It's baaaaaack!

For the time being, at least.

Why sportswriters suck

I really haven't had a chance to cut loose yet, and that sucks. But after working 28 hours of overtime in the past three days, the Carinals World Series book is finally at the printer. With my name on the cover. And probably full of errors that I couldn't catch because I was in a state of bleary-eyed hysteria after working two straight graveyard shifts, followed by four hours of sleep, and then a 14-hour day on Saturday.

But now that it's at the printer, I can finally catch up on everything I missed. I can celebrate during everyone else's post-celebration hangover. I'm going to re-watch Game 5 today, because my first screening of the game was interrupted several times by the printer calling with proofs to review. M made me put down the laptop for the final three outs, thank goodness, so I could experience some joy in a live setting. But I still haven't had that post-victory cry that I expect is welling up in me.

If I let that out this morning, it will look more like tears of rage, however. What is up with America's sportwriters? Not that this will be news to anyone who reads the sports section on a daily basis, but sportwriters are some of the worst writers on Earth -- and on top of that they're gutless sheep who spend about as much time thinking about what they're writing as they do improving their understanding of the games they cover. Far too little. They can't find the storyline -- or refuse to acknowledge it -- through their typical, juvenile snobbery.

Indulge me, please, as I itch my Midwest inferiority complex. The Cardinals were praised prior to the 2006 season as a team with a great shot at winning the NL Central and making it back to the Fall Classic. Why? They had the reigning MVP and Cy Young winners, and with Rolen and Edmonds they boasted a stable veteran core. But in truth, they were a shaky team on paper from the start, and things didn't improve in that regard due to in-season acquisitions. We were a team of castoffs solidified by two of the best players in the game today. When you put it down on paper, it's sort of startling. Eckstein was DFA'd by the Angels. Miles and Belliard were both traded by their respective clubs, considered less valuable than middling prospects and fat old relievers. Very few teams took any interest in Encarnacion in the offseason. Or Spiezio. Preston Wilson was cut by the Stros. Weaver was going to be cut, until we traded for him. And we didn't exactly have to get in a bidding war with any other club to land Taguchi three years ago. Our pen consisted of a dude who pitched in the indy leagues just a couple years ago (Kinney), two lefties that have never been on any scout's radar, a Reds castoff, a rookie in his first year of pen service, and a guy who got boo'd out of NYC. And don't forget about the Cardinals converted "outfielder" who prior to hitting 21 homers in 3 months was considered a nepotistic addition to the roster.

St. Louis played like crap for four months of the season, in part due to a ton of significant injuries (Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Eckstein, Mulder, and Isringhausen). But come October, the team was relatively healthy again. And they still had the reigning MVP and Cy Young -- both of which were gunning for to repeat in that department. But because a sportswriter's only memory is recent memory, those same critics who lauded St. Louis as "a good bet" now thought that the Cardinals were "a good bet to get swept" by the Padres, then the Mets, then the Tigers. Either they fucked up seven months ago when they said St. Louis was a great team, or they fucked up in October by failing to remember what they had written seven months ago.

Or maybe the Cardinals truly had become a crappy team in the meantime. But I don't think so. As much as I bitched this season about my team's performance, I did so because I'm a perfectionist that has been conditioned to a high standard. These Cardinals were not the NL juggernaut of their '04 brethren, but they were a far cry from the laughingstock of the playoffs. The Cardinals were built around the philosophy of their World Series MVP, the blue-collar Eckstein: flash isn't necessary, just hard work. They were a team led by veterans who had been-there-done-that in the postseason, but were still hungry for that first ring. And, I have to admit, they were led by a manager who just happened to be on top of his game at the right time.

Still, they can't get no respect. Not even after winning the whole shebang. Not even after beating three of the best pitching staffs in the Majors. Not even after overcoming a poor-by-his-standards postseason from Pujols.

Here's a sampling of the tone that's being adopted by plenty of columnists from around the country. This from Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times:
When historians recall the 2006 World Series, which mercifully ended Friday on another odd night of freezing winds and flocking birds, one word will come to mind.

