I’d been swingin’ and missin’ and lovin, and kissin, My average was point double-o eight ~ Lurlene Lumpkin – Finally Bagged Me a Homer (Simpsons)
Today the sweetest words in the English language are uttered: ‘Pitchers and Catchers Report.’ Yadi and the boys will look to make the NLCS and beyond yet again. Let’s take a look at how the Birds addressed their needs over the long cold winter (which is still in full effect, by the way).
First of all, I think the Cardinals definitely overachieved last year, even more so than 2013. The expectations for Birds were extremely high and equally unrealistic. The other-worldly performances had to come back down to Earth. And they did…and still managed to make the NLCS. That’s pretty impressive and the team should be proud of that, but there are still some wounds left pretty fresh from the series. Namely, Michael Wacha, who gave up the series winning bomb and never should have been in the game in the first place. How will Wacha, Matheny and the rest of the boys come back in 2015? Well, GM John Mozeliak has provided some reinforcement.
To fill the heavy-hearted hole left by the unfortunate passing of Right-fielder Oscar Tavares, Mozeliak traded for Jason Heyward. Heyward came over from the Braves with flame-throwing reliever Jordan Walden. So, the Cards shored up right field and added to an iffy bullpen. In order to do this, the Cardinals traded from strength, dealing starter Shelby Miller and stud prospect Tyrell Jenkins. I was never sold on Shelby Miller becoming an elite pitcher. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t think he would have helped the team – he definitely would have. What it does mean, is that it is perfectly ok with me that Johnny Mo used him in a trade. If the Cardinals sign Heyward to an extention, so much the better, but I still like the trade even if he walks.
Other additions include reliever Matt Belisle and strikeout machine Mark Reynolds. I don’t know much about Belisle, but Viva El Birdos does, here’s their take. I have never been a fan of all or nothing hitters like Reynolds, but you can’t deny his power, and that was something the team sorely lacked last year. If they can get Matt Adams a majority of starts at first base and leave Reynolds to do what he does best: be a power hitter off the bench, I think the team can make it work. The main departures from the team (outside of the trade) were Pat Neshek, whom the team could no longer afford and Jason Motte and Daniel Descalso, who’s best years are probably behind them.
Competition starts now for the Cardinals fifth starter. Most people in the organization would like to see Carlos Martinez earn the spot and prove his potential, pushing Marco Gonzales to be a stud in he bullpen for another year. One thing is for sure: ‘Spring’ could not have gotten here quicker.
Don’t call it a comeback… ~ LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock you out
It’s been over two years since the old Songbirds on the Bat took flight. In that time, the Cardinals made it to the World Series and the NLCS, losing each to the Red Sox and Giants, respectively. From a personal standpoint, I got married, bought a house, got a dog and am expecting my child with my wife, Kelly (a boy!). Are these legitimate reasons to take a hiatus from your Blog? Actually, yes, I think they are.
My son has already busied himself with his Blog and he’s not even born yet, so I figured I better catch up. I will keep it short and sweet this time around. Expect more to come on the Birds off-season moves as well as the crazy Hot Stove action consuming all of baseball. Plus, I will write about one of my favorite things: the Hall of Fame, as the newest class was just elected.
It feels good to be back. I hope 2015 is a big year for the Cardinals and for their fans, whether they’re old or brand new.
If you’ve got the strength to scream out “Hell Why?”, The wheels of life are passing you by ~ The Rollings Stones – Might As Well Get Juiced
I’m not mad. I’m not going to string together a curse-filled tirade. I’m not calling for reform. I realize that not everybody was doing it and my life will go on. But for the love of God, Baseball Writers Association of America…you’re better than this.
By now, it has been over 24 hours since it was announced that you didn’t elect a single candidate to the Hall of Fame, and I am still shaking my head. In Sunday’s Blog, I predicted there would be multiple inductees…you roundly rejected that theory. And I’m not mad you proved my wrong, I’m disappointed with the reason you did it.
Those who turned in their ballots completely blank are the most egregious. You’re going to tell me that you voted for, say, Jack Morris the last three years, but this time, when he needs you the most, you’re going to try to prove a point? Well, mission accomplished. You have proven you’re a self-righteous blowhard. But that’s not all that’s hard to swallow:
Kenny Lofton was 10th on my list and I knew that most voters wouldn’t consider him that high. But for him not to get enough votes to stay on the ballot? You’ve got to be kidding me – you’ve only got to be named on 5% of the ballots to stay. This guy is 15th on the all-time stolen base list! 8 of those ahead of him are in the Hall. I’m not saying he deserves to be in, but not having him on the ballot is ridiculous. Also no longer on the ballot are 2nd year nominee Bernie Williams and one-and-done David Wells.
