Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stark picks Pujols for MVP

Some highlights from Jayson Stark's column:
Is it too soon to mail Albert Pujols his National League MVP trophy right now?

Seriously. With all due respect to the fabulous work of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Troy Tulowitzki, Chase Utley and many other upstanding NL citizens, what would have to happen in September for Pujols not to win another MVP award? Would he have to go 0-for-112? Hit into a double play every time up? Defect to Kyrgyzstan?

OK, maybe all of the above. And he'd still probably win this thing. So that concludes our discussion of the one major awards race with a clear-cut favorite as September looms. As for those other races?

Hoo boy. We'd have a better shot at predicting Michelle Wie's score in the Canadian Women's Open.[...]

If the season ended right now …: We'd still vote for Tim Lincecum. Barely. But boy is this tough, because Chris Carpenter now has more wins (14 to 12) and a lower ERA (2.16 to 2.43). On the other hand, Lincecum has the best opponent OPS in baseball (.559, to Carpenter's .582), more double-figure strikeout games (6-2), more quality starts (21-17) and 40 more innings pitched. He also has had more "dominating starts" -- six starts of seven innings or more with no runs allowed (to Carpenter's three) and nine starts with a game score of 75 or more (to Carpenter's three). "Lincecum has been ridiculous," one NL scout said. "He just keeps them in game after game where the score's 1-0 or 2-0. As great as Carpenter has been, Lincecum's stuff is like Wiffleball-in-the-back-yard filthy." So that's our vote. This week.

But …: Carpenter has nine wins in his past 10 starts (with a blown save in the 10th), so there's no indication he's planning to ever lose again. And not only could he win this thing with a ferocious September, this could turn into about a six-man scrum if Lincecum and Carpenter come back to the pack at all. Cliff Lee won't get enough NL starts to make it into the argument. But Dan Haren, Matt Cain, Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson have all had Cy Young-ish years. Now it's up to September to determine whether that wins them any Cy Young trophies.[...]

Get away for the Hollidays: Much as he clearly loves St. Louis, Matt Holliday continues to give the Cardinals no indication he's amenable to signing any discounted deals to stick around beyond this year. And if the Cardinals have to pay him free-agent-market dollars to hang onto him, let's sound the alarm right here: They might be putting the franchise in economic peril.

"The worst thing they could do is re-sign him," one American League exec said. "If you start thinking about their long-term payroll, what's the biggest payroll a city like St. Louis could absorb? Let's say it's $100 million. Now you have to give Holliday $15-16 million a year. Then you have to give Albert [Pujols] $25-30 million, and probably $30 million. So now you're paying two guys $45-50 million? That's a lot of money in that market.

"In 2010, it might not matter. In 2011, it might not matter. But when you get to 2014 and you've got half your payroll wrapped up in two 34-year-old guys, that's not a good place to be. … Those are the kinds of contracts you can't get out of."

Tying up Holliday at market dollars, and then re-signing Pujols, would almost assure the Cardinals of not being able to keep Chris Carpenter and/or Adam Wainwright when their next big paydays roll around. While it seemed so logical, at the time they traded for Holliday, to forecast that they'd swoop in and sign him, it's not so logical when you start punching in all those dollar signs.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Redbird Roundup

How do the Cards do it? Beats me...
Piece by piece, the Cardinals have built an enduring, winning team nucleus around Albert Pujols.

Adam Wainwright developed into a front-line starting pitcher to ride shotgun with Chris Carpenter. Yadier Molina blossomed into an All-Star catcher who handles pitchers, shuts down the running game and adds some offense.

Brendan Ryan is becoming a spectacular everyday defensive shortstop with a lively bat. Leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker is making a seamless transition to second base.

Rookie Colby Rasmus is breaking in as a strong defensive center fielder with huge offensive potential. Kyle McClellan has become a durable and reliable set-up man in the bullpen.

All these players, groomed within this organization, are pieces the team can build upon. Cardinal Nation takes strong player development for granted -– given this team’s perennial contention -- but building such a winning nucleus is difficult.[...]

