Royals Hope Old Arms Learn New Tricks

There’s a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  If that’s true, then Dayton Moore, Trey Hillman, and the rest of the crew running the Kansas City Royals should be carted off to the nut house.  Last year, the bullpen was the bane of the team’s (and the fans’) existence.  Aside from All-Star caliber closer Joakim Soria, who was hobbled by injuries, the group was a ragtag collection of cast-offs and no-names who combined to cause more heartburn and indigestion than Kansas City’s famed barbecue.

The group included Roman Colon (4.83 ERA in 50.1 IP), Juan Cruz (5.72 ERA in 50.1 IP), Robinson Tejeda (3.54 ERA in 73.2), and Kyle Farnsworth (4.58 ERA in 37.1 IP).  That’s a combined 4.55 ERA over 211.2 innings of relief, a performance that led the Royals to bring all four back to form the core of their bullpen again this year. 

That means the four most frequent offenders from last season’s disaster are back in their usual roles.  Various factors led to them being retained (including Farnsworth’s unforgivable contract given before the 2009 season), but the fact remains that Dayton Moore and his organization addressed their biggest flaw by doing precisely nothing.  They’re still counting on four proven failures to somehow bridge the gap to Soria.

Those four and Soria are joined this year by John Parrish (who missed all of 2009 recovering from arm surgery), Dusty Hughes (a promising youngster who debuted in 2009 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 IP), and  Luis Mendoza (who logged all of 1 IP in 2009 with the Rangers, allowing 4 ER and posted a robust 8.67 ERA in 63.1 IP in 2008). 

This motley crew is tasked with preserving the narrow leads provided by Kansas City’s typically anemic offense and allowing Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to accumulate his deserved share of wins, rather than the all too frequent quality start no decisions of 2009.

After only two games, though, it must be too early to tell how they’ll fair this year, right?  Perhaps several had strong springs to prove they’ve turned a corner.  Well, so far, through two games they’ve blown a two-run lead and cost Greinke a win, and managed to somehow turn a 7+ inning shutout performance by Luke Hochevar into a no decision, 11th inning, come-from-behind win credited to Farnsworth. Old reliable Kyle earned the W by allowing three straight hits to start the top of the 11th before weaseling his way out and letting the offense provide a dramatic walk-off victory in the bottom half of the inning.

In the season opener, Greinke battled his way through six innings against the tough Detroit offense and allowed only 1 ER.  He left with a 4-2 lead, thanks to a surprising offensive outburst against Detroit ace Justin Verlander.  Before he could even find a seat in the dugout, however, Colon, Tejeda, and Cruz teamed up to post a 6-hit, 1 BB, 6 ER performance in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach and leave Zack with nothing to show for his hard work on Opening Day.

Luke Hochevar followed suit the next day throwing an oustanding 7.2 IP, 5 hits, 1 BB, 0 R and leaving with the lead only to see Soria cough it up and Farnsworth allow a run before a miraculous comeback in the bottom of the 11th brought the Royals a win.

As I began this post, that’s all the damage the bullpen had done this year, but during the course of my writing they managed to do it again.  Today Royals starter Brian Bannister tossed a fine outing, going 6 innings and allowing only 1 run, leaving with the lead.  Hughes went 1 inning, allowing the tying run before giving way to Mendoza who posted a 1.2 IP, 5 ER performance. 

It seems there’s a different guy each day, but no matter who Trey Hillman beckons from the pen, it always ends in disaster, and the fact that all of the main pieces were brought back and no attempt at change was made is a fault of those running the organization.  This bullpen should have been completely dismantled and rebuilt, but Dayton Moore did nothing and Hillman allowed it to happen.

Hillman may soon be on his way out, but it won’t matter who’s filling out the lineup card as long as this embarrassment of a bullpen remains intact.  For that reason, perhaps Dayton Moore should be feeling the heat more than Hillman for failing to address the biggest gaping hole on his team.

