Short Series?

The Rockies gave it a valiant effort last night, but they came up short again, which puts them in a large hole, as I mentioned yesterday.

It did give me something to think about, though.  Ever since the whole “this game counts”/All-Star Game determining home field fiasco (don’t get me started on it, I’ll go all day), the American League has won home field advantage.  The downside to that is that no AL team has clinched the Series on their home field since 1999 (pre-ASG change) when the Yankees swept the Braves.

In 2003, the first year of the changes, the Marlins won in Yankee Stadium.  2004, the Red Sox swept the Cardinals and celebrated, movie stars and all, in Busch Stadium.  2005, the White Sox did the same to the Astros.  And, of course, in 2006, the Cardinals got to involve the home fans by clinching at home.

Can the Rockies force the Series back to Boston?  Sure, they can.  But will they?  I don’t know.  Baseball has a way of evening things out.  You’ll see long winning streaks followed up by a few losing streaks during the season.  21-1 wasn’t sustainable, obviously, but the pendulum may be swinging the other way.

I hope that if the Rockies are going to lose it, they lose it in Colorado.  Red Sox Nation can be obnoxious enough without them tearing up Fenway in celebration.

Not So Surprising

A few days ago, I wrote this:

“Problem is, the ALCS isn’t over yet. If the Sox could pick a pitcher to keep their season alive, it’d be Josh Beckett. He’s looked great this postseason, and he’s already beaten Sabathia once. Put that with the fact that a lot of this team remembers climbing out of the 3-0 hole in 2004 and it’s not like they are going to roll over and play dead.”

And that’s just what happened.  When the Indians weren’t able to solve Beckett in Game 5, I knew Cleveland was in trouble.  Carmona had shown he had trouble pitching in Fenway, and that flared up again in Game 6.  Then you get to a Game 7, when anything can happen.

This is very reminicent of the 1996 NLCS, Cardinals vs. Braves.  It was the first year of LaRussa in St. Louis and the Cardinals had made it to the postseason.  They swept the Padres out of the way and got up 3-1 to the Braves.  However, the Braves had the better pitching setup for the last three games, and their bats just pounded the Cardinals.  They outscored St. Louis 32-1 in the last three games and went on to lose to the Yankees in the World Series.

While Cleveland didn’t lose quite that badly (they were only outscored 30-5), it was pretty darn close.  And Cleveland has to wait another year for a chance at a title.

Rockies and Red Sox.  You’ll hear a lot of Todd Helton talk, since the two teams almost made a deal involving him in spring training.  Hope he has a huge series and Colorado takes the title.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it’s getting close to midnight on Cinderella’s dance.

Stress Free October

Thank you, Arizona!

It was great to start the stress-free playoffs this weekend. With Arizona sweeping the Cubs out of the way (look at what all that off-season spending did for them–three more wins than the ’06 Cardinals and a first round exit. Spending money isn’t the panacea some Cardinal fans think it is.), I could enjoy the finale of the Colorado/Philadelphia series without wondering which team could beat the Cubs. That was a thrilling game, and the Rockies are on a serious roll. That roll has to come to an end sometime, but hopefully not terribly soon, as it is VEB’s adopted team for the post-season.

It was nice to watch the AL yesterday as well. I didn’t see much of the Sox sweep, but their win really had my house rooting for the Indians last night. Of course, the wife would have been anyway, but we were both intrigued by the possibility of four sweeps in the first round, which would have been a record. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass, but I did some digging on the number of playoff games.

Read the rest of this entry »

Resiliency

For a time this weekend, I thought the Cards really were done.  My father has often pointed out in basketball where a team gets down 20 or so points, makes a big run, but if they don’t actually take the lead somewhere along the way, they tend to fade and give back a lot of their gains.  I was afraid Saturday evening that was going to be the story of the 2007 Cardinals. 

It was a tough few days for 70ATB favorites, as Anthony Reyes again had a rough inning and then Kip Wells self-destructed.  A two-game losing streak, one of which was coming against the kind of good team the Cardinals have to start winning against, and they were 4 games out and looking bad.

Then they go out and get down 3-0 to Tim Hudson.  Horton and Shannon were discussing on the radio that Hudson had won his last 76 games staked to a three run lead.  Shannon said, “Gotta end sometime!”  I really thought that was hometown optimism speaking, but apparently, it was a little prophetic as the Cards scored 5 in that inning, won the game, and cut a game off the Cubs’ lead.

