Well, things aren’t going to get any easier for the Cardinals as they try to break their three game losing streak. They just got swept by the AL Central’s second place team, the Chicago White Sox, and now they have to take the leaders in that division, the Detroit Tigers. If anyone out there claims they had the Tigers winning the division or even leading it in June, I’m going to need a witness to verify your story.
Tonight Chris Carpenter (6-3, 2.46) will take on Justin Verlander (8-4, 3.21) in Detroit. I know close to nothing about Verlander, which is to say I just checked out his stats and bio on MLB.com. I know one thing that makes me smile, however. Albert Pujols will be in the lineup and playing first base. See, it makes you smile.
Perhaps the most interesting match-up of the series will take place on the benches rather than the field with Tony LaRussa going against longtime friend (and former Cardinal employee) Jim Leyland. Both are undisputedly talented managers, and I’ll be paying close attention to their moves and counter-moves.
A sweep (alright…or even two wins) of the Tigers sure would make this road trip feel and look a lot better.
I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard a person say they’d rather lose a game by 15 runs than one. (Or something similar…) Well, the Cardinals tested that theory in their series with the White Sox. It was ultra painful to watch them get their brains beat out in the first two games, and uber painful to watch them take a tough 1-0 loss.
However, I’m not really one to dwell on the negatives of a baseball season particularly when my team is still leading its division by four games. Yes, we got swept by the Chicago White Sox, and that is not good. No, it is not the end of the world. I rated this series as a six on a 1-10 importance scale before it started, and I refuse to get all worked up at this point.
First and foremost the Albert Pujols returned to the lineup tonight after missing just 15 games. A chunk of games, to be sure, but every Cardinal fan realizes it could have been much worse. He didn’t get a hit tonight, but he also didn’t look terrible at the plate. Somebody is going to pay very soon…he has some ground to catch up. The remarkable thing (if Albert Pujols is still capable of being remarkable) is that he is still tied for the National League lead in home runs and is just one RBI behind league leader Ryan Howard. Unbelievable!
Of course the story of the night was Anthony Reyes’ performance. Just for the record, if he hadn’t been called up to make the start as Tony LaRussa hinted, I think I would have slipped into a deep clinical depression. Tonight, although he lost a heartbreaker, he stepped up in a big pressure situation and performed better than well. Most of the time when a major league pitcher gives up one run over the course of a complete game they win…not that that obvious statement is capable of making Reyes feel any better tonight. They showed a shot of him walking through the dugout right after the game ended. Barry Weinberg gave him a pat on the back of the head and fellow starter Jeff Suppan reached out and slapped his shoulder. I’m not sure if Reyes looked extremely angry or extremely sad, but either way my mom and I both released a big, “AAHHHHH” for him. I don’t know a thing about his personality and I assume this loss isn’t going to stick with him in any negative way, but the disappointed/disgusted/disturbed look on his face after the game is going to stick with me for a while. He deserved to be smiling, and he and the rest of the world knows it. (Insert obligatory kudos for Freddie Garcia here.)
Still, Reyes was impressive yet again as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. If he ever again finds himself a Memphis Redbird I’ll be as shocked as I was watching Jim Thome’s homer land in the stands tonight. He’s here to stay not because the Cards desperately need quality starting pitching (they do) or because he’s a top prospect (he is) but because he has earned it with repeated superior performances that I don’t think even Tony LaRussa can in any way discount.
Before I begin…a big “WOW” and a big pat on the back to the Cards for sweeping the Rockies. Life for the team hasn’t been as difficult as many have pretended, but this also hasn’t been an easy time. I still refuse to get over the disappointment of Albert’s injury because of its historical significance, but this weekend’s series went a long way toward raising my spirits. That and Albert is most certainly on his way back. How amazing would it be for him to return to the team still leading the league in home runs and RBI? Just think about that for a second…
Now, I have a bone to pick with Tony LaRussa. I seriously cannot begin to understand all the mystery surrounding the starting rotation right now. The other day he hinted (without much reserve) that Anthony Reyes would return to the rotation, but now he is denying it. He has told us Sidney Ponson has been sent to the bullpen in hopes of correcting his recent problems. Other than that everything is pretty much a mess as far as the hopes of understanding who will step on the mound as the Cards’ fifth starter and when.
While I won’t go so far as to say that I am outraged by this mystery and secrecy, I have two MAJOR problems with this picture.
My first problem is LaRussa acting as if he doesn’t know what is going to happen or who is going to start. This is the guy who I read sat down right after the All-Star Game last year and planned the rotation for the rest of the season. This is a guy renowned for his planning and preparing and plotting. He may play the game one day at a time, but he certainly doesn’t plan it that way.
