Category Archives: St Louis Cardinals

St Louis Cardinals

Stand Down

I'm the runt on the left...

With the World Series over and the parade cleanup complete, the off-season starts in earnest. Every club and player takes a moment to reflect on the season past, the challenges of tomorrow, and their place in it. The Cardinals front office has already started that process and declined to exercise their options for Rafael Furcal and Octavio Dotel. Tony LaRussa began his reflection back in August and announced his retirement yesterday. There are more changes to come for the ballclub.

There are changes coming here too. This is the last post of Stan Musial’s Stance.

I started the blog in 2006, when the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series. Apropos that it ends now, after the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series.

It’s easy to be a fan. It’s relatively easy to be a fan and a writer. It’s difficult to be a fan and a good writer. In order to do it right, one has to not only read what’s going on with the team but actually watch/listen to the games. I can find the time to read what’s going on via the Post Dispatch, Twitter, and the United Cardinal Bloggers, but unless the game is nationally televised I don’t have the free time to watch or listen to it. You’ve no doubt noticed that; if you laid a schedule down next to the dates I published something, the dates would almost exactly correspond to when the Cardinals were on ESPN, FOX, or in San Diego.

And the time is the issue. Geoff Young of Ducksnorts recently hung up his spikes, and he said something that resonated with me: “The sacrifices and compromises one is willing to make in life at age 42 are different from those one is willing to make at age 28.” I’m closer to 42 than 28. My children demand my attention. My wife deserves my attention. It’s not fair to plop down in front of the TV at 5pm Pacific, spend 3 hours watching the Cardinals, and deny them that. You may disagree, and that’s cool. Everyone’s got to live their life the way they think is right.

I close this chapter with no regrets. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this. Blogging about the team my father and I rooted for has literally changed my life for the better. I’ve had the opportunity to do things I never thought I would experience, and I have met some tremendous people along the way. The people list is an All-Star team of Cardinal writers. Dan Shoptaw. Nick at Pitchers Hit Eighth. Bill Ivie. Bob Netherton. Matt Philip. Derrick Goold. Matt Leach. And many others I should mention but won’t in the interest of brevity. Thank you all for your help, your kindness, and your friendship.

To those reading this – thanks. Thanks for making this blog an occasional part of your week. Thanks for your feedback and comments. I am not disappearing altogether from the internet. I will continue to write. I will do a weekly article for I-70 Baseball as long as Bill Ivie will have me. I also plan to focus on the San Diego Padres, the local team in my time zone, as well as provide sage observations via Twitter on a wide variety of things. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Cheers.

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Filed under Annual Petco trip, General Baseball, Off-Season Moves, San Diego Padres, St Louis Cardinals

Cherry-Picking Statistics

During the ninth inning of NLCS Game 1, TBS posted a graphic which said (in essence, may not be an exact quote):

Winner of Game 1 has won the NLCS in 16 of the last 18 seasons.

The clear implication there was Milwaukee, who did win Game 1 9-6, would represent the National League in the World Series.  That they had taken a step forward was beyond doubt.  That it is easier to win 3 of 6 games vice 4 of six games is also obvious.  To intimate the series was over after one game?  I found that irritating.

Turns out, the last team to lose Game 1 of the NLCS and win the NL was the 2006 Cardinals.  That was six years ago, but since 4 leaders of this year’s Cardinal team (Carpenter, Molina, Pujols, Wainwright) were also on the 2006 team it becomes relevant (not to mention the manager). 

There have been accusations on Twitter that the TBS coverage is overly biased in favor of the Milwaukee Brewers, fed in part because the primary play-by-play voice – Brian Anderson – is the lead broadcaster for Milwaukee’s TV coverage.  I have not noticed any undue bias.  That said, one would think the TBS stats checker could have included the 2006 Cardinals exception in that Game 1 graphic, seeing as the Cardinals are playing in the 2011 NLCS.

It’s a cherry-picked statistic.

Odd they didn’t do a similar graphic based on Game 2 winners.  But that’s why this blog exists, dear reader – to tilt at windmills and bring you amusing information.

SO – looking at the past 18 NLCS, how has the winner of Game 2 fared in terms of winning the National League?

