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Monday, May 31, 2010

The BEST Rivalry

Let me say right now, that if you're a big fan of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and think it's the best rivalry in sports... I'm not sure how you got here, but you're lost, and should probably leave now.

In the earlier years of baseball, when the thought of teams west of the Mississippi River was still a novel idea and Jack Buck and Harry Caray were crooning over the waves of KMOX, most of the people in the Midwest only had the Cardinals and Cubs to follow along with. You could find fans of both teams duking it out from Nebraska to Tennessee, because those were the only teams they really ever heard about. The players know it is a special rivalry, the fans feel it ... and the rest of the world, for the most part, tends to ignore it.

Fast forward to 2010. The Cardinals/Cubs rivalry, while still very special to fans of both sides, feels all but ignored by the rest of the country. Even Major League Baseball schedulers have showed little regard for scheduling the match-ups. A lot was made about the fact that this weekend's series was the first time these two teams have met this year. In the same vein, today's series with the Reds marks the third series in the first two months for the two teams. I imagine that it's not easy putting together the schedule for a year's worth of baseball games for 30 teams, but seriously, let me try. I can do better than that.

This weekend's series might not have been one for the ages. It was great to take a series win in Chicago and salvage a 3-3 road trip, and I'm definitely thankful to Erika for making Albert Pujols mad enough to hit 3 home runs yesterday after she dared to question him on Friday, but chances are we won't be talking about any one of these games for years to come. That said, I did want to share with you some memorable Cards/Cubs games that we are still talking about...

June 20, 1968
Bob Gibson had a memorable 1968 season. He led the league with a 1.12 ERA, 13 shutouts, 268 strikeouts, went to the All-Star Game, won the Cy Young, won the NL MVP, and won a Gold Glove... not to mention his 17 strikeouts in game 1 of the World Series. In this game, Gibby came up against Fergie Jenkins, and both hurlers threw complete games, with Gibson striking out 6, giving up 5 hits and 1 walk, and Jenkins striking out 11, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks. The only tally for the game occurred in the bottom of the 3rd, when Lou Brock slapped a ball to right and scrambled all the way to third for a triple, then was brought home by a Curt Flood single to left. The Cardinals snuck out with a 1-0 win, which meant that Gibby came away with a deserving win, instead of the 11 times in his career that he lost with a 1-0 score.

June 23, 1984
The Cardinals and Cubs traded blows for 11 innings on this day, and with a final score of 12-11 Cubs, you know some crazy events had to happen. Most notable in this game included Willie McGee hitting for the cycle, and Bruce Sutter coughing up the lead not only in the 9th inning, but again in the 10th, both on home runs to Ryne Sandberg.

September 8, 1989
Going in to the top of the 5th inning, the Cardinals were already down 7-1 and starter Joe Magrane had been chased after just 3 innings. The Cardinals put 1 on the board in the 5th, 4 in the 7th and 5 in the 8th to make an impressive come from behind 11-8 final score. Those 5 runs in the 8th were scored off of a Pedro Guerrero 3 run moon shot (think the distance of Albert's blasts from yesterday) and a 2 run blast by Terry Pendleton all off of Mitch Williams, who was having the best year of his 11 year career.

September 8, 1998
After a summer of slamming long blasts, Mark McGwire took over the single season home run record after lining a ball just far enough to sneak over the left field wall for number 62 on the year. It was only fitting that the Cubs were in town for this game, with Sammy Sosa - who had been trading blasts with Mac all summer long - coming in from the outfield to join in the celebration at home plate.

Obviously there have been many other memorable games for the Cardinals and Cubs over the span of their rivalry, spanning almost 130 years and thousands of players. Whether you're talking about the sea of red making their way to the friendly confines, Brock for Broligo, or 2006 vs. 1908, it's not difficult to see the history seeping through. This is a rivalry for the ages, and it's a shame that more people don't see it that way.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend, everyone. Remember those who have sacrificed their lives so we can enjoy a day off with nothing better to do than catch up on the national pastime!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

2010 UCB Progressive Game Blog: 7th Inning

This is the third year that the United Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) have done a progressive game blog, and we here at Cardinal Diamond Diaries are very excited to be joining in on the fun this year. If you want to start at the beginning, head over to the pre-game post at UCB. We are taking a look at the 7th inning, so there is a lot of game to catch up on before we get into the action. If you're coming to us from Redbird Rants, then welcome! If you want to back up and see what Ryne had to say about the 6th, click here! We'll wait ... back? Okay, we're picking things up with a 4-0 Cubs score ...

Top of the 7th

Chris: Thankfully, the bottom of the 6th ended – but it gave the Cards an even bigger hole to dig their way out of now. Luckily, the right guys are coming up in the top of the 7th. The Cards still have just 1 hit as the inning starts. Carlos Silva has a career high in strikeouts, with 10 going into this inning.

