Monday, October 17, 2011

The Cardinals? All the way? I called it…sort of

Really, I sort of did.

I like to think I’m like most baseball fans who struggle with two sides of baseball fan psyche behavior. I have a child’s love of the game and a tunnel-vision view of how the Cubs (and the Royals) will do for any given season. On the other hand, I have an adult’s perception and respect for the numbers and strategic elements that have no respect for childish admiration of “my team”…or anyone’s team for that matter.

Obviously, the latter hat is one when you should wear when you’re a Fantasy Team owner. And the former is the one you should wear when the Cubs are down 8 runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th against the Pirates and you know they can pull off a 9-run rally…despite the fact that Blake DeWitt is pinch hitting and nobody is on base.

I also have this funky set of “baseball rules” I apply to myself, some which make sense only to me…one of them is that in the NL Central, I embrace competition for the division title between the Cubs and Cardinals only…so if either team is definitively out of the race (the Cubs, for example) then theologically, the only team in the division I should root for is, indeed, the Cardinals…to be fair, there are many reason for this the likes of which I don’t want to go into right now. I’d only like to highlight one: In the NL Central, next to Cubs fans of course, Cardinals fans are really, for the most part, very good to most of us Cubs fans. Case in point: The worst time I was heckled for wearing Cubs gear at another ball park was in Milwaukee by a stupid teenager who felt I had no right to be there. By comparison, at Wrigley, with the Cardinals in town, a conversation with Cardinals fans sitting in front of us lead to free club-level tickets in St Louis several months later. The Cubs/Cardinals rivalry is one of the best, most fun, and least mean-spirited rivalries in baseball. I like it that way.

At any rate, I don’t think I should brag about this, but I do need to let everyone know…I was right.

After listening to Beyond the Box Score Podcast Episode 9 “Ian Snell’s Legacy”, posted on 3/16/11, I had some questions and comments on host Dave Gershman’s preview of the NL Central with guest Mike Petriello (of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness fame). I sent Dave an email on 3/25/11 with the hopes that my comments would be addressed on the podcast. They weren’t, but I saved the email anyway because I thought at the time “what the heck…maybe I really am right about this…”

For your edification, here’s the letter I sent:

RE: BTB Podcast Episode 9 - Dave, excellent episode…having Mike on was great, I enjoyed your review of the NL Central so much I was talking to you guys several times during it, but you couldn’t hear me while I was doing so.

As I am a Cubs fan, and loathing over this division for many years, and also ‘close’ geographical to the Reds and their AAA affiliate Louisville Bats (I am in a Season Ticket partnership there), I wanted to make a few comments/pose a few questions.

Analysis isn’t my strong suit…I merely ABSORB the work of the likes of you and save analysis for discussion with my kids, so go easy on me…

So, a few things:

1. Homer Bailey…argh…if I have to hear “this is a breakout year for him” or anything similar I’m going to be sick. When he was a poster child for the Bats, lumps of praise and projections were wasted on this guy. I’ve seen him at work, I’ve seen most of his failures, and my opinion is those failures far out shadow his potential. I understand the focus of scouting and what it involves, but let’s face it…don’t drink the kool aid! Bailey is far less than a stud pitcher; his stuff is just not that good, his work is very inconsistent, and he is more prone to injury than a front-line soldier in a holy war border skirmish. If he’s been consistent at doing one thing, it’s been at being a disappointing pitcher, period. His handful of decent performances are hampered ultimately by his string of grotesque failures. After so many years of this self-deprecating cycle of his, I am a little surprised you both still think he can do something for the Reds or for ANYONE (but I applaud your confidence in stating your position just the same).

2. Aroldis Chapman…don’t get me started on this guy. I’ve been watching him since he single-handedly LOST THE GAME between Cuba and Japan in the 2009 WBC. When I heard the Reds had signed him for so much money I fell out of my chair laughing. My laughter turned to horror when I watched him destroy several games for the Bats in his first year here as the majority of his outings resembled his epic fail in the WBC. There are many ‘uneasy’ starting pitchers in AAA ball, but none have been as unmistakably predictable in their lack of actual talent (not potential talent…ACTUAL talent). As a starting pitcher, he was the WORST I’ve ever seen in Louisville, hands down. I’m not sure what many scouts are smoking or drinking as they observe and report his “potential” but its effect has warped their minds. So he can throw 95-100 mph nearly effortlessly and in the words of Kevin Goldstein “has an 80 fast ball”…BIG DEAL. His location is abhorrent. My vote for AAA International League MVP of 2010 goes to Wilkin Castillo, this guy looks and moves like a windmill when he’s catching Aroldis. There’s your top prospect for the Reds farm system, a guy who can save 20 wild pitches per game (even per inning!)…I’ve seen Castillo leap from his crouch and snag those Kevin Goldstein 80 fastballs at 104mph from 2 feet behind a batter’s back. He can throw like the wind, but he can’t locate when he needs to. He’s also not the most athletic guy, sure his mechanics are sound but pretty soon now, his elbow is going to go and that will be it. I am more impressed with his performance as a relief pitcher, but as a closer? Take a look at this game, for instance…would you hand the ball to a closer who has the potential to annihilate a game when he does this on a regular basis? (sure, I’ve seen him do better…BUT…just look at his line…not kool! His bad games are as bad as his good games are good)