  • Winner of Game 2 has advanced to the World Series 11 of 18 times. That’s pretty good news for St Louis, amIrite?
  • Nine times the winner of Game 2 has taken a 2-0 series lead.  They’ve won the NLCS every time. This is why yesterday’s game was so critical; teams can recover from losing Game 1, but it is extremely difficult to go down 2-0 and come back to win the series.
  • Teams winning Game 2 to make the series 1-1 lost 7 of 9 NLCS.  That’s not so good news for St Louis, and supports the Game 1 graphic.  HOWEVAH,
  • Road teams won Game 2 in 10 of the 18 series reviewed, and went on to win 7 of those NLCS.  Whaddya know – 70% success rate!  That’s a good prognosis.  It also jives with conventional wisdom – that the road team wresting away home field advantage raises their odds of success significantly.

Does the fact St Louis won Game 2 mean they will win the NLCS?  No.  They have turned a best-of-seven into a best-of-five with 3 games at Busch, but that advantage will only last as long as they keep winning.  It does mean the pressure is squarely on Milwaukee.  Kyle Lohse is pitching significantly better than Randy Wolf is at this point; the Brewers almost have to win tomorrow night or face entering Game 5 down three games to one.

Stats quoted above were cherry-picked from Baseball Reference.

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Filed under General Baseball, Post Season, St Louis Cardinals

Remembering 2001

With apologies to the Milwaukee Brewers, the team no one thought would get into the post-season is the real team no one wants to play.

St Louis shook off two body blows on misplaced change-ups in Game One, and an ineffective Chris Carpenter in Game 2, to forge a 1-1 tie in the NLDS.  Game 3, for those of you just returning off the space station, is tonight.

As I watch this series, and the way it is unfolding, it reminds me of another NLDS 10 years ago.  The Arizona Diamondbacks entered that postseason with the two-headed pitching monster of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, the two best pitchers in the NL.  No one thought the Cardinals had a chance, in a short series, to beat them, because they would face Schilling twice and possibly Johnson twice. 

Kind of reminds one of Halladay and Lee this year.

Well Matt Morris had his finest season in 2001, and he dueled Schilling almost even in Game 1, losing 1-0 on a Steve Finley RBI single in the fifth inning.  St Louis bounced back the next day behind Woody Williams, jumped on Johnson early, and won 4-1 to send the series to Busch even at one game apiece.

With two games at home, the Cardinals could close out the series and not have to travel back to the desert, but they stumbled in Game 3.  St Louis clung to a 2-1 lead after six, but Arizona erupted for 4 in the seventh to sink them; the big blow being Craig Counsell’s 3-run HR that made it 5-2.  St Louis came back to win Game 4, but couldn’t pull off the upset, dropping Game 5 2-1 to Schilling (again) and losing the series.  Arizona eventually won the World Series.

Of course, the situations aren’t exactly similar.  St Louis in 2001 was just starting their run of dominance in the NL. They had been to the NLCS in 2000, would return to the LCS in 2002/2004/2005/2006, win the NL in 04 and 06, and the whole thing in 06.  They aren’t quite that loaded or ascendant this year.  They are returning to the playoffs for only the second time since 2006, and had to make a furious push just to get there.  Philadelphia is the dominant team in the League, winning the WS in 2008, willing the NL in 2009, making it to the NLCS last year.

Yet through 2 games, the two series are similar.  St Louis beat one of the two opposing aces on his home field.  They can close out this series without having to return to Philadelphia.  They face a far tougher starter tonight than they did 10 years ago.  Cole Hamels is a much more accomplished pitcher, both by regular season performance and playoff pedigree, than the Diamondback Game 3 starter was back in 2001 (remember who it was? Yep, Miguel Batista).  Philadelphia has lost only one of the five starts made by Hamels in St Louis, and that happened 3 years ago.  Plus, the spectre of Roy Oswalt looms tomorrow (he’s no Albie Lopez), and everyone remembers what he did to the Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS, not to mention his dominance 2 weeks ago in Philadelphia.

Can the Cardinals continue their improbable run with a victory tonight?  Absolutely.  Will it happen?  We’ll know in 12 hours.

Tony LaRussa managed Game 2 like a man with his back against the wall, which was the only way he could manage that game.  If the Cardinals had lost they would have no shot to win this series.  He needs to manage tonight in the same manner.  Hopefully Jamie Garcia won’t require relief in the third inning tonight, will pitch as he has throughout his career against the Phillies, and the Cardinals will scratch out just enough run support to edge Philadelphia.