The shadows are across the plate at Wrigley, while the pitcher is still in the sun. That will make it even more challenging for the Cardinals as they're batting, and it's unfortunately not like they’ve been doing much off Silva anyway.

Ang: Ryan Ludwick popped up in the shallow part of the infield, and Albert Pujols did the same. Not a promising start to what could have been cast as a big inning for the Cards with the heart of the order coming up.

Silva is still throwing well for the 7th inning, although his location is getting a little farther off the mark than it was earlier in the game.

Matt Holliday put a charge into one, but the wind blew it down and it hit off the base of the wall for a two-out, stand-up double. Interesting to note: Holliday has had both of the hits off of Silva in this current 2-hit shutout of the Cardinals.

Colby Rasmus had a great start to the season but his patience at the plate has gone down as he has expanded his zone this month and piled up quite a few strikeouts. Colby already had 2 strikeouts on the day leading into this at bat, and he fared no better as he chased an inside pitch that was caught at his shoetops. Three outs.

Time for the Stretch

Chris: Joe Buck mentioned that Jim Belushi would be singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. The whole celebrity singing thing at Wrigley is beyond tired now. In 1998, the first season after Harry Caray died, it was a nice tribute to him. Now, 12 years later, it’s just another Wrigley Field gimmick. “Oooooh, look – the ivy!” “Ooooh, look – women in tube tops!” “Oooooh, look – someone we don’t care about singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’!” Give us "Here Comes the King" at Busch Stadium instead!

Ang: Thank you, FOX, for not making us listen to Jim try to sing.

Erika: We here at the CDD have a better idea for 7th inning stretch. So grab your popcorn, peanuts and your choice of beverage and join us to watch one of our favorite Cardinal commercials, featuring Brendan Ryan!

And then finish up with a little eye candy commercial featuring Mr. Hunky himself, Matt Holliday!

Bottom of the 7th

Ang: After walking in a run and then nailing down the last out of the 6th inning, Mitchell Boggs returned to tackle Derrek Lee and the Cubs in the bottom of the 7th. Lee was punched out on a strike over the outside part of the plate.

Alfonso Soriano came up swinging, striking out on three straight pitches that were all low and away.

Okay, FOX, I'm thanking you a second time for miking up home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt and letting us listen in on his comments to Yadier Molina about Adam Ottavino's first big league start. Wendestedt made the comment that Wrigley Field is an awful tough place to have your first start, but Otto did a nice job. I like that we got that little glimpse into the game!

Marlon Byrd chopped it up the third base line, which David Freese scooped up and tossed a wide but catchable ball over to Albert for the third out of the inning.

Chris: Actually, Byrd grounded to ^Batman^!

Erika: A little background for those of you who may not know: David Freese gained that nickname based on his love of the movie Batman, as described by Derrick Goold during spring training here. We love the nickname and were thrilled when our Twitter pal @stl_cardsfan29 shared this video, which gives us all a chance to see Freese in his good-luck charm mask.

That wraps up our inning. At the end of the 7th, the score is still 4-0 bad guys. Thanks to Daniel for inviting us to join in on the progressive game blog, and hope to see you all again here on the CDD. Head over to Intangiball for the 8th! Go Cards!

Check Back After Today's Game ...

We are very pleased to announce that we will be participating in the United Cardinal Bloggers third annual progressive game blog for today's Cards/Cubs game. Check back after the game for our post, which will be covering the 7th inning.

In the meantime, head over to the UCB site to read the full announcement and follow along with all the fun!

Go Cards! Beat the Cubs! :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Questioning The King

This post was inspired by a discussion about future blog topics here at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. When Albert Pujols was suggested, none of us gals wanted to touch it. Albert is almost too grand, too sensational. How dare we question the king!

So of course, that got me thinking.

Is it blasphemy to question Albert, his role on the team or his current production?

Albert is the face of the Cardinals, a humanitarian, and considered one of the best baseball players of all time. Countless writers have championed his dedication to the game, his smart base-running, his determination and work ethic. Albert Pujols’ baseball stats are a standing testament to his greatness. There is no denying Albert deserves respect and admiration on his journey to Cooperstown, and we are all lucky to watch him on his way.

Even commercials are dedicated to the immortality of Albert Pujols: “now’s your chance to tell your kids that you saw Albert Pujols do everything”

(This Beyond Baseball Albert Pujols commercial gives me chills - everytime!)