3. As for your analysis of the Reds…yes, it seems like they have all the pieces, but the Reds have a critical flaw…that flaw is Dusty Baker. As a Cubs fan, I will be happy to testify. 2010 was a good year for the Reds, but look at their track record with Dusty for the years previous…start strong, fade fast. How does 2010 wipe out their past performance under his leadership? Expectations should be high, but projections should be conservative. Should one put as much faith in Baker’s 2011 Reds as in Baker’s 2004 Cubs? His trend for the Reds is going in the reverse as the Cubs, so this year will really validate the whole picture, but for now all we know about Dusty is since he left San Francisco “one GREAT year followed by one ABYSMAL year.” Again, I’m not much of an analyst, but from where I sit all I can do is expect this from Dusty Baker after what happened in 2003 (and what didn’t in 2004).

4. As far as your analysis of the Cardinals…yes, I agree with you both and things really aren’t looking great but the Cardinals have a critical asset…that asset is Tony Larussa. I’ve always respected him as a manager, after reading George F. Will’s “Men at Work” TWICE my respect has mushroomed into my abject recognition of Larussa as the most scientific manager in professional baseball. It’s true, in STAR TREK Kirk always managed to save the day with Lou Piniella-like instincts and Mr. Spock never really got his props for building a TV set in the pre-technology ERA United States of America. If anyone can build a TV set with technology that doesn’t exist, I believe Tony Larussa can forge a winning team that really could surprise the heck out of everyone. With or without Ryan Theriot. I will never discount the Cardinals under Larussa in the same manner I will never preach the gospel of the Reds under Baker.

5. One thing is certain, the NL Central is very tight, most folks have a tight race towards the top. As a Cubs fan, I think we may surprise a lot of people. I look at the 2010 NL West projections for my inspiration…the PADRES. What the hell. Nobody saw that coming, and nobody could. Regardless of which team, I think there is a very good chance that the NL Central will have the same gap in how it ends and how it looks this year.

Dave, I am enjoying your podcast very much, keep up the good work.

Your friend,

Keep in mind, I really am a fan of the podcast…and I don’t typically email questions and/or comments to other podcasts, so this missive really was something I felt strongly about, and in the back of my mind, I just couldn’t let it go without stating my opinion.

Fast forward to a month or so ago, when I started to realize that what I had commented on in all of my points had started to become concrete over the course of the season. Upon the cusp of the close of the regular season, and onward to postseason, I began to tweet my comparison of Tony LaRussa…now changed from Kirk/Spock and STAR TREK to Commander Adama and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA…for obvious reasons. TLR really IS the Commander Adama of Baseball, and the 2011 Cardinals are his ragtag fleet. How many times have you seen a front line of Cylons as far as the eye can see wiped out by Adama’s 10-fighter squadron running on fumes? This is real, TLR is real, and just like that…the GALACTICA secured the Wild Card berth and last night…WOW, they are really headed for the WORLD SERIES.

You certainly wouldn’t dismiss Adama in any Cylon-thick situation…as a baseball fan, I wouldn’t ever dismiss TLR for the very same reasons.

Again, my message here is not to brag about my extraordinary baseball analysis skills (I really have none) but hey…don’t dismiss Tony LaRussa. Re-read what I wrote above. Embrace the truth. Now will come the onslaught of sports outlets and blogs posting “How LaRussa Did It.” I’ve known all the time, George F. Will (also a Cubs fan!) showed us all in Men At Work…if you haven’t read it yet, why not!?! Now would be a great time to do so, if you haven’t.

Cardinals fans, I can’t guarantee the same for next year (regardless of how the World Series ends this year) but I do predict victory over the Rangers and I just want to say, any time you have less faith in your team than you think you should, give me a holler. Think about how your season started: Wainright out, Franklin hosed, etc. You pwned “the greatest pitching rotation in Baseball history” to advance to the LCS, and now you’re headed for the show against a team that was favored to win last year based on their offense, and are highly touted to have an advantage this year based on their offense. Just ask a Giants fan how they felt about that. Yes, the Rangers’ bullpen is better this year but Milwaukee’s bullpen was pretty darn good as well.

So, I was right. I called it…sort of. I’m just as surprised as the rest of you are, I predicted success, sure...but WORLD SERIES? In hindsight, I really believed it would happen. Good Luck, Cardinals, and regardless of what happens in October…we’ll be seeing you for sure next year!!!

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