Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Season Preview - NL East

Alright, today we get baseball's most drama-filled, and most overrated division, the NL East.

1. Mets - I tend to root against the New York teams. I guess it's a midwestern thing. Last year, however, I couldn't help but feel a little sympathy for the Mets. If one team in baseball had a bullpen that was as bad or worse than the Cardinals, it was the Mets. It was tough in the late innings for them the whole year, but once Billy Wagner went down, taking a lead into the late innings seemed to be a detriment to them instead of a positive. That's why you really have to call them the hands-down big winners of this past offseason. They added K-Rod AND JJ Putz, two of the best late-inning guys in baseball, arguably turning a major weakness into a strength. Not only do these guys have great stuff, but more importantly, they seem to have the personalty and make-up to thrive in New York. There are some questions at the back-end of the rotation for this team, but overall, I like them to finally get over the hump (and the arch nemesis the Phillies) and win this division again.

2. Phillies - No question, this team is still one of the favorites not only in their own division, but in the entire national league. They only made one major change from last year, letting Burrell go and signing Ibanez, opting to sign their own guys to extensions to keep this World Series winner intact. The problem I have with this team is that they rely too much on Hammels and their bullpen. The rest of the rotation is suspect and now Hammels won't be ready for the start of the season. The bullpen, you have to think, can't keep up their run of near perfection for another entire year. I could be wrong, but I think they will falter just enough to let the Mets through the door.

3. Braves - If Tim Hudson were healthy, I'd really like this team's chances. As it is, they did a great job of rebuilding the rotation in the offseason and have some other good young arms on the way. Unfortunately, I just don't think the depth is there on the pitching staff for this year at least and their line-up is no where near what the Phillies and Mets have. Still, they are a team that could DECIDE the division (or the wild card for that matter) because they can certainly beat anyone on a given day, so you don't want to be playing important games against them in September.

4. Marlins - This team seems to always be better than people expect. They are right up there with the likes of the Brewers, Rangers, and Twins when it comes to good young talent. Unfortunately, they always have to trade away their best guys eventually because they draw no fans and have no money. Fortunately, both those things should change in the near future. They have a new stadium deal in place finally and I think it will be ready in 2011. They also wisely have locked down Hanely Rameriz, the best young player in baseball, so he'll still be there when they open their new digs. They probably won't contend until then, but at least the future looks much brighter for them.

5. Nationals - It will be interesting to see who is worse, them or the Padres. Their rotation should easily be the worst in baseball at the very least. They have some decent position players lead by Adam Dunn, but not much else to hang their hat on. I'm sure the other teams in the division are glad to have the Nationals around, because the other four are pretty tough to play against.

Tomorrow's the big one: NL Central. Tune back in and keep on eye on the rest of the UCB's predictions as well!


Monday, March 30, 2009

season preview - American League

This week, the UCB is building up to the start of the season by previewing and making predictions about the various leagues and divisions of MLB. We'll start today with the Junior Circuit. Here's my thoughts on who will finish where and why:

AL East:
1. Red Sox
2. Yankees*
3. Rays
4. Blue Jays
5. Orioles
*=wild card winner
I LOVE what the BoSox did this offseason. They lost out on Texeira, but they then wisely used their money to add pitching depth, both starting and relief. Their top three starters (Beckett, Dice-K, Lester) are as good as anyone, and Wakefield and Bucholtz have pitched so well this spring, they are going to take their time bringing Smoltz and Penny along. Even more important, they added several quality arms in front of Paplebon, which was a weakness last year. Their offense is not as good as a few years ago, but it should it be plenty good enough with that staff. As much as I'd like the Rays to repeat their success from last year, the fact is that with their budget, they need everything to break their way. A few injuries, and they'll be hurting. I just don't see their luck holding-up two years in a row. Still, they have so many good young players, they can't help but be in the hunt. The Yankees, on the other hand, are one the few teams that can buy any part they may need, and they should be much better than last year based on starting pitching alone. Like the Red Sox, they can no longer just mash their way to the playoffs, and that is a concern with several aging hitters not to mention the health questions with A-Rod. Still, I think they have too much talent to miss out two years in a row. For the Bluejays, they were contenders last year, but have lost too much pitching to free agency and injuries. The Orioles are showing signs of life this spring, but are probably still two years away from being good again.

