Game 10: Cardinals 8, Diamondbacks 2

Who is this team? After a game in the desert, the Cardinals offense is certainly not thirsty. After 6 runs last night, they added on another 8 tonight for a total of 14 in the last two nights. They only scored 21 through the first eight games of the season.

Kyle McClellan was doing it all tonight. Not only did he throw 6 innings and allow just 1 run, he also went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI at the plate. Now, maybe that doesn’t impress you. But for a pitcher, who has been a relief pitcher, who had just 13 plate appearances in the nearly 10 years of professional baseball that he’s played (that’s majors plus minors), it’s pretty darned impressive to me. McClellan wasn’t dominant by any stretch of the imagination, but he did a really good job of managing base runners. That’s arguably something you become well accustomed to as the primary relief guy where you come in with men on base.

Lance Berkman showed up in a big big way tonight, hitting two home runs. The second was a two-run home run that scored Matt Holliday in the top of the 9th, with many Cardinal fans thanking him for “Franklin-proofing” what was a save opportunity. Bob Netherton (of On the Outside Corner) pointed out on Twitter that Holliday hustled on what should have been a double-play ball and made it safely to first. The guy has stitches and just got his appendix taken out less than two weeks ago.

Berkman’s home run was followed up by a Jon Jay home run, for back-to-back. That’s the first Back-to-back Cardinal home runs since July 19th of last year against Philadelphia when Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker did it.

And finally, David Freese continued hitting tonight. Less productive than last night, but hopefully tomorrow I can officially declare him back on track and done with his slow start.

Hero of the Game: Berkman and McClellan both key today, but McClellan did it on both sides of the ball and with his two RBIs and one allowed run, had a score of McClellan 2, Diamondbacks 1 when he left the game. Kyle McClellan (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 1 ER, 4 K)

Zero of the Game: I really hate to give it to Albert Pujols, but he’s doing nothing to stop me. Once again he got an at bat with the bases loaded and did nothing. Meanwhile, he comes up in the 9th inning with nobody on and pops a single up the middle. Still, it’s gotta be him. He’s the only player still in the tight grips of a slow start. Albert Pujols (1-for-5, 1 K, 1 GIDP, 5 LOB)

Game 9: Cardinals 6, Giants 1

Great. I miss a game and the Cardinals offense breaks out. Six isn’t just a serious number, it’s how many the Cardinals scored today. Matt Holliday was back in the lineup, but I can’t even credit that as a big boost to the offense as Allen Craig was more than capable in the interim. The big difference?
David Freese finally broke out. His 3-for-4 performance with 3 RBI and his first home run of the season in the 8th inning. Freese had been struggling, more often than not, striking out. His breaking out really helps this team a ton, especially with Pujols struggling as well.

Kyle Lohse turned in another stellar start. He avoided allowing the walk and as a result, allowed just a single run over his 8 innings. It appears that he is healthy and back in form, which is a very important thing for this team if they intend on contending this season.

With Freese hopefully having broken out of his slow start, the Cardinals really need Albert Pujols to snap out of it and start providing the offense we all know he’s capable of. 0-for-5 won’t cut it. In fact, not many teams can be productive without their #3 hitter hitting. The Baseball Musing’s Lineup Analysis Tool gives the Cardinals A-lineup currently a 2.955 runs per game rating. With Pujols at his career averages, they rank at 3.750. That’s nearly 50% better, so how many more runs do we score?

Hero of the Game: Really a tossup for me between Freese and Lohse. Ultimately, I went with Freese as a reward for finally breaking out of it. (3-for-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI)

Zero of the Game: The only Cardinals hitter to fail to get on base all day, Albert Pujols. (0-for-5, 1 K, 3 LOB)