Beyond living history, beyond baseball…

But is Albert really beyond baseball? I’ve had several conversations about Albert Pujols recently… in private of course. Curiously, there are MANY people who shy away from public, potentially critical questioning of Mr. Pujols. So that left me wondering… Is it a crime to think that maybe, just maybe, Albert has some flaws? Would asking the questions make me somehow less of a baseball fan? Would I be forever banned from Cardinal Nation?

Stepping off the ledge …

Much has been written about Albert’s current ‘slump’ during which his batting average fell *gasp* under .300. This month (May) Albert has had one of the WORST hitting months of his career. And with Albert being who he is… much has also been written about how he has had similar low points in previous years and has always recovered with more Albert-like averages as the seasons progress.

But let’s leave the discussion of lagging stats and production to ponder some less obvious and less discussed “Albert issues”.

1) First and foremost, Albert’s habit of running through stop signs is both shocking and curious. While Albert is unarguably an extremely intelligent ballplayer, how does a player so blatantly disrespect the coaching staff? What does this say to a team when one player is above the rules, allowing ego to supersede players’ roles and responsibilities on the field? What kind of example is this to children who are learning the game by watching this Living Legend? Did Stan Musial ignore his coaches at the peak of his career?

2) Being a fan of Brendan Ryan, I must ask: Did Albert’s Gold Glove-caliber defense appear to take a little vacation just when Brendan Ryan’s struggles were mounting? Why could Albert dramatically snag throws at first base from David Freese or Felipe Lopez, but with Brendan slinging the ball to first, Albert often failed to make that extra effort? Could Albert have been playing favorites or was he just frustrated with Brendan's poorly controlled throws? Understandably Albert is all about the win, but is there such a thing as a team-player who is not a true teammate?

3) How is power balanced between manager Tony LaRussa and superstar Albert Pujols? When it comes to team strategy and decision-making, is it typical for the marquee players to call the shots?

For example, Tony LaRussa has always been adamant about keeping Albert batting 3rd, instead of shifting him to the cleanup position. But recently Albert reportedly went to Tony suggesting he be moved to cleanup, switching batting order positions with Matt Holliday. A suddenly un-Tonylike maneuver brought about by the ‘suggestion’ of Pujols?

Couple that with the recently publicized heated argument between Pujols and LaRussa over Tony’s management of base-running (and base-stealing) with Albert at bat, and my curiosity is further piqued. Are these obvious rumblings between management and player typical or ‘special’ due to the status of Mr. Pujols? Does Albert limit Tony’s ability to manage? How does this affect a clubhouse if one player holds that much influence?

If this were any other player, fans and writers alike would be jumping all over it, but with Albert Pujols there is an unwritten code of honor. Could Albert’s looming contract renewal and the pressure on the front office to lock up the current face of the Cardinals be interfering with the team dynamic and hierarchy?

What happens when a player becomes bigger than the team? when a superstar affects the productivity of other players by the intensity with which that superstar reacts on the field? Truthfully the big question here is would we even be talking about this if the Cardinals bats were alive and bringing wins?

Being a living baseball legend, Albert Pujols' every move is often examined under a microscope and little imperfections can be magnified. So, is it ok to question one of the best players in baseball? I think so. It might at least spur some interesting conversations. And I don’t really think Albert will mind ...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Photo Thursday

Not a lot of pictures to be found this week (maybe the photographers all took the week off?) so as an added bonus we're bringing back Erika's photos from her trip to Busch that she posted earlier in the week. Enjoy!

We love seeing the boys happy - but why didn't we know Yadi could jump that high?!

Walk-off single? That's a winner!
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Image


Would we give back this grand slam if it meant Penny wasn't hurt? Yes.

A frustrated Holliday is still #chickcomment worthy!
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Image

Unsportsmanlike conduct! 15 yards from... oh wait, wrong sport. In baseball, he's just a jerk.
Emily Rasinski erasinski@post-dispatch.com

No words for this. Just laughter at LaRue's funny face.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

We #standforstan too... can Ang stand with Adam though? #chickcomment
by @MLBSTLCardinals

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Come for the Atmosphere, Stay for the Baseball

Monday’s post by Erika wonderfully captured the magnitude of her family's pilgrimage to St. Louis for a Cardinals game. Living in the Quad Cities, I have the chance to see a form of Cardinals’ baseball regularly: the River Bandits, their Class A minor league team. And baseball at this level is a much different experience than what takes place 200 miles to the south.

No. 76 in Derrick Goold’s book 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is to visit the River Bandits. It’s the ballpark itself, though, that merits the mention on his list. Modern Woodmen Park is along the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa, and offers a beautiful view of the riverfront and the Centennial Bridge. If you saw the movie Sugar, you saw firsthand how lovely the ballpark really is. (The picture above, from the River Bandits website, doesn’t really do justice.) As Goold wrote, “come for the atmosphere, stay for the baseball.”