It will not be Cardinals, who, let's face it, won a world championship by virtue of possessing a pulse.

It will not be Weaver, the Angels and Dodgers bust who blearily stumbled his way into postseason religion.

It will not be Eckstein, the wonderful little Series MVP who will live longer as a Bill Stoneman nightmare.

The word will not be a name, but a directive, one that defined a team and detailed an embarrassment.

The word will be "Duck!"

Here comes a short throw from a Detroit Tigers pitcher to the third baseman -- duck!

Here comes a throw from a Tigers pitcher to the first baseman -- duck!

You get his point. And unfortunately, it's the same point that is being made by a host of writers: St. Louis, an inferior 83-win team, lucked into a World Series title. While a certain portion of baseball is luck -- "a game of inches" -- a lucky team does not win 11 games in October. It takes a good one. It took a good one to beat the Mets, that's for sure. And it took a good one to beat the Tigers, too, a team that plowed through supposedly superior AL teams to make it to the Fall Classic. Even without those eight errors -- and last time I checked fielding is still a significant part of the game -- the Cardinals would likely at worst be facing a Game 7 today. Why? Because St. Louis pitchers manhandled a good Tigers lineup and tamed an even better Mets one.

Pitching wins ballgames in October. The Cardinals didn't bring the good stuff in June. Or August. Or September. But in October, they brought their A game against baseball's best teams. And that's why they are the '06 champions. You want a story to write, sportswriters? How about tyring out the real story. You may be familiar with it already: a talented Midwest sports team drowning in turmoil bonds at the right time to defeat Goliath. If you need a refresher, just rent Hoosiers.

In the meantime, I'm going to stop reading your slop before it kills my buzz.

UPDATE: Brian Gunn sings a similar tune (to me) over at Hardball Times. Worth a read if you're still not convinced.


The SWEET taste of victory!

In Year 30, it finally arrived.

More to come later. Unfortunately, tonight I will not be following in David Eckstein's footsteps. Instead, I'm working the second 18-hour day in a row in an effort to complete our World Series book on the Cardinals, which we'll send to the printer tomorrow morning. I'm actually writing a good deal of the text that will accompany this photo-centric book, for better or worse. I'm getting my first editorial byline on a cover as a result.


Woo-hoo!!! Win No. 2!

Take that Kenny Rogers. We'll beat'cha fair and square.

All that's left is for us to play .500 ball for the next 4 games and, well, I'm not even gonna say it.

Do you realize that the Cardinals have a 2.71 ERA this postseason, and that all four of their starting pitchers have posted ERAs of 3.00 or under? Do you realize that prior to tonight's start, Carpenter had the highest ERA of those four starters? That, my friends, is astounding. And that is why we're two games away from, well, you know.


Rogers does his best Eddie Harris

Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn: What's that shit on your chest?
Eddie Harris: [wiping his finger across his chest] Crisco. [wiping it across his waist line] Bardol. [wiping it along his head] Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curve ball. Of course if the umps are watching me real close I'll rub a little jalapeno up my nose, get it runnin', and if I need to load the ball up I just... [wipes his nose] ...wipe my nose.
Vaughn: You put snot on the ball?
Harris: I haven't got an arm like you, kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too.

Does that soundbite from Major League sound familiar after watching Game 2 of the World Series? Starring as Harris: The Gambler in a locker room full of 98-mph throwin'-24 year-olds.

I noticed the crap on Rogers' hand right before the Fox broadcasters brought it up. Maybe it was nothing intentional, but Tim McCarver -- if he knows anything -- surely knows what pine tar looks like. Having been a catcher, he knows how pitchers cheat. So why would he even bring it up if he didn't have a strong hunch? I suppose controversary sells....

Rogers: Er, what substance on my hand?
Ump: Why are you rubbing my shoulder with your hand?
Rogers: Oh, am I?
Ump: Yes, you are.
Rogers: Sorry 'bout that. See, there's nothing on my hand.

