Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Walt Jocketty for a Day

Why didn't the Cardinals beat the Astros? Easy—no hitting and a lousy bullpen, plus the fact that none of our pitchers are named "Roy Oswalt." There's no shame in losing to the best pitcher in baseball; it's just one of those things that happens. Fortunately, the Cardinals' problems are solveable, and if there's anything that we've learned from the past ten years, it's that Walt Jocketty gets the job done. I'm excited to see what he does over the winter and spring, but in the meantime, since it's close to Halloween, let's put on our WJ mask and pretend to play "Let's Make a Deal," baseball edition.

Pitching Staff
I keep Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder, and I pencil in Anthony Reyes to make the big club during Spring training. I'd like to sign Matt Morris, but not for what the Yankees or Red Sox are liable to offer him, so good luck and goodbye. I'm trading Marquis and Suppan for spare parts, then using the money saved to sign Billy Wagner as my closer. If Izzy's still under contract, I'm trading him for a good setup man. They can trade every single arm in the bullpen as far as I'm concerned. They weren't worth a bucket of spit to us in the playoffs this year. My feelings about Izzy are well documented. We need a fireballer of the sort that when he comes into games, opposing fans turn off their televisions.

What about starters? It's hard to know at this point who will be available. My wish list starts in Florida, but those prices might be out of the Cardinals' range. It may sound crazy, but Randy Johnson might be available as a free agent. I know he's old, but Dave Duncan could probably get one more good year out of him.

So how's this for a starting rotation:
Chris Carpenter
Mark Mulder
Randy Johnson
A. J. Burnett
Anthony Reyes

That matches up a lot better against Houston or Chicago next season.

No changes, save one: keep Scott Rolen healthy at all costs. If an opposing player even brushes up gently beside him on the basepaths, that player gets a fastball between the shoulder blades the next time up at the plate. Pujols, Grudzielanek, Eckstein and Rolen give you solid defense and a good mix of speed, power and timely hitting. I'd like to see Grudz batting second rather than seventh, though. We need a good contact hitter to execute the hit-and-run with Eckstein leading off and getting on base, and Walker and Edmonds struck out too much for that.

I would keep Jim Edmonds in center field. Sure, he can be infuriating at the plate, but he's gonna save you as many runs with his defense as he loses by not coming through at the plate. I'd rather see him hitting sixth rather than third at this point in his career. We need a right fielder to replace Walker, and though I wouldn't mind seeing Reggie Sanders return in left, we also need to remember that he'll be 38 years old next year, so grooming a replacement is necessary. Again, the free agent market and players available in trade will determine this to a great extent, and I'll comment on who's available when the list comes out. There are a lot of quality outfielders to be had, but protecting Pujols has to be our primary concern. And at the risk of causing Tuck's head to burst into flames, don't be surprised if Rick Ankiel has a big spring with the bat and ends up making the club.

I hope they can keep Taguchi and Nuñez, but beyond that, the bench turnover will probably be the same as it is every year. Walt and Tony like to have solid defensive replacements, and this year has shown that to be a wise course of action, but I still insist (as I did last year) that we need a BIG BAT off the bench who could also fill a DH position if and when we get back to the World Series.

Any ideas, Sandlotters?

My Lame Excuse

The two previous weekends to this one just past, I have been out of town with family events and outings, so I've not been able to get caught up on grading essays for the college coursework I teach. As a result, I spent all of the past weekend getting caught up on grading. I'm planning to post later this afternoon, so thanks for your patience--I shall return!

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Last Word on NLCS Game Five

This just in from Heaven:

"I don't believe what I just saw." —Jack Buck

See you in St. Louis!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Little Bit of Everything

NFL Week Five Wrap-Up
This week illustrates both the fun and frustration of trying to make weekly picks. I was just a few points away in five games from going 13-3 instead of my pedestrian 8-8; three of those games—Seattle at St. Louis, Cincinnati at Jacksonville and Miami at Buffalo—ended with turnovers that prevented my picks from possibly scoring win-clinching points at the end of the game. The other two games, Tampa at NY Jets and Pittsburgh at San Diego, were decided by only two points. It's a good thing I make picks just for pride rather than cash money. At this point in the season, the only sure bet is Indianapolis. Every other team is an absolute mystery week to week.

