August 2006

Lucky Seven

1. How would you rate the Cardinals’ handling of Mark Mulder’s comeback? Did they rush him? Should he have made more rehab starts? Should he have been shut down after his first game back in the Majors? Or do you think that they handled it all reasonably?

2. Let’s revisit a question I asked a few weeks ago. From out of all pitchers currently in the organization, who would comprise your five-man rotation from here to the end of the season? Once again, nobody is off-limits. If your rotation would include Wainwright, Reyes, Hancock and Sosa as well as Carpenter, that’s fine.

3. How would you divvy up outfield playing time while Edmonds is out? Duncan-Encarnacion-Wilson every day? Platoon Taguchi and Duncan? Play Spiezio on a semi-regular basis? Don’t forget, John Rodriguez is almost certain to be back soon, so he figures in this discussion as well.

4. The Cardinals could face just about anybody but the Reds or Astros in the Division Series.  Out of the Wild Card challengers and the NL West contenders, what potential opponent scares you most? The likely list includes the Dodgers, Padres, Phillies, Marlins, Giants, D-Backs and maybe the Braves. The Mets are pretty clearly the best team in the league, so let’s leave them out of the discussion.

5. Follow-up. Who’s going to make the playoffs in the NL? Obviously the Mets are going to win the East, but what about the Central champion, West champion, and Wild Card?

6. What teams have the best uniforms in American sports? If there’s one that stands out to you all alone, that’s cool. If you can’t pick between three or four, name them all.

7. What do you get at the concession stand at a baseball game? At a movie?

As the manager says, "fire away."

-M.

The Mgr on Mulder

One of my ongoing frustrations over the past couple of weeks was my inability to get a satisfying answer as to why the Cardinals were so convinced that Mark Mulder was ready to pitch, following a pair of not-so-impressive rehabilitation starts.

I asked it directly more than once. The answer I received from TLR the day before Mulder’s first start was: "When he’s working someplace else, you’re speculating. Whyspeculate any more? Just let him pitch. See what he’s got.
"
The answer I received from the manager after the start in NY was:

"At some point, you can only rehab so much, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher. Then it just becomes counterproductive. He put in his time. It was time for him to come to the big leagues and start working from here."

That same night, Dave Duncan said the following, which was the most satisfactory response I’d gotten to date:

"You don’t really evaluate the result when you
make the determination. What you do is you talk to the guy and see how he
feels. You look and see is he doing the things that you want him to be doing?
Which was delivery, arm slot, things like that. And he was doing those things.
The people that watched him pitch felt like he was ready to come up and make a
start."

Today, however, TLR gave what I believe was the most complete explanation of the club’s view about that situation yet. You may agree with the reasoning, and you certainly may disagree. My point in presenting it is certainly not to endorse it, nor to take shots at it. I just felt that it was more enlightening as to the thought process than anything else I’ve heard or read.

(Question: What did you see while he was on the mound last night?)
"He didn’t make any progress. I think what he said, he
doesn’t feel pain, which is something we were feeling good about. But it wasn’t
there.

"I could tell his stuff wasn’t special, and neither was
his location. But he’s had some bullpens where he and Dave (Duncan) and Marty (Mason), or the
catchers, have felt good about it. So that’s why it was worth sending him out
there. Because we saw some good things.

 

"If leading up to this thing, he was having pain and
didn’t show anything in the bullpen that got you excited, then we’d have
stopped the process. But he had been — the pain wasn’t there from what he was
telling us, and he had times where it was exciting. So that’s why he got the
ball.

"He’s significant enough, the potential is there that you
don’t want to guess what if. We gave him two shots and he didn’t look good."

-M.

Fall starts tomorrow!

Tomorrow night brings my other favorite sport in the world, college football. In honor of that, a few random things related to the great Saturday game.

First, the first installment of my weekly top-10. This is not a prediction; this is more like a power poll. These are what I believe to be the 10 best teams. To put it another way, if every team played an equally difficult schedule, these are the 10 teams I believe would be my top-10 at the end of the year.

