Happy New Year!

Hope everyone is having a great 2008 so far.  We are creeping closer and closer to spring training, which means that the Cardinals should start picking up the pace on transactions pretty soon.

Here are some predictions for 2008.  Some are serious, some aren’t.  (The ones that don’t happen are the non-serious ones, in case you can’t tell.)

*The Cardinals will win between 73-76 games.  The only chance for a contending season, in my mind, is a fast start somehow, then hanging on until Carpenter gets back.  The Cardinals would need Mulder to start strong from the get-go for this to happen, I think.  Still, even with another sub-.500 season, we’ll have a lot to talk about and enjoy.

*Albert Pujols will hit .300 with 30 HR and 100 RBI.  In other news, the sun will continue to rise in the east and set in the west.

*Scott Rolen will not be traded.  After he starts off the season closer to his normal form, his attitude improves and he’s much more able to tolerate LaRussa.  With his increased performance coupled with the lack of an immediate successor, Mozeliak decides to keep him on, though rumors will fly close to the trading deadline.

*Jim Edmonds gets at least two standing ovations in his first game back in Busch Stadium.

*Even with the rag-tag nature of the starting rotation, the team will post a better team ERA than they did in 2007.

*Colby Rasmus will be on the major league roster by the middle of June.  He’ll struggle at first, but will show the form that has everyone excited by mid-August.

*The Reds will surprise people, coming in a strong second to the Brewers in the division.

*The Red Sox will not win another World Series title.  Boston has to return to losing sometime.  (Doesn’t it?)

*Brian Barton will play all season in the majors and become a fan favorite off the bench.  He will get some starts, but TLR will not overexpose him.

*Chris Carpenter will not pitch in the major leagues until August.

*The Cardinals make a big splash in the 2008 free agent pool, signing an ace for the rotation and temporarily shutting up those that question ownership.

*I’ll keep blogging away on a regular basis.

Got your own predictions?  Let’s see them in the comments.

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Signs of Concern

I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately defending ownership.  However, the talk and actions of our new GM are starting to concern even me.

First, we have the Izturis signing.  While not worth the doom and gloom, sky is falling mentality some people had for it, it still was a bit of a headscratcher and not nearly the kind of moves most fans have been waiting for.

Then, we have the idea of shipping Scott Rolen off to the Brewers.  In case you aren’t paying attention, the Brewers are 1) a team in the same division as the Cardinals and 2) the team most likely to win the NL Central next year, in my opinion.  While I’m not one that thinks Rolen should be traded now, trading him within the division would just be nuts.

Coupled with that is the pursuit of Chris Capuano.  Larry at VEB broke down Capuano pretty well yesterday, and there are points to like, points to worry about.  This probably isn’t a terrible move, but it depends on what it costs.  I wouldn’t give Rolen for him, I don’t think.

Next, the ESPN winter meetings blog indicates the Cardinals have talked to the Indians about pitcher Cliff Lee.  Lee’s an Arkansas boy and in that regard, I’d like to see him come over.  Moving to the NL probably would help as well.  The price is supposedly Anthony Reyes and/or Brian Anderson.  It best not be and–that’s a ton to give up for a guy that has been down for a year or two.  Reyes, also according to that blog, is getting some attention from suitors.  I believe they’ll deal him–and he’ll probably do well away from the organization–and Lee would probably be acceptable.  But not if they overpay for him.

That blog also indicates Ankiel, Duncan and Edmonds are all available.  I can’t believe the organization would move Ankiel now, after all they’ve done for him, but it is a new GM, so maybe so.  At least you have to hear the offers.

There was talk about bringing Pedro Feliz in if Rolen is traded.  Yuck.  They aren’t even offering arbitration to Eckstein.  Nuts.

All in all, the best news around is that the Cardinals were in, at least on the periphery, on Eric Bedard.  If Mozeliak could pull that off, I’d take it all back.

Spoiler

It’s a different feeling here in late September. The Cardinals are playing games that matter, but they matter for the other team. However, it’s a credit to the “hard 9” mentality of the team that they’ve been able to pull out wins the last couple of nights, crippling other teams’ postseason dreams. Not that you take a whole lot of joy in that–especially the Brewers, because it looks like the Cubs are going to October–but it’s something to take solace in.

Nice to see the Cards take care of business against Pedro Martinez last night. Not having Pedro was one of the reasons the Cardinals were able to take care of the Mets last October, I think. So it was nice to know that they, at least for one night, could beat a top pitcher.

More impressive was Joel Pineiro spinning 8 scoreless innings with only three hits. There has been a lot of talk about Pineiro coming back next year. It seems to me that he’s gotten better as he’s gone along. I thought that when he first came around, a lot of balls were being hit hard at people. Then he had some games where the ball was hit hard–period. A rough calculation of his BABIP is .278. If he could maintain that, he would be a serviceable fifth starter. If the price is right, the Cards probably should bring him back.