Let's look at last night's game, for example. Three weeks ago, New England beat Pittsburgh at the Big Ketchup, even though the Steelers had all the momentum on their side. Then last week, San Diego goes to Gillette Field and puts the worst beatdown on the Pats since their dynastic run began. So this week, the Chargers should have won easily at home, right? Wrong! Not in today's NFL, baby. There's no such thing as a sure thing. It makes it fun, for sure, but I'm not spending my own money betting on anything related to it.

League Championships Preview
NL: St. Louis vs. Houston
This is the matchup Cardinals Nation has been dreading. Houston seems to have a bit of momentum, but that doubleheader Sunday has also thrown their rotation out of whack, while the Cardinals have been able to rest up. The key for the Cards is to score early, keep building on their lead, and keep the starters out there as long as we can. We don't want to go to our bullpen unless we have to, and we can't play come-from-behind against their bullpen. I think the only way to beat them is to outhit them, because their bullpen is better than ours. The best scenario is two wins each from Carpenter and Mulder, so I'm picking the Cardinals in six games.

AL: Chicago White Sox vs. L.A. Angels
The Sox keep getting no respect, but they'll keep their underdog attitude as they use superior pitching and hitting to beat the Angels in seven games. The Yankees were not a very good team, and it took everything the Angels had to win three mostly low-scoring games. Like the NL series, I think this one will be more about hitting than pitching. I'm predicting a St. Louis-Chicago World Series, which will be soundly derided and ignored by the "experts" at the Eastern Sports Programming Network.

College Football
This year only serves to illustrate once again the absolute need for an eight-team playoff for the national championship in Division I. Let's take a look at the top of the polls as they stand today. Here are the teams currently undefeated: USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Penn State and Texas Tech. Texas and Tech are both in the Big 12, while Georgia and Bama are both in the SEC, so they all couldn't emerge at the end of the season undefeated, but who wouldn't want to see those teams in a three-round playoff? The only sporting event that approaches the Superbowl in interest and popularity is the NCAA basketball Final Four. Why can't the NCAA realize that an eight-team football playoff would be just as big? The participating bowls could rotate every year, and the lesser bowls could still feature the lower-tiered teams. This is a no-brainer, so I guess the powers-that-be at the NCAA have less than no brains.

Will the Blues EVER have a goalie who can stop a puck? Ever? Whoever ends up owning this team should make that his first priority. This is just a dismal team to watch. This is the year that the Blues record playoff-entry streak ends. I would like to see the new owner just dismantle the whole team and start from scratch with prospects and a new coach.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

NFL Week Five picks

Hi, everybody. I was out of town this weekend, which meant the preceding week was insanely busy. I'll be out of town this coming weekend, too, so who knows about the posts? Quickly, the Cardinals sweep the Padres, which means they'll be underdogs nationally when they play Houston (East Coast bias favors former Yankees pitchers Clemens and Petitte). The Blues should have stayed on strike; as Mel Brooks once said, they stink on ice. The Vikings have a bye week, which is about the only thing that can save them now. The White Sox swept away the eternally obnoxious Boston Red Sox, which sent my schadenfreude meter through the roof. I'll do my best to post more this week, but they'll all be short—such is the life of a college instructor, alas!

NFL Quick Picks:

Green Bay (H) over Saints—Favre finally gets a win.

St. Louis (H) over Seattle—The Rams own Seattle at the Jones.

Tennessee over Houston (H)—I like the way the Titans look, despite their record; Houston has been a big disappointment.

New England over Atlanta (H)—Vick's hurt, and everyone's writing off the champs.

Cleveland (H) over Chicago—ESPN.com's Bill Simmons is recommending a Favre to the Bears trade. Well, yeah, they could use a QB!

Tampa Bay over NY Jets (H)—Vinny Testaverde is older than me!

Detroit (H) over Baltimore—Ravens have no QB, and the Lions played tough on the road last week.

Miami over Buffalo (H)—I don't like the Bills anymore, not one little bit.

Indianapolis over SF (H)—What's the spread here, like three touchdowns?

Carolina over Arizona (H)—Don't get so exciting; it was the Niners, after all.

Denver (H) over Washington—I think both these teams are bogus, but Denver's at home, so...

Philadelphia over Dallas (H)—McNabb for President; this guy is battle-tested and crazy tough.

Cincinnati over Jacksonville (H)—I think the Bengals are for real, and Jax hasn't shown me a thing yet.

MONDAY: San Diego (H) over Pittsburgh—the beatdown in Foxboro was one of the most impressive wins I've seen.

Last week: 10-4

Season: 37-23 (.617)