AL Central:
1. Twins
2. Indians
3. White Sox
4. Royals
5. Tigers

This is the toughest division in baseball to call I think. There are no terrible teams (though the tigers could be) I think, but no great ones either. The Twins seem never spend enough to win, but they always do. They have great young pitching, so I'm going with them. That said, like the Rays, they are only a couple of injuries away from trouble. The Joe Mauer situation is already troubling for a very thin line-up. Can Delmon Young finally step-up? The Indians are due for a bounce back I think. Key will be Hafner regaining his stroke and Carmona being healthy to back-up Lee in the rotation. DeRosa and Wood represent major upgrades at 3B and Closer respectively though. The White Sox are going towards a youth movement. They still have the talent to win the division, but I'm expecting enough growing pains to keep them just out of it. The Royals probably won't stink for the first time in a long time this year. They've upgraded their bullpen, as well as at CF (Crisp) and 1B (Jacobs), still, they are at least a year away from contending. The Tigers have the best line-up in the division still, but tons of questions with all aspects of the pitching staff. That's enough to earn last place in this tough division.

AL West:
1. Angels
2. A's
3. Rangers
4. Mariners

The Angles have big pitching concerns heading into the season, but it seems that Santana, Lackey, and Escobar will all be back sometime in May. They may struggle in April, but in this weak division, they are still far and away the best team. Sure, their line-up isn't great, but it's good enough once their stellar starting pitching is intact. The A's represent the best hope for a challenger. They should have a much improved line-up with Holliday, Orlando Cabrerra, and a seemingly healthy Chavez this year. Their pitching, however, is basically a bunch of rookies. Sure, they have talent, but over the course of the season there are bound to be a lot of hiccups. The Rangers likewise have a lot of good young talent. Their GM, Daniels, did a great job a couple of years ago knowing when to blow his team up and rebuild. Most consider their minor league system right now to be the best in baseball. Still, it's going to be a couple of more years till they will be back to playing winning baseball. The Mariners, on the other hand, may find it more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They brought back Junior, but his glory days, as well as the team's, are a long time gone.

NL east tomorrow. NL Central Wednesday. NL West Thursday. Postseason predictions and Awards Friday. Check out the UCB's new website and see everyone's thoughts on the upcoming season as well: http://www.unitedcardinalbloggers.com/.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

More thoughts as we rumble towards the start of the season......

Although they've lost the last couple the Cardinals overall have looked pretty good this spring. Wainwright had a fairly good start today. He allowed a lot of base runners, but only two runs in 5 1/3 innings and struck-out eight. In my opinion, he should be the opening day guy. Carpenter has been fantastic, no doubt, but I'd like to see him placed in the middle of the rotation where perhaps the Cards can afford to limit his innings/pitches. Anyway, TRL seems to be trying to maybe play his "regulars" together right now, so here's my best guess at the opening day line-up:

1. Shumaker-2B Shu seems to have stabilized defensively, but I'd guess Ryan will still play against lefties. Shu usually sat against them last year in the outfield anyway.

2. Ankiel-CF Personally, I'd rather see Rick bat 4th and play left field, but it seems that Duncan is going to start over Rasmus and also that Rick doesn't feel comfortable as a corner outfielder.

3. Pujols - 1B He's cooled-off after a hot start to the spring and only hit I think one homer, but guess what, I'm not worried in the least.

4. Duncan - LF I'm a little surprised he seems to have this spot locked down, but it is true that he showed great power and promise before he got hurt.

5. Ludwick - RF He'd probably be the better choice to back-up Albert, but TRL seems determined to split-up his RH/LH power as best he can.