Something that I haven’t heard many people mention yet is the fact that Craig Biggio got the most votes. I like Biggio; I would have voted for him myself. But, if you think Craig Biggio is the best baseball player on this list, you’re crazy. And, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re voting on, aren’t we? The Best of the Best? If you would have asked any of these so-called experts in 2004 who the best player was and you gave them this year’s nominees, not one would have said Craig Biggio. And you know what that makes them? Hypocrites. Everyone, including baseball writers, thought everything was hunky dory in baseball while skinny kids turned into Incredible Hulks right in front of their eyes.
So, if you want to punish players for steroid use, fine – but you better make damn sure they took it and you further better make damn sure that it made them into the Hall of Famers you saw before you. It’s widely believed that Barry Bonds (and probably Roger Clemens too) started taking PED’s in 2000 after becoming jealous of the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got. I’ve got news for you – Going into the 2000 season, Bonds had 445 home runs and 460 stolen bases – he was already a no-doubt Hall-of-Famer. Is he a lousy human being? One could argue that point. Was he one of the best baseball players that ever lived? You better believe it.
Mark McGwire was a one-dimensional player who’s one dimension became Hall-worthy after he (admittedly) took steroids. For those reasons, I think it’s reasonable to not vote him into the Hall. In fact, I wouldn’t vote him in because I favor more well-rounded players. Furthermore, if you want to leave out anyone strongly associated with juicing, including Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, have it your way, dude – That’s your prerogative. But to punish people like Craig Biggio, Jack Morris and Curt Schilling to prove your bloated, arrogant point is going too far. To turn a well-used phrase on its ear: Hate the game, not the player.
Next year, not only will all of these players remain (all that got at least 5% anyway), but they’ll be joined by Jeff Kent, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Luis Gonzalez and Greg Maddux. Let’s hope this was just a one-year crusade. Let’s hope that writers come to their senses. Because, if this charade continues and a guy like Greg Maddux doesn’t make it in on his first try, I will call for reform. There will be a curse-filled tirade. I will be mad.
I hope you got your gameface on, we about to make history ~ Willie Taylor – Knock It Out the Park
With the 2013 MLB Hall of Fame Inductees being announced this Wednesday, I thought I would take this opportunity to pare down the awesome candidate list into my Top 10 most worthy. Most writers have a ‘system’ when voting for the Hall of Fame, and I’m no different. * I like to rank every years’ candidates based on how worthy of the Hall they are. From there, I vote in the top five in my rankings. In lean years like the last three, that would have resulted in my voting in more players than the average writer. This year however (and the next few foreseeable years), there are some tough cuts to be made (Each player’s name is linked to their Baseball Reference link):
1. Barry Bonds
Yes, he would be the biggest jerk to make the Hall since Ty Cobb. Yes, he is linked very seriously to the Steroid Era through HGH and Balco and was even brought to court on perjury charges related to these allegations. But, he is also, steroids or not, one of the greatest players at his position ever. Even before the point its widely assumed he started juicing, he would have merited the vote, therefore he gets my top slot.
3. Mike Piazza
Piazza is pretty clearly the greatest offensive catcher ever (Sorry Johnny Bench fans, its true). He will lose some votes for a perceived lack of defensive skills. Not to mention he isn’t quite left out of all the steroid talk. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he was, by far, the highest vote-getter for 2013 because of the perception of Bonds and Clemens guilt.
4. Jeff Bagwell
My highest holdover from 2012. I have no idea why Bagwell hasn’t made it in yet. Yes, he is part of the Steroid Era, but he’s never been linked in any way and his personality in Houston was beyond reproach. His votes have risen from his first year to his second and I would expect him to creep towards the necessary 75% ballots and be inducted either this year or next.
5. Craig Biggio
Bagwell’s running mate on the right side of the infield and a member of the Killer B’s, it would be fitting for the two of them to be inducted into the Hall the same year. Like Bags, Biggio was widely considered one of the best people in the game when he was playing and his hard nose style made him a fan (and writer) favorite. It also doesn’t hurt that he easily agreed to move from catcher to second base to center field and back to second base…all in the name of the team.