Albert scored another run, bringing him to 97. He’s also just 2 shy of 100 walks, which was his goal coming into the year. For all the talk about his good eye and discipline, 98 walks is a career high. He’s disciplined enough to wait for his pitch, but he usually gets it and doesn’t miss. Also, in the past he’s had more potent of a lineup around him, so he’s never gotten the Barry Bonds treatment since Edmonds or Rolen would come up and make pitchers pay.

If Pujols can hit like he has in the past in Pittsburgh, he’ll get both of those marks this weekend. I’m still not sure he can get 3 runs in 3 days, but it’s definitely in the realm of possibility.

Apparently the NL Central is going to be won the way it was played most of the year–by last team standing. The Cubs have done their best to give the division away, being swept by Florida. Milwaukee, though, won’t take advantage of it. They hit Pujols in Wednesday night’s game, opening the floodgates, then make 5 errors last night against the Padres. I can’t see the Brewers winning all three games left against San Diego, so I think we are resigned to Cubbie blue going into October. Hopefully it won’t last long. I’m not sure I could handle a deep Chicago run!

The Time Has Come

The Cardinals got to play meaningful baseball in September.  After all this team has gone through, from injuries to death to off-field controversy, that’s saying a lot.  The surge back from 10.5 down to get within a game was very impressive.

But it’s hard to believe that just Friday, the Cards had a chance to get into first place by percentage points.  Since then, the rotation has collapsed, which is not too surprising.  Duct tape only holds for so long.  The question isn’t whether the Cards can put a run together to get back into the race.  The question is whether any “starter” besides Wainwright will get a win between now and September 30.

With half of Memphis playing every day, a Pujols that is hurt (19 games and counting without a home run) and a rotation that is so terrible you can’t even make a regular starting staff out of it, it’s no wonder that things finally have come to a head.  Four games out, with this collection of players, might as well be 15.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ankiel!

So, when does it become ridiculous?  When does it become crazy enough that Hollywood won’t make the movie, citing believability issues?  When does the man come back to earth?

Hopefully, a long, long time.  Because the bat and, in a different way than expected years ago, the arm of Rick Ankiel may be the only way that this team makes the playoffs.

Seriously, it’s getting nuts.  A grand slam, against a lefty, to give the team the lead?  What are the odds of that?  He’s hitting in the .330 range, even higher against the lefties that are supposed to give him fits.  He’s made some amazing throws from the outfield and played all three outfield positions.  And the team took off when he was called up.  That’s mainly from the good pitching the team got, but I believe he provided a bit of a spark as well.

Good pitching has become a little scarcer lately.  Anthony Reyes surely didn’t have it tonight.  It’s never good when the one big inning you are prone to giving up happens in the first.   A little help by his fielders would have been nice, but most of the problems could be lain at his feet.  He’ll have to improve somehow if he’s going to stay in the rotation, at least for 2008.  Another couple of rough outings and Walt will be actively shopping him in the offseason, I’d expect.

Thankfully the bullpen held the Reds in check, being credited with no more runs after Todd Wellemeyer came in to take care of Reyes’s problems in the second.  Hopefully Wainwright can give an ace-like performance tomorrow and help rest some of those arms.  The stretch run is really just starting, so we don’t need to blow them out too early, even if reinforcements are coming from the minors starting tomorrow.

And there has to be some serious concern about Albert Pujols.  He is limping around, not being able to really use his legs as much as he should.  Problem is, his bat is still too necessary to have him sit out a day or two.  But there may come a time where the team has no other option.

Congratulations to Tony for passing an all-time Cardinal legend, Red Schoendienst, on the all-time Cardinal win list.  I know that Tony thinks Red should have had the record for all time, but at least if someone was going to pass him, it’s a Hall of Famer to be.

Cubs lost, so the Cards move to two behind them again.  Milwaukee hung on to win, so they are only a game and a half back.  If the Cards can’t win this thing, hopefully the Brewers can!

Superman No More?

As Albert struck out in the top of the fifth with two runners on, a friend of mine IMd to say “Typical of the Pujols of 2007”.

I responded, “What, just superhuman not perfect?”

However, it struck a chord with me. Pujols seems to have been a little less reliable in big situations this year than in the past. Before, it was almost automatic that he was going to get a run in, now you aren’t as surprised when it doesn’t happen. But was this true or more of a subjective issue?

I hunted back through some stats on ESPN’s player page. The stats went back to 2002, which is pretty much the length of his career. So what do we see? Let’s take it bit by bit. Read the rest of this entry »