6. K. Greene - SS He's been the star of the spring, without question. No one expects him to bat .400 in the season, but if he even sniffs .300, that would be huge.

7. Y. Molina - C Haven't seen too much of him because of the WBC, but he's probably the most reliable guy we have after Albert, so there's nothing to worry about I think.

8. Freese - 3B After it seemed Mather had this spot locked down, Freese was called back-up and given a second look. The offseason favorite now seems to be the real favorite to fill-in for Glaus.

9. Wainwright - P When Ramus or Mather start, TRL will likely go back to batting the P's eighth, but for now, he has no natural "2nd lead-off" guy to put 9th.

Rasmus, Mather, LaRue, Ryan, Thurston. It's possible Thurston could be sent down in favor of an extra pitcher. Mather and Ryan have the versatility to allow that. It's also possible they'll send Rasmus down so he plays every day. I think he'll stick though.

Rotation: Wainwright, Lohse, Carp, Wellenmeyer, Pineiro. Like I said, I'd put Carp in the middle with Waino and Lohse ahead of him, but he's the veteran, so TRL may defy logic and put him at the top. Wellenmeyer is the only guy that has struggled a little this spring, while Pineiro has been almost as pleasant a surprise as Carp.


Long-relief: Thompson-he's been slightly less horrible than McClellen this spring.
LH middle: Miller, Reyes-should be a big upgrade over Flores/Villone, though Miller got shelled today against the Mets.
RH middle: Perez, Kinney, Franklin. Again, should be much better here than last year. I love Kinney and his wicked slider especially.
de-facto Closer: Motte. I seriously doubt Duncan and TRL will name a closer until May if ever this season, but Motte should be the guy most nights. He looks like the real deal anyway.

It's what, ten days till opening day? Obviously, we'll miss Glaus while he is out and Carp's health remains a question mark, but there's at least two big things to be excited about: the offense should be awesome and the bullpen way better. If those things turn out to be as true as I think, we should have a good ball club. At the start of the season, hope spring eternal.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Ball thoughts

Well, the Cards have been playing some pretty good ball so far this spring, and the positives have so far vastly outweighed the negatives with the team to this point. Here's my thoughts and observations to this point:

What's been good:

1. Obviously, the biggest positive thus far has been that Chris Carpenter looks healthy and VERY effective (zero earned runs in the spring to this point). Can he give us 30+ starts this year? I'm sure no one has any idea, but if he does, we should be able to contend with the Cubs and everyone else in the NL.

2. Khalil Greene=bigger upgrade than I expected. Certainly, almost anyone could swing a bigger bat than Izturis at SS, but Greene has been among several Cardinals to hit the ball extremely well so far this spring. Many have postulated that getting him outta PETCO park would make him a plus offensive player, and it looks like that may very well be the case.

3. The Mather/Shumaker experiment could work, but it's still too early to tell. Shu had a tough start to things at 2B, but he seems to be getting the hang of it now. He has been his usual patient and productive self at the top of the order as well. It's still tough to say that he will be the starter at 2B for sure on opening day. Brenden Ryan has I think played well enough to earn at least a platoon spot with Shu. Mather is one of the few guys to not post a sparkling batting average, but he has driven in quite a few runs. He has also been more consistent in the field than I would have imagined (and therefore, better than Shu in that regard). With Freese and Craig being optioned to the minor league camp, it does seem a certainty that Mather will be the opening day 3B. Obviously, I'd expect Glaus to take that position as soon as he is able with Mather staying up with the big club as a super-utility guy.

4. The pitching has been fantastic overall. I think Wainwright has the worst numbers of the any of the starters, and he's the guy I'm least worried about. Carp I already mentioned. Lohse and Wellenmeyer have been solid after tough initial outings. Pinero has been the big surprise. I think he had his "worst" outing so far today giving up two runs in four innings. The pen already looks better than last year. Motte has been lights out. Kinney has given up only one measly run. Franklin looks confident and comfortable again. Reyes and Miller mark a clear upgrade from the left side from last year. Perez had been solid before being shut-down with tightness in shoulder last week. The only real negative with the pen has been McClellen and Thompson looking shaky as they battle for the long-relief/emergency starter role. Still, things ARE looking decidedly up compared to last year in that area.