Heyward Makes the Cut

It’s now official that Spring Training sensation Jason Heyward, an Atlanta Braves outfielder, will make the Opening Day roster for the big club.  Manager Bobby Cox further said that Heyward will be playing regularly as the team’s everyday right fielder against lefties or righties.  It’s no surprise that the phenom is getting his shot, but the way he’s taken the Grapefruit League by storm this spring is impressive.

After a 2009 during which he rocketed from Class A all the way to AAA and was subsequently named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, Heyward was expected to continue his growth.  The shows he’s put on in Florida, however, have exceeded expectations.  His 450+ foot shot earlier this spring is already legendary and the Braves organization hasn’t shied away from questions about his ability and potential the way most clubs do to protect their young stars.

His organization, his manager, and his teammates are impressed and they’re expecting him to give them some pop in his first look at the big leagues.  Heyward, by all accounts, is handling the attention, the incredible comparisons, and the mounting expectations quite well.  He’s a well-grounded kid with a great demeanor, excellent work ethic, and a quiet confidence that he’ll adapt and find his comfort zone quickly at the next level.

Heyward has all the tools for success and coming up through the Braves organization should only help him.  Booby Cox is one of the most successful skippers in Major League history and veterans like Chipper Jones should be able to help Heyward make the adjustments to life in the show. 

One must remember, though, that Heyward won’t turn 21 until August and he still will face the challenges of any young player seeing Major League arms day after day.  He’s ripped the cover off the ball at every level, but this is an entirely different animal.  The NL East doesn’t have the greatest collection of arms, but he will see Roy Halladay several times as well as nasty lefties Cole Hamels and Johan Santana (if he’s healthy).

It’ll be interesting to see how he fares early on and how quickly pitchers can find ways to get him out.  He’ll be a hot pick for Rookie of the Year coming out of the gate, but I expect the typical development curve with his share of droughts and tough stretches.  However, with his physical (6’4″ , 245 lbs) and athletic tools he will punish any mistakes he sees and will get plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

If he does have a regular season similar to what he’s done this spring, he will give the Braves a much-needed boost in their attempt to regain the NL East crown and he’ll provide plenty of fireworks and excitement for the always apathetic fans of Atlanta.

Big Shakeup in AL Central



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With the news that Twins closer Joe Nathan has a
“significant tear” in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing
arm the AL central race has
suddenly been changed dramatically.  It’s not a certainty yet that Nathan
will get surgery, an operation that would likely put him out for the entire
season, but it appears that the Twins are suddenly without their biggest
pitching weapon and the entire division may be turned on its head.

At first glance it seems ludicrous to claim that a pitcher who appeared in only
70 games and pitched less than 70 innings could affect an entire division with
his absence (especially coming from a self-proclaimed closer hater), but Nathan
is one of only a handful of superstar closers in Major League Baseball and his
presence means more than his impressive number of saves and strikeouts. 

In a division without a dominant team and without a lot of overpowering
pitchers, he was perhaps the division’s most important arm.  That’s most
important, not best.  Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young last year, but his
team still finished last and may likely see the same result whether he
duplicates his 2009 success or not.  The loss of Nathan, on the other hand,
not only dramatically alters Minnesota’s
end-of-game strategy, but it kills their swagger and belief that no matter
what, if they led after 8 innings, they were going to win.  The entire
dynamic of the team will be affected knowing that they don’t have their
shutdown ace to slam the door in the late innings.  

The Twins are hoping Francisco Liriano can reclaim the magic in his left arm,
but he’s still a work in progress as is the rest of their young staff, which
seems to take a step backward with every gain they make.  Even the success
of Nathan’s bullpen mates, Jon Rauch (7-3, 3.60, 17 holds) and Matt Guerrier
(5-1, 2.36, 33 holds) can partially be attributed to the knowledge that they
only had to get three outs and pass things off to Nathan in the 9th.  Now
they’ll be shuffled into unfamiliar roles, and nothing seems to cause more
chaos in a bullpen than shuffling roles.  It’s part of the stupidity of
modern bullpen use, but it’s true nonetheless. 