I understand that even the best plans and preparations must sometimes be altered or changed altogether, but if he expects me to believe he doesn’t know, right now, who is starting on Thursday then he isn’t half as smart as I give him credit for being. Whatever the reason he decided to shake up the starting rotation, I approve of his decision. Maybe he’s only hoping to strike a little fear in the guys who have been struggling (seems to be working so far), maybe he has actually decided Reyes deserves a shot (he does), or maybe he for real believes skipping Ponson for a start and letting him help out the bullpen during interleague play will correct his issues (I find this one hard to believe, but I give it proper attention nonetheless).
However, his continued vagueness and indecision regarding the situation is an insult to my baseball intelligence that I’m not will to take without a swing. He knows what’s going on. I think I know what’s going on. At the very least, if he refuses to resolve the latter, he should admit the former.
My second problem, lucky for you dear reader, is shorter. LaRussa, a guy I promise I like almost all of the time, said of Reyes “Evidently, he’s not ready” for the big leagues because he allowed four runs in six innings while striking out three and walking none. Are you kidding me? From that line, which is below average sure but far from horrible, LaRussa made that statement. I’m not sure the world has ever seen a greater overstatement especially considering that the start was close to if not the worst start of his season at Memphis or St. Louis. How happy would Mark Mulder be to get one of Reyes’ bad starts right now?
I think I’ve made my point, but I could go on and on. The ridiculousness and coldness (for lack of a better term) of the statement really bothers me. Bet you could’ve figured that out on your own but oh well. My only hope is that had I been in the interview room, heard his tone of voice, and heard the question asked I would feel differently about the comment. My benefit of the doubt margin in this case, however, is very small.
I apologize for my recent prolonged absences. I have excuses, but I’ll spare you them. Hopefully posts similar to this one will be available to you every morning from hence forth…cheesy, self-indulgent title included. [Basically just some random thoughts and a daily link from my readings. I find that I focus a lot on posts that deal with a single issue (such as a single player) and I tend to ignore the games themselves. I will keep those thoughts for this daily post. Most likely I will write it at an obscenely late hour, but it will be here each morning should you look for it. Now that I have attempted to guilt myself into actually fulfilling my promises, it’s off to the actual post.]
(1) Jason Marquis deserves credit for his more-than-successful start yesterday. I hesitate to put too much faith in him because his track record suggests that he will only let me down in the end, but he has earn his praise as of late. He certainly wasn’t at his best yesterday but at the end of the day he beat Roy Oswalt by pitching seven innings while allowing just one run. I refuse to say anything else for fear that he’ll go double digit starts without a win.
(2) Albert Pujols hit the (eventual) game-winning home run late in the game. Yawn.
(3) Jim Edmonds missed another start on Tuesday. He will apparently undergo a scan of some sort (this according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch) to see if he has a sports hernia. I don’t see this situation going in a positive direction. I hope my future forecasting capabilities prove to be worthless.
(4) Don’t look now, fans of any other National League Central teams, but the Cardinals have a five game lead in the division. I guess the fact that they have the lead before the arrival of June can be taken two ways. Either the Cards are so good they have big lead early they won’t relinquish or they are simply off to a good start but everyone has time to catch up. (For any fellow VH1 watchers…read the first sentence again, but this time use the voice of The Best Week Even announcer. Just seems perfect to me.)
(5) It was nice to see all of the seats in Busch III filled for the fist time as a result of the final section of seating being completed (ahead of schedule no less!). I can’t wait to get back to the ballpark.
I can’t wait for the Cardinals to get out of San Francisco and away from Barry Bonds. Being around Bonds has forced Albert Pujols to talk about Bonds and his numbers and steroids and the other predictable topics. Pujols has said recently that Bonds “probably made some mistakes in the past” and that people “should respect the numbers he has put up” (not the man). While I am able to twist these things to mean that Pujols knows Bonds isn’t a saint, the fact is he has been extremely supportive of Bonds all things considered.
Pause while I cringe.
Now, Albert Pujols can do and say whatever he wants. I’m not one to tell people what they should say or how they should say say it. However, just talking about Bonds and steroids has caused a wave of speculation about Pujols. Last week the New York Times was saying the best thing about him was the fact that he didn’t cheat and columnists around the country couldn’t talk enough about he was exactly the type of player we needed to take us away from the “steroids era.” (Whatever that is.) Column after column, story after story, writers couldn’t explain how great he is as a person and a player in enough lavish details to possibly do him justice…according to them.
This week (especially the last two days), I’m reading nothing but “Albert is great and there is no evidence at all that he has ever done anything at all wrong and he is probably clean but there is no way we can ever really know and I’m sorry but that’s just the world we live in today and nothing can change that and human growth hormone is only detected by a blood test and MLB doesn’t do those so yeah he could be getting outside help but he is still great probably the best in the game today and it’s a shame Barry Bonds and others have tainted his accomplishments.” (Deep breath.)