After that rally on Saturday, it’d been really disappointing if they’d lost a game with their current ace starting.  Wainwright continued to be very impressive, the bats scored enough, and both of the teams in front of the Cards fell.  So, starting the last week of August, it’s:

Chicago           

Milwaukee       1.5

St. Louis           2.0

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cards have a 19% chance of making the playoffs.  Just three weeks ago, that was down around 3%

Today is the final day off for the Cardinals in 2007, as they now have 35 games in 34 days.  Though that’s a daunting task, it’s not quite as bad as you might think.

First off, the rosters expand Saturday, so that will help with the fatigue factor.  Mark Mulder is looking sharp in his minor league rehab, though he’s only thrown in Single A so far.  He should get another start probably Friday, then be activated soon after.  Having a fresh arm like his in the rotation should be helpful, especially with all the games coming up.

So let’s look at that schedule.  The Cards head off to Houston for a three game set there before returning to Busch for games against the Reds and Pirates.  In fact, the NL Central comprises most of the remainder of the games (28 of the 35).  The Cardinals have had success against their division mates this year, playing over .500 ball against them.  In fact, in comparison to the other divisions, they’ve dominated the Central, going 30-22 against those teams.  For comparison, the Cubs are just 27-26 and the Brewers 28-27.

The Cardinals also don’t draw too many strong games.  The next 10 games are against teams under .500.  In fact, based on the standings as of today, only 15 of the 35 games are against teams at .500 or over, and 8 of those are against the Cubs and the Brewers, who barely qualify.  The others are three games in Arizona, three games hosting Philadelphia, and the makeup game at Shea Stadium.

The games are pretty evenly split between home and away.  The Cards are a solid 34-29 at home (though obviously a reverse of 29-35 on the road).

As for the other teams, Chicago has a similar focus on the NL Central remaining, only facing the Dodgers and Florida outside of the division.  The Brewers probably have the roughest road, facing Atlanta on the road and San Diego at home amongst the Pirates, Astros, and Reds.

Milwaukee and Chicago start off against each other tomorrow night, so if the Cardinals continue to play winning ball, they’ll make up ground against someone.  The schedule is in their favor to do just that.

Missed Opportunities

With the Cubs losing earlier in the day and the Brewers off, yesterday would have been the best of times for a Cardinal win. Sadly, Anthony Reyes again caught slam-itis and the Marlins were off and running. Still, it was somewhat to be expected. The Marlins had lost eight in a row–it was about time for that streak to end. The Cards had won three in a row, and they’ve not shown they can put together much of an extended winning streak.

So the Atlanta Braves come into town tonight for a weekend set. The Cardinal pitchers are going to have to figure out a way to contain Mark Teixeira. Ever since he left Texas for a pennant race, the man has been energized, hitting 10 home runs since the beginning of the month. Add him to the Jones boys and Brian McCann and that offense can get running in a hurry.

The Braves pitching staff is solid as well, and the Cards get the unlucky draw by not missing either of the Atlanta aces. Tonight, Kip Wells matches up against future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Wells must be wondering what’s going on here, having faced Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano last time out (in a game that got rained out). Eventually you think age will get to Smoltz, but he’s not showing it this year.

Tomorrow night, newbie Cardinal Joel Pineiro gets Tim Hudson. It looked like Billy Beane had fleeced two teams in two days after the results of Hudson and Mark Mulder the last couple of years. However, Hudson has rebounded to his Oakland levels and could create a long night for the Birds.

Sunday, you get Reyes vs. Wainwright. No, not the general discussion around Cardinal Nation. This is Jo-Jo Reyes, so at least this pitching matchup, on paper, would go to the Cards. Though Reyes is a lefty with a high ERA that the Cards haven’t seen before, basically a recipe for a two-hit shutout.

If the Cards can take two of three and stay within a couple of games of the Cubs and Brewers, it’s a successful weekend. How they do in the next three days may let us know whether our optimism for September is warranted.

Buckle Your Seatbelts

Sorry for the weekend quiet, but between some personal issues and just general weekend stuff, I wasn’t able to get around to making a post. Get used to that–the weekends will be pretty low-content, for the most part.

This Atlanta series illustrated the most daunting problem for the Cardinals–lack of consistency. You are up, you are down. Great pitching, bad pitching. Some offense, no offense. It’s enough to give you nausea if you let it, especially when you remember the smooth rides of 2004 and 2005. Heck, even 2006 may have been more regular than this, though in the negative fashion with two 8-game losing streaks and a 7-game one.

We’ve already talked about game one of the series, where the pitching exploded and the hitting didn’t. Before we discuss any more, a caveat–I didn’t see more than 5 minutes of the three games this weekend combined, I don’t believe. All I’m going on is results and what I’m reading around the net.