I remember 2001.  I would like to not relive it in 2011.

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Filed under Cardinals Preview, St Louis Cardinals

This Is It, Man!

Well, I was wrong. The Cardinals did not need to win out.  Of course, had they won every game since last Thursday’s debacle they’d be the NL Wild Card for 2011, but that’s a point not worth even thinking about now.

St Louis will play one game for most of the marbles.  Once their playoff odds stood at 1%.  As recently as last Friday they had a 18% chance to get in.  Today it stands at 61%.  They can host a one-game playoff tomorrow without winning today.  They can win the Wild Card outright today.  They can be eliminated today.  The many possibilities boggle the mind. 

No matter what happens, the most important is this – they control their own destiny today.  That has not been true for this entire run.  Today they don’t have to worry about what Atlanta does.  Win and they play tomorrow.  It’s as simple as that.

I’ve had movie quotes running through my head for the last 12 hours, quotes I think describe the action from the last few days.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.

  • This is it, Man! – Apollo Creed, coming out for Round 2 in Rocky II
  • I find I’m so excited I can’t sit still or hold a thought in my head – Red, Shawshank Redemption, headed to Zihuatanejo
  • Once more, into the breach, dear friends – Gen Kang, The Undiscovered Country, quoting some Shakespeare dude
  • It’s the bottom of the ninth, the score is tied. It’s time for the big one. – Goose, Top Gun
  • I wish I wasn’t working tonight because I really want to see this game! – me

Feel free to add-on in the comments.

 

 

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Filed under St Louis Cardinals, Whimsy

Long Odds

Friday night’s game demonstrated exactly why Thursday’s loss was so devastating.

It had nothing to do with the emotional letdown (which was real), or the select few bullpen arms that have been heavily overused during the run (which they have).  It has to do with margin for error.  Trailing Atlanta by one game with 6 to play would have given the team margin. Down two with six to play gave them no margin.

Did anyone really expect Chicago to come into St Louis and roll over?  The rivalry has been a tad bit one-sided, especially in terms of playoff appearances and World Series titles, but it is still a rivalry.  Chicago is in St Louis, playing the Cardinals in a series those Cardinals absolutely have to have, with a chance to sink their playoff aspirations.  Of course Chicago is going to play hard – this is their playoff series.  Ryan Dempster kept the Cubs in the game, and Alfonso Soriano crushed the Cardinals with a eighth-inning 3-run HR.

There were plenty of people on Twitter after the game exhorting folks to not lose hope, and to not jump off the bandwagon.  Certainly there is a fair number of fans who will throw up their arms in disgust and walk away from the Cardinals after the last 2 losses.  I am a fan, and I know fan is short for fanatic which is usually associated with irrational loyalty to a cause or individual, but in a game ruled by numbers one has to be coldly rational.  Atlanta has to lose 3 of their remaining 5 games for St Louis to have a chance.  In order for St Louis to have that chance they have to win out.

They have to win out.

Atlanta plays two more against a bad Nationals team and 3 against a Phillies squad more concerned with setting up their pitching staff for the NLDS.   Atlanta losing 3 games this week is a long shot.

Being a fan means you stick with the team through thick and thin.  It’s been a fantastic ride in September with the 2011 Cardinals.  No one still reading this blog expected the team would rise from 10.5 games out to get within a game of the wild card lead.  Late on a Friday night in San Diego, David Freese’s HR to win Wednesday is starting to look a lot like the Cardinals Zenith for this season.  It evokes memories of Dmitri Young’s triple in Game 4 of the 1996 NLCS that gave St Louis a 3-1 series lead.  St Louis scored 1 more run in that series and lost in 7.

St Louis has lost 2 straight and trails by 3 with 5 to play.  Realistically I don’t see them getting into the post-season.

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Unexpected Is An Understatement

After the Cardinals swept Atlanta, all fans everywhere began to hope they could catch the Braves for the Wild Card.  Even the most die-hard had at that point realized catching Milwaukee just wasn’t going to happen. Those same fans, however, looked at the remaining schedule and saw Mt Everest standing in the way of the Cardinals and a miracle finish:  the Philadelphia Phillies.

