Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Stepping Up: Your 2011 Cardinals

As I was sleepily watching last night’s broadcast, one of the announcers made a comment that stuck in my fuzzy, post-11:00 PM brain. It was

St. Louis Cardinals' Daniel Descalso rips a base hit to drive in the go ahead run in the ninth inning of the Cardinals 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Monday, May 23, 2011 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

right after Daniel Descalso hit YET ANOTHER potential game-winning RBI (this time in the top of the 11th inning), and somebody (Jim? Al? Sorry — I was really tired!) said something about how so many different players on the team have stepped up so far in 2011 and produced when we need it most.

And I thought: well THAT’S the understatement of the year.

Think about this. If some omnipotent being had revealed to you on March 30th that the following things would be true on May 25th, what would you have felt about this season?

  • Adam Wainwright won’t be pitching–at all.
  • Chris Carpenter will be leading both leagues in hits allowed (76) and be 1-4 with an ERA of 4.88.
  • Albert Pujols will be batting .267 and be leading both leagues in GIDP (14).
  • Ryan Franklin will have blown 4 saves in 5 opportunities and been taken out of the closer role.
  • David Freese will be on the DL for at least 3 months with a broken hand.
I, personally, would have felt like crawling into bed for the whole summer, rather than watch our fourth-place-in-the-NL-Central team. And yet, all of these things are true. All of these are TRUE FACTS about the Cardinals today, and we sit at the top of the division, 3.5 games up on the second place teams, tied with the Cleveland Indians for the most wins in the majors (30). Right? How did this happen?
Here’s how:
  • Kyle McClellan is 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA and threw another quality start yesterday, giving up only 2 hits over 6 innings.
  • Jaime Garcia has stepped up to be the club’s ace—he’s 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA. He already has two complete game shut-outs.
  • Kyle Lohse  has become a brand new Kyle Lohse. 6-2, 2.06 ERA—and he has 74.1 innings pitched over 10 games. That’s second to only Roy Halladay in the NL.
  • Matt Holliday is batting .349 and Lance Berkman is batting .346. They are leading the NL with the averages, so: not a bad little outfield.
  • Berkman also has 11 home runs and 35 RBI. And he made one seriously OMG-worthy catch against the Padres last night. The Puma’s having himself one heck of a comeback.
  • Daniel Descalso may only be batting .239, but he’s getting those hits when it matters, and getting himself a reputation for being a “late and close” guy, which is a pretty great reputation to have. His glove work over at the third is taking away the sting of losing Freese until July quite nicely.
  • Gerald Laird was doing a hell of a job backing up Yadi when he went down a few days with a broken finger. Tony Cruz was brought up, made his first start yesterday, and suddenly has 3 hits. He’s batting .600! Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
  • Speaking of hits in your first major league game, Pete Kozma made his debut last week and promptly got his first hit–and made it an RBI double, to boot.
  • Jon Jay is batting .326. Yadi is batting .324!  With production coming from all over the lineup, Pujols’ unusually diminished numbers are far less noticeable, and he has time to get himself right. I feel it coming. 🙂
So, as you can see, the surprise awesome things that have happened this year far outnumber the unexpected bad things. Way to step it up, babybirds and big birds alike!

Big sweep, mini-sweep.

Last weekend feels, right now, like just a bad baseball dream.

With an unusually busy schedule from Friday to Sunday, I ended up having the (good) fortune of missing basically the entire Reds series. Yes, of course I was still following along as diligently as possible on Gameday (thankfully my husband and friends have fully embraced this extraordinarily rude habit of mine), but the losses were slightly less devastating when the information came from such an impersonal source–though it is remarkable how painful the words “in play, run(s)” can be to read on a tiny screen.

Scott Rolen, Yadier Molina, and Jonny Gomes in the great brawl of August 2010. (Source: TPI News)

I am glad to have missed that series. I know that some people think it is fun to have a rivalry, that it “keeps things interesting,” but I personally can do without this brand of interest. I dread playing the Reds because it makes baseball into something harsh and full of hatred. This isn’t a rivalry to me–it’s a bratty, childish team that has been bad for so long that they don’t know to be good with class, and to get the attention that they so desperately crave and think that they deserve, they are mouthing off and succeeding in riling us up. I hate being riled up by the grammatically abhorrent tweets of Brandon Phillips and the cheap, classless ramblings of an announcer who named his son “Thom.”  The facts that stand are that the Reds started this “rivalry” with unprovoked name-calling, escalated it with some cowardly, cleated kicks, and are keeping it alive with hypocritical remarks (Really? We’re whiny and we make excuses, MLB team that cannot get on the Internet to read a weather report?) and extremely low shots, like the Cincinnati roofing company who ran a special to mock the serious disease LaRussa’s been suffering from. It’s something new every week, it seems–new lows, new proof that the Reds are the trashiest team in baseball. I’m tired of reading their comments and learning of the fresh ways they have chosen to prove that they don’t have an ounce of class. If they want to have a rivalry, I suggest they try winning a playoff game first.

