OK, let’s hit the good stuff first. I still want to know where the phone booth is in the Cardinals clubhouse, because apparently Rick continues to duck in there to put on the Superman outfit. Two home runs yesterday, one of which gave the Cardinals the lead after Maroth (more on him later) had let Pittsburgh tie it up? 7 RBI? From a guy basically learning at the highest level how to hit? It’s absolutely amazing and really has perked up the team, I believe.
In today’s day and age, however, no great story seems to go unchallenged. It was disappointing to log on this morning and see the ESPN headline about Rick and HGH. When I read the story, though, and got past the sensationalism and the impression that he had shot up right before hitting yesterday, I saw that, even if he took them (which does seem probable), it looks like he stopped in ’04, before the MLB ban on the substance.
Does it meant that it was OK to take the stuff? No. Though he had a prescription for it, apparently, some other places are noting that it is and was illegal unless you had a specific need, none of which would seem to fit Rick’s case. But does that taint what he is doing now? Again, I say no. If he’s not taken any for three years, it’s not likely it’s doing much for him now. So in that case, it’s really not much of a story. (Though today’s story at VEB does seem to indicate it was possible Rick would have gotten it for rehab and that it would be legal with a valid prescription. If that’s true, it puts a whole new light on things.)
Some people were comparing the reaction to the Rick story at CCH to Barry Bonds and saying the reactions should be consistent. I’m not sure about that. For one thing, the situations are very different. Bonds was already at the top of his game and actually starting the decline phase when he allegedly started taking steroids. We don’t know if and when he stopped taking them, though he has never failed a drug test. The major circumstantial evidence for his using was that Bonds was improving at an age when normal players are declining.
Ankiel is improving at an age when players are supposed to be improving. He’s 27–this should be the beginning of his prime. According to this story, he stopped taking things before he really became a prospect, so most everything he’s done has been natural, as it were. It’s natural that fans come to the defense of their players more quickly than they would for others–see Mark McGwire, who still has defenders (and I probably would be considered one) in St. Louis–but the situations are a bit different and do call for different responses. (EDIT: Actually, he’s 28 (7/19/79). Point still holds, though.)
As for the claim that the media should “leave him alone,” well, that’s just nuts. This is a story, it’s not them rehashing the 2000 playoffs. You can’t expect the papers and press not to follow up on this. It’s not a personal vendetta, it’s just news. Granted, there are going to be columnists that probably go overboard on it, but that goes with the territory.
(EDIT2: Great story on this at Deadspin.)
OK, enough of that. After the jump (a little blogger lingo there), more on yesterday and this weekend.
The rotation carousel spins a little harder today after another terrible outing by Mike Maroth. I’m not sure why LaRussa felt it necessary to immediately toss him into the rotation. Perhaps it was because he felt that way he could limit the damage, as he did yesterday yanking him after 1.2 innings. If he’s in the bullpen, you can only use him in blowouts one way or the other. (Though, when you think about it with this team, that’d probably mean he’d get more work than Isringhausen.) Maroth didn’t show anything that made you think, “Hey, he really should stay in the rotation.” I saw the replays and he did give up a few hits on good pitches, but he made some mediocre pitches as well. Anytime you have two outs, none on, and the pitcher up with a 2-0 lead, you should never get to the situation of a 2-2 tie with runners on when you leave.
So what does that leave us with, rotation-wise? If LaRussa sticks to his six-man rotation, it’s going to be difficult. Wainwright, Looper and Pineiro are definites. (Who would have thought that, in a pennant race in September, the second-most reliable starter would be Braden Looper? It’s been a crazy year.) Mulder stays, at least for another turn or two, to see if he can get some of his form back, plus we need a lefty in the rotation if at all possible. After that, it’s a bit unsettled, with Wells, Maroth, Wellemeyer, Thompson, and Reyes all possibilities, none of which are that exciting.
I’d expect LaRussa will move Wellemeyer back into the mix, but I really don’t know after that. I can’t see him going back to Reyes, so maybe Wells or Thompson get the call. LaRussa has been down on Thompson due to his inability to control his emotions and frustrations, but maybe Thompson has gotten a handle on that.
But yesterday’s high point was obviously the offense. 16 runs? 22 hits? And all of that with just the two Ankiel home runs. Probably some of the frustrations of being held in check by Pittsburgh pitching came boiling out there. Seemed like no matter who they threw out there, the Cardinals hit and hit well. Couple that with the excitement of the Cubs losing in the ninth on a pinch hit home run, and you can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.
So we are looking at the following, heading into the weekend:
St. Louis 1.0
All tied in the loss column, which is something I’ve heard a ton from my father (the loss column bit) but one I’ve never really grasped the significance of. Sure, if it’s the last week or so, that’s great. But now? The Cards aren’t going to win out, and neither are the other teams. Games back always worked well enough for me. But I digress.
If there is a savings institution for runs and hits, I hope the Cards put a few of Thursday’s in there, because they may need to make a withdrawal this weekend. They open a road trip that sees them in three cities in three days next week (Phoenix Sunday, Chicago Monday, Cincinnati Tuesday) out at Chase Field facing the Diamondbacks. And, as scheduling would have it, they get to face 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, he of the recent 42 scoreless innings streak, to start off.
How have the Cardinals done against Webb? Well, actually, not too badly. Pujols hasn’t hit him well, it doesn’t look like, but I could see how sinkerball pitchers could be rough on him. Not many home runs against him, but a few runs may be enough as Wainwright goes for the Cardinals. The Diamondbacks don’t have a lot of history against Adam, and most of it isn’t good. So there’s a strong chance it’s a pitching duel tonight. (Which probably means it’ll wind up 14-10.)
Scoreboard watching: The Cubs go to Pittsburgh, as Rich Hill takes on Tom Gorzelanny. If Pittsburgh can keep those bats going like they did in the Cardinal series, watch out. The Cubs can’t take them for granted and I’m guessing they’ve figured that much out. Pittsburgh is really playing pretty well right now.
Milwaukee goes to Cincinnati. David Bush vs. Bronson Arroyo in a matchup of pitchers that haven’t been nearly as impressive as people expected in the off-season. With Milwaukee’s big bats and the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park, I think Milwaukee pulls this one out.
However, how sweet would it be for those two to lose and the Cards to win, creating a three-way tie at the top?