With Nathan at the back end of the Twins bullpen, Ron Gardenhire could manage a
game much differently than he will with an average or unproven closer or
closing committee.  The Twins were able to shorten games and could rely on
Nathan game after game.  Since he came to Minnesota
and became a full-time closer in 2004, Nathan has converted 246 of 271 save
chances, just over a 90% clip.  Compare that to the gold standard of
closing dominance, Mariano Rivera who’s converted 243 of 261 (93%) over the
same span and you see how important Nathan is to a team who needs every single
win.  Remember, two years running the Twins have had to play one-game
playoffs to decide the division.  This is a team who’s playoff hopes could
live and die with a single blown save.

As for the other teams in the division, they’ve now got an added incentive to
get into the Twins ‘pen, knowing it’s down a man.  No longer will opposing
hitters be hoping they scratch something out against one of the game’s
best.  Instead they’ll go to the plate in a close game late knowing that they’re
facing an inexperienced arm who hasn’t faced the game-ending pressure nearly as
often as Joe Nathan. 

With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and a few key offseason additions the Twins
will still be a top team in the AL Central, but the loss of Nathan will be felt
later in games.  In a division as close as this one figures to be, every
game could come down to the bullpen and the Twins just lost their ultimate
trump card.  I think hitters in camp for the Tigers, Sox, and even the
Indians and Royals might step in the cage today with a little more bounce in
their step knowing they just might not have to hear “Stand Up and
Shout” blaring from the Target Field sound system until 2011.

Staring out the window, waiting for spring

Despite the new Ice Age that has settled over most of the country, apparently we really are going to have a spring this year, at least in Arizona and Florida.  Today begins the grand spectacle of Spring Training and many greater writers than I have pontificated upon this marvel of American sporting life.  It’s a time when Alfonso Soriano can still run and hit, when Zack Greinke can single-handedly drag the Royals to the playoffs, and when Stephen Strasburg is all potential and promise.

For the next six weeks we’ll be able to drool over veterans who’ve recommitted and rebuilt their bodies (or decommitted and rebuilt their bodies, a la Jose Guillen) and nameless studs with jersey numbers in the mid-nineties.  Every team has added the pieces that will transform them into a winner or has invited to camp the kid who will blossom into a star.  Even Ben Sheets has a locker with his name on it.  Now we can officially begin scouring the newspapers (er, websites) for box scores and rotation battles and begin chalking up victories in our heads.  Everyone’s magic number is the same and every lineup looks dangerous.

The excitement will build gradually: a successful ‘pen session for the rehabbing starter, a long blast by the newly signed free agent, a scoreless inning by the young flamethrower.  Eventually we’ll get to pink slips and narrowed rosters and our teams will take focus.  Good springs will surely transfer to great regular seasons and bad springs are nothing but slow starts and all will be well when the games really count. 

Hitters will blast the ball out of parks in the desert air of Arizona, and pitchers will blast the ball off the tee of golf courses across Florida.  Players will regain their leathery tans along with their fastball timing.  Everything will begin to unfold slowly and gain steam throughout the summer.  By the time the leaves turn and fall most of what we know now will be proven wrong and we’ll be left again to wonder how we didn’t see it coming.

For now though, we’re confident in what we see and feel.  Everything is going to turn out right this year.  This is going to be the greatest season ever and the summer of our lives.  So let’s get out the bats and balls and get this thing going.  Turn off the hot stove and forget about the transactions page and hypothetical lineups; it’s time for some real baseball and it couldn’t come a moment too soon.

