July 2006

Mark it eight, Dude!

I love talking lineup construction. I think my interest in lineup construction, and the questions I ask about it, tires Skipper La Russa. I ask about it a lot.

Anyway, I asked about tonight’s lineup, and the vs-LHP lineup in general, today. When Taguchi is in LF and Luna is at 2B against a LHP, Taguchi has tended to hit second, with Luna eighth. If it were my call, I’d do it the other way around, and I was curious as to the reasoning. So I asked. And the answer was short and simple:

"So handles the bat better."

Here’s the thing, though…

How much does that matter in the 2 spot, when the No. 3 hitter is Albert Pujols? How often are you going to bunt in front of him? Answer: basically never, because he’ll be walked. How often are you going to hit-and-run? Once in a while, but not a great deal.

To me, if there’s a good justification, it’s so as to break up 7-8-9 and keep the bottom third of the order from just turning over 1-2-3 too often. That’s a justification for having a guy like Luna in the eighth position.

But overall, personally, I want the guy with the more potent bat hitting six spots higher, not six spots lower. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not going to be the difference between this team making or missing the postseason. But it’s a little edge, and it’s one that I think it’s unwise to give up.

Just my $.02. What do y’all think?

-M, amused by the Excel-style stats on the scoreboard at new Busch. If a guy’s on-base percentage is .300, it’s listed as 0.3. If his slugging percnetage is .567, it’s listed as 0.567. Fun times.

Wouldn't hold out much hope for the Creedence, though

I actually expanded my horizons and took in a couple of moments of pop culture over the weekend. Hooray!

One, the bride and I (hi, Erin!) saw her all-time favorite band, Better Than Ezra, in concert. And as always, I can highly recommend them. I have great admiration for bands who always bring it, who never take a night off. They’re always energetic, always likeable, always tight, and they have some terrific songs.

In this particular setting, with a festival crowd, they played a LOT of familiar songs, the kinds of things you’d play for an audience that isn’t your own die-hard fans. Wise choice, and it worked. And trust me, you’d be surprised by how many BTE songs you know. I know I was, the first time I saw them. Plus, their cover of the Stones’ "Miss You" was smokin’. Love these guys. Don’t miss a chance to see them. And actually, if you’re in STL, go check out the Live on the Levee concert series this summer. Lots of cool acts coming up (we may go see both Toad the Wet Sprocket AND Cheap Trick next weekend) and it’s a great setting.

Two, we saw our second new movie of the summer: Superman Returns. As somebody who remembers the first two Superman movies as a little kid (I was born in 1974, they came out in 1978 and 1980), this franchise means a lot to me. And they got it right. Routh was excellent, Spacey was PERFECT, it looked great. They got the story right, with a big, big, big good-evil deal as well as personal storylines. And mostly, they got the tone right — just the right touch of fun and playful, without going over the top and making it one of those dreaded ironic takes on old favorites.

Oh, and also, the race. My guy finished seventh. I really though this was the week, but what a weird race. Maybe at the Brickyard, with me in attendance. OK, that would be COOL. Almost enough to make me not want him to win at Pocono, so we can see the first win in five years. Anyway…

Currently playing on the computer speakers: I have iTunes on Party Shuffle. "Mothers of the Disappeared" by U2 is starting.

-M.

TV time

Hello, all. For those interested, I’ll be on ESPNews at 12:10 CT this afternoon, presumably discussing the state of the Cardinals. Constructive criticism and especially flattery are always welcome.

-M.

My Lucky Seven

Here are my takes on the seven questions. Thanks to everyone who responded.

1. As of this minute, they’re on pace for 92. I think that’s a good number, but let’s tack one more on. Let’s say 93-69.

2. Nobody scares me, frankly. I don’t like the move the Reds made at all, and as the Astros and Brewers fall further behind, it gets tougher to see them as real challengers. But if I have to pick one, I’ll pick the Reds due to proximity. They’re three games ahead of the other guys, and that’s absolutely worth something.

3. I’ll say Rasmus, as many of you did. He’s pretty exciting.

4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best No. 2 hitter this team has is Jim Edmonds. Problem is, of course, he doesn’t much like to hit there. If it’s not going to be Edmonds, I’ve got no problem shuffling it around — put Duncan or Rodriguez there when one of them is in LF, put Luna there when he’s in the lineup. But basically, if the choice is between 2 and 8, the better hitter should go second and the worse hitter should go eighth.