Adam Wainwright pitched a solid game on Friday night. He may have been pumped up facing the team that traded him away, but he didn’t allow that to get out of control, something I saw Tony LaRussa talking about in the pregame show. When the Cardinals decided in the offseason to move him back to the starting rotation (something he’d done his entire career prior to 2006), I was a little dubious. I knew he had the great curveball, but I wasn’t sure he had enough pitches to get through a lineup three times.

Apparently, he does. VEB had some stats up showing his improvement as the season has gone along and I know on Friday’s pregame they showed where before May 15, his ERA was over 6, while since then it’s been under three. He’s definitely the closest thing to an ace that this team has with Carpenter down. Some would argue he’s the closest thing we have to a pitcher without Carp, but that’s a different story.

Saturday, the unraveling of Braden Looper’s season continued. Looper was our best starter at the beginning of the year, but the innings really seem to have piled up on him. It was just another case of the Cards being out of a game early, giving up 7 before the third inning is over. That seemed to be a trademark of last year’s summer swoon and it’s played out quite a bit this year as well.

Sunday, well, it’s Albert Pujols time. Brad Thompson did a great job keeping the team in the game–VEB today notes he has the second-best starter ERA behind Wainwright–and Albert, with his eighth-inning home run, showed that he still isn’t taking the losing as an excuse to give up. After that slow start this year, I was afraid Pujols wouldn’t make his .300/30/100 that he always has done, but I have little fear of that now, barring injury. El Hombre is still here, and that’s worth watching.

Quick hits: Good to see Scott Rolen not only back on the field, but smacking a home run. Those shots seemed to do wonders for him. It may be a general thing, though–I remember Larry Walker doing the same thing during his time in St. Louis….The Cards start a three-game set with the Cubs tomorrow, followed by a four-gamer with the Brewers. They’d about need to sweep to stay in the race, but I guess stranger things have happened. As long as they beat the Cubs, that’s all I’m asking….Mike Maroth has been demoted to the pen temporarily. I’ve never seen an organization that had a more flexible idea of pitcher roles. Most teams, you are either a starter or a reliever. Here, you are a pitcher and you never can be sure where you’ll be pitching. So far Wainwright and Looper are the only regular starters that have not been in the pen this year, but Looper’s a career reliever. So much moving back and forth, you never can be sure what constitutes the rotation on any given day….Anthony Reyes is coming back up for one of the double-header games on Saturday. Here’s hoping he can finally get that zero out of the win column.

Who Was That Masked Pitcher?

Apparently, there was a slight change in the Cardinals roster last night, so subtle no one noticed. But that couldn’t have been Kip Wells pitching that game last night. Not the Kip Wells that went into the game with an ERA approaching six and a half. Not the Kip Wells that had been removed from the rotation at least once this year. Not the Kip Wells that was dangerously close to being DFA not long ago. However, this did bear some resemblance to the Kip Wells the Cardinals thought they were getting when they signed him to a bargain contract in this offseason. Kip has shown some good stuff in the bullpen, and while that didn’t carry over to his Philadelphia start right after the All-Star Game, let’s hope that whatever the changes were have stuck now and this will be closer to the Kip Wells we’ll be seeing from now on.

On the other side of the pitching equation was Dontrelle Willis. Now, I’ve never though Dontrelle was as good as the hype put him out to be. I like him, love the smile and fun that he brings to the game, but I’ve never thought he was a #1 pitcher. A #2, probably a #3 on a real good staff, sure. But a difference-maker? No. I know he challenged Chris Carpenter for the Cy Young a couple of years back, but the underlying stats (i.e., other than wins) really weren’t that close.

So the trade rumor last year that had the Cards sending Anthony Reyes, Chris Duncan and Colby Rasmus to the Marlins for Willis really had me cringing. Thankfully, nothing came of that, especially since Dontrelle sported a 4.81 ERA going into last night’s game, and giving up 6 runs in 3 innings is going to make that creep on up. Not that the Cardinals are just flush with pitching, obviously, but we can get those kind of results for basically free. (And have been all year! ) If we had mortgaged any potential at a future for those kind of results, things would be more depressing than they already are.

Looks like Scott Rolen, at least according to the manager, is just going back to get a shot and could be back in the Atlanta series. This apparently is similar to what he did last October, and we know that he responded well then. (I still think he should have been World Series MVP over David Eckstein, but voters like the “scrappy” storyline.) Let’s hope we get some similar results this year.

Cards start a four game series in Atlanta tonight. (CCHers, be sure to get your YNOT entries in!) The Braves just got swept by the Reds, but I don’t think that means they are going to be easy pickings. If St. Louis wins 3 of 4 down there, I’ll be impressed.