Hendry’s Solutions Create Problems



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During the offseason coming into 2009 the Chicago Cubs and
GM Jim Hendry made a concerted effort to improve their lineup and shake up the
team which was coming off a second consecutive three-game sweep in the Division
Series.  In 2007 the Arizona Diamondbacks
unceremoniously knocked the Cubs out, while the Dodgers were the culprits in
2008.  That 2008 series, and the utter
disaster that was the team’s offense, cemented in many people’s minds the idea
that the Cubs needed to revamp their roster in order to go deep into the


Keep in mind, that the Cubs had the best record in the
National League, featuring a potent lineup that was the only NL club to score
more than 800 runs.  Also, the
Northsiders’ pitching staff was one of the most consistent and dominant in the
league, leading all NL clubs in strikeouts and tied for second in ERA.  This collection of obviously talented hitters
and pitchers proved, over 162 games, that they were the class of the National
League.  They battled off the Milwaukee
Brewers, who charged hard by riding the coattails of rental star CC Sabathia
and headed into the playoffs as prohibitive favorites. 


Everyone liked their dangerous lineup featuring Derrek Lee,
Aramis Ramirez, and led off by the potent Alfonso Soriano, and the only problem
on their staff was who to start in game 1 between Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano,
and the surprising Ryan Dempster.  Within
a week, however, opinions had completely changed.  Suddenly Big Z wasn’t a true ace, Soriano was
too old, and the entire team was too right-handed.  The fact that the Dodgers never once used (or
warmed up) a southpaw was constantly harped on and served as the catalyst for
many of the decisions made during the winter.


No one seemed to notice that the Cubs sudden lack of
production coincidentally aligned exactly with their facing the top ERA team in
the NL and 2nd in MLB.  They
also faced an extremely hot team which was flying high and loving life in “Mannywood”
ever since they claimed the superstar from Boston
near the trade deadline.  The Cubs simply
ran into a buzz saw at the wrong time which, coupled with an all too familiar
tightening of the team’s collective sphincter, quickly and painfully erased the
“Cubbie Magic” of the previous six months.


Heading into the winter meetings and an offseason of
discontent there was one mission.  Many believed the
team could only truly succeed if it found left-handed hitting consistency.  Kosuke Fukudome had been a disappointment in
his first season in America and despite the myriad of All-Stars throughout the
lineup, including the Rookie of the Year, management decided that six games (2007
and 2008 NLDS) of futility should outweigh 323 games (2007 and 2008 regular
season, only 161 in 2008) of overwhelming evidence that the team was just fine,
and in fact much better than its NL competition.  Hendry and manager Lou Piniella wanted to
freshen things up with some new blood, not a bad decision by any means, but the
way in which they did it has proven to be a total failure.


It seems every major move they made has backfired.  The team elected to let go of veteran utility
man Mark DeRosa, a fan and clubhouse favorite who played several infield and
outfield positions at average to above average and provided an additional spark
in the lineup.  DeRosa could always be
counted on to show up and play well, regardless of his spot on the field or in
the lineup and was a calming presence whenever injuries or situations required
some maneuvering.  He was particularly
key in replacing Soriano when he was injured and Fukudome when he was simply ineffective.  Imagine what he could have done in place of
the injured Ramirez this year when instead the team relied  on Mike Fontenot and even Jake Fox, a Triple-A
star with no real position and no discernable defensive aptitude.


To take DeRosa’s place came Aaron Miles from the Cardinals.  In addition to coming off a career year in
which he hit .317, Miles fit the necessary left-handed requirement as a switch
hitter and could play both position in the middle infield or even third base if
need be.  So far this year Miles is
hitting a robust .177 and rarely sees the field as a starter due to his lack of
production.  DeRosa, meanwhile, has hit a
combined .260 with 21 HR, 17 2B, and 67 RBIs with the Indians and now the NL
Central-leading Cardinals.  He’s battled
injuries, but will almost certainly come up with at least one key defensive
play and one key hit for St. Louis
in the postseason.


Elsewhere on the field, the productive duo of Reed Johnson and
Jim Edmonds was split up when the Cubs let Edmonds
go.  The two had combined to be a
formidable platoon in center field, and Edmonds
provided far more pop than expected at his age. 
Kosuke Fukudome moved to center field (and has had a much more consistent
year in his second campaign, not surprising for a foreign player adapting to a
new culture) while high-priced Milton Bradley took over in right field.  Bradley was to bring not only the necessary
left-handed swing as a switch hitter, but also more power and perhaps more
important a spark and fire that would help carry the team in the postseason and
keep them from the jitters that plagued them the previous two Octobers. 