Phew. Sorry. I had to get that off my chest. Let’s move to the bright side of it; the mini-sweep that should count as a big sweep because it came against arguably the best team in the majors right now–the Philadelphia Phillies.  We faced Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, and though we didn’t exactly show them huge offensive production, we managed to hold it together each night for the win. Fernando Salas (love love LOVE) notched the first 1-2-3 inning by a Cardinals reliever for a save in 2011–a stat that is both great and sad, since it happened on May 16. Jaime Garcia continues to shine, despite the fact that Tyler Greene (likely) robbed him of his sixth win. Lance Berkman capped off an enjoyable two-game series with a walk-off, and I will go ahead and presumptuously speak for all of Cardinals nation: Our spirits are lifted and we are ready to face the Astros and the Royals and hopefully regain our rightful spot atop the division. With class.

Let’s go, boys. 🙂

A look inside this rivalry

At the beginning of last season, I made a resolution that I would no longer pay to attend games at Wrigley Field.

I grew up in St. Louis, but I have lived on the north side of Chicago for nearly 10 years now, since I was 18. In that time, I have attended many a Cubs-Cards game. I have waited in line four hours prior to first pitch in order to get seats in the front row of the bleachers. I have watched raptly during many BPs, drank many beers, and argued with many girls wearing pink Cubs jerseys. I have yelled to So Taguchi that I love him.

Yadi tags out Daryle Ward at home plate on July 6, 2008. Woohoo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America)

For most of those years, the rivalry was something in which I could revel–primarily because the Cubs could be relied on to be a good 17 games behind us by August. I remember a lot of good-natured jesting. In 2007 and 2008, things grew uglier. The Cubs won back-to-back division titles in these years, and as I watched the fair weather fans rise from their drunken masses, my good-natured jesting festered into a hateful disdain. I no longer felt that it was worth over $50 a ticket to drag myself to that dump of a stadium just to be antagonized by a belligerent fan who, let’s face it, probably knows half as much as I do about baseball. Thus, my resolution: In 2010, I would spend no money on Cubs tickets.

Funnily enough, shortly after my pronouncement, someone offered me free tickets to an upcoming Cubs-Cards game, so I ended up going anyway. But during that trip to Wrigley Field, I noticed a marked difference in the atmosphere. There was very little trash-talking, and overall, very little… care. The Cubs were terrible again, and Brandon Phillips was over in Cincinnati, running his mouth and waving his arms, frantically trying to get some undeserved attention. A few cowardly kicks in the head later by Johnny Cueto, and a new rivalry was born–one with real fire in it, one fueled by more than some watery beers in the bleachers.

I don’t mean to take away from the massive history of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry; I only mean to say that like anything long and storied, it has its lulls and swells, and this, now, is a lull if I have ever seen one. I never want to see the Cubs win, but I’ve never cared less about it than I do now. I am more concerned about the Reds and the Brewers–as I should be. And, to be honest, I’m seeing my apathy reflected in the faces of those clad in Cubbie blue. There are a lot of empty seats at Wrigley this year. My friends who are Cubs fans (yes, sadly, I have a few of those) are curiously quiet, or un-curiously vocal about their low expectations for the season. The most passionate that I’ve seen Cubs fans so far? Last night’s weak boos of Ryan Theriot.

Let’s talk for a second about Ryan Theriot. He’s said a lot of things. I personally think that his “comments” about Cardinals fans were completely overblown. I mean, if all of Cardinal Nation wants to band together get offended when someone says we don’t have the greatest sense of fashion… well, I think we should not do that, and maybe just band together and be in love with our baseball team. As for his comments re: “being on the right side of the rivalry” at the beginning of this season–well, the Cubs traded him to the Dodgers, and we signed him. He wanted to ingratiate himself to his new team. What’s so bad about that? That being said, I had to wonder how we would react if the tables were turned. We are famous for applauding–nay, standing and applauding–former players who return. We have applauded Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds–two iconic Cardinals from the last decade–even as they play(ed) for teams within our division. Are there circumstances under which we would boo them?

I’m headed to the game tonight, so keep an eye on Twitter for some live-game, super lively observations. But I, for one, am not expecting much more than just a plain old baseball game.

Defenseless.

I hate to be a downer on a day after a win (and Daniel Descalso’s first major league home run, to boot), but I think that the power of the offense is making it easy to overlook–or temporarily ignore–a real problem that the boys are having on the field right now: Fielding.