Game 8: Giants 3, Cardinals 2

What a heart breaker. I was getting ready for bed when Colby Rasmus hit his first home run of the season to break the 1-1 tie, and at that point I decided I had to stay up for it. A couple scoreless innings by Miguel Batista and then in came Ryan Franklin. The nerves mounted as I grabbed the Tums and settled in for a nerve wracking inning. Right off the bat, I knew it was a blown save. One of the first pitches by Franklin was a long strike down the first base line. He was having trouble throwing strikes and when he did, the hitter gave them a ride. And it all led to a two out, two on fly ball to deep center field which was misplayed by Rasmus and Jay and ultimately dropped to give San Francisco another win, and St. Louis their sixth loss of the short season.
Colby Rasmus became the third Cardinal to hit a home run this season. During the game I commented that the Cardinals were on pace to hit a grand total of 46 home runs this season. Obviously, the slow start by Albert Pujols has dropped this number. Still, I’m surprised that there were only two and then now three home runs hit by the Cards this season. For a team that needs to wait on the long ball, we certainly aren’t hitting a lot of them. But I have seen the running game loosened up a bit, which is always good. Puts pressure on the other team to execute.
Jaime Garcia once again turned in a stellar start. I did not agree with his being pulled after six innings to give the ball to Batista. He’d only thrown 82 pitches and could have easily gone one more inning. It’ll be interesting to see if there was a reason for it. Garcia’s spot did come up in the lineup, Craig pinch hit, but they bunted in front of his spot with Descalso. Just don’t understand that move when your starter is still cruising.
And on Ryan Franklin. Do we have a large enough sample size? I’m sure Tony LaRussa will come through and pat Franklin on the back and tell the media he’s still the closer. You have Fernando Salas down at Memphis who was perfect in save opportunities last year for them. I think he’s earned the opportunity. Franklin looks scared to throw strikes out there and I don’t like it. I don’t like a closer who relies on the other team hitting the ball to get the other team out. Too much 9th inning drama.
One has to ask when the slow start by Pujols turns into a full on slump. I get criticized for my comments about Pujols. Often they bring up the last 10 years in some fashion. Honestly, the last 10 years don’t win us any games in 2011, so I really don’t care about that. When I make a comment, like calling him a killer to whatever momentum the offense generates, I’m not saying that he always has been or always will be, but it’s an ‘in the moment’ statement.
Hero of the Game: Jaime Garcia wins it again. He turned in another great performance. Rasmus would have had it if his home run had stood up and maybe even if he hadn’t made the final error. (6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 9 K)
Zero of the Game: Ryan Franklin with his third blown save of the season earns the Zero of the Game. I’m ready to try someone else. Put him in middle relief until he gets the groove back, but you can’t throw him out there with the game on the line. We need wins right now and we can’t wait for Franklin to get his groove back. (0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 ER)

10 ways to improve the Cardinals

Some fun Saturday afternoon suggestions on ways to improve the Cardinals team.

1) Let Fredbird play first base. With Albert just 5-for-28 on the season, Fredbird can’t be any worse, right? He’s also cheaper. Double win.
2) Move Schumaker to short stop and Theriot to second. Might as well play one of our middle infielders in their proper position.
3) Check into the legality of allowing Adam Wainwright to use the hot dog t-shirt gun instead of actually throwing the ball.
4) Swap the St. Louis Cardinals and the Memphis Redbirds, after all the Redbirds are averaging 5 runs a game.
5) Sign Carlos Silva. While it might not help the team, many Cardinals fans would enjoy having the Cubs pay him $13 million to play for us.
6) Institute a point system like the NHL, two points for a win, one for an extra innings loss. Then take a page from the PGA and have the lowest score win.
7) See if the Dodgers would trade Ryan Theriot for Aaron Miles. Miles could immediately take over as the new closer.
8) Get everyone bigger gloves.
9) Build a new stadium. I know, Busch Stadium is just new, but the Cards won the World Series their second season in Busch II, and their first season in Busch III. If the pattern remains, they’ll win the next one before the year before they move into the new stadium.
10) Send the underperforming team members to the eye doctor. It worked for Ricky Vaughn, it might work for us.

Game 7: Giants 5, Cardinals 4

It was an ugly, ugly game. Someone called it a great game and I corrected saying that basically both teams had been equally mediocre. I intentionally waited to write last night’s game recap because I didn’t want to be overly harsh on my favorite baseball team. It is only 7 games into the season, but I realize that and statements are made with that in mind. But still, this team is struggling hard. My thoughts.
Bryan Augenstein is a straight beast. A leadoff double and wild pitch put the winning run just 90 feet away with nobody out. Tony LaRussa switched to a five man infield which allowed Allen Craig to make the diving squeeze on a ball to catch the runner in a rundown between third and home. Augenstein would then strike out two more batters to escape the inning. Also fun to note that his closest competition for the final bullpen spot, Fernando Salas, struck out three batters in the ninth inning. 
Ryan Franklin blows another. I was told to chill out on Twitter because of a small sample size, in regards to Franklin. Still, whether it’s April or September, blown saves hurt. Especially more so when your team is struggling to get wins. If he’d been able to hold on to those two blown saves, suddenly the Cardinals are a team with offensive issues, but is 4-3 instead of 2-5. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. As long as we’ve had Franklin I’ve never been keen on the idea of having a closer who requires the other team to hit the ball to have a chance at getting them out. I’d much rather a strikeout pitcher in the closer’s role, partially why I felt like Anthony Reyes would have made a closer. 
But I don’t put all the blame for this blown save on Franklin. Albert Pujols should have done more with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the ninth. Situations like that are why he is supposed supposed to be worth $30 million a year.
And finally, I have a suggestion to cure some offensive woes. Move Pujols to the #5 spot in the lineup and move Schumaker to the leadoff spot. Right now I see a ballclub that puts a fair amount of guys on base, but only scores 24% of them. Right now the Cardinals are the 29th offense in major league baseball. The only one worse than us in Tampa Bay. So we put these guys on base and then the struggling hitters come up, get out, and the inning is over before we can move anyone around to score. Put the guys who seem to be hitting in the 1-4 spots and let the rest of the lineup struggle. We might score an extra run a game. Who knows. Worth trying, but it will never happen. Tony LaRussa will never move Albert Pujols from the #3 spot even if Pujols was 0-for-28 to start the season instead of 5-for-28.
Before tonight’s game the Giants will be handing out their World Series rings. Hopefully that will motivate the Cardinals to play a little better.
Hero of the Game: Hard to hand out a hero when I was as disappointed with this loss as I have been with any loss this season. Ryan Theriot with a gutsy at bat in the top of the 9th and Augenstein with a gutsy bottom of the 11th were my top two choices. I’m thinking I’m going with Augenstein. (2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 2 K)
Zero of the Game: Coin flip, between Albert Pujols and Ryan Franklin. Considering Pujols has 7 opportunities to grab an RBI and only picked up one, and failed in the top of the 9th where the star player has to come through, it’s him. For this third ZOG Award, it’s Albert Pujols. (1-for-6, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 GIDP, 7 LOB, 1 E)