So, that’s who I would vote in this year. But, a valid case could be made for the rest of the Top 10 as well:
The hardest choice I had to make was between Biggio at #5 and Schilling at #6 – not only because I would vote for just the top five, but because both players are very worthy candidates. The rub with Schilling is that his regular sesaon numbers don’t really hold up against fellow Hall-of-Famers, but his Postseason numbers are up there with the best ever. Cardinals fans remember vividly Schilling’s signature Postseason moment: It involved a certain piece of footwear with a certain substance on it. It will be interesting to see what the voters do with him.
7. Larry Walker
I firmly believe that Mr. Walker will be voted in by the Veterans Committee somewhere down the line, because it doesn’t look like the writers will. He got a 20% vote his first year and 23% last year. I would have voted for him each of those years, but this year the competition is too stiff.
8. Sammy Sosa
Sosa will likely be lumped in with Mark McGwire and Rafeal Palmeiro, whom he appeared in front of Congress with when he apparently forgot how to speak English. While I think Sosa was definitely aided by performance enhancing drugs, I have him ahead of the other two because he could hit for average, power and was an above -average fielder and seemed to lift his teams more than them.
9. Jack Morris
Morris was Curt Schilling before Curt Schilling. Everyone remembers his dominating performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, but he was a Big Game pitcher his whole career. A high ERA and slightly low winning percentage have kept him out of the Hall thus far, but this could be his year.
10. Kenny Lofton
I’m not sure how Lofton will be recognized by the writers, especially since he has such stiff competition, but he was always one of my favorite players. The prototypical leadoff hitter, Lofton made things happen by absolutely flying on the basepaths, playing stellar Gold Glove center field and leading several different teams into the Playoffs.
While there are several worthy candidates this year, there could be any number voted in. As many as 8 players could be written on 70-80% of the ballots. I can’t wait until Wednesday. I’ll be back after that to talk about the actual members.
*It should be noted that in no way, shape or form do I have an official HOF vote…this is just what I would do if I had that amazing opportunity.
This year’s announcement by the powers-that-be that the NCAA will a adopt a 4-team tournament to decide the college football champion was a step in the right direction – but it was only a step. Take this year: I think the best four teams to make the tourney would be Notre Dame, Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon…but you know a 2nd SEC team (probably Florida) would make it. Thus, I have continued my push for a the 16-team model (11 conference winners and 5 ‘at large’ teams) which is as close to basketball’s year-end bracket as we can get.
There is a lot of separation between conference winners and ‘at-larges’ this year, with SEC teams taking up 6 of the top 10 BCS spots (!) and upsets in conference championships like Wisconsin over Nebraska in the Big Ten. The Conference winners are as follows:
- ACC: Florida State
- Big 12: Kansas State
- Big 10: Wisconsin
- Big East: Louisville
- Conference USA: Tulsa
- MAC: Northern Illinois
- Mountain West: Boise State
- Pac 12: Stanford
- SEC: Alabama
- Sun Belt: Arkansas State
- WAC: Utah State
Please note that these are the teams declared the winners by their conference, not by me. At-large teams would then be chosen by a committee. For the sake of efficiency, I will take the five highest ranked BCS teams that did not win their conference as follows:
- Notre Dame (#1)
- Florida (#3)
- Oregon (#4)
- Georgia (#7)
- LSU (#8)
The 16 teams would be seeded by the ‘committee’ and (using my example I rank them in terms of BCS ranking) and then match them up like in the NCAA basketball tourney, i.e. 1-16, 8-9, etc. Here are the my pairings:
1. Notre Dame 3. Oregon
16. Arkansas State 14. Wisconsin
8. LSU 6. Georgia
9. Florida St. 11. Boise St.
5. Kansas St. 7. Stanford
12. Louisville 10. N. Illinois
4. Florida 2. Alabama
13. Utah St. 15. Tulsa
It should be noted that, as there were four SEC teams taken in my example, I switched #3 Florida with #4 Oregon and #7 Georgia with #6 Stanford so that all SEC and Pac-12 teams were in separate sections of the bracket.
While there aren’t too many first round match-ups worth noting, potential second rounders like Oregon/Georgia and Bama/Stanford piqued my interest. Personally, in looking at the total picture, I think it would come down to Notre Dame, K-State, Bama and Oregon in the ‘Final Four’ with K-state taking down Oregon in the Championship.
What do you think?