With or without a little help from a foreign substance, Rogers was dominant tonight. Still, if he was using something, I'm not sure why the umps didn't do more than ask him to wash his hands. (I'm not sure that's what actually happened. Fox's reporting on the subject during the game was vague at best. Maybe the postgame reporting will reveal whether Rogers washed it off between innings, or washed it off only after being prompted to do so by the umps.) If the latter was true, and he was guilty, then he should've been tossed from the game with a suspension pending. Them's the rules.

At any rate, I'm happy to be heading back to St. Louis with the series tied, our ace on the mound in Game 3, and Rogers out of the picture until Game 6.

UPDATE: ESPN has photographic evidence: Rogers is a cheat. In his start in the ALCS, he featured the same mysterious blob on his pitching hand. See the photo below to compare the two starts.

(click on the image for a close-up)


Cards take Game 1!

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Reyes can pitch. I told M to expect good things from the rookie prior to the start of the game, and now I can gloat. My game summary follows:






W-O-W! What. A. Game.

"Baseball is a game of inches." It's a cliché, for sure. But after watching Game 7 of the '06 NLCS, you can see why that phrase has stuck around. It's appropriate. Endy Chavez made one of the most spectacular catches I've ever seen, snowconing a ball that was over the fence after making a dead-run for the track and a mighty leap into the wall. Even if I forget the stage Chavez was standing on when he made that catch -- even if it was Game 101 of the season on a Wednesday afternoon -- it was still one of the best catches I've ever seen. So much skill -- and luck -- was involved in making that catch. It should have broken the Cardinals' back. It sure broke mine. Rolen and his bum shoulder couldn't buy a big hit in this series. And when he finally got a hold of one in a tight game, he was robbed. Poor guy. You had to feel sorry for him.

I thought the game was surely going to the Mets after that turn of events, and I'm sure every Mets fan felt the same way. Big Mo had shifted to them. In their next at bat in the bottom of the 6th, the Mets loaded the bases on a walk, a Rolen error (one of the worst errors I've ever seen, too), and another walk. Suppan was backed into a corner. Not one Cardinal fan would have blamed him if a run scored in that situation. He'd pitched a hell of a game, a hell of a series, up until that point. He could have folded. The Mets had Big Mo at their side, and two chances to score the go-ahead run. But Soup has ice in his veins. The cerebral Maddox wannabe knows how to keep his composure on the mound. He never looks too bothered out there. Even with the pennant on the line.

Everyone in Shea knew that the other Jose was going to see some curve balls from Suppan. Didn't matter. Soup threw him fastballs up in the zone to keep him off his Uncle Charlie. And sure enough, it worked. Strikeout. Two outs. It would be up to the man who made The Catch. But luckily for Cardinals fans, Chavez had already used every ounce of positive karma he had coming to him in the top of the 6th. He flied out to center to end the inning. Suppan swung Big Mo back in the Cardinals corner.

With Perez out of the game, I released a sigh of relief, because oddly enough it was the Mets relief -- touted by pundits before the series began as the Mets edge over the Cards (boy did they pick wrong) -- that we had our best shot against. We had touched up the Mets best reliever, Wagner, in this series. But we couldn't string much of anything together against the Mets starters. In the top of the ninth, Randolph stuck with Heilman, probably because Cards hitters had already proven their worth against Wagner. Rolen redeemed himself for a horrendous error with a one-out single. With that, our best playoff hitter -- who just happened to be our worst regular season hitter -- stepped to the plate: Yadi. Whack! Ballgame.


There was but one tiny hurdle left to clear: the bottom of the ninth. I told M heading into the top of the ninth, "If we're going to pick a time to score, now would be a good time." Not because it was, after all, the ninth inning. But rather because if we scored, the Mets had the bottom of their order coming up next. Their chances of scoring would be greatly diminished. Or would they?

Wainwright has been anything but Isringhausen-esque this postseason. He's been dominant, never clogging the basepaths with runners or flirting with disaster. But on this night, the NL's best offense would give this kid a true gut check.