It's true the baseball at this level can seem secondary, as going to a game here is more for entertainment than knowing the players. The River Bandits staff makes sure everyone in attendance has plenty to do. There’s a kids play area down the right field line with a bounce house and other games, plus a tiki bar beyond the right field fence to provide a grown-up play area. Outfield seating is along the grass berm – while it was constructed to provide flood control, it also provides a unique way to experience the game. There’s a walkway along the outfield so you can stroll along and look at the Mississippi River. The left field corner is a season-long work-in-progress: corn is planted each season, so the players can walk through it as they are introduced, just like in Field of Dreams (filmed in Dyersville, Iowa, about 70 miles away). Between innings are on-field games ranging from two-person toilet races to racing Rascal, the Bandits mascot, around the bases.

Of course, there is actually a game played. You can get an up-close and very affordable view of it as well, since box seats range in price from $9 to $12. The top price seats are behind the plate, offering the added attraction of watching the nightly collection of scouts utilizing their radar guns and taking notes on what the players are doing.

It's the top prospects that the scouts are there to watch. Through the years, and through team affiliations with the Cubs, Angels, Astros and Twins, I've seen firsthand players like Shawon Dunston, Jim Edmonds, Richard Hidalgo, the one and only Aaron Miles, Billy Wagner, Bobby Kielty, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But success here doesn't necessarily mean the same thing in the big leauges. I remember very well Michael Restovich, who played for the River Bandits in 1999. He had a monster season and hit .312 with 21 home runs and a franchise-record 107 RBI. He did make it to the majors, but played only 152 games total over six seasons and for five teams. (He is still playing baseball, currently with the Dodgers Triple A team in Albuquerque.)

Since 2005, the Quad Cities team has been a Cardinals affiliate. That year, Rick Ankiel spent a couple months here as he transitioned to outfielder from pitcher. I went to his first game, as he’d been one of my favorite Cardinals and I’d been at his then-final major league start in May 2001. It was an ordinary crowd and an ordinary night; the only memory that stands out is a terrific throw he made in from right field.

Many of the current Cardinals have made their way through the Quad Cities. I remember seeing both Jaime Garcia and Colby Rasmus here only a few years ago, and Nick Stavinoha was here in 2005. The Swing had a female public address announcer that year – and she loved saying his last name, dragging out each syllable before every at-bat. He was worth the extra effort, though: he hit .344 and hit 14 homers.

Because these players are just beginning their careers, the team marketing doesn't usually focus on a player. The Swing, however, took full advantage of the five innings that Mark Mulder pitched here during an August 2006 rehab start. For 2007, his picture (complete in the Swing baby blues) graced the cover of the team's schedule plus there was a Mark Mulder Swing bobblehead night. His one-game appearance was a big deal and the ballpark was packed. Of course I was there, and my friend Kathy captured Mark's memorable Swing career in the adjacent photo.

This year, the River Bandits tickets feature a photo of Shelby Miller, likely taken during the three innings he pitched here at the end of last season. Miller, along with Joe Kelly and Robert Stock, are the top prospects we can see play here for now. The thing is, as Bandits fans yet also Cardinals fans, we never want to see these guys stick around very long. It's the first stop along the journey, so we want them moving up to Palm Beach or beyond as quickly as they can.

And as a baseball fan, I can appreciate the entire experience that attending a River Bandits game offers. Friday night I was with my friend Keith, who goes for the entertainment value more than the baseball. Yet he admitted he has a new respect for the players on the field after we saw Sugar last year, especially those players who have come to the Quad Cities from outside the U.S. He would patiently pause our conversation, which ranged from the movie to burying St. Joseph statues to player superstitions and more, whenever my attention was sidetracked by the on-field action. Yes, it's definitely the atmosphere. But for me it's also the baseball.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Field Trip

We love our readers here at Cardinal Diamond Diaries and are so thankful that you stop by to check out our blog!

Today we are taking a little field trip. The boys over at BaseballDigest.com have invited us to play along on their site on Tuesdays, and today is our first contribution.

So we would love it if you would head over there and read Angela's post for today. She is tackling the "Aaron Miles Situation". It's a great read!

Here's a shortcut to the story, and thanks again for reading! We will be back here tomorrow... if not sooner! ;)


Monday, May 24, 2010

Baptized at Busch

The last day of school, the start of summer… Life-changing events for kids and parents.  This year we planned an exciting launch to summer with a momentous pilgrimage: an 8-hour journey to the Motherland …. Busch Stadium.

I am proudly raising two enthusiastic young baseball fans and am thrilled that Cardinals baseball has become a family interest.  We watch the games together on television and talk about all the Cardinals news and chatter.  So taking our kiddos to Busch Stadium for their inaugural FIRST game at Busch Stadium was a family milestone.