They are the best team in baseball right now, and the Cardinals would play them in their yard.  St Louis had won 3 of 5 at Busch, but this was different.  And the Phillies would be looking to clinch their division.

Hope Dashed?  Not even close.  Roy Oswalt dominated the Cardinals has he so often seems to do, but the boys in Red found a way to beat super rookie Vance Worley, and rotation bullies Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay, taking 3 of 4 from Philly in Philly.

To call that result unexpected is an understatement.  I daresay, even the most ardent Cardinals fan hoped for a split of these 4 games, and given the Braves were playing the woeful Mets in Atlanta, that might have been enough to sink their push for good.

Not so.  Thanks to an improbable Florida come back win last night, the Cardinals find themselves only 2 out on the loss side with 9 to play.  They actually made up 2 games in the standings during their trip through Philadelphia.

Atlanta can profess they’re not looking over their shoulder all they want.  No one believes them.  The back of their bullpen, one of baseball’s best in 2011, has suddenly shown large cracks, likely due to overuse.  This race is certainly not decided, not by a long shot.

All the Cardinals can do now is all they could do before.  They have to win every game, and hope for help.  The Marlins showed last night they remain a dangerous team, and they’ve lined up their rotation to throw their best 2 pitchers at the Braves in the next 2 days.  Winning keeps the pressure on Atlanta.  Keep winning.

St Louis has six games at home and a series with the league’s worst team remaining.  Philadelphia, who played most of their starters on Sunday and Monday because of the playoff implications surrounding that game, has 3 at the end of the season with Atlanta.  Hopefully two things will be true for that final series:  the Cardinals will still be alive for the wild card, and Charlie Manuel will play his regulars against the Braves to honor the playoff run.

St Louis is on the downslope, and gathering steam.  Attention Atlanta:  the Cardinals are coming.  You might as well get out of the way now.

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Filed under General Baseball, St Louis Cardinals

Colby Rasmus to Toronto

Weeks of speculation ended today, as the Cardinals traded Colby Rasmus to Toronto.  Joe Strauss announces the details here.  St Louis obtains the supremely talented and underachieving Edwin Jackson, a good set-up man in Octavio Dotel, a desperately needed LOOGY in Marc Rzepczynski, and former Cub Corey Patterson.

As far as the pieces in the trade, Dotel resurrected his career as a setup and seventh inning man in recent years, and still throws fairly hard.  With Eduardo Sanchez probably lost for the year this isn’t such a bad move.  The LOOGY fills a glaring need in this bullpen.  I can’t imagine why the Cardinals would want another OF, especially one with his best years behind him like Patterson.  Like a lot of clubs the Cardinals are very deep in the outfield; they don’t need Patterson.

Jackson?  He has top of the rotation stuff. He’s never been a top of the rotation guy.  He’s been good this year but was still just the #3 or 4 pitcher in Chicago’s rotation.  And St Louis will be his fourth team in 3 years – that’s got to count against him (from the ‘if he’s so good, why does he keep getting traded?’ school of thought).

They got 4 guys for Rasmus, but I’m not convinced these 4 guys are as valuable as Rasmus.

As for trading Colby in the first place.  By my very informal count, this is the third player traded away because LaRussa couldn’t get along with them (the others being Scott Rolen and Brendan Ryan).  I found it funny yesterday that one of the Cardinal writers (I think it was Bernie, I can’t find the article now) mentioned the Cardinals really need a defensive shortstop.  That’s the only thing Ryan did well, and he was banished to the Great Northwest. 

Jon Jay is a fine player and will do very well as the everyday CF.  I object to the Cardinals being forced to trade players because of personality issues.  LaRussa is 66 years old; every year he takes longer deliberating on whether to come back and manage, which means his final year in uniform is very close.  Why do we continue to put an inferior product on the field (none of Rolen’s replacements have been as good defensively as he is, same so far for Ryan), why do we continue to hurt our team’s chances of advancing into the post-season, to placate an increasingly curmudgeonly manager?

Is this team better in the short-term without Rasmus?  Yes – all the infighting had gotten into Rasmus’ head, and he was not playing well.  Will the team be better long-term without him?  No idea, time will tell.  Based on the fact that the team has not been better without Rolen, and has not been better without Ryan (so far), I’m a little pessimistic.

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Filed under LaRussa decision making, St Louis Cardinals