Single. Single. Two on, nobody out. Wainwright can't locate his best pitch, the Hammer. Does Randolph bunt in this situation, moving both runners into scoring position? Nope. Does he send his best available hitter to the plate to pinch-hit for the pitcher? Nope. He bypasses Franco for Floyd. Bad call. The ump's strike zone is generous tonight, and Floyd goes down looking. The real Jose -- the guy it's hard to hate because of the smile, the chant, the youth, the passion, the talent -- digs into the batter's box and smokes a flat curve ball into center field. Edmonds is there. Like always.

All Wainwright needs to do is retire Lo Duca. Just get him out and Cardinals nation doesn't have to face its worst fears -- the man standing on deck, Beltran. Lo Duca works the walk. I let out a hundred half-intellible "fuck"s. The Cardinal Killer, at the plate, the Cardinals up by two runs, bases juiced, two outs, bottom of the ninth. This is baseball, folks. This is why we watch the game. This is why it's still the best game on Earth.

Strike one on a hittable fastball that Beltran doesn't offer at. Strike two on a curve that Beltran barely nicks. No way Wainwright is throwing another fastball to Beltran. Would he dare? He's been throwing a slider this inning, too. But that's his third-best pitch. He's gotta go with the Hook, right? Pull the string? It's one of the best curves in the business. With a sharp, downward break, it makes All-Stars look like scrubs. Even Cardinal Killers. Strike three, looking. Ballgame.


Will New Yorkers remember The Catch for years to come? I know I sure will -- because of how my team responded to it.


Rain rain, go away

Hats off to Jeff Suppan, who silenced the Mets' Murderers Row, and hit a home run himself in a stellar Game 3 performance. And hats off to the Mets Murderers Row, who awoke in Game 4 to remind me what a superior 3-4-5 looks like. With today's game rained out, I'll take a moment to reflect and predict. Considering that we're knotted up at two games a piece and the Cards have yet to get a maximum performance from either Pujols -- who is getting on base but not driving them in (because there hasn't been anyone for him drive in) -- or Carpenter, I feel pretty good about our odds to take two more games in this series. The home/road split now favors the Mets if the series goes seven. But we've got our two best pitchers slated to pitch in Games 6 and 7, and Mr. Weaver -- who all of a sudden has found his groove -- goes tomorrow. I think our pen will rebound well enough to keep us in games, and I hope that Pujols walks the walk against Glavine tomorrow (after talking the talk last week). La Russa says that Pujols is battling a sore hammy, and that is zapping some of his power. Hmmm ... not sure I believe that entirely, but whatever. The dude has been robbed a few times on hard hit balls this series; I think he's due.

In other news, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella to a three-year deal. Piniella, who just got his broadcasting partner Psycho Lyons fired, had been widely rumored to be taking over for Torre in New York. The guy was a Pro with a capital P as a player, a .291 career hitter for the Royals and Yanks. And he's been a successful Major League skipper, too, boasting a .517 winning percentage and World Series title. But more importantly, he's got a good record of turning around underperforming teams. In '90 he led the Reds to the title after the year's previous team -- much the same roster -- finished 14 games under .500. That team featured a lot of younger talent: Barry Larkin, Paul O'Neill, Eric Davis, Hal Morris, Chris Sabo, Mariano Duncan, Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, Jose Rijo, and Jack Armstrong -- all between the ages of 25 and 28. And under Piniella in '90 they gelled, burying the NL West competition by 9.5 games by July 1.

In '93, Lou took over in Seattle for a team that had won just 64 games in '92. The '92 club was near the league bottom in runs scored and runs allowed, but with Lou at the helm they improved markedly and finished two games above .500. After a set-back in the strike-shortened '94 season, Piniella's '95 Mariners won the division in a tight race down the stretch with the Angels. Again, Sweet Lou was working with several key younger guys like Griffey and Tino Martinez and some 19 year-old named A-Rod. The M's went on to greater heights -- including the remarkable 116-win season in '01 -- under Piniella.