The 2011 Cardinals have taken the old adage “The best defense is a good offense” and run with it. They currently lead the major leagues in hits (307), runs (161), RBI (154), OBP (.363), and batting average (.293). Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, over a month into the season, are both batting over .400 still and lead the majors with those awesome numbers. Yes, the Cardinals are tearing it up offensively–and they are doing it without Albert, who is batting .231 and leading the team in nothing except grounding into double plays.

Oh right–double plays. There have been a lot of them. 41, to be exact. That’s another thing we are leading the majors in. The Cardinals are spinning that by saying that you are more likely to ground into double plays if you are getting guys on base, which we are doing in abundance. That’s fantastic, but no amount of spin is going to make grounding into 41 double plays over a span of 30 games look good. It looks exactly like what it is–a ridiculous number and a lot of lost opportunities to score even more runs.

But the double plays are not the most alarming thing. The most alarming thing, the thing that has been making me cringe and sweat more than I ever want to during a baseball game, is the defense. Because in baseball, I do not think the best defense is a good offense. I think the best defense is clean fielding and catching routine pop flys and USING BOTH HANDS WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO CATCH THOSE POP FLYS, RYAN THERIOT.

Ryan Theriot drops a fly ball against Atlanta. May 1, 2011. Source: AP Photo/John Amis

Ryan The Riot is batting .306 and, I’ll admit, turning out to be a much better lead-off man than I had hoped. But it’s hard to get excited about a guy when you’re holding your breath every time a ground ball goes his way. He has committed a major-league-leading 8 errors in 30 games, which means he’s responsible for a 1/3 of the errors committed thus far by the Cardinals. 24 errors put the team pretty close to the bottom of the defensive barrel — only Texas, Oakland, and Houston have more.

Perhaps even more astounding is how the Cardinals are spreading the errors out amongst each other. There are currently 16 players without an error, but 10 of them are pitchers, 4 of them are not starters, and Skip is on the DL. Colby Rasmus is the only everyday starter on the roster without an error. And yes, Theriot maybe leading the pack with his 8 errors, but do you know who is in second? Albert Pujols, with 4. If that doesn’t alarm you, I don’t know what will.

I don’t mean this to be a harangue on my favorite men, but I think it’s clear that something needs to change. It’s fairly remarkable that we are able to lead a division (even the woeful NL Central) with these kinds of defensive miscues, no matter how good the offense is. The offense is bound to hit some rough patches and go through some slumps, and when that happens, we are going to need solid pitching and even more solid defense to back them up. There has been a lot of good going on with the Cardinals, and the high-octane offense has certainly been a thrill to watch, but they need to step back and get their fundamentals down. Without them, we won’t be the team we all want to be, and excuse the pun, but there’s no defense for that.

One blown save does not a bad closer make.

Mitchell Boggs has a lot of awesome left in him. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

I went straight to bed after last night’s debacle of a 9th inning, so it was quite a treat to wake up to a) the 80th rainy morning in a row, and b) a barrage of angry tweets re: Mitchell Boggs, our new “closer-but-don’t-call-him-a-closer.”

Cardinal Nation, I beseech you: Please calm down.

There’s a reason that TLR is insistent on not naming Boggs as the Official Closer yet, and I suspect that reason has something to do with the immense pressure and responsibility that comes with that title, and the heightened fan expectations of anyone in that role. It is probably also related to the fact that, when Ryan Franklin first starts showing signs of having problems (also known as: Opening Day), LaRussa was explicit about neither Boggs nor Motte being fully ready for the closer role. They are too young/inexperienced/something for the do-or-die ninth-inning situations, or at least they were a month ago, and yet here Boggs is. Doing. And not dying. (Okay, maybe dying a tiny bit yesterday.)

Mitchell Boggs is only 27 years old (11 years younger than Ryan Franklin) and has been in the majors for a little over two full seasons. He converted all three of his first save opportunities–which means he already has two more saves than the man who was supposed to be our closer this season–and overall, he’s been pretty impressive. His first blown save is not something to be alarmed about or incensed over. He had a slim one-run lead and put in an ugly ninth inning, but frankly, it had already been a pretty ugly game. After last night, I am more concerned about a) Jaime Garcia again failing to pitch six full innings, b) Trever Miller again being brought in to get one guy out–and not getting him, and c) our continued defensive woes than I am about Mitchell Boggs and his potential to close out games for us.

So again, everyone: Pitchforks down. I know we are all extremely sensitive to blown saves right now, but Boggs is not the man to take our hurt feelings and lack of trust out on. Even Mariano Rivera is going to blow a save every once in awhile, and so, you can be sure, is Mitchell Boggs.

The best of times.

Two days without baseball, and so much rain. Since the boys haven’t played in a while, and there (probably) isn’t much new to say about the Ryan Franklin/new closer situation (at least for a minute), this seems a good a time as any to present my inaugural solo post here at Diamond Diaries. I thought briefly about babbling on and on about myself, but then I realized–there is no better way for me to introduce myself to a bunch of Cardinals fans than to recount my top three best moments as a Cardinals fan.