What's been not so good:

Really not much. Ludwick has slumped so far this spring (though he hit his first homer today), but with so many anticipated regulars tearing the cover off the ball, I'm not too worried about the offense. The closer situation is still in flux. Perez was probably the favorite, but with him sidelined, I'd say it's a battle between Motte and Kinney and they both look great. It would be nice to have a designated guy, but I'm happy to have a bunch of guys that I think can get people out in the late innings. We had maybe one guy (Franklin) in the entire pen I felt that way about last year. All-in-all, it's been a very positive spring so far. Let's keep the momentum going towards the start of the season!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Simply Amazing Albert Pujols Story

Our main man is on the cover of Sport's Illustrated this week, and the article that accompanies it literally brought tears to my eyes. It's called The Power to Believe. I believe.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UCB Spring Roundtable - Cardinal's Mt. Rushmore

It’s our blog’s turn in the UCB roundtable today. The question I posed was this:

Recently, ESPN asked each state to vote for their state’s “sports Mt. Rushmore”. In other words, who are the four most important and influence people in sports in history from their state? I wanted to know who my fellow UCBers felt belonged on the the Mt. Rushmore of the 127 year history of the Cardinal’s organization.

Aaron Schafer from The Rundown said:

Musial, Branch Rickey, Gibson, and Rogers Hornsby. It's tough for me to leave Pujols off, but I don't think he's quite there with those guys yet. Give him a few more years, and he likely bumps off Hornsby. As for now, though, his eight year career doesn't quite match up to the greatest right handed hitter in franchise history, and probably second or third greatest ever. The others all have solid historical reasons, in addition to just their play on the field. Musial goes without saying, to be perfectly frank. Branch Rickey created the farm system as we know it today. And Gibson? Well, when you're largely responsible for a change in the rules of the game (in this case, the lowering of the mound following the 1968 season), that's good enough for me. Aaron SchaferThe Rundown- the Riverfront Times

Josh from That’s a Winner went with

Musial, Hornsby, Gibson, and Buck

Andrea of Bugs and Cranks says:

Musial, Gibson, Jack Buck and Pujols.I think we can be preemptive and add Pujols.

This caused Aaron to chime in again with:

You can't do that! Just add a guy?! We've only got mountain enough for four giant heads! Unless... Maybe Janus figures? We could double our choices then! That may be against the rules, though. Oh, well.

Here Mike from Stan Musial’s Stance:

I'm going to limit my choices to those who played the field. Branch Rickey, Jack Buck, Curt Flood, all made significant contributions to the team, the community, and to baseball, however, one was mediocre in the field, one never played on the field, and the other was a good major league CF and hitter but not as exceptional as the four who made the cut.

So I thought, "when you think of Cardinals baseball , what players do you think of?" as the criteria for my 4.

Stan Musial. Without question. The current greatest Cardinal of them all; depending on how Pujols' career continues, that may change, but even then he's the greatest Cardinal of the 20th Century. In my opinion, he's the greatest living hitter, although Willie Mays was pretty darn good.

Bob Gibson. 251 wins as a Cardinal, 1.12 ERA, 17 K's in a World Series game. HOF.

Ozzie Smith. 15 All-Star appearances (12 consecutive), Runner up for ROY in 1978. Runner up for MVP in 1987. Silver Slugger in 1987. The Back-Flip.

Rogers Hornsby. Two time MVP, hit over .400 three times, highest single season avg of the modern era (.424, 1925), another HOF.

Albert is off the list only because his career is still in progress.

Others who didn't make the cut: Jim Bottomley, Jesse Haines, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst.

