Back to the Sandbox, ChildrenAfter a sobering trip to Philadelphia, the Cardinals returned to the friendly confines of the NL Central. Boy is it hostile out there in other divisions. The Padres appear to be for real. The Giants can shut out anyone with their arms. And the Phillies have the NL's only AL-esque lineup.
Kyle Lohse summed up the Phillies best (or whine-iest, depending on how you look at it): "They take advantage of the park," Lohse noted. "The pitch to Werth was off the plate, away. I thought it was going to be caught but it just kept going. It was a good pitch, but he hit it out."
Did anyone else read, "I'm telling my dad!"?
Hopefully the Phillies (and their rough-and-tumble fans) overlooked Kyle's statement, recognizing the little Redbirds can't play with the big boys, and will allow us to return to the sandbox to beat up on ball clubs smaller than us.
But I have to agree with Lohse. The Phillies enjoy (what I call) the "Fenway Effect" at home. The home offense is so intimidating that their pitchers are actually more effective at home than on the road, despite pitching in an offense ballpark. Take a look at the splits so far this year:
AVG SLG OPS
HOME .276 .485 .824
Away .266 .414 .756
ERA SLG OPS
HOME 3.66 .367 .668
Away 3.75 .469 .805
The Phillies are outclassed on the road, statistically, with a -49 OPS differential while they are simply ridiculous at home at +156. And in my mind, that is the Fenway Effect - their pitchers can hurl with confidence knowing their offense is going to get them runs every single game at home. Philly pitchers are allowing their opponents a pitiful .668 OPS in their home ballpark.
So yes, Kyle Lohse: the Phillies DO take advantage of that ballpark. Or, more accurately, they take advantage of their opponents in that ballpark - similar to getting mugged while you're out of town. The Philly pitchers may get a little bloodied by a cheap homer or two, but the end result is still going to be you, unconscious, and left for dead in an alley.
The other side of the coin is that the Phillies have to spend big bucks to field a talented ballclub to maintain that home field advantage. Otherwise the pendulum swings the other way (see: Houston Astros). There are exceptions, of course. Pre-humidor Coors Field was so obnoxiously offensive, that the Fenway Effect did not apply. The Rockies attempted to pay through the nose for top pitching, but you can't defeat physics or Mother Nature, as Denny Neagle, Darryl Kile and Mike Hampton found out firsthand.
Back to the Redbirds, order was restored as we took two of three from the Pirates. The Cards "trounced" the Buckos in game one 4-3, failed to back Jaime Garcia's fine outing in game two as we got shut out, and took advantage of the Pirate's shoddy defense in addition to eight free passes in the rubber match Sunday.
Can I admit I FEAR the Cards making the playoffs?
Unfortunately for us, I don't think the Reds or Pirates are winning the wildcard anytime soon.
It's time again for...
The Hard Nine
1. "Chopper-Popper" - In Sunday's game, the Pirate's TV broadcast showed a replay of Albert Pujols' first homer his rookie year. It went out to right-center with the easiest swing you've ever seen. I almost cried. Right-center used to be his bread and butter and now, he's so pull-conscious, I feel like Elvis has died all over again or something.
So I must call Albert by his new nickname, "Chopper-Popper" because that is all he seems to do anymore (that is, when he actually makes contact with his swings). He's pulling off everything, hitting weak topped grounders, choppers or pop ups. And not only is he pull-happy, but I've never seen him give up on pitches on the outside corner like he does now. This bad habit definitely became obvious last year and now it just seems he's fundamentally changed his approach. Albert, take your own advice from Young Albert: See ball, hit ball. Hit it where it's pitched. Go up the middle.
2. .292 - How, exactly, did Brendan Ryan bat that high last year?
3. "Quick"-Change Artist - I heard an interesting discussion between some commentators during a late West Coast game (Giants or Oakland, my memory fails) about En Vogue pitches by decade. In the 80s it was the split-fingered fastball, featured by Bruce Sutter. The 90s brought the cut-fastball to the forefront, used famously by Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. The 2000s has featured the change-up - Trevor Hoffman and Cy Young winner Johan Santana have had huge success with it.
And you can add Dallas Braden to the list as he threw the 19th perfect game in history last night against the best team in the majors, the Tampa Bay Rays, using mostly a mid-80s fastball and a 69-mph change up.
4. Length Does Matter - Too many important Cardinal hitters have annoying long swings (at the moment): Joe Mather, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick and Albert is slowly moving in this direction as well. The short-swingers? Yadier Molina, David Freese and Nick Stavinoha. Guess which group is staying hotter, longer.
5. Payback for 2004 - the Boston Redsox are 16-16. Ok, not necessarily payback, but they are far behind the Rays and Yankees, not just record-wise, but talent-wise. But...they would win the NL Central, if they had the opportunity. But still, it's fun seeing them be irrelevant in their own division.
6. But Seriously - Yadier Molina is on pace for 121 Ribbies, currently. Since 1981, the highest RBI total for a Cardinals catcher is 67 by World Series MVP Darrell Porter in 1984 (thanks Fox Sports Midwest). And of course, this stretches back to my earliest memories of life, but as long as I have walked this Earth, my beloved Cardinals have never had a great offensive catcher. Todd Ziele came up in 1989 as a catcher and he had legitimate power and RBI potential - which is was why we moved him to 3rd base his second year, I guess. At any rate, we are seeing a fantastic franchise receiver truly blossoming. But don't say that to his face - don't want to give Yadi a complex...
7. Strange Brew - Milwaukee has the BEST road record in the NL at 11-8 to go along with the WORST record at home (4-8). I'm having horrible flashbacks of my beloved St. Louis Blues, who were equally Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-ish this year over in the NHL. This issue was the primary reason they missed the playoffs this spring.
8. Twinkies are Good - But so are the fruit pies. Hmm. Along with the Rays, my other adopted AL team is Minnesota. They are similar to the Cards in that they are the class of thier division, they have a balanced club, and they great at the fundamentals. I look forward to the Twins knocking out whichever big baddie comes out of the AL East. They are 3rd in batting average in the AL and 2nd in ERA. Pretty sexy.
9. Clean Up in Section 308 - Houston comes to visit starting Tuesday night. The Astros have ONE....ROAD....HOMER....this year. Chew on that for a minute and then thank the Lord you're not an Astros fan.