So. Without further ado.

3. August 7, 2005: David Eckstein’s walk-off grand slam

This game… it’s been nearly six years, and I still have visceral memories of this game. I was watching by myself at my parents’ house in St. Louis, and for most of the first eight innings, it was beyond frustrating. It wasn’t unlike the first week of this 2011 season–people struggling to get on base, people struggling to hit when other people finally got on base. But David Eckstein, god bless his scrappiness and enormous heart, was doing everything that he could. As the lead-off man, he certainly did everything he was supposed to, which was get on base for the big bats behind him to knock him in. So he walked. Twice. He singled. He doubled. He stole a base. All of these efforts left him stranded out there on various bases, until the bottom of the ninth rolled around, and Davey found himself in a position to do a little more damage.

At the time of this game, I was only in the midst of my second full season as a Cardinals fan. I did not yet fully appreciate the Cardinals’ history of scrappy middle infielders, but on that day, I fell in love with them. There’s something so heartwarming and gratifying about seeing someone try so hard and then succeed–with Albert, it never looks like trying. So when Davey belted that walk-off grand slam to give us the 5-4 victory over Atlanta on that random August day in my parents’ living room… I’m not going to lie. I might have cried a little. And then I ran outside and danced a little. And then I called every baseball fan I knew at the time to squeal about it.

In retrospect, maybe that game didn’t mean all that much to the Cardinals season–after all, they won 100 games in 2005 and ran away with the division. But for me, watching Eckstein both play small ball and then swing the big bat was undoubtedly one of my best and most memorable moments as a fan.

2. October 18, 2005: Albert Pujols breaks Brad Lidge

I have heard a lot of argument about this moment and whether or not it is significant (mostly from the other side, who is all YOU DIDN’T EVEN END UP WINNING THE SERIES). I think it is. A lead-changing (and ultimately game-changing) home run is always at least mildly significant, and this one was just so… HUGE. Not in implication, but in… hugeness. (Huge enough that I can’t even find the right words!) I think we can all agree that Brad Lidge has not been the same since this home run, which is awesome.

For me, though, this moment was something else entirely. I didn’t even see this game. While this game was being played, a cruel fate had me somewhere in the sky between Shanghai and Tokyo, and I was a mess. So my memory of one of Albert’s greatest home runs goes more like this:

I am running through Narita airport. I am frantic. I need the Internet! A man spots my Cardinals shirt as we pass by each other on moving walkways moving in opposite directions. He says something like, “Hell of a game. Can’t believe they lost that one.” My heart drops.

“We LOST?!” I yell, turning around as he glides by. The man clarifies: “Astros. Astros lost. Hell of a home run.”

My plummeting heart shoots back up. The Astros lost! That means we won! And I have no idea what “hell of a home run” means, but I’ll be damned if I’m not about to find out. Now I run happily through the terminal. I find some Internet. I pay an inordinate amount of yen to use the Internet. I sit and read, gulping up every happy word, every joyous description.

It is the best.

1. October 19, 2006: Oh, you KNOW

Hmm. So it appears that all of my favorite baseball moments happened when I was alone, and the top two happened when I was alone in Asia. I will address this in a minute.

Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS is the best St. Louis Cardinals game I’ve ever seen. I’ve only been watching for 7+ years, of course, but I think that’s a fair statement. For this game, I got up at the crack of dawn, scootered across the city of Taipei, and let myself into my friends’ apartment–their TV got the English broadcast, and mine did not. Watching American baseball with the Taiwanese broadcast is certainly an experience worth having (the announcers, honestly, yell HASTA LA VISTA, BABY! whenever someone hits a home run), but not for the playoffs. And certainly not for Game 7.

My friends were off to work, so it was just me on their couch with my Cardinals cow. Yes, that was my company for the biggest game of my young life as a baseball fan–a stuffed cow that I made at Build-A-Bear and dressed in a Cardinals uniform. (You might say I was lonely, sometimes.)

We all know about this game. How Endy Chavez robbed Scott Rolen (and us!) of hope, and Yadier snatched that hope right back and knocked it out of the park. Given the present closer situation, we’ve all had Wainwright’s stellar rookie stint as a closer in mind.  We all remember holding our breaths and staring as Carlos Beltran, the “Cardinals Killer”, went: strike looking, strike swinging, strike looking, with the bases loaded and all our hearts on the verge of cardiac arrest. This, along with the day I got married, might have been the best moment of my life.

I guess it’s kind of weird that all of these “best moments” are kind of lonely moments, but maybe it’s significant that I don’t think of them in that way. Baseball makes me feel connected to a community, no matter where I am or what stuffed animals are keeping me company. Joining Diamond Diaries and getting more involved in that community is a really exciting step for me, and I look forward to it greatly!

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