1. USC; I’m less sure now than I was a few weeks back, but I still think this team is just loaded.
2. Texas; still the champs until somebody beats them, and they’re loaded on both sides
3. Ohio State; lot of talent, but I have nagging questions
4. LSU; hard to see any weaknesses with this team; I’d have an easy time seeing them anywhere in the top-5
5. Notre Dame; Awesome offense; not sold on the defense
6. Florida State; reloaded, didn’t rebuild, on defense; great skill position talent on offense
7. Miami; underrate them at your own peril — maybe the country’s best D
8. Auburn; solid, deep, seemingly unspectacular all around, but no fun to play
9. Cal; a trendy pick in places, but they can run, they can defend and they’ll develop a QB
10. Florida; another scary defense; but can they run?

Teams to watch: Clemson (my No. 1 sleeper this year), WVU/Louisville (closer in my eyes to each other than most people think), BC, Nebraska (from the category of, everyone’s saying they’re underrated so they’ll soon be overrated), Alabama

Game of the week: Miami-FSU, obviously. But don’t miss Georgia Tech-ND. Calvin Johnson is awesome; is there any way ND can stop him?

And finally, some of the places on the web I go for my Saturday fix:

Anyway. Let’s tee it up!
-M.

Mulder to see doctor again

Following tonight’s game, Mark Mulder acknowledged that his arm still isn’t getting to where it needs to, and he will see Dr. George Paletta on Wednesday to see what’s going on.

Here are some of his postgame comments.

(Was there any progress from last start?) "No. There’s still something going on. I’mobviously not right out there. So I was already talking to Paletta. I’m going
to go see him again tomorrow and we’ll go from there."

 

(Is it the same thing that was bothering you?) "It’s just, I think my first rehab
start in Davenport (Iowa — Class A Quad Cities) I felt pretty
good. And from then on, it’s just kind of slowly getting back to where it was. We’ll
re-evaluate it tomorrow."

(are you uncomfortable on the mound?) "Like I said before, it’s not pain. It’s
just not right. I don’t know how else to describe it until we do some more
stuff tomorrow."

Obviously it’s not good news if Mulder’s shoulder is still having trouble. But the best thing, if there is an issue, is for him to get get it checked out and cleared up. Obviously we’ll have a lot more on the site tomorrow, and I’ll have plenty in my game story tonight.

-M.

Follow-up

In my email today, I received an interesting and fair criticism about my response to the Jason Isringhausen question in this week’s mailbag. The main thing the reader/writer called me on is for saying I was "tired of" an issue that is clearly a major issue to fans. And you know what? No doubt about it, that’s a perfectly fair criticism.

So I thought about it, and I responded. But I also realized that that one reader probably isn’t the only one who had that reaction. So here’s the explanation/clarification/etc.

What I’m tired of isn’t the issue itself. It’s a legitimate issue, though as I’ve said before, I think the current bullpen setup is the way to go. Doesn’t mean I’m right, it’s just what I think. What I’m tired of is that every single time Isringhausen has a bad game, I get a ton of emails about it, and they tend to be extremely angry — "He’s terrible, he’s got to go."

I even get things like, "There’s no way the Cardinals will make the playoffs with him as closer." Well, they’re 3 games up now with him, so why won’t that stand? I get things like, "every time he comes in a game, they lose." Well, that’s obviously nowhere near true.

But I don’t get a ton of emails about every time Jeff Weaver has a bad game. Or Jason Marquis has a bad game. Or Yadier Molina goes 0-for-4. And so I think there’s a lot of scapegoating going on. I think people look at Isringhausen in games when there were a lot of other things that contributed to a loss. If that makes me a shameless apologist or something, so be it. But the point isn’t so much that Isringhausen is having a great year, but rather that I don’t think it’s fair for him to get so much of the blame.


He hasn’t had a great year; that’s no secret. But I think a big segment of the fan base is making him out to be the only problem with this team, when every starting pitcher but one has taken a step back from last year — to name just one issue.

I think Isringhausen has been blown into a far bigger issue than he should be, and I think a lot of people have been angry and irrational about a situation that’s no bigger than several others. I don’t hear the same anger about Marquis/Weaver/Mulder. I don’t hear the same anger about Molina having regressed at the plate, rather than improving. The only guy I hear this absolute rage about is Isringhausen. But he’s trying just as hard as anybody else. He agonizes just as much as anybody else. If you cut the other guys a break for effort, then he deserves one too.