First on the agenda: a tour of Busch stadium. 
Last Wednesday, we joined the earliest tour of the morning, a small group of 8-10 people and ours were the only children. (An elementary school field trip filled the next tour group, so we were feeling very blessed!)  We entered a peaceful, quiet Busch stadium, empty except for the grounds crew and a handful of employees cleaning the ballpark.  The view of the ballpark in the early morning was breathtaking and was a perfect introduction to what would later be a loud cheering stadium filled with that familiar sea of red. Our tour guide led us through various areas of Busch stadium including Mike Shannon’s broadcast booth, the Champions Club, Musial’s bridge and onto the field, dispersing tidbits of Cardinals history along the way.   

Favorite part of the tour? 
Hands down, the dugout!  The kids loved standing on the steps where they had seen Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and all the boys lean over the fence during games.  There was a special excitement in touching the phones Tony LaRussa uses to call the bullpen as well as sitting on the wooden dugout benches scarred by the cleats of countless Cardinals ballplayers.

*side note: if planning to take a stadium tour, be forewarned that it does NOT include a tour of the clubhouse (except during Winter Warm Up)

Next on our Cardinals Baseball Trip Agenda:
After the tour we ventured into the team store and did our best to contribute to the ‘Keep Albert Pujols’ fund, buying up far too much of the must-have Cardinals gear that can’t be found in our Oklahoma hometown!

On our road trip into St. Louis we had collected our Mobil On The Run 25-cent drinks, compliments of the Cardinals’ 6-run win over Washington on Monday.  And after our stadium tour, we continued our Cardinal broadcast commercial experience with lunch at Imo’s Pizza.  Driving past a Schnucks (non-existent in Oklahoma) also sent the backseat into a flurry of excitement.  Obviously advertising dollars spent during Cardinals games works – at least on this family!  =)

Pregame Adventures:
Batting practice before Wednesday’s game brought its own share of excitement. Cardinals sluggers Ryan Ludwick, Matt Holliday and Nick Stavinoha were all firing shots into the stands.  Several of the balls that didn’t make it into the seats were tossed up to fans by players on the field.  A Marlins player threw a baseball to my son, but sadly, moments later, the ball fell out of his glove, back over the wall.  Twice we ‘almost’ caught other balls hit into the stands, but a teenage boy stuck his glove right in front of ours, stealing the catch and the baseballs away at the last second.  So, despite our attempts to catch another, we left with merely a good story instead of a batting practice baseball. 

The Real Deal:  Baseball at Busch Stadium:
Even with drizzly and cool weather for Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Florida Marlins, we were happy to be in the stands cheering on our Cardinals.  Hot chocolate may have helped, but the energy in the stands overcame the chill, and the kids were having fun, focused on the game and cheering for the players by name. I could not have been more proud of my little Cardinals fans!  They sang along to Matt Holliday’s walk up song, cheered their hearts out for Brendan Ryan, David Freese and the ‘Boys’, and they marveled as the wave made it all the way around the stadium.  They also worked feverishly to punch out their votes on as many All Star ballots as they could collect.  (I’m predicting an all-Cardinals team right now…)

Looking Back on It All:
The time in St. Louis flew by too quickly.  While we did visit the arch and enjoyed wandering through City Park and the streets between our hotel and the stadium, there was much left undone.  So, happily I can say that more family trips to St. Louis and Busch Stadium will definitely be in our future!   

The one memory I will forever cherish was watching the excitement of my kids as they hung on the Cardinals dugout fence, thoughtfully looking out over the field at Busch Stadium in that early morning light.  I have visited Busch Stadium before, but it was truly magical to see it through the eyes of children experiencing it for the first time.  I hope this is just the beginning of their love affair with baseball and that some day they too will be able to pass it down to another generation.

To help pass the time during a baseball ‘off-day’ today, here is a photo slideshow from our trip.  

Highlights include:
1-     Joe Mather in high socks
2-     Brendan Ryan and Felipe Lopez & their victory happy dance handshake
3-     David Freese and a killer grin
4-     Yadier Molina visits Jaime Garcia
5-     Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Nick Stavinoha and more…

Enjoy!  =)


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Making Moves

We're still new at this blogging thing, which is why I think this is the first time any of us have ever completely changed course after a game. My plan was to write about Aaron Miles, but that'll have to wait for another day.

I crack up when pitchers hit big home runs. You never see them coming, and half the time the pitcher is just as surprised as you the fan are. Brad Penny, before last night, had not hit a home run since 2003! So forgive me for still being giggly when I saw the Fox Sports Midwest commercial break cut back to the game prematurely and players, Tony LaRussa and Barry Weinberg (the Cardinals trainer) are all wandering the field. That's never good, and my euphoric feelings were flushed away when I saw Penny heading down the dugout steps.