The key, Tony La Russa believes, is to break in young players a few at a time and surround them with veterans playing the right way.

Mike Matheny helped groom Molina. Jason Isringhausen schooled Wainwright as a reliever and Chris Carpenter showed him the way as a starter.

Position players like Ryan, Schumaker and Rasmus can follow the lead of Albert Pujols, the sport’s best player.

It is too early to say that David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Greene or P.J. Walters will make the nucleus some day, but they have already benefited from their opportunity to play with this group.
CUBS...completely useless by September.
The Chicago Cubs are going, going . . . gone?

The Small Bears have lost six of their last seven games. This swoon coincided with a Cardinals surge, so suddenly the North Siders are four games off the National League Central pace.

Ace Cub pitchers Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano are on the disabled list. So is outfielder Reed Johnson.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, this team’s offensive catalyst, is trying to play through a chronic shoulder injury. There is no end to this team’s misery.

The team seems cursed, again, as Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey wrote:

“Chances are, if Ramirez has to dive for a grounder when he returns, he not only will reinjure his dislocated shoulder but break a leg in the process. That’s the theme of this season, isn’t it? Not necessarily that the Cubs have been done in by injuries, though you certainly could make that argument, but that bad things just happen to this club. If it’s not one thing, it’s the other, unless it’s both. A Ramirez injury become a Carlos Zambrano meltdown. A Milton Bradley meltdown becomes a Geovany Soto slump. If Ryan Dempster isn’t hurt, then Ted Lilly is.”
I didn't watch their game last night til late in the game but believe me, I heard about the Victorino beer incident. If that's not a lack of class by Cubs fans, then I don't know what is.

Chris Carpenter keeps throwing...
In improving his record to 12-3, Carpenter went seven innings, allowed two runs and struck out 10. In making a spectacular comeback from two seasons of arm miseries, Carpenter can't be ruled out of the National League Cy Young race. The same is true of teammate Adam Wainwright, who has 13 wins and a 2.73 ERA.

This isn't about one golden arm. Here's your stat of the day: Since July 1, the Cardinals are 20-3 in games started by Carpenter, Wainwright and Joel Piñeiro.

They're forming the most formidable top three in a St. Louis rotation since 1985. In a summer of speed and defense, John Tudor, Joaquin Andujar and Danny Cox combined for 60 wins, 16 shutouts and 34 complete games.

It's impossible to compare eras and statistics. Complete games and shutouts have given way to the late-inning toggling of matchup relievers, so the '09 Cardinals can't measure up to the '85 starters in iron-man numbers. Starting pitchers aren't built for durability. They aren't asked to go the distance.

But there is some common ground on that mound.

The 1985 Cardinals won 63 percent of the games started by Tudor, Andujar and Cox. And in 2009, the Cardinals have won 63 percent of the games started by Carpenter, Wainwright and Piñeiro.

And there's a relative match in ERAs. In Tudor (1.93), Cox (2.88) and Andujar (3.40) the '85 Cardinals had frontline starters ranked No. 2, No. 8 and No. 19 in the league in ERA. In Carpenter (2.29), Wainwright (2.73) and Piñeiro (3.22) the 2009 Cardinals have top-level starters ranked No. 2, No. 6 and No. 13 in league ERA.

NL GM: Cards to win World Series

I'm in complete agreement on this one.

Ken Rosenthal:
One Man's Bold Vision
An NL general manager made two surprising predictions Tuesday. He said that the Rockies would win the NL West and that the Cardinals would win the World Series.

The Rockies, the GM said, were not great in any one area, but very good in virtually every one. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are short on starting pitching and unlikely to make a significant addition to their rotation.

The Cardinals?

Their offense has been bolstered by the additions of Matt Holiday, Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo, and their top three starting pitchers — Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro — are as impressive as any in the league.

"I love (the Giants' Matt) Cain and (Tim) Lincecum," the GM said, "but are they really better than Carpenter and Wainwright?"