Bradley enjoyed an impressive 2008 with the Texas Rangers,
batting .321, but many of those hits came as a DH and as soon as he signed
questions about his durability as a regular player arose.  Those issues have not arisen as of yet, but
Bradley has had a terrible season from the get-go.  He’s struggled mightily (a second half surge
has him hitting almost .260) and has
battled boos and a perceived lack of support and respect from the home crowd.  Milton’s
personality and the baggage it carries will be gladly accepted when ‘s hitting
.300 with power, but in a season of malaise at Wrigley he’s been the focal
point of much of the frustration.


On the other side of the ball, Hendry also made several
questionable moves.  He chose to let go
of steady starter Jason Marquis, who has enjoyed a stellar 2009 with the
Colorado Rockies.  While the breakout of
Marquis is quite surprising, it’s just another example of how Hendry chose to
let all the wrong pieces go, increasing rather than eliminating the team’s
weaknesses.  Additionally, the team let
veteran closer and lifelong Cub Kerry Wood go. 
His trials and tribulations over the past decade are well documented,
but Wood had proven to be a reliable closer in his first full year out of the
pen.  With the spot vacated, the team
picked up Kevin Gregg of Florida
and allowed him to compete with star reliever Carlos Marmol for the big spot.

Falling in line with the rest of the offseason acquisitions,
Gregg has been inconsistent at best, a disaster at worst.  He leads major league relievers in HR allowed
and blew several games before finally losing his job to Marmol.  Since then the club has had little need for a
closer as they’ve spiraled out of both the division and wild card races during
an August tailspin that has them reeling. 
While Kerry Wood has blown five saves to Gregg’s six and actually has a
higher ERA, the fact is Hendry made the decision on who should replace him,
Piniella selected Gregg over Marmol (who’s been bad himself despite keeping the
same role he previously dominated in) and the results on the field have been lackluster.


Now, anyone who’s paid attention to the team this year knows
that there’s much more to the poor performance than the utter failure of the
new guys to contribute.  Geovany Soto has
redefined the term sophomore slump with his horrendous play, he was also
injured and missed significant time. 
Additional injuries include Carlos Zambrano, Reed Johnson, Ted Lilly,
Ryan Dempster, and the huge loss of Aramis Ramirez for two months.  Soriano has performed well below expectations
and leaves some wondering if his given birth date is as inaccurate as those of
his countrymen.  Fontenot has performed
as poorly at second base as Miles has, and many of the most significant
contributions have come from players who started the year at Triple-A Iowa,
including Randy Wells, Jake Fox, Bobby Scales, and Jeff Baker.


The pitching staff held together for long periods without
run support, but injuries to nearly all the starters and a bullpen with one
reliable pitcher, Angel Guzman, has faltered too many times to remain close in
playoff contention.  There is still
plenty of time for the team to rebound and make a late season run at either the
division or wild card spots.  However,
the Cardinals show no signs of slowing down and there are just too many teams
to jump over in the wild card chase. 
This team shows all the signs of an epic letdown season following one
filled with excitement.  The 2008 team
featured surprising or overachieving seasons by many players.  Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot both played
over their heads, and Geovany Soto figured out Major League pitching much
quicker than anyone expected.  Ryan
Dempster blossomed into a stopper and the injury bug stayed mostly at bay. 


This team couldn’t expect such great seasons from so many
players again, but the total collapse of the team all at once has been a
shock.  One has to wonder if the loss of
Wood and DeRosa’s clubhouse presence has been missed as much or more than even
their on field contributions.  Zambrano is
too fiery, Derrek Lee simply a quiet leader, and Aramis Ramirez lets his bat do
the talking.  Perhaps those steady,
reliable vets could have calmed the waters and stopped the bleeding in time to
save the season.  As it is, the team that
was built to win in October can’t get it done from April to September and won’t
get a shot at the postseason.  The taster
of a three-game sweep was bitter, but a six-month train wreck has proven to be
worse.  This winter Jim Hendry doesn’t
have to worry about fixing nonexistent problems.  Now he’s got real issues and must find better
answers than he did a year ago.  If he
can’t, perhaps the real problem isn’t the people in the lineup, but rather the
ones putting that lineup together. 