Hurry back, man. (no pun intended... okay maybe pun intended).
Chris Lee, Post Dispatch
Lat strains are no laughing matter. All of my physical education and sport first aid textbooks from college (finally putting my PE degree to use) state that the less you the first responder are involved, the better. Strap the arm to the body in a sling and send 'em in for an MRI. Injury expert Will Carroll, when asked how long Penny might miss, responded with this:

@miklasz Pitcher, so 4-6 is about right.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

Safe to say the Cardinals are making a move. The immediate reaction was to put PJ Walters on a plane to St. Louis, and to that I say excellent. PJ has had a rough year in real life, but has had a very nice start to the season, so I was hoping he would be the one to get the call. The question I have seen is which pitcher gets shut down - Penny or Blake Hawksworth, who is nursing a sore groin that also troubled him in spring training.

First of all, yes I am being a Hawk apologist here to say that I'm glad there was a reason for his recent struggles. Despite his claims that the groin only bothers him when there are men on base and he quickens his motion to the plate - the fact is still there that it bothers him. He obviously needs to rest a few days and re-evaluate, which is what the Cardinals were planning to do this weekend with Monday's looming off-day. However, I fully expect Penny to be the one that is shelved, assuming the Cardinals only make one move.

Should the Cardinals make a second call to Memphis for a relief guy? Glancing quickly at the Memphis stats, the only relievers that are standing out in any way are Rich Rundles (WHO???) and Oneli Perez. Josh Kinney and Rich Hill, our two in the Memphis pen with the most major league experience, have been less than stellar this year. Therefore, my answer is no - there should not be another phone ringing in Sacramento (Baby Birds are on the road right now) today.

Obviously the next two games could be a grind. With Kyle Lohse starting today, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte each going 2 innings and Trever Miller and Ryan Franklin as the only two that didn't see action out of the pen last night, the pen is stretched. Now, thankfully Walters was scheduled to start today for Memphis. I imagine if Lohse has a rough game, Walters will get the call to mop up the rest of the innings, giving the pen a relative day off. Today's game will be an interesting one to be sure, and we'll see where we stand at day's end.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maybe this is Chris Carpenter's "problem"

There's been a lot of talk about Chris Carpenter and the velocity of his fastball this season. This article, for example, appeared earlier in the week, and my first post on our blog was about it. His velocity also been mentioned on FS Midwest seemingly every time Carp starts, during the game by Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabosky plus in the pre- and post-game. No one has an answer to what the “trouble” is – plus it’s laughable to consider his pitching an issue when at the moment he has a 5-1 record, a 2.80 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.

So here's an idea, a possible answer to the "problem" Chris Carpenter is having in 2010: maybe he's just getting older.

Chris turned 35 on April 27. Compared to 47-year-old Jamie Moyer or 43-year-old Tim Wakefield, being 35 seems almost young. But Moyer and Wakefield – like Randy Johnson, who retired last year at 45, and Nolan Ryan, who retired at 46 – are exceptions when it comes to pitching. Take a look at the similar pitchers to Carp according to Baseball-reference.com:

  1. Freddy Garcia
  2. Jack McDowell
  3. Matt Morris
  4. Josh Beckett
  5. Alex Fernandez
  6. Carl Erskine
  7. John Lackey
  8. Shane Reynolds
  9. Tom Browning
  10. Brad Penny
Of the list, six are currently retired. And here's the ages at which they last played in the major leagues: McDowell, 33; Morris, 33; Fernandez, 30; Erskine, 32; Reynolds, 36; and Browning, 35. So, with still pitching extremely well this season at 35, Carp is ahead of many of these similar pitchers.

Back to the velocity question – it stands to reason that the mile or 2 per hour slower he's throwing this year is based on age too. Pitchers lose some velocity when they age, right? (Unless, like Moyer, they didn't really have much to begin with.) It was simple to find Carp's velocity this year compared to last (and to 2008) on Fangraphs.com. Yes, his fastball is down a bit: the average velocity is 91.7 mph, compared to 93.2 mph last year. (In 2008, when he threw only 205 total pitches, it was 92.1 mph.) I tried to find velocities from earlier seasons, though, especially after reading the quote from Lance Berkman where he said Chris used to throw 96 mph and was now at 92. Finding stats on that was tough. The closest I could find was this mention on a site talking about fantasy baseball from last year, which said "his fastball is popping the glove harder than it has in his previous six seasons (92.1 mph average)." The amount of baseball information available from so many sources on the Web is staggering, so maybe information on his velocity in 2004-2006 is out there to be found.