Daniel, from c70 at the Bat added:

Just as a point of reference,
Derrick Goold did this last year. Your mileage, of course, may vary.If you wanted to encompass everything, you say Musial (hitter), Gibson (pitcher), Buck (broadcaster) and Rickey (management).But personally, I think I'd take Musial, Gibson, Pujols and Ozzie.What about La Russa, though? Not that he'd get past most of the players, but if you were looking for a balanced Rushmore, should he be in the mix?

Mike replied with:

If one of the spots had to go to a manager, I'd either pick Southworth orHerzog. Southworth would get the nod because he's the only Cardinal managerto win more than one World Series. If the fact that the talent pool wasdiluted during the war years bothers you, then Herzog, the only otherCardinal manager with three NL pennants.Is LaRussa a good manager? Yes. But the fact that he's only won the NLtwice, despite 6 shots to get there from the NLCS, has to count against him.

Pip, of Fungoes fame chimed in:

Obviously, a lot of legendary representatives out there. Here's my fallible list, based largely on the number of win shares each contributed as a Cardinal:MusialHornsbyGibsonBrock


Ryan of Cardinals Diaspora says:

monuments are for collective memory, so i have to go with the guys that really typify the Cardinals, the guys whose names instantly conjure images of the Birds on Bat.To wit: Musial, Gibson, Ozzie...those are the easy ones.For the fourth, it's a tie between Dizzy Dean and Red Schoendienst. May have to go the Janus route on this one, though Dean's a powerful symbol in the collective memory of the game of baseball as much as for Cardinal history. But, leaving Red off that kind of monument...how do you tell you kids you made that decision?

addendum: I'd revisit Pujols at the end of his career. It's too soon for now. What if they let him walk as a free agent and he signs with...well, you know. There's also those seasons that coincide with the steroid era. I'm not saying anything, but I am far too cynical to be surprised by anything anymore.

Here’s Nick of Pitcher’s hit eighth’s take:

I’m going to go with Musial, Gibson, Ozzie, and Hornsby – but good gravy is that a nearly impossible task. I don’t think there’s a “right” answer to this question, just like there wouldn’t be for the Yankees or a lot of other teams.

We should be thankful, as fans, to have such a rich history for our team.


Andrea then reminded us all of how lucky we are to be Card’s fans by saying:
It occurred to me earlier that at least we have so many to choose from. We could be, say, our AAA brothers to the west and have George Brett, Dick Howser, Dan Quisenberry and Don Denkinger

Josh from Redbird’s Row responded with:
I couldn't imagine being a Royals supporter and only have their 'steal' of a WS win to keep them up-right. With that being said, I am going to hold Pujols back until after he resigns. If he ends up with say, Kansas City, it would be hard to vote AP to any Mt. Rushmore.

My two easiest spots go to Musial and Buck. Just my preference but still no brainers. La Russa and Ozzie cancel each other out because they have both hurt Cardinal Nation with their spat.

Bob Gibson gets to pick his spot since I couldn't tell him no, and in honor of our fallen Birds, DK57 goes up as a symbol rather than a face.

Our own John elaborated on this with:

"We could be, say, our AAA brothers to the west and have George Brett, Dick Howser, Dan Quisenberry and Don Denkinger."What?! No Brett Saberhagen?!I'm gonna go the diversified route with:Stan the Man--no need to clarify here.Gussie Busch--longest owner of the Cardinals. 3 WS championships. 7 NL titles and kept the team in St. Louis--among other things.Jack Buck--one of the greatest broadcasters ever.Red--manager and player.One modern day player. One not so modern day. Different position players. An owner and an announcer. Honorable mentions:Gibson (pitcher), Hornsby (golden oldie). Ozzie Smith (defensively and modern player).
-CJ (The Cardinal Virtue)

Daniel responded to that with:

What?! No Bret Saberhagen?!"He'd only be on there every other year

Sarah of La Beisbolista wasn’t very enamored of this question and said:

This is a totally unfair question--as several people have pointed out--because Cardinals history is full of important/influencial/great people. How can we honestly be expected to choose between them?Well, if you insist. Here are my picks:Stan Musial, because with a nickname like his, you're just daring people to exclude you. (He *is* The Man.)Whitey Herzog, because his style defined an entire era. August A. Busch, Jr., because he was instrumental in making Cardinals baseball a way of life for midwesterners. (Although I might not have thought of it until John mentioned him.)Albert Pujols, because I have faith that by the time the rock carvers get to the fourth face, his place in Cardinals history won't be in doubt.