Nobody’s wrong to say, "Hey, maybe there are
other options in the ninth." But don’t pretend that that would be a
cure-all. And don’t think that it’s as simple as just using somebody else in the ninth next time out. Because as much as I’m a believer that the closer’s role is overstated, there’s also the simple fact that one of the manager’s jobs is dealing with people and managing his clubhouse. It’s just not as simple, not as black-and-white, as the emails I get would suggest.

And that, friends, is why I’m tired of the topic.

-M.

My lucky seven

A few days later, here are my own calls on last week’s Lucky Seven.

1. I should have phrased this question better, because I think some of you took it as a yes-or-no question. What I mean was, do you EXPECT it? Or do you just HOPE it? And I can honestly say I still don’t EXPECT this team to make the postseason. I think they’re a heavy favorite, but I’m not all the way to expecting it again yet, like I would have said in May or most of June.

2. Like most of you, I say it’s the starting pitching. Somebody has to be a clear-cut choice to start a Game 2; whether it’s Suppan, whether it’s Mulder, whether it’s somebody else, I don’t really care. But there has to be somebody to match up with other team’s second-game starters.

3. The open-air quality will soon be the best, I think. Once the area beyond left-center doesn’t look quite so much like a hole in the ground. The worst aspect, to me, is the parts that still look and feel unfinished.

4. Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park in SF is the best place in the NL to watch a game in my opinion. Maybe the best in baseball. The best place to work, however, is Minute Maid Park in Houston. Perfect setup at that place.

5. I think I’d go with Shaun Alexander if I’m lucky enough to pick first in either of my leagues. But really, the best spot is 3rd — you’re guaranteed to get LJ, Tomlinson or Alexander.

6. I’ll say USC beats Miami in the title game. Miami is probably the most underrated team in the country right now, and they have a favorable schedule.

7. Nobody makes me laugh till my sides hurt quite like Patton Oswalt. I was a huge Mitch Hedberg fan, may he rest in peace.

-M.

Game On

We’re going to get a game in after all.

-M.

Lucky Seven

Here’s this week’s Lucky Seven…

1. Do you hope or expect that the Cardinals will make the postseason this year? Why?

2. If they do make the postseason, what’s the one thing about the team that most needs to improve in order to have a deep October run? I’m not talking about an external move. I’m talking about one facet of the team, or even one player, that must perform at a higher level.

3. What’s the best aspect of new Busch Stadium? What’s the worst?

4. What’s the best ballpark in the National League?

5. Who should be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football this year?

6. Who will play in the college football national championship? Who will win?

7. Who’s the funniest man (or woman) in America today?

-M.

Today's moves — CORRECTION 2

Jose Vizcaino signed and in uniform, wearing No. 35.
Mulder activated from DL.
Eckstein placed on DL.
Timo Perez optioned to Memphis DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT

Miles is again starting at SS and leading off. It was just announced that Vizcaino will be starting at shortstop and leading off tonight.   


Lineup is otherwise the same except that Wilson is batting fifth and Encarnacion sixth.

-M.

Last night

I’ve gotten tons of emails since the end of the game last night, the VAST majority of them (all but one, I think) complaining about the ninth inning.

I submit the following question for all of you…

Which was the bigger issue? Giving up two in the ninth? Or giving up four in the fifth after being staked to a six-run lead? I’m not saying the runs in the ninth weren’t a bad deal. Two mistake pitches, two runs, game over. I get it. But out of ALL the emails I got, where were the complaints about the fifth? About the leadoff walk, the error, the non-double play?

There’s been a lot of scapegoating this year. Some people are convinced that with a different closer, this team would be running away with the division. Some are convinced that everything would be different with a different manager. Some have said that if ownership just gave Walt some extra money to work with, this would be a 100-win team again.

The fact is, however, that TLR is very much right about one thing: it’s not one thing. They haven’t hit enough, they haven’t pitched enough in the rotation OR the bullpen.

Seriously, I’d like to hear your answers to the question above. More than 90 percent of the venting emails last night were about Isringhausen. Nobody specifically mentioned the fifth. Is that the consensus? That when the starter and the defense let a six-run lead evaporate, that it’s less of a problem than when the closer lets a one-run lead get away?

-M.

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