Sunday, November 28, 2010

Change of Pace

This "No Greener Grass" idea was started solely with the Cardinals in mind. It has now occurred to me that the offseason is far too long and dead air is rough on the ratings. Luckily, we, the NGG contributors, are fluid and flexible. Rather than restricting the posts to St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball, let’s expand to other things, as well. This next thought is a little out there, I know, but…expanding horizons may actually lead to more people being interested in the page and produce a new follower or two. Doubling my followership may be a little overzealous, but I like to shoot for the stars.

With no further adieu…

‘Tis a great year to be a Razorback, indeed. As is the case for just about every school (except “Little Sisters of the Poor” apparently), the Hogs came into the season with high hopes. They were high even by Arkansas standards. This was to be the year in which all the stars aligned and that wild pack of Razorbacks got that ever-elusive second national title. After all, the conference appeared to be more balanced, top to bottom, than it was in the previous 4 national championship years. That’s not to say the league was down, but there definitely was no clear-cut number 1 coming into the season. Plus, Bama had to come to Fayetteville this time around and that defense couldn’t possibly reload fast enough to hold Petrino down. Don’t forget about Mallett’s canon and the surplus of targets with which he had to aim it.

All that optimism went out the window after the first two weeks. The offense looked sluggish both weeks and the defense failed to record a shutout either game. Keep in mind, the final scores did end up being 44-3 and 31-7. Did I mention how high the expectations were? I will admit that neither game felt that lopsided, but I’d much rather win games in that fashion as opposed to embarrassing people by 60 points a game like USC or Miami teams of old. And, let’s be honest, they could have done like the majority of us do when playing Madden and just run the same 3 or 4 plays the whole game and walked away with the W. They caught a big break when heading to Athens by not having to deal with AJ Green. The secondary showed time and time again that they are still not quite as talented as they, often times, think they are, especially when matching up against big receivers like Green. But this is SEC football we are talking about here. No one is at full strength after the first snap. Arkansas played basically the entire season without Dennis Johnson (refer to kickoff return averages to fully gage his impact) and the last four games without Greg Childs. That game still proved to be the first real test for the team. Athens was still a hostile environment at that stage of the season and this group of Hogs had yet to prove themselves on the road against an SEC opponent.

Then came Alabama. Oh, Nick Saban, you sly dog, you. Total lack of a running game cost them in the end. After looking past and escaping A&M in Dallas, it was time to head to Auburn. A number of factors worked against them in that game; including, but not limited to, the Great Cam Newton and the infamous SEC officials. Fast forward to Little Rock post Thanksgiving dinner and they overcame the sloppiest of starts to put together an extraordinarily complete effort against the number 5 team in the land AND the Mad Hatter himself, Lucky Les (a feat in and of itself).

If you take Newton and his six-figure payout away from Auburn, the Hogs sit at 10-1. If you take the state of Alabama off of the map (would anyone miss it anyway?), the Hogs would be undefeated and ready to take on Oregon or TCU or the team of Gordon Gee’s choice. Somehow, a running game was discovered from nowhere midseason. It may have taken that long for the new philosophy to sink in or, possibly, it took that long for the players to buy into it or, perhaps, it just took the right combination of both mixed with a healthy dose of Knile Davis to right the ship. Mallett may have lost his chance at several pieces of hardware to put on his mantel but he did nothing to take away from his pro stock and ensured himself of a hefty 8-figure payday in the not-so-distant future. Also, along the same lines, Tyler Wilson did little other than provide optimism for the coming years, as well.

So, here they sit, at 10-2 and number 7 in the next to last BCS poll of the season, as the biggest Auburn fans in the country for one time and one time only. A Tiger victory in the SEC title game all but secures Arkansas’ first BCS bowl invitation. The system obviously makes no sense to anyone, but the Sugar Bowl committee surely sits poised to invite some crazy Arkansans down to the beautiful New Orleans for a day or two. Independent of bowl destinations (they’re all essentially consolation games anyway), this has been a truly magical season for that team up in the Ozarks.

Allow me to reiterate: ‘tis a great year to be a Razorback.