After a great stretch with the Mariners, Piniella bolted for the money in Tampa Bay following the 2002 season, and here's where his managerial career takes a turn for the worse. But it's hard to blame Lou for the Rays woes, as no one could have done significantly better with such mediocre talent in a stacked AL West division. And Lou did get the most out of his young position players, as 21 year-olds Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford both had outstanding campaigns in '03.

Given his track record for righting the ship, and the Cubs solid mix of veteran and youthful talent, I expect good things from Piniella's new club next season. If he still has that fire in his belly -- his tirades against umps are legendary, and he once wrestled his own reliever in the clubhouse (and who can blame him considering it was Dibble?) -- then I expect the Cubs to find new motivation next season. Of course, a lot depends on what offseason moves they make. They have serious issues to work out in their pitching staff. And at 63 years old and shortly removed from the rebuilding Rays, one has to wonder if Piniella has the patience to handle a slow, youth-oriented makeover. It will also be interesting to see how his hiring affects the Cards-Cubs rivalry. It's safe to say that Baker and La Russa weren't best buds; but La Russa and Piniella are actually good friends who have bonded over their Tampa roots. Of course, they do have some history, thanks to Tony's stint in the AL prior to coming to the Cards. I wish I had the time to look up their head-to-head stats. (Oh, fuck it, here goes ... Take it for what it's worth, but Tony's teams have gone 40-32 against Lou's teams. But Lou got the best of Tony on the big stage, sweeping the A's in the '90 Series.)

Any Cubs fans care to chime in?


Cardinals win SOOOOOO satisfying

Illini Madness last night was a bit of a bore. Even Jeremy Piven couldn't raise the crowd from their feet -- at least not in the way he probably would have hoped. Piven only had the mic for a couple minutes, but in that time he managed to get the bulk of the Assembly Hall to boo him. In a bold -- but questionable -- move, Piven got political on a night in which a crowd of basketball fans just wanted to have a good time and forget about the fact that they had just lost the No. 2 recruit in the nation to Indiana. To paraphrase, he said that the kids in the building needed to stay in school so their brains could get bigger and they could overthrow the Republicans (he actually referred to the current administration and the hole they've got us in). I can't argue with the sentiment, but the timing was off and the conservative crowd let him have it. (Not sure what the UI donors who had a hand in getting him to attend thought about it...) He finished up by saying that Illinois was a blue state -- uh, Cook County is a blue county, but the rest of the state is up for grabs -- but on this night it was an orange state. That joke would have been all right on its own.

The evening on the whole only reinforced how white the crowd and school is: from the nearly all-white (one Asian) dance/cheer squads, to the pep band (please, at least bring back "Hey Ya!") to the Marching Illini drum line to the classic rock theme music that permeated the entire Madness event. Hell, even Coach Weber rode out on the court in a cop motorcycle side car sporting a leather Harley jacket (WTF?). We did get one taste of hip-hop culture, when an "up-and-coming" Chicago rapper named Renaissance performed (along with most of the Illini's black players), and the crowd responded much in the same way they did to everything else that night -- with silence.

Silence was exactly what filled up my household after the Madness ended, as M and I watched an incredibly ineffective Chris Carpenter struggle mightily against the Mets in the bottom of the first, much as he had in his last road start in the NLDS at San Diego. However, unlike he had done in the Padres start, Chris couldn't right the ship last night. He stunk, period. But luckily his teammates were not about to let him down. The Cards batters fouled off 26 two-strike pitches last night -- which culminated in spectacular at bats from Pujols in the 7th and Taguchi in the 9th -- and did almost all of their damage when their backs were against the wall. Once again, La Russa pulled the right strings, inserting Speez for Rolen, giving Carp a quick hook, and allowing the same rookies in the pen to carry the team in tight situations. After watching TLR flounder in previous postseasons (and regular seasons for that matter), I gotta give the guy credit this postseason. So far, he's managing the team like the Hall of Famer he will one day be.

