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.


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.

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Recently, ESPN moved today’s home finale with the Astros to the Sunday Night Baseball slot.  Whether that decision was made during the Cardinals’ push for October at the beginning of the month or not, it should be a fact used in the “ESPN hates the Cardinals” argument.

The Cardinals, at best, would have been looking like a .500 team at that time the decision was made.  Maybe they had a chance in the division, but anyone looking at them would have been hard pressed to think they could keep it up.  And yet ESPN, in the middle of exciting pennant races, decides to feature them in their weekly signature game, the last one of the 2007 season.

I think it’s a nod to the fact that they are the defending champs, even if it’s just for another month.  It’s a rivalry with Houston that has so often produced great games and been important baseball.  Plus you have the whole “last home game for LaRussa?” storyline that you can carry through if you want.  Even if the Cardinals don’t get the press some teams do, I think the lack of respect line is really tired and played out.  If you want no respect, there are other teams that have a better claim.

Roy Oswalt’s going tonight.  That’s about as much of a guarantee of a Cardinal loss as you can get, especially when it is coupled with the ragtag, piecemeal lineup that LaRussa is forced to put out there.

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A Bump In the Road

I’m a fan of Harry Turtledove‘s alternative history books. (In fact, I’m reading The Grapple right now.) In those, as in most military books I’d assume, you get the feeling of the pushes of the lines into enemy territory and the falling back when the resistance is too much.

The Cards have been pushing, rolling through the NL Central to get to within two games, but last night they ran into the immovable object. After running those numbers yesterday, I was pretty sure that the game was over after one run in the first. After Houston was up 4-0, then you had to know it was fight again another day.

Kip Wells had another fairly rough start, though if the Cardinals had been facing a normal pitcher, he might have been able to hang in there and keep the team in the game. He’s been shaky the last two games, though, which is an area of concern. If the Cardinals are going to overtake the Cubs, the pitching has to be on a level with how it was most of August. It cannot revert to the mid-season ugliness.

Along with the loss, there was news out of St. Louis that Scott Rolen could be done for the year. That could be a blow since there’s no obvious long-term replacement. Brendan Ryan has played some good games over there, but I’m not sure that you want him there on a full-time basis. And there’s not much at Memphis to call up on Saturday when rosters expand. Excuse me if I’m not that excited about Miguel Cairo. Rolen’s bat has been shaky most of the year, but it has produced in spots. The defense, though, will be sorely missed. You can only hope that it’s not going to come back to haunt the team. Read the rest of this entry »

.500 At Last

Hard to believe that this team hasn’t had an equal number of wins and losses since the 12th game of the year. It’s been a long year, when they’ve been left for dead so many times, but here we are just over a month from the finish line, and not only to they return to .500 (which would be a minor achievement no matter what the standings), but they move into second place. Granted, I’d rather be in third place and one game out than second and two out, but it’s still nice to have only one team ahead of them.

I plan to continue to give Braden Looper a hard time, because maybe if I do he’ll keep throwing games like he did last night. As I talked about yesterday, I really didn’t know what to expect out of him, but a traditional quality start (3 runs in 6 innings) would have been great in my book. To get seven scoreless out of him, at a time when we will need to be conserving the bullpen anyway–just priceless. To be able to step up and produce these kind of games this late in the season after being a reliever for so long, well, I find that amazingly impressive. I still don’t trust him and I’d consider resting him more once Mark Mulder makes the team, but he’s doing his best to make that a tough decision and you have to respect that.

It was nice to see Rick Ankiel get three hits last night. The more singles and doubles he gets, the more I think he can make it as a regular outfielder in the coming years. If he was just HR or nothing, well, those kind of guys get run out of the league pretty quickly (unless they are real big HR hitters, like Adam Dunn). I was really hoping that he’d get a hit his last time up, because having a four-hit game would be really big for him, I think. Still, he’s hitting over .300, playing pretty good defense, and showing power. And when you think that he’s basically learning this at the major league level, it’s obvious to see the talent that Walt Jocketty didn’t want to give up on. I’m looking forward to seeing him play on a regular basis next year, though the movie script would be for him to make an impact on the same postseason stage that the demons that unraveled him before first appeared.

Tonight is a tough matchup, as one of our recent favorites around these parts, the resurgent Kip Wells, takes on another stud in Roy Oswalt. We’ve rehashed Kip a number of times, and we know that, save the last outing, he’s been pretty spectacular down the stretch with an ERA in the low 2.00 range. Roy Oswalt is always a tough pitcher to face, so let’s mine the stats and see if there are any glimmers of hope.

On the face of it, not so much. He’s got a 2.17 ERA at home, a 1.46 ERA in August and a 1.13 ERA against the Cardinals in 2007. ERA doesn’t tell us everything, right? I think it gives us a darn good story there, though. His BAA/OPSA at home is .241/.634, which is very impressive when you consider that bandbox they play in. In the last three years, he has a 3.12 ERA against the Birds, though only a 5-3 record, so he can be beaten, as they’ve hit him for a .267 average over that span.

It’s not going to be the blowout last night was, for sure. Here’s the history of Oswalt vs. Cardinal batters. As you can see, Eckstein has hit him at the best clip (of anyone with an significant AB), while Pujols has a nice .290 average with 3 HR. Unfortunately, the averages plummet from there, though Edmonds and Duncan (wasn’t it nice to finally see him go deep again!) have home runs against him.

If the Cards play like they’ve been playing, they may pull tonight’s game out, but it’s going to be a battle. Hopefully they can get Oswalt’s pitch count up and get into the bullpen early. And maybe the Brewers can get a lead and hold on to it tonight, moving the Cards ever closer to that top slot.

Yet Another Hurdle

OK, don’t you think the Astros could have waited until after the Cardinals got out of town before they fired their manager and GM?  Because you know that now the Astros get that “new manager boost” that seems to happen so often, where a team wins the first game after their manager is fired.  Sometimes they win two or three, which gives the press a fun angle to play with.  At least the Astros won Garner’s last game, so it’s not like they have a long losing streak that they need breaking as well.  Otherwise, the Cards might as well not show up tonight.

Tonight the Cardinals run out Braden Looper in a park that is not exactly pitcher friendly.  Of course, looking at the stats, there aren’t too many road parks that are friendly to Mr. Looper.  He’s got a 6.51 ERA on the road this year, with BAA/OPSA of .302/.820.  His last three starts have been pretty good, though (ERA of 2.50 with three straight games of 6-innings, four hits) and he has a 3.00 ERA against Houston this year in two starts.  So while he probably won’t be around to start the seventh, hopefully he can keep the team in the game.

The Cardinals get to face an old friend in Woody Williams.  Woody had a great run in St. Louis after being acquired for Ray Lankford in a waiver deal five years ago.  And when I look at the stats, I’m surprised that he’s had a solid, if not spectacular, season for the Astros this year as well.  His ERA is 4.84 (which looks a lot better than some of the ERAs the Cardinal starters have sported this year) and that ERA has dropped almost 60 points since a 7-run blowup against the Nationals five starts ago.  He has a 4.54 ERA at home, so the Crawford boxes aren’t getting to him too much.  If he were left-handed, I’d really say the Cards were in trouble.

So tonight’s matchup should be a good one.  Jim Edmonds has traditionally torn up Houston pitching, Scott Rolen has shown that a day off does wonders for him, and if Albert’s rolling, there could be a lot of runs put up tonight.  With the Cubs and Brewers facing off, tonight’s a game they really need to win.

On a side note, today is the fifth anniversary of the forum known as CardsClubhouse.   Congrats to Roark and the crew over there on a great five years!