Here’s to you Auburn.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Towel: In Hand

I am still not quite ready to throw it in just yet, but the towel is, indeed, in hand at this point. Contrary to what Cardinal fans everywhere were hoping/praying for, the perplexing trend of the second half has continued and will, ultimately, cost the team a shot at another ring. It is true that they are not mathematically eliminated yet; and, as the Rockies have shown us over the past 3 seasons, it ain't over til it's over. However, the Reds' magic number has lowered to 5 with the latest loss to another bottom feeding juggernaut.

As further proof that the Cardinals are obviously distracted by the prowess of the bottom 1/6 of the league, here is the list of pitchers who have recorded wins against the Cardinals since the Cincinnati series that was supposed to be the springboard for the club: Zambrano, Dempster, Bush, Wolf, Bumgarner, Hanrahan, McCutchen, Slaten, Hernandez, Lannan, Happ, Rodriguez, Figueroa, Wood, Narveson, Capuano, Moylan, Kimbrel, Samardzija, Wells, Zambrano, Adams, Volstad, and Maholm. All but a couple of those are starters so it is not as if they are all no-name relievers who just happened to be the pitcher of record when their team took the lead. They actually had to shut the team down for the majority of the game. That, apparently, is not that daunting of a task. Taking a deeper look into that list is just a bad idea, but let's just take a few demographics from it. That list includes ten pitchers with .500 winning percentages or lower, a guy who got suspended from his team because he could not get along with teammates, and some guy who used to catch passes from Brady Quinn.

Only adding to the disappointment will be the lack of major hardware that the team manages to bring in this offseason. Barring the epic comeback that it would take to propel the team into the postseason, it does not appear that there will be a need for any pre-game ceremonies next season to recognize the Cy Young, MVP, or Rookie of the Year winners from this year. The flirtatious affair that Pujols and Wainwright had with their respective Triple Crowns has long since ended, as well.

Ok. That is enough dwelling on the negative. There has got to be a bright spot somewhere.

The bright spots are really more moral victories than true bright spots, but we will run with this for a bit, I suppose.

Matt Holliday has "quietly" had another fantastic year. After yet another "Teixeira-like" slow start to the season, Holliday has built his numbers back to a level that everyone is more accustomed to. We all had a feeling he would get to this point, but it sure was not a fun wait for him to heat up. He has actually played well enough down the stretch to potentially be the first player other that Albert Pujols to lead the team in batting average in a decade- or, since Pujols first buttoned his jersey. A feat that many great hitters attempted but never achieved. He is a single RBI away from his fourth 100 RBI season and is a single big game away from reaching the 30 home run plateau for the third time in his career. So, if nothing else, at least Holliday cannot be blamed for the early off-season again this season. That line drive to the gut is all too fresh on our memories as it is, anyway.

Adam Wainwright will, more than likely, miss out on the Cy Young again this season. The difference being that it is his own fault this season. He took it out of the voters' hands this time around. Here comes the positive spin: he will, in all likelihood, win 20 games for the first time (of many) in his career. His ERA will also be the lowest of his career, to date. The more impressive part about those figures is that he did them as the staff's ace. In previous years, he was overlooked to some degree. But he pretty well put his name on the map last season so everyone knew what to expect this time around. And he was unfazed by the pressure- like he has been his entire career. I mean, this is the same rookie who recorded the final outs of both the NLDS and World Series back in 2006. He set the bar high for himself. Even as good as Carpenter continues to be, it is still pretty clear that Waino has supplanted him as the ace of the staff and should hold that title for many years to come. Or until Jaime Garcia gets a couple more years under his belt.

Let's not forget about the draft the team managed to pull of this season, too. Yeah, maybe I'm reaching a little bit here. But the Cardinals' draft was rated extremely high by every draft analyst and many of the players that they got signed project to be good major league talent. This is important after the yard sale that was last season. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved just about every move the team made last season but, whether they were good deals or not, the farm system was turned into a barren wasteland without a doubt. That made this season difficult when the need for another pitcher became apparent. Decisions were made that genuinely saddened the team. Although, now that Luddy plays for the Padres, there is still a reason to cheer against the Reds other than just not liking Brandon Phillips and Dusty Baker- not that another reason is needed or anything.