I find it hard to explain my problem with all of this without getting on the topic of steroids in general, something I have no real desire to do. Yet, I proceed talking mostly in general not specifically about Pujols unless noted.
First, to those people who are concerned about Human Growth Hormone (or whatever) still being used by baseball players, I have two requests. One, acknowledge and accept that NO other major sports league has a HGH test either and yet people are able to talk about a muscular NFLer without having to launch into a boring, useless discussion on how he got the muscles. The fact is that MLB has the most strict drug test policy that can be found in professional sports today. Two, armed with your new knowledge take your conspiracy theories elsewhere. Baseball is the game I love and I will forever remain loyal to so you’ll have to excuse my bias, but unless you want to discuss how your favorite running back managed to recover so quickly from that knee injury or how Ben Wallace got to be so incredibly ripped save it, just save it. I don’t want to hear it.
No I’m not a crazy, and no I do not believe that either your favorite running back or Ben Wallace are on steroids. But my suggesting that is as careless as a person suggesting any current major leaguer is on drugs. (And no I can’t be sure you that and no one else can be either. But I choose the much more likely and more mundane belief that these are men who happen to be extremely talented and happen to work extremely hard in order to be the players they are. My sensationalizing and speculation skills, I admit, are not up to par with most of the sports world.)
Second, I love how Albert Pujols merely talking about the subject caused more rumors to swirl around him at once than the rest of his career combined. Pujols has been much more open with “the media” and he appears to be paying the price. This is not a complaint so much as an observation. No one of any importance has actually said (to my knowledge) that they believe the Cards’ first baseman is on steroids just that people always suspect home run hitter like himself these days. It’s funny that most articles I’ve read say something to the affect of “Albert has put up great numbers his whole career, but there are rumblings/rumors/whispers now about potential steroid use” but no one has actually identified any person doing the rumblings/rumors/whispers.
In other words, Albert isn’t a victim here. He isn’t be accused by anyone. He has just managed to start a string of debates about steroids all over again (if we ever got away from them) by freely discussing the subject when asked about it.
Third, I really don’t like the (sorry for the cliche) guilty until proven innocent approach people seem to be subscribing to these days. It disrupts my optimism and causes angry posts on my blog.
All of that being said, Albert said one thing I have been screaming at the TV and preaching to whoever was willing to listen for years (Geez…it really has been years…I feel old.) now. Regardless of how many steroids Bonds took/injected/smeared on, he still had to see the ball and hit it, as Albert put it. I could bulk up on steroids for the next five years, and I’m confident that I would still not be able to hit a major league home run. Furthermore, I’m confident that the same is true of millions of healthy young men who’ve ever dreamed of playing in MLB.
Here is where my internal conflict really begins. I don’t like Barry Bonds. I haven’t liked him since I knew enough about baseball to know him. I don’t like him as a human being or as a baseball player. Normally, I would shy away from typing that sentence because I’ve never met the guy and I simply don’t know him and probably never will. But for Bonds I’m willing to make an exception. His theatrics and selfishness are more than I can handle.
In addition to my already not liking him, he was one of many major league baseball players to take steroids in order to “enhance” their performance. If anyone (including Albert Pujols whom I love…seriously…LOVE) still wants to argue about whether or not Bonds is “guilty” I’m inclined to call the person crazy. He admitted to a grand jury that he took steroids unknowingly, Greg Anderson was practically chained to him, and there is a ridiculous amount of other evidence. (I’m working on reading it all and being more informed.) Nope, he has never failed a drug test, and he doesn’t need to. Jose Conseco and Ken Caminiti and Mark McGwire (I didn’t want to go there, but I did because I had to…I feel bad now.) and Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi (who has also admitted to using steroids) never tested positive either.
A positive test isn’t needed…there is plenty of still plenty of proof. Saying that a player has to test positive in order to prove he has taken steroids is like saying no one can be convicted of a crime EVER unless they are on tape committing the crime. (Because you can’t test positive for murdering.)
SOME form of proof is still needed, however, to engage in the is-he-or-isn’t-he-on-steriods debate. With Albert Pujols there is no proof or even relevant suggestion, testable or otherwise, that he has ever been anywhere near a syringe.
I could go on, but I digress to the larger issue. Pujols says Barry probably made some mistakes, but he still had to hit the ball over the fence. Fine, ok, true, accepted.
My conclusion…as far as steroids are concerned and to this ridiculously long post which may or may not make sense to anyone because, to be honest, I’ve yet to make sense of it all myself. Some things, though, I am sure of…
Taking steroids, while morally wrong and dreadfully stupid, was not against the rules when it was prevalent in clubhouses.
Taking steroids (like using a corked bat for example) does not allow a person to hit home runs, but it does help a capable person hit more by way of giving them that extra bit of strength or allowing them to recover quickly from an injury that would otherwise hamper their performance. However, no one, not even the brainiest of scientists, can say how many additional dingers a drugged-up player is able to hit.
