Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:21 pm
File this under the Life Goes On Dept.:
The St. Louis Cardinals lost three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols ... and still may enter 2012 as NL Central favorites.
Yes, you read that right.
That's what two years and $26 million -- oh, and a full no-trade clause -- to free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran does for the Redbirds. No guarantees of course, because his knees have more mileage on them than Don Rickles. But if Beltran, at 34, can produce as he did as an All-Star last summer, look out.
Defending division champion Milwaukee is on the brink of losing Prince Fielder, and the Brewers could be without NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first third of 2012 if his suspension for a testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug is upheld. The Reds are coming off of a highly disappointing season and have young starters surrounded by lots of questions (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, Mike Leake). The Cubs have miles to go. The Pirates fell off in the second half last season. Houston? Please.
In St. Louis, this isn't about the Beltran of 2006, when he played in 140 games and blasted 41 homers and collected 116 RBIs. That Beltran but a memory -- just as is the image of him standing there frozen at home plate, gawking at Adam Wainwright's knee-bending, Game 7 curve for strike three that sent the Cardinals, and not Beltran's Mets, to the World Series.
No, this is about how today's Beltran fits in with, yep, Wainwright and the rest of the post-Pujols Cardinals.
Wainwright should be sufficiently recovered from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery to start the season in the rotation. Add him to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse and that's a winning rotation. Always, you start with pitching.
Beltran alone would not solve St. Louis' issues, pre- or post-Pujols. But with Matt Holliday (left field) and Lance Berkman (first base) in place, and with promising outfielders Jon Jay (center field) and Allen Craig (right field), now you've got something. Beltran fits well into that rotation. Veteran Rafael Furcal back at shortstop, World Series hero David Freese at third base ... mm-hmmm, the Cardinals will miss Pujols, but they're still versatile and potent.
With all that, first-year manager Mike Matheny shouldn't need to ride Beltran into the ground. But with Craig probably set to open the season on the disabled list following November knee surgery, Beltran can plug into right field early, stabilize the outfield and add depth and power to the lineup.
When Craig returns, Matheny surely will have no problem finding enough at-bats for Beltran in center and right field.
If he's got his legs under him, his bat is still there: His .525 slugging percentage in 2011 for the Mets and Giants ranked eighth among NL outfielders. Overall, he batted .300 with 22 homers and 84 RBI in 142 games.
You can argue that St. Louis overpaid for a guy who turns 35 in late April. But Colorado gave Michael Cuddyer $31.5 million over three years. It's a lot of money, but it's also a short-term commitment for St. Louis.
In that short-term, especially when measured against the rest of the NL Central right now, it looks like smart money. Yes, Pujols is gone. But that doesn't necessarily mean turn out the lights in St. Louis.
Posted on: October 14, 2011 11:15 pm
ST. LOUIS -- You won't see this often. You surely would never see this in the American League. But as Tony La Russa continues to put on a managerial clinic in this NL Championship Series, he actually, for one fleeting moment, put more trust in starter Jaime Garcia's bat than in his arm Friday night.
Yes, St. Louis' 7-1 blitz of Milwaukee, which gave the Cardinals a three-games-to-two lead in this NLCS, was a strategist's delight.
Fourth inning, La Russa called for eight-hole hitter Nick Punto to drop a sacrifice bunt to set up a one-out, second-and-third situation for Garcia. It paid off when Garcia roped an RBI ground ball to shortstop.
Fifth inning, La Russa promptly yanked Garcia with two out, two on and a three-run lead so reliever Octavio Dotel could face slugger Ryan Braun.
It was textbook when Dotel fanned Braun in what turned out to be the game-changing -- game-saving? -- at-bat. And you could see why La Russa pounced to quickly: Braun now is 2 for 10 lifetime against Dotel with eight strikeouts.
Um, that's K-K-K-K-K-K-K-K.
And Braun is probably about a month out from winning the NL MVP award this year.
Chalk up another one for the Cardinals' overpowering bullpen, whose long relief in short order quickly has become the star of this NLCS.
La Russa has managed with a sense of urgency throughout this series, but it seemed even more on display in Game 5. Easy to understand why, too: When a series is 2-2, Game 5 always is pivotal. But with this thing headed back to Milwaukee, given the way the Brewers dominate at Miller Park, it was more pivotal than usual.
Had St. Louis headed to Wisconsin having to win both games in Miller Park, well, it would have been worse than bad cheese curds for the Cards.
But now the pressure is squarely on the Brewers.
St. Louis winning one of the next two in old Milwaukee? Now, that's doable.
