Did I Miss Anything?

You know, I start a Cardinal blog, and it’s been occasionally tough to find something interesting to write on. I want to keep this site fresh, but sometimes it’s tough to know what to put down on cyber-paper, if you will.

Then I go on vacation, and all the news spills out:

  • LaRussa returns to the 1998 experiment and starts hitting the pitcher in the 8th slot.
  • The Nationals sweep the Cardinals.
  • The Cards tie a MLB record with ten consecutive hits in a game.
  • Scott Spiezio goes on the restricted list so as to enter drug and alcohol rehab.
  • The prodigal outfielder Rick Ankiel finally makes his second-life major league debut, smacking a homer to boot.
  • Ankiel then has a two-home-run day.
  • LaRussa and Juan Encarnacion battle it out in the press.
  • The pitching staff actually comes around, with quality start after quality start.
  • Adam Kennedy is sidelined with knee problems, perhaps for the rest of the season.
  • The Cards win 4 of 6 against good teams from San Diego and Los Angeles.

And, in the midst of all of this, even after the slide in Pittsburgh and Washington, the Cards sit 5.5 games out of the NL Central and about 4 games behind the Cubs. After being written off by a lot of people, including me, the Cardinals are still in the thick of things come mid-August.

Let’s hit a few of the points above before moving on to a look-forward of this week:

  • Pitcher hitting eighth: I’ve not seen a lot of discussion about this since it happened back early last week, so I may not know all of Tony’s rationale behind it. I know the idea is to get more hitters on base in front of Albert Pujols, like he tried to do with Mark McGwire in his record-setting ’98 season. Let’s see how it’s working:
    • Pre-Pitcher move: Cards were hitting .270 with 4.39 runs per game and Pujols had 72 RBI (0.68/game).
    • Post-Pitcher move: Cards are hitting .284 with 4.44 runs per game. Pujols has three RBI (one of them in the first inning) which is .33/game.

Of course, the post-pitcher move has a Sunday game in there with 12 runs scored (the Cardinals are very religious, saving most of their offensive explosions for the Lord’s Day) and a ten-run game against the Padres, so it’s a little skewed in the batting average department, but on the whole, no big changes in the offense as yet. But it gave them a shot in the arm, a little change, and that could be the biggest boost of all out of it.

  • Rick Ankiel: There aren’t many bigger Rick Ankiel fans around. (OK, maybe the guy that runs Deadspin would count.) I’ve been following Rick since he was the prominent pitching phenom in the Cardinal organization. I still think he was robbed of the 2000 Rookie of the Year by Rafael Furcal. The ’00 postseason was painful to watch (though some forget they won the game against the Braves where The Problem first surfaced). I thought he could make it back in 2001. (I still have the game where he beat Randy Johnson that year on tape, also notable for the game where I knew Pujols was something special.) To see him come back in 2004 and get a win on the mound was very special, which made his decision the next spring training to quit pitching and start hitting so strange.Still, I’ve followed him (as has most of Cardinal Nation) in the minors, amazed at the home run totals he was putting up. I didn’t think he’d get up much before September due to his waivers situation. I knew, when I saw on the ESPN crawl on Thursday night that he was making his debut that night, that he’d get a wonderful ovation and the Nation did not disappoint. For him to hit a home run in that game…..it just shows you that truth really is stranger than fiction.

    He’ll probably get figured out some by pitchers as the season goes along. His strikeouts show he can be overmatched right now. But after the obstacles he’s passed through to get here, I don’t think anyone can rule him out of being a productive major leaguer in 2008.

  • Juan Encarnacion: Add him to the list of players currently or formerly perturbed at LaRussa. I’ve never had much of a problem with Juan, though he seems to be a favorite whipping boy. I think he’s overpaid, but he didn’t have much to do with that. He produces at about his average, gets to some balls, not to others, and overall is a decent player. Would it bother me if he was moved in a waiver deal? Not so much. I think he can still contribute, though, to the Cardinal season if he’s healthy. That seems to be some of the bone of contention with him and TLR. Perhaps after the Rolen thing, Tony is trying to take more of an active role in the health conditions of the players. Perhaps there is more to it than that. But having another feud in the papers, especially at a time where the general buzz around the team is positive, really doesn’t reflect well on either side.

OK, that’s the basics. I don’t know any more about Spiezio, really. It sounds like a situation where he’s gotten into the wrong stuff and is trying to get help for it. That much is good, though obviously the behavior isn’t. Hopefully he can get cleaned up and rejoin the team, but that’s something he’ll have to battle the rest of his life even if he can return to baseball. Lots of injuries, with Kennedy and Mike Maroth hitting the DL over the past week. The replacements seem to be doing pretty well, though.

That means that this week is huge. It’s a road trip to Milwaukee for three and Chicago for four. If the pitching staff keeps turning in quality starts, which keeps the offense in the game, they’ve got a good chance to make a dent in this lead and turn this into a real race. My fear is that they go 4-3 over the span and basically do nothing but cut more games off the schedule. The Cards need at least 5-2, I believe. Both the Brewers and the Cubs have been scuffling lately, so if the Cardinals can feast on that, they can play significant September baseball. If not, it may be back to playing out the string.

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