I also need to revisit the Albert Pujols haiku I posted to the comments of Listmakers blog prior to the start of the series:

Brad Lidge fears me, true
Soon, Billy Wagner will, too
Mets fans will be blue

After last night's win, I need to write a new one for Mr. So Taguchi, the slayer of Billy Wagner:

As small as a flea
But you better respect me,
Mighty Taguchi!


This morning sucks, but today will ROCK!

A tip of the cap to the Mets, who took advantage of the Cardinals' one mistake last night and won, 2-0. The Mets got the seeing-eye hits (Lo Duca) and not the Cardinals (Belly twice was robbed, as was Pujols), and Jeff Weaver made one very poor pitch to Carlos Beltran. Ballgame. I like the fact that we held this vaunted offense to two runs (and really just two hard-hit balls), and that our pen did the job again. I'm feeling confident heading into tonight's game as we prepare to face the Mets less effective starting pitchers over the next few days.

Bad news for Illini basketball fans. Stud recruit Eric Gordon, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Indianapolis, is going to renege on his verbal committment to Bruce Weber and sign with Indiana. I won't bore you with the details -- which involve just about everything that muddies up the water of college recruiting -- but this is a HUGE blow for the Illini. Gordon was a Top 5 talent in the class of 2007. He was probably a one-and-done player anyway, but a team hoping to vault itself into the echelon of the Dukes/Arizonas/Kansases of the world can not continue to fail in recruiting top talent. Weber could coach a fivesome of circus monkeys into the NCAA Tourney, but without elite talent, Elite Eight runs are hard to come by.

Some will say, "Look at what he did last season after losing Williams and Head and Powell and Ingram..." But he still had two NBA players on that roster. Now, he arguably has none -- with no great prospects on the horizon. Still, I support the coach. He's honest, he knows his Xs and Os, and there are worse programs/coaches to model yourself after than Purdue and Coach Keady, who got the most out of the least year after year. The sad thing is, I strongly feel that if you give Weber just one stud, he'll give you an unforgettable team. It was true of Keady with Glenn Robinson, and the same would have been true of Weber with Gordon. Oh well, have fun at Indiana, EJ. Best of luck with Kelvin Sanctions as your coach.

I'm moving on. Tonight is Midnight Madness at the Assembly Hall, Jeremy Piven is the emcee, and I'm going to break the orange tee out of mothballs. Then there's Cardinal baseball to watch afterward (thanks DVR!). So today is looking up.

Plus, I just learned that Chavez's entire catalogue is being re-released by Matador on one CD. I own two-thirds of it already, but I may be getting the new release, Better Days Will Haunt You, simply to have my own copy of this video, which is included with the CD. I only saw this once on MTV back in the day, but I told everyone who would listen how it was the greatest music video ever. Sure enough, YouTube has a copy of it as well. It's still as great as I remember it being. That James Lo drum lick is the bomb. Enjoy.

Chavez - "Break Up Your Band"


20 things fans of the Pond Scum need to know about my Cardinals

(For the benefit of Listmaker and his readership.)

1. You didn’t intimidate us in ’86, we just felt sorry for ya. That’s all.

2. You got lucky against us in ’00; I wouldn’t hold your breath this time.

3. Don’t stray too far off of first, lest ye be picked off by the rifle that is Yadi Molina’s right arm. And be careful on your way down to second, Jose.

4. Beware “Belly”! He may be fat, but Ronnie Belliard is a gamer who likes to stick his tongue out of his mouth more often than His Airness, has been good in the clutch as of late, plays a deep second base, and makes the off-balance throw to first better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

5. Scott Rolen stinks right now, whether he (or his bum, surgically-repaired shoulder) wants to admit it. Pitch to him all day and all night, and watch him feebly pop up to short center field.

6. Chris Duncan (or “Chaw” as he’s called in my house) wears a skillet for a glove, but carries a mighty big stick, much like one former U.S. President.

7. Hollywood Jim Edmonds is suffering from “post-concussion syndrome,” whatever that means. He also has a tinge in his shoulder and an ouchy on his foot. Man, is he playing in pain. You will now cringe as the broadcasters remind you of this four times each game.