They say there’s a Heaven for those who will wait…some say it’s better but I say it ain’t ~ Billy Joel – Only the Good Die Young
I sit on my couch on this December 1st watching the SEC Championship game (wondering how many decades it will take Mizzou to get here) and college basketball. And, even though I’m wearing shorts on an unseasonably warm Mid-Missouri day and the Winter Meetings are imminent, the Cardinals and baseball are far from my mind. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the official Hall of Fame ballot for 2013. We’re going to see just where voters come down on the best of the Steroid Era.
Sure, there have been players associated with juicing before: Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are still chasing votes in their 7th and 3rd years of eligibility, respectively. No offense to those two players, but keeping them out of the Hall hasn’t been a major statement. But, this is the year when the two Goliaths will force the voters hand. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are in a class by themselves. Both are linked to HGH, though both have avoided a smoking gun. And Bonds is widely considered one of the best hitters of all time and Clemens one of the best pitchers of all time; in normal circumstances, both would be no doubt-1st ballot-genuine Hall of Famers.
My guess is that both will eventually be voted in while being kept out in their first year, but I really have no idea how it will shake out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both make it in this year and I wouldn’t really be surprised to see neither make it ever. They will most likely be tied together, meaning if one gets in, they both get in and vice versa.
Elsewhere on the ballot, other notable first years include Sammy Sosa (No stranger to steroid rumors himself), Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio along with former Cardinals Reggie Sanders, Woody Williams and Royce Clayton. And as if this year’s newbies weren’t enough, they will join holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith and Tim Raines, who all got around 50% of the votes or higher last year and will probably build closer to the necessary 75%. It’s been 14 years (1999!) since the writers have allowed more than two players into the Hall, but it seems likely this year, even without Bonds and Clemens. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see how the voting shakes out. I’ll check back in Mid-December with my Top 10 and how I would vote.
Johnny come lately, the new kid in town; everybody loves you, so don’t let them down ~ The Eagles – New Kid in Town
Let me start by saying I have always loved John Mabry. He was one of my favorite players during his time in St. Louis. I also am not the biggest Mark McGwire fan. I think he was the poster boy for the steroid era and was one dimensional as a hitter (a .263 career average, 34th all-time in strikeouts) So, with McGwire leaving for Los Angeles to take over as hitting coach and Mabry going from Assistant Hitting Coach to top dog, I feel…uncertain.
Its hard to argue with the production of the Cardinals offense the last two years; especially last year after losing Albert Pujols‘ bat. A lot of the credit for that goes to Big Mac. But we’ll see how good a hitting coach he is when he joins Pujols in the city of Angels. The Dodgers were underwhelming at the plate, despite having a bloated payroll and the defending MVP runner-up Matt Kemp. I expect the line-up to get better with Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez becoming more cohesive and aggressive under McGwire’s tutelage.
As for the Birds, with a core of Yadi Molina, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese and Allen Craig, any new hitting coach can be pretty hands-off. I honestly don’t know much about Mabry’s coaching style, but I do know he was a good, clutch hitter himself with occasional power (although in looking up the stats, he was also a lifetime .263 hitter) and hopefully he picked up a few things from his predecessor.
Courtesy of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Click the picture for a link to the story
“Without hope, well, you might as well be blind” ~ Flogging Molly – Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon
That was tough to watch…the Cardinals did in the NLCS what they did the entire year – turned it on and off with no consistency. After taking it to the Giants, to the tune of a three games to one lead in the series, the Cardinals suddenly forgot what got them there and not even a must win game could wake them from their slumber. Their 9-zip loss last night put the final nail in the coffin that was the 2012 season. That’s the bad news, the very public, in front of a national audience bad news.
The good news is that we are due for a lot less volatility than last off-season. Not only do we have our Manager, pitching coach and superstar staying (Yadier Molina or Matt Holliday, take your pick), the only two players possibly leaving are Lance Berkman, who will probably be retiring and Kyle Lohse, who is a free agent and earned himself too much money for the Cardinals to afford.
Through injuries, turnover and their own hard-headedness, the Cardinals lost just about every possible game they could this year and still won 88 games, not to mention getting to within one game of the World Series. They lost a lot of one-run games, most extra innings games and their hitting completely vanished for games at a time. You have to figure that’s not going to happen next year, as the team settles in to their roles and gets used to their new Manager’s style. The injuries are the most important thing; if this team can avoid the major landmines, watch out.