Last but not least: at the end of the day, at least this isn't a Cubs' blog. They are to the Cardinals what Mississippi is to Arkansas. Someone else always has it worse.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quite the Conundrum

The Cardinals seem to be in the most favorable position possible for this time of the season. Kyle Lohse has returned from the DL (we'll go ahead and assume that is a good thing). The two new acquisitions have performed as well as anyone could have hoped- Jake Westbrook has allowed more than 3 runs in only one start and Pedro Feliz hit safely in his first 8 games and played above average defense (the main reason behind his acquisition). They have, arguably, the best 1-2-3 combination of starting pitchers in baseball- headlined by a former Cy Young award winner and a World Series save-ior. Albert Pujols has returned to the form that won him 3 MVP awards. And they have the second easiest remaining schedule in the NL (behind the Reds). So why does it feel like they are headed for a long offseason?

Suddenly, the team that has seemed to tread water for the majority of the season is sinking. Maybe they were expecting what everyone else has been expecting- for the Reds to eventually just falter and give it up down the stretch. Unfortunately, it seems like the wrong red and white, NL Central team is giving it up in the final third of the season. The Cardinals are playing well against the upper tier teams of the league, sweeping Cincinnati and taking two of three from the Giants, but they cannot run with the little dogs, suddenly. Since the epic showdown that was the series in Cincinnati that saw the Cards take all three games and the division lead from the Reds, the Cards have lost series to the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Nationals. The two series against the Pirates and Nats were on the road so that is excusable. I mean, how is a team supposed to be expected to perform with 13,000 screaming fans wearing, mostly, Cardinals' apparel? It's a daunting task.

Pujols is, yet again, in the running for the Triple Crown, but with a much more legitimate shot at winning it than ever before. His numbers have been down, by his standards, for the majority of the season but he has gotten hot of late. He has started to find gaps, in the manner that he has spoiled us all with for the entirety of his career, again. The only problem is, it seems as though the rest of the team is completely unable to swing their way out of a wet paper sack. Especially in situations that might actually impact the outcome of a game. Jon Jay has continued to spray the ball everywhere and drive in runs at a consistent level but he and Pujols can never seem to be on the same page each game. As stated, Pedro Feliz has been a pleasant surprise on the offensive side of things (recording 14 hits in his first 11 games) but that does no good when he comes up with the bases empty and two outs every at-bat. Two out rallies are a critical part of every championship team but they are never the only source of run production for championship caliber teams.

The big three starting pitchers have come to rely on the most inexperience one of the bunch to carry the weight of the team. Wainwright has lost three consecutive starts to the Brewers, Pirates, and Nationals. Four starts ago, it seemed like the Cy Young was his to lose. Looks like he may be on that path, after all. Carpenter was out-pitched by Carlos Zambrano and didn't do enough to get out of the sixth inning against the offensive juggernaut Nationals. Meanwhile, Garcia has gone about his business and gotten the job done the way he has all year. The coaching staff did an outstanding job of preparing his arm for this stretch run, too. At the first sign of trouble, he would get the hook early on this season. They were very delicate with his return from Tommy John surgery and it appears to have paid off, so far. Westbrook has pitched well in all but one start since he joined the clubhouse. His record does not show it, but he has given the team a chance when he has taken the mound.

Most importantly, it is not as if this is a team comprised mainly of unproven talent. All of the leaders on the team have been to and won World Series rings. The accessory players lack experience, but that is the way it always is (unless you wear the pinstripes). Still, even those players are not college kids who have never been under the lights playing in front of more than mom and dad before. They have veterans, who know what they are doing, to look up to and ride to a World Series title. This team is built for that. But they are not playing like it.

This is in no way my way of throwing in the towel. I am the incurable optimist. However, it is time to stop toying around and start playing games. Yes, it is time for them to come together and pull off something that everyone expected them to do all along. It will not happen if this article stays true for the remainder of the season, though.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Double Dip

When the Cardinals drafted the Hogs' super sophomore, Zack Cox, in June's draft, I was overjoyed...initially. Cox has wowed us Razorback fans for two years now; reaching at least the Super Regional in both of the years he resided in Fayetteville. Then, to think he could one day be spraying balls all over the field at Busch Stadium, just seemed like a fantasy. It is human nature to want your favorite college players to join forces with your favorite professional team. And, just like when the Dallas Cowboys drafted Felix Jones a few years back, my fantasy was becoming a reality.

