Cruz will be in Memphis since Koyie Hill is around. Keep Cruz because he is more versatile. I see Anderson as trade bait as he doesn’t really fit.
Miranda Remaklus
Aaron Miles’ Fastball
 My thanks to everyone who participated in my question for the Roundtable.Your input has been greatly appreciated.
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2011 WS Championship DVD Set Review Part III: Game 5 NLDS

Posted by Steve Griffith

The A&E Home Entertainment/MLB Productions Official 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals 2 Disc-DVD Set (from here on out, I will just refer to it as the “DVD Set” because it’s just easier that way) is basically set up in three parts: The Official Film, the Bonus Material, and the entirety of NLDS Game 5 (Carpenter vs. Halladay). So, I have decided to review it that way. I now present to you, Part A&E Home Entertainment/MLB Productions Official 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals 2 Disc-DVD Set (from here on out, I will just refer to it as the “DVD Set” because it’s just easier that way) is basically set up in three parts: The Official Film, the Bonus Material, and the entirety of NLDS Game 5 (Carpenter vs. Halladay). So, I have decided to review it that way. I now present to you, Part III: Game 5 NLDS!

Ok Cardinals fans, I want you to think really hard about this question: What is the best game you have ever seen?

           Most people will think about an Albert Pujols 3 homerun game, or an extra inning affair that ended with a walk off, or maybe this years Game 6 of the World Series. My pick is this years NLDS game 5 where Chris Carpenter squared of with Roy Halladay. Call me old fashioned, but I still enjoy a great pitchers duel. Offense happens every day. Walk off homers end multiple games every season. How often do you get to see a great pitching duel between two of the games top starters end in a 1-0 shutout for the Birds? Ok, to be fair, that happens from time to time too, but how exciting is it when it’s against the heavily favored Phillies in the NLDS Game 5 that either sends you to the next step closer to the World Series, or sends you on vacation for the winter?

    The World Series DVD from MLB Productions and A&E contains the complete game telecast of this game as a bonus when you purchase the World Series tribute to your World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

   There are no special features or commentary of the game. It is only the game as seen on T.V. There are no commercials, which is great because it makes a 3 hour game so much shorter, and lets you watch the game about as quickly as watching an episode or two of GLEE.  Seeing as how the game is still so fresh in my mind, and I already know the outcome, it wasn’t the greatest thing for me to watch it again just a few short months later, but I know that a few years from now, I’m going to be glad it is in my DVD collection. In my mind, this will go down as one of the greatest postseason pitching performances of ALL time, and it will be fun showing it to my daughter who is currently too young to get excited about it. I’m certain this will be one of the center pieces of the Cardinals indoctrination I instill in her in the coming years.

Top 5 Stories of 2011: UCB December Project

Posted by JE Powell

2011 certainly has been an interesting  year in Cardinals Nation. There have been many different, interesting, and sometimes frustrating stories throughout the year. Well, for the UCB December Project I get to pick my top five stories of the year.

#5

Wainwright Has Tommy John Surgery, Misses Entire Season

Losing Adam Wainwright for the entire season was a huge loss. Wainwright was a 20 game winner and the ace of the staff. Before he had to go on the disabled list, he was set to be the Opening Day starter. This story dominated Spring Training and overshadowed the fact that Albert Pujols showed up to Jupiter, Florida without a new contract. I would have much rather had Wainwright, however.

#4

David Freese Wins NLCS MVP and World Series MVP

The 2011 post season turned David Freese into “Absolute Zero” and a superstar. Yes, a superstar. Whether that will carry over to 2012 remains to be seen, but his performances during the post season gained the St. Louis area born 3rd baseman national fame. More importantly, to Cardinals fans at least, his performance did two things:  1) helped deliver an 11th World Series Championship to St. Louis and 2) help carve is immortality in Cardinals history and lore.

#3

Cardinals Win NL Wild Card on Last Day of Season, Game 162

Much has been written about this, but here’s a quick recap:

  • The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card on August 25th.
  • The Cards were 3 games out with 5 to play
  • The Cards won 23 of their last 31, a record of 23-8
  • This was, historically speaking, one the greatest late season surges to make the playoffs of all-time

#2

World Series Game 6

This is one of the best games I have ever seen. This game ranks at near the very top as one the greatest games in the Cardinals’ storied history.  It could be the greatest.

#1

St. Louis Cardinals Win the World Series

There is no other moment, in my opinion, that can top this. This was one of the most improbable World Series wins in the history of Major League Baseball, a World Series that will be talked about for years and decades from now. For me, there is no other story capable of being Number One.

Honorable Mentions

Pujols Starts Spring Training with No New Contract

Colby Rasmus Traded

Albert Pujols Signs with Angels

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