To avoid the pains of losing their key players, the Cardinals have to add depth to their bench. Matt Carpenter is a weapon off the bench, but if a starter goes down for any extended period of time, Carpenter’s the man to take the job and that leaves not much on the bench. Lohse’ leaving presents some interesting scenarios for the pitching staff. Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook are all but guaranteed spots if available, which is a big ‘if’ considering they’ve all missed time in the last two years. Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal will all be vying for the fifth spot with rest moving to the bullpen/Memphis rotation. Things looked like they came together at the end of the season for the bullpen in 2012 but we thought the same thing in 2011, so the Cardinals would be smart to add a Lefty and a righty, just in case.
That’s it, that’s the drama for the offseason – The Cardinals need an extra bat for the bench and a reliever or two for the bullpen. The transition year has passed with the Birds threatening to upend Major League Baseball for the second year in a row. Next year, they’ll actually be prepared.
As for this year’s World Series, check out my Blog from last week.
And the last known survivor, stalks his prey in the night ~ Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
The St. Louis Cardinals proved against the Washington Nationals that last year was no fluke; that they have the resolve to laugh off being down to their last strike with no problem. Players like David Freese keep the magic alive and seem to be made for these moments, but it is still surprising since the Birds lost arguably their three most important members. I won’t waste time talking about how Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert (I’m reading this from home) Pujols left the team. The point is, this year’s team definitely has a different make-up than the 2011 version. In fact, there is a team left in the Playoffs that more closely resembles last year’s champs.
Consider this: in 2011, the Cardinals were underwhelming and left for dead before coming together and passing Atlanta for a spot. They developed a strong rotation, bullpen and line-up that became a cohesive unit, led by a bulldog pitcher (Chris Carpenter), the best hitter in the game at time (Pujols) and a Hall-of-Fame manager (Tony La Russa). They seemingly played their best baseball in late September and into the Playoffs.
In 2012, the Detroit Tigers were prohibitive favorites to win the AL Central, but struggled early and trailed the White Sox most of the season. The team surged late due mostly to developing a strong rotation, a suitable(ish) bullpen and strong line-up, bolstered by newbie Prince Fielder. Now, they are playing their best baseball of the season on the shoulders of bulldog Justin Verlander, current best player in baseball Miguel Cabrera and Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland. They haven’t shown the magic that St. Louis showed last year, but they also haven’t had to yet.
And remember, the Cardinals didn’t show their penchant for heroics until the World Series. If they make it back this year, it could be a re-match of their 2006 Series win over the Detroit Tigers. So, will I be betting on the Tigers to win if that happens, since they’re this year’s version of the Cardiac Cards? After watching the Cards snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the Nationals, absolutely not.
Are you gone and on to someone new? ~ Foo Fighters – Best of You
So, ever since the beginning of the season I, like most Cardinals fans, have laughed off Albert Pujols departure from the team. He had an awful start to the season, leading him to miss the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had plenty of All-Stars and while First Base replacement Lance Berkman has been M.I.A. due to injury, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter have filled in valiantly. At the same time, Carlos Beltran, whom the Cardinals signed with Pujols’ money is having a season reminiscent of his prime. ‘Albert who?’
Meanwhile the Cardinals, despite leading the league in hitting and over-performing on the pitching front, are falling short in wins; they sit two games out of the 2nd Wild Card slot after losing yesterday’s 19-inning marathon to the Pirates. The loss highlights the disturbing trend of the Cardinals failing in close games. The Cards are 12-21 in one-run games and 3-9 in extra inning games. Theories abound as to why this is, but I have yet to hear a connection between #5 leaving and the lack of clutch play. I’m not saying it’s the only reason, but it’s got to be a factor.
First of all, Albert Pujols is unquestionably the best player of his generation and probably one of the best players of any generation. So of course losing him hurts in the late innings. As good as Holliday, Beltran, Freese, et al have been this year, none of them can claim the same credentials. And that seeps into the entire late-game dynamic. Last year, no matter who was coming up to bat for St. Louis in late-game, come-from-behind situations, the eyes were looking towards Pujols:
“X,Y,Z coming up for the Cardinals and if they can get something going, Pujols is due up 5th….”
There was always extra electricity when he came up. It was a boost to the Cardinals’ psyche and drained the confidence from the opposing pitcher and manager. And that makes a huge difference – it may be the difference in whether the Birds on the Bat make a run like they did last year. I’m sure there are many factors that go into not taking care of business when it matters, but let’s face it: the Cardinals have many men up and down the line-up, but no El Hombre.