But, velocity aside, what really matters the most? Is it more important to have a Chris Carpenter who can reach 96 mph, or a 35-year-old who can do what it takes to continue to be successful and win? The results are what matter most to me. Old – relatively speaking – or not, Chris is more than getting the job done. Hopefully the sportswriters and broadcasters can focus on those results in the games ahead.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Good is Jaime?

Spending the last four days without any internet connection was absolute torture, because it meant I was completely cut off from baseball. The only baseball I could find solace in was in the texts I received from various sources, 15 second Cardinal highlights on Sportscenter, and the six Nationals hats I saw while wandering DC. Don’t try to tell me they give a rip about baseball out there…

But I digress.

I've been working on a little project that was suggested to me as a possible topic for the blog a week or so ago. The challenge: put together a comparison between Jaime Garcia’s first 7 games and the first 7 of some of the more well-known rookie Cardinal pitchers of the past. I realize that Jaime has now pitched 8 games, but I got the research before I left town, so 7 it is. My criteria was fairly simple: players included (roughly) one starting pitcher for each decade and they had to come up through the St. Louis farm system. The later names I'm sure most of you know, but the earlier names might be a little unfamiliar, so here are bios on all the boys.

Jaime Garcia (full rookie year: 2010) - Jaime was selected in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft. He came up for one start and a handful of relief appearances in 2008, then was shut down for almost all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. He came back to pitch well at the end of 2009, and won a place in the starting five coming out of Spring Training this year.

Rick Ankiel (2000) - Rick was signed out of high school and given a $2.5 million signing bonus, which the Cardinals had not ever seen before nor have paid since. He was 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2000 and struck out almost 10 batters per 9 using a devastating curveball, a mid-to-high 90's fastball and a sharp sinker. He fell apart in the NLDS, throwing 5 wild pitches in 1 inning against the Braves. 5 more went to the backstop in game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets, and things did not improve in 2001 for Rick. He went back to the minors and... well, you know him now as Rick Ankiel, centerfielder for the Kansas City Royals. To quote Harry Doyle in Major League 2, "It's a funny game, eh Monty?"

Matt Morris (1997) - Matty Mo was taken 12th overall in the 1995 draft, and didn't waste time becoming a fan favorite in St. Louis. He pitched well for a few years, underwent Tommy John in 1999, then won 22 games in 2001, made the first of his two All-Star appearances, came in 3rd for the Cy Young and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. After 2005 he signed a 3 year deal with the Giants, and was traded to the Pirates before retiring in 2008.

Danny Cox (1983) - Danny was drafted in the 13th round of the 1981 draft. His numbers fluctuated a little over his first 5 years, then he dropped off the radar completely after 1988, when he underwent shoulder surgery and was released by the Cardinals. After recovering from surgery he was a changed pitcher, found himself in Philly, Pittsburgh and Toronto and finished his career as a rarely used relief pitcher.

Bob Forsch (1974) - Forsch was taken in the 26th round of the 1968 draft. He is one of few pitchers to pitch two no-hitters in his career, both of them coming at Busch II. These are also the only two no-hitters pitched in Busch II. His brother, Ken, was also a pitcher and also pitched a no-hitter, making the Forsch brothers the only set of brothers to ever accomplish this feat. Bob was a 'better' hitting pitcher, holding down a .213 batting average and winning two Silver Sluggers in his career.

Steve Carlton (1966) - Carlton was brought on as an unsigned free agent in 1963. Were it not for contract disputes with the volatile Gussie Busch, Steve wouldn't be remembered as one of the greatest Phillie pitchers of all time. He was already a 2 time All-Star by the time 1970 rolled around, however he held out during Spring Training, then lasted through 1971 before Gussie had him traded to the Phils, in what many consider to be the worst trade the Cardinals have ever made (yes, worse than Mulder, for you more recent fans).

Larry Jaster (1966) - Jaster was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1962, and spent a few years in the minors before getting the call in late 1965. In his rookie year alone he shut out the Dodgers 5 times - and the Dodgers won the pennant in '66! He had another solid year in 1967, but never matched up to those first two full years. Jaster found himself in Atlanta in 1970 where he made 14 relief appearances, then appeared in 5 more games in 1972 and was out of baseball after that - at only age 28. Fun fact: Jaster was the first pitcher to throw a pitch in Canada.
Thank you Wikipedia!

Bob Gibson (1959) - If I tried to say 5 words on Hoot, I'd talk for 5 paragraphs. I defer you instead to the box at the right, noting all of Gibson's highlights. Add 'Hall of Fame' to that résumé as well, if you would.

Dizzy Dean (1932) - Ol' Diz is in a class by himself. He was one of the leaders of the Gashouse Gang of the 1930's, and his colorful antics and bizarre way with words made him both endearing and irritating to all who tried to follow him. Along with his brother Paul, Diz predicted that the two of them would combine to win 45 games in a season - and they did! If you're looking for some lighthearted fun in baseball history - look no further than Dizzy Dean.