5. Ball Four. If you haven’t read it, go read it. It’s just tremendous. I haven’t read a lot of baseball fiction, though — Derrick’s beloved Iowa Baseball Confederacy is currently sitting on my to-be-read shelf.

6. I’m going with "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, but the Fort Minor song and the Chemical Brothers song are both good calls.

7. Keith Jackson. I’m a college football guy along with my baseball geekdom, and nobody says big event like Keith Jackson. Best wishes in retirement, Keith. You’ll be sorely missed on Saturday afternoons.

BTW, one other thing apropos of none of this. For some fairly good reasons, I am most assuredly not a Tony Stewart fan. During my brief tenure covering NASCAR (I covered a total of about 10-15 races over several years), I found him condescending and rude in the interview sessions I attended. However, at some point I may have to acknowledge that there’s a lot to like about the guy. The deal when he went in the stands at Daytona was really cool, and this deserves nothing but praise. Pretty impressive.

Anyway… talk to you all tomorrow.

Currently playing on the iPod: Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel.

-M.

Mulder throws; Flores is sore

I have a couple of notes, which I will update over the next hour or two…

First, Mark Mulder threw off a mound this afternoon. That was somewhat unexpected, and certainly encouraging. It’s still a while yet before he faces hitters, but it is a significant step.

Second, Randy Flores has a sore elbow. He has undergone an MRI and will meet with Dr. Paletta this evening. He is unavailable for tonight’s game.

-M.

Quick thoughts…

Quick thoughts on a lot of baseball topics from the last several days…

* No, I don’t have any more idea than you do as to why the 923 combined Gold Gloves of Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones weren’t in the game in the final innings as the NL tried to protect a one-run lead. I did like seeing some of the starters play 6-7 innings, because I think that’s the best thing you can do to give some spark to the game. It feels less like a little league game when guys are staying in for more than an inning or three. But still, you’ve got to play to win, and those guys need to be in there.

* I like the move the Astros made, but I don’t love it. Aubrey Huff is a nice player, but with a recent hot streak he’s still only a pretty good option as an outfield corner. He’s not the same player as the guy who hit 34 HRs and slugged .555 three years ago, and I like both prospects the Astros gave up, as far as I can tell. But with that said, Huff is a decent bat, and he’s left-handed — both of which are qualities that help the Astros.

* I have no idea, however, what the Reds are thinking. Unless they’re convinced that Gary Majewski and Bill Bray will be Nelson and Stanton circa 1997, they gave up wayyy too much to get two relievers. As always, Larry Borowsky had an intriguing take on the deal, pointing out the significant upgrades at two areas of weakness for the Redlegs. And I don’t disagree. But it’s just hard to imagine they couldn’t have gotten more for two guys like Lopez and Kearns.

Currently playing on the iPod: Wholesale Meats and Fish, by Letters to Cleo.

-M.

Lucky Seven

Sorry for the absence. OK, really, I’m not sorry. I’m glad to have had the All-Star break. Wish it had been about a day longer. But anyway, let’s get going with the second half. Here are seven more questions for y’all to give me your thoughts on. As before, I’ll give my opinions in a few days after we’ve gotten plenty of responses.

1. The Cardinals begin the second half at 48-39. How many wins will they end the season with? Just for reference, if they win the same percentage after the break they’ll finish up 89-73.

2. As I write this, the Reds are four games back, the Brewers trail by 5 1/2 and the Astros by six. Who scares you the most?

3. If there’s one player not on the Major League roster that you would absolutely not trade in any deal, who is it? Why?

4. What should they do with the No. 2 spot in the order? Is there one person you’d put there every day? Mix and match based on the pitcher? Make it whoever is in left field? Make it whoever is at second base? Put Encarnacion back there? Edmonds? The possibilities are limitless — what’s your call?

5. Thanks to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch and Bird Land for this one… What’s your favorite baseball book?

6. What’s the song of the summer thus far for you?

7. Who’s your favorite national sportscasting voice? Current or retired, even deceased is OK. Who’s the one person you most love to hear calling a game on TV or the radio? I’m not talking about individual team people, like Vin Scully or Chick Hearn. We’ll ask that question next week. This week I’m talking about national voices, and people who call (or called) games — not studio hosts.

Have fun.

-M.

This bush-league psyche-out stuff… laughable, man

Each season I’ve covered, and this is No. 5, has a game that I remember. A single, regular-season game that stands out, that always comes to mind when I look back at that season.