Posted on: August 27, 2010 3:15 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2010 3:15 pm
Off days are precious in late August, and not just for players headed for the September fires of the stretch run.
The Giants moved into the lead in the NL wild-card chase this week before taking a break Thursday, which surely made the coaches as happy as the players at this point. Not long ago, a couple of their coaches calculated how many ground balls they hit to infielders in need of work each season.
I don't know the exact formula used, but the number they came up with was 44,000 ground balls a year.
"Then you go, 'How many years?'" third-base coach Tim Flannery says.
He's been coaching 15 years, so, multiply that by 44,000, and by this baseball math, Flannery figures he's slapped 660,000 or so fungoes during his career. He's had six or so cortisone injections in each elbow. Thanks to ulnar nerve issues, his right pinky and ring fingers currently are numb.
"Some might argue that my head is, too," Flannery jokes.
Giants bench coach Ron Wotus has hit so many fungoes he's had surgery to re-attach a tendon to his elbow.
"Thought it was tendinitis at first," Wotus says.
Flannery was wearing an elastic compression brace on each elbow after first smearing them with Tiger Balm.
"A lot of Advil, a lot of ice," he says.
Which pretty much is the prescription for everybody at this point in the season. There aren't many off days left. The Yankees have just three (Sept. 9, 16 and 30). Trying to catch the Twins, the White Sox have just three as well (Sept. 2, 13 and 23). The Twins have four -- one on Monday, then identical dates with the Sox.
First-place San Diego has the biggest grind, with only two remaining the rest of the season -- Sept. 2 and 20. The Giants have four (Sept. 2, 13, 20 and 27). In the NL Central, Cincinnati has three (Sept. 2, 13 and 27) and the Cardinals, having slipped to four games behind the Reds in the NL Central, have only two (Sept. 2 and 20).
On to 3 to watch:
1. In a place they never thought they'd be after having swept three in Cincinnati Aug. 9-11, the Cardinals enter the weekend looking to make up some serious ground before getting one last shot at the Reds head-to-head in St. Louis next weekend. Trailing the Reds by four games, right-hander Jaime Garcia takes the ball first in Cardinals at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 p.m. ET) in Nationals Park and, when he does, maybe it'll hearten Washington fans blue over Stephen Strasburg's impending elbow surgery. Garcia is a Poster Boy survivor of Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, to the point where he's a leading contender for the NL Rookie of the Year award. It's a weirdly busy weekend in D.C. -- not only will this series be played under the Strasburg pall, but Cards manager Tony La Russa and slugger Albert Pujols are scheduled to appear Saturday at Glenn Beck's highly controversial rally in Washington.
2. Last time out, Tampa Bay's Matt Garza hooked up with Oakland's Dallas Braden in a battle of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this summer (a perfect game, in Braden's case). Now, in Red Sox at Rays, Saturday night (7:10 ET) in Tropicana Field, Garza faces another pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume, Boston's Clay Buchholz, who did it in September, 2007. Being that Buchholz's 2.26 ERA leads the AL, the middle game of this series should sizzle as the Rays work toward holding Boston off in the playoff race. Tampa Bay enters the weekend tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead, and the Red Sox, clinging to playoff hopes despite missing Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (among others), are 5 1/2 back. Boston has six games left against Tampa Bay heading into the weekend and three remaining against the Yankees.
3. The Giants offense bludgeoned its way back to life against the Reds this week (38 runs, 53 hits over three games), but if Bruce Bochy's club is going to hang on to the NL wild-card lead, Tim Lincecum is going to have to become The Man again. Loser of four consecutive starts for the first time in his big-league career, the two-time Cy Young winner pitches the opener of Diamondbacks at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park. Lincecum hasn't won in a month, since July 30. Now is a good time to start.
Posted on: June 30, 2010 5:23 pm
Come on. Stephen Strasburg an All-Star?
In 2011, probably.
Every season from 2011 through 2021, good chance.
But 13 days from now? In 2010?
Five starts do not make an All-Star, no matter how many oohs, ahhs and strikeouts Strasburg has produced. This is still a game in which you have to earn your way. Strasburg is off the starting blocks in that department. But he hasn't earned anything yet.
There are too many good pitchers in the National League who have been doing it since Opening Day who deserve All-Star spots more than Strasburg. Break it down to rookies alone, and St. Louis' Jaime Garcia and Cincinnati's Mike Leake are in line ahead of Strasburg (yes, even though Leake has struggled in his past couple of outings).
Look, I love Strasburg. He's exceeded the hype, which pretty much was an impossible task.