Those were the boys (and yes, there will be a quiz). Now for the statistics! Putting the stats together was time-consuming, hence my unwillingness to add in an 8th start to every pitcher. For several, the ‘first seven’ for each pitcher sometimes spanned a couple of different seasons. The year listed is the year that they had their first full season.

So, how good is Jaime? He leads this rather spectacular group in ERA, runs, earned runs, hits allowed, batting average against, on base percentage and on base plus slugging. Ol' Diz had a leg up on the slugging line, as he played in the 'Dead Ball Era,' otherwise Garcia would have had a clean sweep on the percentages. I feel that the most true number here to balance out innings pitched (among other factors) is to note the WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) line. While Jaime does not lead that category, pulling second in that ferocious lineup is still quite impressive.

Bottom line - do I or anyone else expect Jaime Garcia to continue running these kind of numbers up the scoreboard? No, of course not. All of the players in this study went on to have very different careers. Some became Hall of Famers, some saw their careers end far too soon, and there's always Ankiel. What I am saying is that our current rook is definitely making his case to be something special, and I know I'm not the only one out there who is 'honking for Jaime.'

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Brendan on the Bench

Brendan Ryan being one of our absolute favorites here at Diamond Diaries, we have blogged about him before. I dedicated an entire post to the then uncharacteristic drought he was suffering back on April 30th, and Chris followed up on May 14th.  Sadly, we are still talking about our dear Brendan, and the 'situation' has gotten worse.

On Sunday Tony La Russa announced Brendan Ryan’s demotion of sorts.  The Cardinals’ shortstop will be ‘taking a break’ from the starting lineup, at least until he has recovered from whatever mystery illness has infected his bat (and temporarily spread to his glove).  Evidently Tony thinks that continuing Brendan as an everyday player when he is so obviously struggling may be compounding the problem.  The mental stress may indeed be taking its toll on Brendan’s entire game.

Fan reaction to Brendan’s slump has ranged from sympathetic encouragement to demands to ‘bench him’.   Personally, my mood has gone from patient optimism to disbelief to concern for long-term effects on his baseball confidence.  And I do agree with Tony:  Brendan needs a break. 

Brendan’s stand-in at shortstop will most likely be Felipe Lopez returning from the DL.  Tyler Greene has been filling the role of middle infield sub since Lopez left for the DL on April 26th.  Felipe's right elbow had been reportedly bothering him since April 11th and may have been worsened during his one-inning of relief pitching during the Cardinals' marathon 20-inning game on April 17th.

Below are some comparisons among Brendan (current and 2009), Lopez and Greene - both at the plate and on the field to take a little deeper look into what we are giving up & getting in return by removing Brendan from the game. 

Offensive comparisons  (data compiled from Baseball-reference.com)

Brendan Ryan 2009
Brendan Ryan 2010
Felipe Lopez 2010
Tyler Greene

Defensive comparisons:  (data compiled from Baseball-reference.com)

Games played
Dble plays
Fielding %
B Ryan 2009
105 (at SS)
19 ( at 2B)
B Ryan 2010
33 (at SS)
Felipe Lopez
5 (SS)
5 (2B)
4 (3B)
Tyler Greene
6 (at SS)
3 (at 2B)

In my opinion, we do need Brendan back at shortstop, but we need him back healthy. (And it should be noted that 5 of those 7 errors this season occurred in the recent span from May 9 – May 13.) 

Is it merely bad luck?  A lagging effect from his February wrist surgery?  Or something more fundamental? Whatever the reason, even a true Brendan fan as myself has to admit that the cycle must be broken.  For his own mental well-being and for the good of the team, Brendan must step back and breathe.

If not for the carryover into Brendan’s defense, I would still be preaching the irreplaceable value of his glove.  Afterall, our pitch-to-contact style of hurling demands an impenetrable defense to back it up.  With the Cardinals’ current lack of run support, every error on the field is magnified.  

Does Felipe Lopez have the range and the ability?  Only time will tell.  So far, I am hopefully optimistic.  However, Lopez’ returning from the DL with a recovering elbow injury does give me pause for concern.

I miss seeing the joyful energy and confident defensive production we had come to expect from Brendan.  Games have been (and will be) different without it.  While the mental burden of this prolonged slump may have stolen his spark, I am confident Brendan will be back to claim his rightful role as infield ball-hog very soon.

Until then, let’s hope Lopez continues to impress and the Cardinal offense has some luck with RISP.  It’s time to wake up and regain our lead!  GO CARDS!!

PS - We love you Brendan!   

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