Scott Deiner of Cardinal’s Nation Globe kept it simple:

My Cardinals Mt. Rushmore would be: 1. Stan Musial2. Branch Rickey3. George Kissell4. Jack Buck

Michael Riehn of Whiteyball also kept it short and sweet:

My Cardinals Mt. Rushmore would be: 1. Stan Musial2. Rogers Hornsby3. Ozzie Smith4. Bob Gibson Michael Riehn

Jeff from 5 O’Clock Blogger kept the pattern going:

Sorry, no time to elaborate. My four are Ozzie, Albert, Gibson and Stan.


Matt Wilson, also of Whiteyball, said:

My Cardinal Rushmore would be:

1) Gussie Busch
2) Stan Musial
3) Bob Gibson
4) Jack Buck

Lifelong Cardinals. As much as I love Red, Ozzie, Lou, and Rogers, they all spent time in other uniforms. Gibby’s time in a Globetrotter’s uniform doesn’t count.

Matt Wilson

John chimed back in and rounds up the conversation to this point with:
"How can we honestly be expected to choose between them?"
That's the evil point of the question. This evil point makes it all the more delicious. That said, I'm willing to ask the tough follow-up questions that behooves a good round-table. Has Ozzie Smith really "hurt" the organization? What does TLR have to do to get on there? Is Rushmore big enough to have his mullet? Should playing for another team really disqualify you? I don't expect these questions to be answered like the initial one, but just as talking points. I'm not sure I would discount the Oz based on what I know of his dealings with Cardinals' brass. Sure, TLR needed a nap, but does pushing an organization to win mean he isn't in the conversation? -CJ

My own take: Yeah, there are certainly more than four great cardinals in history, but I think four are the greatest, and should have their heads engraved in stone:

Hornsby: I was surprised he wasn’t more unanimous. Yeah, he was a jerk and forced his way out of St. Louis prematurely, but his numbers are sick. I couldn’t put them up in a video game even. Statistically speaking, he is the greatest second baseman and right-handed hitter of all time, and it’s not even close. Two MVPs (would’ve won more, but the award didn’t exist in some of his best years), two triple crowns, three times batted over .400. Here’s an example of “one” of his career years in 1922: .401 BA, 42 HRs (an NL record at the time), 152 RBI, .722 SLG, .459 OBP, 141 runs, and 250 total hits. Just sick.

Gibson: His overall career stats aren’t super inspiring, but from 1963-1970, he was probably the most dominate pitcher of the modern era, and he redefined the terms “gamer” and “big-game pitcher”. Two world series titles, but the one in 1967 stands out: three complete game victories with only three earned runs allowed total. He hit a home run in game 7 to boot.

Musial: I won’t go over Stan the Man’s stats, because really most know them by heart. More than just being a great player, Musial seems to embody “the Cardinal Way” with the way he carried himself both on and off the field. There is a reason his is the only statue in front of New Busch Stadium.

Jack Buck: There are some other pretty good candidates if you want a “civilian” on the mountain, like Branch Rickey, Gussie Busch, and maybe even Herzog or TRL, but Buck stands out me to for much the same reasons Musial did. He seemed to fill the mold for what it meant to be a true Cardinal as a fan instead of a player. I think many people today root for the Cardinals because of Buck. I know my dad became a fan by listening to Buck call games and that I’m a fan because my dad is. That’s all I need to know.

I may add to this transcript, especially if people respond to the new questions John recently posed, but for now, thanks to everyone that participated, it was a lot of fun for me at least!