Hendry was able to put together the best team in the
National League, but his shortsightedness and reactionism to a one-week failure
showed a lack of patience and perspective. 
The silver lining has been the play of all the youngsters who’ve had to
fill in this year.  September will
provide a more extended look, and perhaps that is the new blood necessary for a
return to the top of the Central.

Hamilton Apologizes, Ortiz Acts



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So the two big stories of the weekend off the field involved
huge stars dealing with problems and facing the media.  Josh Hamilton is dealing with the much more
personal and potentially devastating problem of substance abuse that has
already nearly cost him his career, his family, and his life.  David Ortiz, on the other hand, is dealing
with a blow to his reputation and attempting salvage only his good name and the
respect of fans and fellow players, but it’s an interesting comparison to note
the contrasting approaches the two men took in dealing with their issues.


I know none of the intimate details of either situation, but
that doesn’t preclude me from assessing each and evaluating how they were
handled.  Ortiz finally faced the media
in what was a controlled, sterile, prearranged environment, allowing him to
stick to his and his representatives’ game plan.  Much like an NFL coaching staff, he and his
people took  a bye week to put together a
seamless plan and prepare for anything he might face  It was the same game plan we’ve seen run time
and again by accused steroid or performance enhancement users.  He “admitted” to taking supplements,
purchased over-the-counter of course, and then “admitted” that he was careless
and unaware of what exactly was in these various potions.  He denied ever using steroids or anything
illegal to his knowledge.  It was simple,
unapologetic, rehearsed, and now he’d like to move on since he’s no longer
taking questionable supplements, which we cannot doubt by his “courage” and willingness
to “take blame” for his “poor judgment.”


Hamilton, in
contrast, faced the media in a completely uncontrolled and fluid
environment.  He stood up to them
immediately, before his game that night and not in an “acquit me” suit, but in his stick-on
eye black and BP uniform.  He admitted his mistake,
detailed how he’d lost control and allowed himself to relapse.  He showed genuine remorse and regret,
explaining how he’d jeopardized himself and put his family and his team in a
horrible position.  He explained that he
called upon his support system of friends and family to face the mistake and
take steps to once again begin the path of recovery. 


He had no representatives to coach or practice his responses
with and he had no statement to read from. 
His lines were not rehearsed and the questions he faced weren’t
pre-screened.  Though this incident, as
well as his handling of it, occurred months ago, he wasn’t sure when the
information would reach the public.  He
even expressed surprise at how long it took to come to light.  When it did, though, he stood up like a man,
even allowed us to look into his eyes, unlike Ortiz’s initial Oakley shrouded
meeting with the media.  He informed us
how he’d apologized and sought to make things right with his wife and kids,
management, and his teammates, and he’s likely begun the process again over the
last few days. 


Last year, Hamilton’s
story of survival, recovery, and success was a nation-wide hit.  People flocked to stadiums to see him and to
stores to buy his book.  He captivated
baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike. 
Everyone likes the story of the guy who comes back from failure, from
the depths of despair, which is most certainly where Hamilton
was in his battle with not only alcohol, but extremely hard drugs and a
lifestyle of destruction.  In the movie
version of this life, the credits would have rolled after his dropjaw
performance in the Home Run Derby, in Yankee Stadium no less, and everyone
would be walking on air out of the theatre as “We Can Be Heroes” blared.  In real life, though, his battle will never
end, and it’s as much horror film as it is feel-good family entertainment.  He could hit in 57 straight games and his
most important and impressive streak will always be the number of days since
his last relapse.  That’s now back to
single digits, and it’s unfortunate that he’s had to begin again, but he’s
resolved to do it and he has the system in place to help him when he fails.