But there are only two possible reasons to justify putting him on the NL squad:
1. The fans demand it.
2. Because the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, you must put the best pitchers on the team regardless.
As for the first reason, the fans have their say in voting for the starting position players. They don't name the entire team.
As for the second reason, again: Judging by all appearances and rave reviews, Strasburg looks like he's already one of the best pitchers in the game. But even he said following his outing against Atlanta on Monday that he's got plenty to learn.
There are too many others deserving to jump Strasburg ahead of them. And I haven't talked to him about this issue, but my guess, level-headed kid that he is, is that he'd agree.
The game demands that you earn things, you're not just given them.
And in the end, you'll be respected a heck of a lot more if you do.
Likes: Vladimir Guerrero back in Anaheim. And the nice ovation he received in the series opener Tuesday. ... MLB Network, which does an excellent job each night cutting from game to game to game. ... XM Radio offering every game, every night. I know I've plugged them here before, but what a great thing satellite radio is -- for games, news, music, everything. ... Mexican food in Southern California. ... Excellent new disc from Gaslight Anthem, American Slang. ... The fourth season of Friday Night Lights is fantastic. Really, really good writing and acting, as we've come to expect from one of the best shows ever on television.
Dislikes: Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward saying he's out of the All-Star Game. ... Poor Joel Zumaya. Best wishes to the Detroit reliever in his recovery following an absolutely sickening injury. ... The Dodgers' Matt Kemp and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton in the doghouse. Come on fellas, how difficult is it to work hard and be a good teammate? ... Carlos Zambrano is a dope.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"You told me fortunes
-- Gaslight Anthem, American Slang
Posted on: May 27, 2010 10:01 pm
Right now, even with a rotation that ranks second to San Diego's in the National League with a 3.03 ERA, the warning signs are flashing.
While the Cardinals figure to get right-hander Brad Penny back when he's eligible to return from the disabled list June 7, there is no timetable -- yet -- for Lohse's return.
And though rookie Jaime Garcia (1.14 ERA, 11 consecutive scoreless innings) has been sensational, he underwent Tommy John ligament transfer surgery in September, 2008, and only pitched a total of 37 2/3 innings combined at three minor-league levels in 2009.
Which all likely will put St. Louis in the market for more starting pitching at some point this season. Seattle's Cliff Lee, Houston's Roy Oswalt, Cleveland's Jake Westbrook and possibly even Oakland's Ben Sheets are all among the names expected to become available between now and the July 31 trade deadline, though La Russa -- whose club acquired John Smoltz last year -- isn't allowing his imagination to run wild at this point.
"I think it will come from within [the organization]," La Russa said of any eventual pitching reinforcements. "Mo [general manager John Mozeliak], can answer that better, and maybe differently. But I haven't heard anything different than from within."
It isn't that the Cardinals are anywhere close to trouble now, even with Lohse headed into unknown territory to undergo surgery for an injury to which there apparently is no precedent in major-league baseball.
"I think we'll get Penny back [when his DL stint is up]," manager Tony La Russa said Thursday. "That means we'll have four solid guys. There's a question mark on Lohse. But everybody has problems."
Until the Cardinals get Penny back, they're down two-fifths of their rotation. As La Russa said, for one thing, that gives an opportunity to rookie P.J. Walters, who made just his second career start on Thursday in San Diego.
The kid stepped up to the challenge, throwing five shutout innings. He allowed four hits, struck out four and walked two.
Saturday in Chicago's Wrigley Field, Adam Ottavino, the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2006, is expected to make his first major-league start. Another opportunity.
Garcia, 23, certainly has made the most of his. He's worked six or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his first seven starts, and the last rookie to do that was named Fernando Valenzuela, back in 1981.
The issue is, if Garcia continues pitching this well, it's hard to see how there won't be a breaking point when he reaches a certain number of innings. What are the Cardinals going to do, allow a prized kid less than two years off of Tommy John surgery to, say, quadruple his innings-pitched load from last year? He's at 55 1/3 innings pitched so far in 2010.
"You can't speculate," La Russa said. "All you can do is watch closely. He never really forced it ... you really have to wait and see how the season develops. We're going to be really careful with him."
Lohse was diagnosed this week with exertional compartment syndrome, an uncommon, exercise-induced neuromuscular condition that causes pain and swelling in the legs or arms. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Joe Strauss reported, it is most common in marathon runners and motocross drivers. Athletes in those sports generally have resumed activity within six-to-eight weeks, though, as a pitcher, Lohse is expected to take a longer.
La Russa said Thursday he figures Lohse will return "this year. Other than that, we just have to wait."