Thursday, September 23, 2010

Revisiting the NL Playoff Picture

As we head into the final week of the 2010 regular season, I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit a post from a couple of weeks ago... In that post, I bemoaned the fact that the Cardinals weren't able to do the one thing that is required of all good/great teams -- beat up on the little guys. The Cardinals have been terrible against "lesser" competition, and in the time since I wrote that post, they've only gotten worst. You might not realize it, but they've posted the worst record in the NL since the All Star break. Of course, on weekends when they do play a team that still has a shot at October, they surprise by taking 2 of 3. Then they play the Cubs and get swept. And thus you have the frustration of the 2010 season as a Cardinals fan.

But, my intent here is to revisit the teams I talked about in that previous post -- the Padres, the Giants, the Reds, the Phillies and the Braves. Since they've put themselves squarely in the hunt, I'll also touch on the Rockies.

Let's start with the Phillies.....Back in June, it looked like they wouldn't even make the playoffs, but as they have the last several years, they turned on the jets at the right time, and basically wrapped up the division with their recent sweep of the Braves. They head into the playoffs with a rotation that starts with Roys Halladay and Oswalt followed by Cole Hammels. Yeah, they have a great shot at reaching their 3rd consecutive World Series.

The Braves have slipped a bit since my last post. They still have a lead in the Wild Card race, but the 3 teams in contention for the NL West are still in the mix. I think the season is a disappointment for the Braves if they don't make it as the Wild Card, and personally, I would love to see them make the World Series and send off Bobby Cox in style (provided they don't have to go through the Yankees to do that).

The NL West remains the last compelling race in any division in baseball. The Padres decided to quit winning and saw a 6+ game lead evaporate. Since that time, they've spent days alternating with the Giants for the division lead. The Padres play a Cinci team that may be resting stars for the post-season and then welcome the Cubs, who have played better under interim manager Mike Quade. The Giants get the Rockies and then the Diamondbacks. Then the two teams square off in San Fran, and just might have the division and a spot in the playoffs on the line.

Unless of course the Rockies spoil everything by getting back in the groove after stumbling a bit against the D'backs. Troy Tulowitzki has had a September to remember and has been clubbing home runs at an unconscious pace. He's cemented his spot as the premier short stop in the NL, and might just earn a spot in the MVP voting if he can help the Rockies turn October into "Rock"tober.

The Reds, of course, have things basically wrapped up as the Cards are starting to give time to their September callups. Dusty Baker worked magic with the 2003 Cubs, and may be improving on that story with the 2010 Reds.

It is going to be a fun October.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

During last night's Yankees/Rays game, Derek Jeter spun away from an inside pitch, immediately grabbed his left arm and wrist as if the pitch had hit his elbow, and was awarded first base by the umpire. Before taking first, the Yankees trainers came onto the field to check out the damage done. Only problem with all of this is that replays showed that the ball hit the end of the bat -- not Jeter's arm. So he was acting -- and now has thrown the baseball world into a tizzy.

Honestly people, get a grip. Did Jeter fake things and play it up to get on base? Of course he did -- he admitted as much after the game, saying that it was his job to get on base any way that he could. So now, the twitterverse, blogosphere and sports talk radio is abuzz with the great debate: IS DEREK JETER A CHEATER?

Look, this is a fact of life in sports -- not just baseball. How many wide receivers dive for a ball, tumble over things and then come up holding the ball as if they just one-upped the "Immaculate Reception"? Happens several times a game. How many times does an outfielder dive for a ball that bounces on the ground and quickly in his glove and them holds his glove up to sell the catch? Everyone this side of Adam Dunn pulls that one. The flop that gets the charging call -- yep, those are part of the game, too.

I know these things are maddening when they happen against your favorite team. I'm as guilty of villifying a player for these types of things all the time. But I fail to see the side of this argument that would suggest that Jeter's somehow a tarnished idol now, or that this kind of thing is beneath him. This is part of the game, people, and we'll ALWAYS have to live with players trying to get away with some little thing or another to gain an edge. It's not cheating, it's not amoral, it's just a fact of life in the sporting world.

I'm fairly certain that there's perhaps maybe two players in baseball that might have stirred up a bigger mess of ridiculousness than the one that's surrounded Jeter today -- ARod and Manny Ramirez. Aside from those two guys, if ANYONE else does this, we're roundly saluting him as a heads up and savvy baseball player. Dustin Pedroia does that, and he's a "gamer", but somehow it's beneath Jeter. (That's not a shot at a Red Sox, plug in any player you want, and I'd make the same argument.)

Now, having said all this, I do agree that this is just one instance where we see that MLB really could benefit from the use of instant replay. The technology is there, and with a little planning and forethought (I know, not exactly Bud's strong suit), the game can be even better than it is, and I don't think the fan will have to suffer through too much dead time during a game -- or at least won't suffer through any more than they've become accustomed to.

But for now, let's all take a few deep breaths and just realize that this really isn't that big of a deal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time to look ahead

Not exactly breaking news to say that the Cardinals' season is over. If 3 straight losses to the Cubs don't signal the end in humiliating fashion, then I don't know what would. The way it is ending is not quite what I had envisioned -- nor I suppose what most experts envisioned. Some had tabbed the Reds to surprise and win the NL Central, but many of those same experts also picked the Cards for the Wild Card.

What's upsetting is this is a team that clearly has the talent to make a playoff run, and they just don't play up to their potential. When that happens, you start doing what Cubs fans have become famous for -- waiting for next year. The Cardinals future might be equally as uncertain as the Cards, too.

If I were GM, here's my list of priorities:
  • The team may be in the market for a new manager. TLR has been taking it year to year for some time now, but this is the first time I've wondered if he'll come back or not -- and also whether I WANT him back. He's a hall of fame manager, and one of the greatest of the modern era if not all time. But, maybe he's finally reached the end of the line in St. Louis. The team certainly seems to have tuned him out, and with rumored friction with some of the young stars (Rasmus), might be time for a new voice. I'm not opposed to bringing in that new voice, but worry that Mozelik isn't the guy to find him. A bigger concern to me is the fact that if TLR hangs it up, it probably means that Dave Duncan is on his way out, too. Now, there certainly are other great pitching coaches out there, but Duncan is a true wizard and has more reclamation projects on his resume than anyone else.
  • Pujols -- you have to get him signed to an extension this offseason. We, as a fan base, don't want to see what would happen if 2011 opens and talks are stalling.
  • Role players. The team has guys that looked to be solid role players, but all of them seem to have gone in the tank at the same time. Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Nick Stavinoah....all have shown they have it in them to put up solid numbers, and all of them have had disappointing seasons. Plus, TLR relied too heavily on rookies such as Craig and John Jay. While they've given an indication that they are legit big leaguers, they just can't match the veteran presence -- such as what Ryan Ludwick brought to the table.
  • A closer. I like Ryan Franklin, and he's been better than any of us had a right to expect. But -- he isn't a guy that is going to close for a World Series contender. It may be that one of the other arms in the bullpen will step up, but I think the team needs to look elsewhere. Perhaps Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes from the Twins will become available. Or, maybe the Twins would look to trade Joe Nathan as he rehabs his injury.
  • Third Base -- We can't trust Freese to stay healthy. A third baseman with a little power and a decent average would do wonders for the offense, and give the team another option behind Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus.
I suppose the optimist -- which I try to be -- believes that a little retooling will do the trick. It might be, though, that some of the pieces that we thought were solid enough are little more than filler. It should be an interesting offseason to watch.