As the thought sunk in, though, I realized that this fantasy doesn't come without some hurdles. Cox projects as a second or third baseman. Second base, as we all know, is currently occupied by Skip. While my obsession with Skip has little logic behind it, it is still very well documented that he is, far and away, my favorite Cardinal. I know he is probably not the end all, be all at second for the Cards but I have, so far, not completely accepted that fact in my heart. I am still holding on to the hope that he will turn into an elite defensive second baseman and continue to hit around .300 (or at least the high .200s). It just seems like he has put too much work in to not succeed. Skip is to Jose Oquendo as Ankiel was to La Russa. That, somehow, does not make me feel much better.

Then there's third base. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that the Cards had found the long-term solution there. David Freese came out of the gates on fire. He was on pace to make a strong case for Rookie of the Year. Then came the injuries that seem to follow Cardinal third basemen. First was the little wrist injury that did not seem to be a very big deal, at all. Then came the big one. The one that may leave Freese out of baseball for the rest of his life. They said his achilles tendon separated from the bone and was actually on the front of his ankle. His achilles tendon wound up on the front of his ankle. The trainer was able to push it back to the correct side of his leg on the field, which might be the only piece of good news from the whole situation. The outlook for an injury of that degree is not good. Most people are not able to run again. I suppose that wouldn't be a problem for Ryan Howard who either strikes out or gets to coast around the bases after pretty much every at-bat and would be better served to just stay in the dugout when the Phils do that "defense" thing. Unfortunately, Freese proved to be quite the doubles machine while playing with the big boys this season and played above average (not Rolen-like, but still good) defense at the hot corner. I think we Cardinal fans have had enough freak, career ending injuries to suffice for the next couple of lifetimes, now. I doubt the image of Juan Encarnacion's face pouring blood out in the on deck circle will ever leave my head. So to see another fan favorite go down for the count just seems cruel.

I have always been taught to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Preparing for the worst would be assuming that Freese never touches a diamond again. That leaves Felipe Lopez and Aaron Miles in charge of third base for the near future. That thought, probably, does not encourage too many people. Hoping for the best would be assuming that someone, happily (totally by their own choice with no outside forces involved at all), retires in the next couple of years; opening a spot of for the next big thing, Zack Cox. Then, everyone would live happily ever after and the Cardinals would soon be sporting more rings than the New York Yankees. (I said hope for the best.)

This is why I should never be in charge of a team....

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I want to have my cake and eat it, too...

This season's trade deadline made me realize the error of my ways. I have become attached. To the whole team. I realized this fact a while back, but did not take my own advice and still let my emotions get in the way. Every player has a special place in my heart for some reason. Especially if they wear the birds on the bat for more than a season. Sometimes it doesn't even take a full season to win me over, though.

When Ryan Ludwick broke through in 2008, I was hooked immediately. Admittedly, I had never heard of Ludwick before that season. But after he took his first John Daly-style "grip it and rip it" swing, I knew I would love him. Maybe it was the intrigue that he threw left handed but batted right handed. Maybe it was that, not totally unlike Edmonds, he did not have great speed but always seemed to make a play no one thought he could make. Or maybe it was just because he played the game the way it is meant to be played- giving every ounce of effort in your body on every single play. Whatever the reason(s) behind my affection, I grew extremely fond of Luddy during his Cardinal career. And I know that I'm not the only one.

It has been well documented in the past 24+ hours that the players in the clubhouse were, somewhat, surprised and, totally, saddened by Luddy's departure from the team. The thing that is not shocking, however, is that the club made a move to get an above average starter to help fill the void left by Lohse and Penny. It is also not a shock to anyone that the player that had to be parted with happened to be a major league outfielder- a place where the team is exceptionally deep. It is just unfortunate that the player had to be who it was. And, as much as we all hate to admit it, it made pretty good sense to make this move right now. Ludwick is a free agent in a few months and with all of the other soon-to-be expiring contracts of the core group (Carp, Waino, and that first baseman), there won't be much money to throw around. It also helps that John Jay (whose name is my name, too. Whenever he goes out, the people always shout "there goes john jay..." Na na na na na na na....) has been absolutely unstoppable since he made his second trip back up to play with the big boys. It does take a right handed bat out of the lineup but Jay is not a typical lefty in that aspect. In his 22 at-bats against left handed pitching, he is hitting .455 and slugging .545. Granted, that is not a huge sampling, but it shows that lefties don't scare him. But it does remain to be seen how well he will hold up down the stretch and (keep your fingers crossed) into the playoffs.