I have to think yesterday afternoon’s game will be the one for 2006. The way the ninth-inning rally happened, with all the two-strike hits. Seeing Oswalt come out, and then seeing Pujols crush that ball opposite way. Really a tremendous, memorable game — basically what I’ve come to expect from Cards-Astros games at Minute Maid Park.

Anyway. It got me thinking about those defining games. Here they are, for me, for the seasons I’ve covered. What are yours, either for these seasons or earlier ones? Leave out playoff games. Regular season only.


2002 – It’s a game where I wasn’t even in
attendance, actually. But the one that stands out is Edgar Renteria’s
game-winner against the Cubs at Busch on a Sunday night right before
the trade deadline. I was in Cooperstown, covering Ozzie Smith’s Hall
of Fame induction, and I watched the game on TV in a bar in Cooperstown.


2003 – It’s really the entire series at the
beginning of September in Chicago, including Woody Williams’ relief
appearance in the fourth game, the back-and-forth fifth game. I think
most of the opener of the doubleheader, though, with Orlando Palmeiro’s
spectacular catch against the wall, Albert Pujols’ error and Sosa’s
home run in extras. That series stands out as the most compelling
regular-season baseball I’ve ever seen.

2004 – This is probably the easiest call, and it’s another game at Wrigley. The defining game of that regular season was the finale of the series in Chicago right after the All-Star break. The Cards dug a huge hole early, but Pujols had five hits and three home runs to lead a comeback. The Cardinals basically salted the division away that day, even though it was July.

2005 – This is the hardest one, perhaps because there was so little drama in the standings all year. There were some tremendous games, including the Braves game with Eckstein’s walk-off grand slam, but the one that I recall most vividly is Mark Mulder’s 10-inning shutout against Clemens and the Astros at Busch.

Now it’s y’all’s turn. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some soccer and some NASCAR. (btw, how amazing is it that J.P. Montoya is going to run stock cars?! Tremendous.)


One question, btw, for those of you watching soccer today: Will you watch it on ABC? Or will you flip over to Univision? I’m going to start out with ABC, but I’m keeping them on a short leash. The first time they spend 10 minutes straight talking about the officials, or the first time Balboa says two contradictory things in succession ("Germany can’t win if they stay back like this!" … "Argentina needs to force Germany to stop staying back if they hope to ahve a chance to win!"), I’m flipping over to the Spanish call.


Currently playing on the iPod: Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse.

-M.

Eckstein gets a day

David Eckstein has been given a rest day today, but nothing is wrong with him. It’s just a day for a breather — not to mention a day to sit out against someone he hasn’t hit well. Eckstein is 3-for-24 (.125) lifetime against Clemens. Hector Luna gets the start at shortstop, while Aaron Miles leads off and plays second base. Otherwise, not a lot out of the ordinary in today’s lineup. John Rodriguez starts in left field, no surprise given how he’s hit the ball the past two days. Gary Bennett is catching while Molina gets another day off.

Predictions for Sunday, which is shaping up to be an outstanding sports day…

France pulls off the upset. I’ve been underrating them all along. Now I’m jumping on the bandwagon. take that for what it’s worth.

Federer carves up Nadal. I’m impressed with what Nadal has done, but Federer is on another planet. And man he’s fun to watch. US Open should be fantastic, though — if they meet in the final there, that will be great, great stuff.

Jeff Burton leads a lot of laps, runs up front and is at least in serious contention at Chicagoland for his first win in five years.

What will y’all be watching before baseball tomorrow? Soccer? Tennis? Golf? DVD of the Rams Super Bowl title? For me, it’ll be getting up early to watch Federer, get a little grub, then come back for the World Cup final. Once the race starts, I’ll flip over to that occasionally. Should be a fun, fun day.

-M.

(now playing on the iPod: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mother’s Milk)

Ponson DFA

The other shoe, in the form of Sidney Ponson, dropped today. Jeff Weaver arrived in the clubhouse this afternoon, and by MLB rules he had to be activated once he arrived. That meant a move was required.

The move, as many people expected, was that Sidney Ponson was designated for assignment — the same thing that happened to Weaver with the Angels. The Cards now have 10 days to trade Ponson, release him or send him outright to the Minor Leagues. He’d have to accept being outrighted, which is extremely unlikely.

Weaver will throw a bullpen today. He’ll probably throw a simulated game or perhaps a bullpen on Sunday, and get a start after the break.

-M.

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