Perhaps that’s why he was able to show us all how a
difficult situation should be handled. 
Maybe we need a 12-step program for recovering PED users.  Hamilton
was on Step 10 Saturday night: Continue to take personal inventory, and
promptly admit when you’re wrong.  We’ve
yet to see an accused PED user get past step 1. 
They’ll admit negligence, carelessness, the folly of youth, or even go
so far as to say they might have taken something “unknowingly,” but never will
they say they knew the rules, the consequences, and the benefits of what they
did.  Hamilton
surely didn’t want to talk about his past any more than Mark McGwire or David
Ortiz, but he knows that if he doesn’t acknowledge that past, he’ll never be
able to rectify his mistakes in the future.


In the end, Hamilton
is still facing a tougher battle and a more serious issue.  Ortiz, assuming he’s clean, likely doesn’t
face daily demons to take steroids again (well, maybe when he had 0 HR nearing
the end of May) and he may avoid any of the serious potential side
effects.  Steroid abuse isn’t like drug
or alcohol abuse in that it doesn’t ruin lives and tear apart families in our
country on a grand scale.  Steroids are
illegal, and now are outlawed by baseball, but that’s another discussion.  The fact is, Ortiz was caught in a mistake
and had the opportunity to make amends and offer a genuine response and he
didn’t.  Despite all of his coaching and
prep he could not fake remorse or regret any more than Hamilton
could hide them.  Ortiz continues to
attempt to hide and ignore his weakness as a false show of strength. Hamilton
embraces his weakness in an attempt to build true strength and Saturday night
we got to see head-to-head which way works.



Wainwright the Most Important Cardinal

As a Cubs fan, it pains me to write about the excellence of a St. Louis
pitcher, but Adam Wainwright is a huge key to the Cardinals success of
this season and has been a great number two behind Chris Carpenter. 
He’s leading the team in wins, innings, and strikeouts, while posting a
solid 2.79 ERA.  More importantly, he’s been a consistent go-to guy,
particularly during the extended absence of Carpenter, both last year
and earlier this season.

The Cardinals will always be Albert
Pujols’ team, and now that Matt Holliday is there, Big Al has the
sidekick he’s been looking for for several years.  Pujols’ dominance
hasn’t been enough to overtake the Cubs the last two years, though, and
the reason the Cardinals have been leading the pack much of the year
has been the consistent pitching which starts with Wainwright.

has shown that consistency in the last two seasons with a 14-win
campaign in his first as a starter, 2007, and then a breakthrough year in
2008 going 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA, in only 20 starts.  With at least five
more starts in August and all of September, he has a real shot at 18 wins or more, and along
with Jason Marquis, could be a surprise entry in the Cy Young race.

not that no one could foresee this level of success for Wainwright, but
with Carpenter’s return this year and King Albert’s reign, he kind of gets lost
in the fold in St. Louis.  The tremendous fans of the ‘Lou’ definitely
know who he is, and if their team can hang on to play into October, it will feature a tremendous second gun that is invaluable in
the shortened format of the Division Series.

The Cubs have
made a strong second half push and narrowed the gap, even jumpnig into
first for a few days, but St. Louis has shown far greater consistency
offensively and defensively for a full four months, and with July
acquisitions that strengthened their lineup they’ll be very difficult to
outlast.  That additional firepower will only make it tougher for teams
looking to outscore or outpitch such a well-rounded, fundamentally
sound team.

With Wainwright showing no signs of slowing, this
team could be a sleeper in the National League race against the more
ballyhooed teams in Philly and L.A.  If they can manage to get into the
eight-team fray, there’s plenty to like on this team, which has the
pieces to win the pitchers’ duels and the fireworks shows.  Typically, October baseball is more about pitching, defense, and situational hitting than it is about blowouts.  This team is built to succeed either way, and Wainwright’s arm will be especially welcome when the temperature starts to drop and the bats cool off.