And from Ludwick's point of view, if you're going to be traded, it surely eases the pain for it to happen at the time it did. Hours before being traded, he touched home plate as the game winning run in the city that grew to love him and in the stadium where he was cheered on so many occasions. It was almost like coming full circle for him. In his first season in St. Louis, he lit the world on fire and made his first (hopefully not last) All Star team. And, in his last game as a Cardinal, he came in and hit a pinch hit double, eventually scored the winning run, and made a city smile one last time.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ras-sle Dazzle

Colby Rasmus received more hype than any other Cardinal prospect that I can remember. Ankiel had a lot. Bud Smith even had a lot, in his own right. But the hype that surrounded Rasmus seemed to be at a different level altogether. In particular, because he was compared to Edmonds. He was expected, by us optimistic Cardinal fans, to be the runaway Rookie of the Year last year. He was expected to come in and immediately replace everything the aging Jim Edmonds was in his prime.

That didn't quite happen. Circumstances did not line up in his favor to allow that to happen. He had a couple of lingering injuries that hampered him for much of last season. He had no idea how to handle a day game, let alone a day game following a night game which indicates that he was ill prepared for the big stage. He was not used to having to watch what he ate- he was 22, duh!! What 22 year old knows how to perfectly manage their diet? And there was also that minor detail about getting his, then, girlfriend pregnant mid way through last season. That could have the tendency to distract even the greatest of talents. He has since decided that he "liked her" and "put a ring on it" and manned up to the situation. Not everyone would have. Needless to say, life apparently hit Colby Rasmus in the face pretty hard last year.

But in the 85 games in which Rasmus has appeared this year, he is approaching, has equalled, or has surpassed all of his offensive numbers from last season (147 games). He has 18 doubles this year, compared to 22 all last year. He has 2 triples and 16 home runs this year- both equalling his totals from a season ago. His 42 RBIs this season are 10 short of his '09 total. His 77 hits and 53 runs are still a shade away from his 119/72 respective totals from last year, but he should easily surpass those totals by season's end. Thirty six of his 77 hits this year have been for extra bases, however, compared to only 40 such hits last season. He has tripled his steals total from a year ago (from 3 to 9) already which either means he's becoming a smarter base runner or he's gotten a lot faster. I'm ok with either. And, my favorite stat of all, he has already earned more free passes-only 5 intentionally- this year than he did all last year. He has 37 already compared to 36 last year. That one has been talked about the most by our buddies Mike "High Skies" Shannon and Al "What Game am I Watching" Hraboski (however you spell that) but it garners the most attention, too. His eye and plate presence have improved exponentially from his rookie campaign (which makes is odd that he almost has as many Ks, too but I guess you can't change a free swinger over night). He is seeing almost half a pitch more per plate appearance than last year. Oh, and his average is up 29 points.

His defense is still somewhat of a work in progress. According to a recent ESPN article, Rasmus has had more throws to the wrong base, allowing more runners to advance than any other player this year. I am pretty sure that it's one of those stats that only one guy has figured up and is nullified quickly by the "rather make a mistake by being aggressive" argument, but it does still bear mentioning. That is also one of those things that comes with experience. He's still a confident kid (he's only 23) with less than a year and a half of big league experience. Once he realizes he isn't playing in Memphis where most guys are bad base runners and that pretty much everyone but the other 2 Molinas are fast enough to get that extra base at this level, he'll be fine.

This post is strangely timed, considering he has been a little quieter the past couple weeks, but he was on a massive tear early on and it needed to be discussed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I've decided to join two of my loves in life on this blog: the Cardinals and writing. I have been considering this for a while and am finally going through with it. My other blog (not very good to begin with) doesn't really focus on sports-my own fault, I suppose. So I'm making a new one where I can write about my beloved Cardinals.

This will probably consist of random, useless pieces of information that I would usually share with my friend, Josh, but he is heading down under to Aussie land for a year pretty soon so I will have no one to share these things with any other way. He's the only one crazy enough to sit and listen to me.

This isn't just going to be dumb game recaps. You can go to ESPN for those. I just want to be able to express other observations I make during games. Mainly, this is so Josh and I can communicate about our team while he's gone.

We'll see how this goes...