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: March 9, 2011 4:30 pm
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is not a stretch to say that rookie Mike Leake was a key spark that helped light Cincinnati's baseball Renaissance during the first half of 2010.
So how could it be, then, that the young right-hander is scratching and clawing for a rotation job here this spring ... and has a better than 50/50 chance of opening the season at Triple-A Louisville?
Well, circumstances broke just right for Leake last year at this time and he completely skipped the minor leagues, jumping from Arizona State to the bigs. He was the first starting pitcher in the majors to accomplish that since Jim Abbott with the Angels in 1989.
But a couple of things are at issue this year: One, the length of last season eventually wore him down and the Reds wound up pulling him from the rotation late in the season. And two, behind Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, the Reds have a growing number of other good young arms.
Essentially, it's a three-person battle for the last two slots in the rotation among Leake, Homer Bailey and Travis Wood. One disadvantage facing Leake is that Bailey is out of options (meaning, the Reds now have to place him on waiver and risk losing him before they can send him back to the minors). Consequently, Bailey probably has a job won unless he turns in an absolute clunker of a spring.
At roughly 5-10 and 175 pounds, Leake, who went 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 24 games (22 starts) last year for the Reds, remains a wisp of a guy.
"You hope he's getting stronger," manager Dusty Baker says. "He was a little kid [last year].
"I was always told there are kid muscles and there are man muscles, and he don't have his man muscles yet."
The Reds still value Leake, 23, and appreciate that he helped launch them early in 2010 toward their greatest heights since 1995. But like other very young pitchers, he still hase some developing to do.
"He was our best starter over the first eight or 10 weeks and he was on the worst schedule," Cincinnati pitching coach Bryan Price says. "Because we were trying to limit his innings, he wasn't on an every-five-days schedule."
Whenever the Reds had an extra off day, they pushed Leake back, and he often started with five or six days' rest, rather than just four. As Price says, those are not optimal conditions for a starting pitcher.
"I think we have a chance to start [the season] with Mike because he's a winner," Price says. "We have a good problem [with many talented, young arms], but it's going to be a bad problem for one of the guys."
There is a chance the odd man out among Bailey, Wood and Leake could pitch out of the bullpen, but those circumstances would have to be extenuating. The Reds' first choice would be to send whomever does not make the big league rotation to Triple-A Louisville so the kid can continue to develop.
Sunblock Day? SPF 50, baby. Warmest day yet in Arizona, in the 80s, with the 90s right around the corner.
Likes: Eric Davis in uniform as an instructor in Reds camp. ... Joe Morgan visiting. ... The fried chicken and biscuits at Culinary Dropouts in Scottsdale. ... The Fennville, Mich., boys high school team winning an emotional district tournament opener after the unspeakable death of one of its players last week following a game-winning shot to cap a 20-0 season. Former colleague Jeff Seidel captured the heartbreak and the optimism nicely in this story.
Dislikes: None today. How can there be any after reading the gripping story above? Just prayers and thoughts.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
-- Warren Zevon, Keep Me in Your Heart
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: June 16, 2010 11:37 pm
Edited on: June 16, 2010 11:58 pm
Not only was it their third consecutive loss and their fourth in five games as they battle St. Louis in the NL Central, but. ...
Cincinnati rookie Mike Leake (five earned runs and nine hits in six innings) was tagged with the first loss of his major-league career. He made history by becoming the first Reds rookie pitcher to ever go undefeated through his first 12 starts, then the Dodgers' Andre Ethier made history by blasting a hanging curveball for a three-run homer in the sixth to mortally wound Leake.
Then, in the bottom of the sixth with Los Angeles leading 5-0, two on and none out, Scott Rolen and manager Dusty Baker were both ejected by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt when Rolen lost it after being called out on strikes.
It was only the third ejection of Rolen's 14-year career and, as he explained, "I thought it was a big at-bat, a game-changing at-bat, possibly."
Rolen joked that, after Tuesday's marathon game that featured a 2 1/2-hour rain delay and didn't wrap up until 1 a.m., he and Wendelstedt were asking each other whether they got enough sleep and then the umpire said, "Why don't you go up and sit in the cold tub and get ready for Thursday's game."
"That was it," Rolen said with a wry smile. "I'm not sure what it looked like."
The ejections were one sure signal that summer is heating up. The surprising Reds are keeping a close eye on the Cardinals, but they've also hit a rough patch that is testing them.
"We knew we'd go through periods like this," Baker said afterward. "We've got to keep fighting. It's a long season, and it's not going to be up all the time. There's a long way to go, and there are going to be good times, and there are going to be great times."
There also will be rough times and, as Baker said, "That's why you want to be as many games over .500 as you can, so when you hit one of these streaks ... you want a cushion."
The Reds have one more game against the Dodgers on Thursday afternoon before heading west to play Seattle and Oakland.
And it is not lost on them that these same Dodgers swept the Cardinals just one week ago in Los Angeles.
Likes: Love that Great American Ballpark sits right on the Ohio River. Very cool to look out beyond the right-field bleachers and see the river flowing. ... Nice billboard featuring Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy and his "The Real McCoy" blog for his old newspaper, the Dayton Daily News, while driving into town the other day. Even better to see my old friend in person these last two nights. ... Had a chance to catch the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before leaving Cleveland earlier this week. Great display, including a phenomenal amount of hand-written lyrics and some iconic clothes, including the threads that Bruce wore on the cover of both Born in the USA and The River. The red cap from his back pocket on Born in the USA is almost comically plain, and worn. ... Johnny Cash's tour bus, also on display at the Rock Hall.
Dislikes: Nobody's thrilled with rain delays, and Tuesday night's was a doozy. The Reds and Dodgers waited two-and-a-half hours before resuming play midway through the game after 11 p.m. The game didn't end until 1 a.m. But you know what? The thunderstorm was worth it. Man did it pour. And the lightening show was spectacular.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Got kind of tired packing and unpacking
-- Hugh Wilson, Theme to 'WKRP in Cincinnati'