Warming Up the Winter

I’ve often thought I might like to make the effort to go to the Cardinals’ traditional Winter Warm-up. It’s baseball talk in the winter, a chance to actually see the players and hear some news. I’ve never been able to afford it, though, nor take out the time to get up there. Plus I’m not much on crowded areas.

The good thing about the Warm-up, combined with the internet, is that we finally get some Cardinal news. So let’s take a look at what came out over the weekend.

First off, Chris Carpenter is throwing again. The whole dynamic of the season could change if he’s healthy and effective earlier than schedule. He’s not pushing himself too hard, which is great. It’d be outstanding if he was back in June, but I wouldn’t count on it. My prediction is still mid-August, enough time for him to get back into baseball shape and let the Cardinals see what he’s got for 2009.

Staying on the injury theme, it looks like Josh Kinney could be back by time the season starts. A valuable part of the 2006 bullpen, he could help bolster the 2008 version as well. It’ll be interesting to see what he has when he comes back and if he can be effective.

The same article talks about the rehabbing of Chris Duncan and Braden Looper. Both sound like they are doing well and are basically ready to go, but there was no reason to think that they wouldn’t be. Still, nice to hear there aren’t any unexpected setbacks.

At the end of that article (wow, Goold really packed it in, didn’t he?) was a note about Ryan Franklin planning to be a reliever again this year. Larry at VEB has repeatedly made the case that Franklin should start, but with the number of starting pitchers already in camp, it probably does make sense to have a solid part of the bullpen return to that role. There’s nothing to say TLR won’t move him into the rotation halfway through the year anyway.

Which is bigger news, that Scott Spiezio is doing well in his personal rehabilitation, put out a CD, or that he doesn’t have the famous red facial hair anymore?

Then there are plenty of WWU posts over at Bird Land. Definitely check out the quotes quiz. I don’t see the answers yet, but the quotes are worth reading.

Oh, and some Santana news, one that the Cardinals did inquire, the second that they’d “kick the tires” if he became a free agent.  It makes you want to see what’d happen if he didn’t get traded, doesn’t it?

The Warm-up finishes today, so maybe more news will be made!

Starting Pitching

48 W, 72 L, 889 IP, 987 H, 115 HR, 321 BB, 532 K, 42 HBP, 5.04 ERA, 1.66 K/BB

That’s the line the St. Louis starters put up last year. Not real pretty, is it?

If there is any chance for 2008 to be more than a rebuilding year, for the Cardinals to actually contend, it may lie in the fact that last year’s team finished only 7 games out with starting pitching as bad as that. Can this year’s squad improve on those numbers? Let’s take a look.

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The First Annual Cardinal Blogger Awards

The votes have been cast. Now let’s see who won!

First off, a comment from Kujo at Rockin’ the Red for a new title for the group:

How about Cardinals Bloggers United, in the likeness of the soccer hooligan firms in England?

That’s not bad. Those involved, what do you think? Or perhaps United Cardinal Bloggers would be more your style? If we are going to keep doing projects, we gotta find a name. And I do hope we keep doing projects.

OK, to the awards. I’ll post some quotes from those bloggers that elaborated on their selections.

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That’s A Winner!

Raise your hands.  How many of you, watching the game and seeing Ludwick not score on Eckstein’s ball that the outfielder missed, figured that the Cardinals were going to find a new and painful way to lose for the third straight night?  The big rally that falls short–check.  The lead that evaporates, tie again in extras, then lose in 14–check.  It looked to me that another rough chapter was going to be written.

I will say, though, when there was a runner on second in the 10th, I was glad to see Yadier Molina coming to the plate.  Molina has developed into a fairly solid hitter this year.  Obviously, if it’s a home run you need, he’s not likely to do that (though he can surprise, as the Mets will attest to from last year’s postseason), but he’s turned into a reliable option at the plate a year after hitting .216.  If he can continue to be a .280/10/50 catcher, I think you’ll see up-and-comer Brian Anderson traded off.  From what I understand, Anderson’s bat isn’t as impressive if you move him off the catcher’s position, and any upgrade in hitting would be more than offset by the drop off in defense.  Not to say Anderson is terrible behind the plate, more that Yadi is that good.