Preseason Approval Ratings: Survey Results

The final post in the series of the Cardinals’ preseason approval ratings. For those who aren’t familiar with the song that the line comes from in the photo caption, catch it YouTube here, it’s a 1996 classic. Today, I’m going to take a look at the final two ratings for management and the survey questions. And I’m not going to waste any time doing it!

Starting right off the bat, John Mozeliak. The Cardinals GM only scored a 6.5 on the approval ratings. Obviously his rating is hurting because of the recent lack of a contract for Albert Pujols. Personally, I gave him a 9, which was the highest rating anyone gave him.

Of course, you ask people what Mozeliak has done so wrong, and it’s hard to get an answer. He did break up the original MV3, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think that was ultimately the right decision. He did deal away Jess Todd, Chris Perez, and Luke Gregerson, but those were to fill organizational holes from a perceived strength (though Perez and Gregerson are two guys I’d love to have back). He did deal away Ryan Ludwick, but it seemed like he wasn’t going to be returning to St. Louis this year anyway and we did end up re-signing Jake Westbrook who may not have signed with us had we not dealt for him.

And I think it’s unrealistic and unfair to lay the blame for Albert Pujols not having a new contract at his feet. A negotiation takes two, and ultimately logic suggests that Albert wanted more than the Cardinals were willing to give him and vice versa. Their valuation of what Albert could expect obviously didn’t line up. I don’t think hitting free agency is going to hurt the Cardinals’ chances either. If Albert’s to be believed that he wants to return, then we’ll get the opportunity to match an offer. Then the Cardinals get to decide. But to think that Mozeliak has the last say on Pujols’ contract, is a little unfair. It will be a combination of factors at fault if Mozeliak decides to leave.

Apologies, I got a bit on a ranting there, but let’s move on to another polarizing figure in the Cardinals’ organization, Tony LaRussa. LaRussa scored a 6.3 with Cardinals’ fans. Many I know had finally decided that it was time for the Cardinals to let LaRussa go after his 15 years with the franchise. I know that I was on that boat. In the past, LaRussa managed us to extra wins whereas I felt he managed us out of games last season. When you cost me more wins than you get me, it’s time to consider looking in another direction.

Now that is management, let’s move on to the survey questions.

The first question that I posed was, how happy are you with the way the Cardinals team will look on Opening Day? On this count, the Cardinals scored a 6.7. That’s pretty up the middle. Unfortunately, I don’t have any previous year examples to compare that with. But it’s fair to say that the fans who took my survey consider this team nothing special, but nothing bad either.

When asked how competitive they think the Cardinals will be, they scored a 6.9 on the scale of 10 being World Series champions and 1 being at the bottom of the league. I think what you can draw from that is most Cardinals’ fans expect a team that plays above .500. Maybe poke at the leaders in the Central a bit.

When asked who they thought the first player to be called up from Memphis this season would be, it was almost a unanimous choice for Matt Carpenter. Carpenter is obviously still riding his strong spring. The #2 option was Lance Lynn, though P.J. Walters and Fernando Salas each had a mention or two.

The next question was sort of reactionary to a couple games I saw in spring training that had Yadier Molina catching all 9 innings. Personally, the handling of Molina is something I’m very opinionated on. With the innings that he has racked up on those knees at catcher the last two years, I’d like to be a little more careful with him this season. To me, spring training was a perfect opportunity to give him a slight break and not to overuse him. I don’t think the majority of Cardinals’ fans care as much as I do, as LaRussa’s handling of Molina’s innings got a 7.1.

And finally, the question I had to throw on because it’s the #1 question facing Cardinals fans through this season and hanging over our heads. How confident are you that the Cardinals will sign Albert Pujols to an extension? Cardinals fans seem relatively optimistic at a 7.4.

I want to thank everyone who has read this series and filled out a survey form. Please keep an eye for late April for the April Approval Ratings survey to be posted and spammed on the Redbird Dugout Facebook (a few more likes and we get our own username!) and Twitter pages. And thank you to everyone who has read articles here on Redbird Dugout through the first week of this month giving us by far the best month we’ve had. Through one week we are on pace to quadruple February’s numbers and triple March’s.