Many professional players benefited from taking performance enhancing drugs, and record were broken and re-broken by people more than probably taking substances now banned by MLB. (McGwire’s “Andro”, for example, is now banned but wasn’t in 1998.)
Players, not just including but in many cases especially those who have admitted to taking or been associated with steroids, today work extremely hard to be as good as they are. Bonds is said to have spent as many as eight hours a day working out during the off seasons he was admittedly, if unknowingly, rubbing “the clear” on his legs. (I think it is “rubbed” on. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) Retired greats, including Hank Aaron, have regularly said that if you wanted to find them during their playing days a weight room was NOT the place to look. Lifting weights and intense conditioning period was just not a part of the game before this generation of players.
How much of Bonds, and others, success then can be attributed to pure, hard work others before them were not willing to put in? Most players today, particularly the good ones, tend to lift weights after games and do not spend the winter just staring out the window waiting for camp to convene. Bonds workouts may not have been possible for his aging body without a little help but the fact remains that he was there everyday…lifting, working, and preparing. Something has to be said for that, in my opinion, and rarely is.
Stepping into the batter’s box for a major league team is hard enough, making contact with the ball is harder, and hitting said ball over the fence is harder yet. (Especially if the pitchers you’re facing are “juiced up” as well. Just saying…that is also regularly left out of the conversation.) In the end a person still has to see the ball and hit the ball.
Now we’ve managed to make our way back to Albert Pujols and his eternal wisdom. He didn’t provide any solution to the steroids saga because there isn’t one and nothing is ever going to provide one that satisfies one and all. But at some point we are all going to have to let it go, beginning with baseball writers across America. I’m not saying we should pretend it never happened. I’m saying everyone should agree to admit it happened and now it won’t happen again and move on. Get creative. Write about the Detroit Tigers or the Chicago White Sox or write about Albert Pujols the way you were a week ago.
(Anyone else find it ironic that I’m complaining about people writing about steroids while writing about steroids myself? Thought so.)
In truth, I have fought writing this before, but always didn’t because I loathe the subject. I have spent the last two days writing this now, though, because Albert and the Cardinals have been around Barry and the Giants and now everyone, including Albert and myself, is somehow forced to talk about steroids.
I, unlike most however, choose to talk about it all in the past…where it belongs because that is the only place it can rightfully be discussed and debated until we all decide that the game of baseball has endured far worse (Players being paid to lose as compared to “cheating” to win for instance.) and yet is as popular today as it has ever been.
[I generally post somewhere between 1:00 and 4:00 am, so this feels odd.]
I didn’t mention this after last night’s game, but I was wondering how many people stayed up late to see Albert Pujols slip on the wet decorative on-deck circle. I sat up straight on the couch (a rare occasion…haha) and ceased breathing until he returned to his feet. For those who didn’t see it, Pujols was down for at least 20-30 seconds. He just laid there, in the rain, opening and closing his eyes while an assistant trainer and Tony LaRussa hovered over him.
I was going crazy thinking about his head (which replays showed he really didn’t hit, thankfully) and then his already sore back and then a variety of other possible catastrophes. Then, all of the sudden, he hopped up, confirmed he was fine to continue, and jogged back to first base where he even seemed to smile about the incident. And then my heart rate returned to normal. Seeing that he was alright and even came to the plate for his scheduled at-bat made the loss easier to take.
On a different note, I’ll be back on the radio tomorrow in Tulsa. Click here to visit 1430 The Buzz’s website and listen live. I should be on about 10:35, but the show actually starts at 10:15.
I had no idea that I had so much (negative/reverse) power over the Cards. Seriously, I put up an innocent post about how overall great the team is and how great they have the potential to be and then they proceed to play a truly awful game against the Diamondbacks on Sunday. Geez…
Both teams, it seemed, were bound and determined to find a way to lose the game. Error after error, stranded runner after stranded runner, missed opportunity after missed opportunity… I suppose though, if both teams really were trying to lose, the Cardinals won. Just something to think about on the off day.
Also…THIS JUST IN…Albert Pujols who was previously reported to be a run-producing machine built on planet Emveepee, best known for its unique “triple crown” geographic landmark, is in fact a human. We regret our error but would like to point out that, even while confirming his status as a human being, he still showed signs of being from a planet other than Earth.
In other words, Pujols may have been 0 for 3 (with an RBI), but he still brought me to my feet in the ninth when he sent a pitch to the warning track. And in case anyone is wondering, the word right now is still that Adam Wainwright is indeed a robot. He just experienced a minor mechanical error today.
A belated happy Mother’s day to everyone who has a stake in the day. Although it’s only been over for a couple of hours (in the Midwest anyway), I hope everyone had a great day!
Come back soon as I’ll be taking a look at John Rodriguez’s production as a major league hitter.