Cardinals and Astros hook up tonight.  It’s strange to be playing the Astros in September with nothing on the line.  No playoff berths, no potential postseason previews, nothing but seeing Craig Biggio in St. Louis for the last time and seeing if the Cards can stay in third.  The Astro fans knew they were in for a fight this year, but I don’t think they expected to see their team close to the cellar.  They may have to get used to it–that team is an older team and, though I don’t follow them closely of course, I understand their minor league system isn’t that strong.  Who knows, though.  Maybe Roger Clemens will come back and pitch for them again.  Never rule anything out with that guy.  Wherever the money is, he’ll be around.

Braden Looper vs. Wandy Rodriguez tonight at Busch.  Bring your gloves if you are going to the game–my gut feeling says that this one could get high-scoring in a hurry.  Then again, neither lineup is all that potent right now.  If Pujols is out for the homestand or worse, it’s a shame to see those streaks of 100 RBI and runs fall that short.  Besides the fact that Cardinal baseball is always more interesting with El Hombre in the lineup.

Hopefully he can rest up this offseason and be comeback player of the year next year.  Because if you bounce back from career lows, you can be comeback player, right?  Even if those career lows are MVP level?

Picking Out Tombstones

Yesterday’s game against the Cards was termed a “must-win” by some.  As you know, they didn’t win, as Pineiro’s luck ran out and those hard hit balls started dropping.  Mike Maroth’s ninth, even though it didn’t matter in the big scheme of things, should have been enough to guarantee he will be DFAd this offseason.  And the Brewers lost, so the Cubs are tied for first again.  Yuck all the way around.

Cincinnati helped us get well last time around, but can we really count on that happening again?  The Cardinals walk into a ballpark designed, it seems, for home runs and come in with really no rotation to speak of.  We’ve written off this team time and again.  Can we do it for good this time?

I think so.  First off, three games back.  I know there are still 4 left with the Cubs this weekend and three with the Brewers in a couple of weeks, but the Cards would pretty much have to go 15-6 in the last 21 to really make a dent, I think.  Maybe a little less, but in that area.  Right now, the team is in a four game losing streak, there are only three pitchers that are guaranteed starts, and Mulder is only one of those so they can get him ready for next year, not because they expect him to win every time out.   So that leaves Wainwright and Looper, and you never know when Looper is going to blow up like he did out in Arizona.

Couple that with the fact that basically half the lineup is gone for the season and it’s time to start picking out burial plots.  If St. Louis had a healthy Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion, Chris Duncan and an Albert Pujols that was more like 85% instead of 70%, maybe you think they can score the runs to stay in this thing.  Rick Ankiel, whether it’s because the story got into his head, he’s just in a slump, or people are starting to figure out how to pitch to him, is 1-14 since the HGH bit came out.  When your good luck wonder bat is slumping, you know you’ve got problems.

But think about this winter dream, not for 2008, but for 2009.  All the money saved this year and next is used to sign Johan Santana.  Put him in a rotation with Carpenter and Wainwright.  Chris Perez is closing.  The lineup has Pujols, Rasmus, Ankiel, Duncan, Rolen.  You think that team could win some games?  Hopefully ownership does……

Ankiel! (Redux)

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.

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Break Out the Brooms

Nice to see the Cardinals were able to actually take care of business this weekend. The Reds gave them some scares–I really was worried on Friday night that they’d blow their opportunity–but they battled through them and came out on top every day, with major credit due to Mr. Ankiel, who started it off again today with a home run and drove in another with a sac fly. With Juan Encarnacion out and with Ankiel hitting lefties the way he is, I’d say there’s a good possibility he’s going to be playing almost every day from here on out. And that’s likely a good thing from the Cardinals’ point of view.

As for Encarnacion, the news isn’t good from that horrifying incident from Friday night. It looks like he’ll be fortunate just to be able to see out of the eye again, much less play baseball any more. Hopefully it’s not as bad as they think it is, but that is out there. It’s amazing that, in the split second it took from the ball to leave Aaron Miles’s bat and hit him in the face, Encarnacion’s public perception took a 180.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with Encarnacion. The biggest problem with him, I think, was his contract. Walt Jocketty signed him to a deal that was really more than he probably was worth, which is what got everyone really up in arms and let him slide easily into the Cardinal Whipping Boy slot recently vacated by J.D. Drew. All the other criticisms, in my mind, flowed out of the fact that we got him at above-market rates. If he’d been a bargain, a lot of the complaints levelled at him would have been shrugged off, I think.

Anyway, now if Encarnacion shows up at any Cardinal function, he’s about guaranteed to always get a warm ovation. It’s a little sad that it takes something as drastic as this to see and care about the person underneath, instead of the abstraction that we think of when we think of a baseball player.

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