8. You do not want to face Chris Carpenter. Seriously, you better abduct him while he’s in St. Louis, otherwise you aren’t winning Game 3.

9. Don’t look Wainwright’s curve ball in the eyes — it’ll break your heart.

10. The only current Redbird to ever hit a homer off of Billy Wagner is … wait for it … a little longer … David Eckstein. (That just means Pujols is due.)

11. Speaking of the Big Guy, Albert the Great, he’s got two career hits against Maine in three at bats. Both of those hits left the yard. (Did someone say SEVEN RBI?)

12. That tuft of red hair on Speez’s chin is a year-long gimmick that won’t die. Please make it die. Pretty please?

13. I don’t like Tony La Russa. I think he’s overrated, so I guess we share something in common. But boy did he pull all the right strings in the NLDS. Too bad he has a habit of choking in the NLCS and beyond.

14. About the veggie lovin’, animal huggin’, former middle-infield scrub: He’s having a hard time deciding whether to start veteran Jason Marquis and his 6.02 ERA in Game 4, or rookie Anthony “Hey! Did you forget that I one-hit the White Sox this year?” Reyes. Them’s smarts. That’s what a law degree will getcha.

15. Soup — or Sooooooooooup if you’re really feeling it — is our version of Greg Maddux, minus the Hall of Fame credentials. Laugh all you want, but Delgado, Green, and Beltran are hitting a combined .172 against him in his career.

16. I don’t know why So Taguchi is on a Major League roster either, unless it’s to up our cute factor. (But isn’t that why we acquired Eckstein?)

17. Juan Encarnacion collected ONE RBI in his first 19 games this year. Everyone hated him. Then he had a game-winning triple in Game 4 of the NLDS. Now everyone loves him.

18. Jeff Weaver is one ugly motherfucker.

19. We will not let Braden Looper beat us. He’s been relegated to mop-up duty, unless the rest of our inexperienced pen implodes. (Very doubtful: we’ve got Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Brad Thompson, Randy Flores, and Josh Hancock on our side — all names that strike fear into the minds of opposing batters.)

20. Those who pitch around Pujols are pussies. Smart baseball, my ass!


Changing my tune

So I'm a little more interested in the NL playoffs now. Cards vs. Mets has the makings of a good series. More on that in a second.

First, let's review my playoff predictions. I missed out on the A's and Mets, and really screwed up in having the Dodgers going all the way to the Series. They were my Big Mo team, the team no one was talking about that I felt had a good shot to ride a wave of momentum into the Series. Their pitchers did keep the ball in the yard -- allowing just two homers in three games -- but unfortunately the ball was sprayed all over the yard, especially with runners in scoring position. I was also wrong in the AL, calling the A's-Twins match up the "series to watch". The A's really stepped it up a notch, especially their starting pitching.

I was absolutely correct, however, on the Cards and Tigers. Detroit's pitching was too much for the Yanks, just as I predicted. Did you see Zumaya hitting 103 on the gun? If The Gambler has any mojo left, look out A's. I like the match up of two deep, talented staffs in the ALCS.

I was also dead-on with the Cards. The Cards scored runs early in their victories, making the Padres pen a non-factor. Surprisingly, however, they also did a great job of keeping the Padres from scoring. Part of that can be blamed on some fluke-ish poor hitting in the clutch from San Diego. But honestly, that lineup is not going to put the fear of god in any opposing staff this side of AAA. Sure, they were a good hitting club in the regular season, but they lack big boppers and they are a far cry from the Cards next opponent: the Mets.

I'm taking infield grounders this week before the start of the NLCS by reading Jeff Pearlman's tribute to the rowdy, skirt-chasing, assholes of yore, the '86 Mets. Sadly, there's been no definitive tome written on the White Rat's Runnin' Redbirds ... yet.

I wonder what Listmaker is doing to ready himself for this sure-to-be-classic NLCS slugfest? Growing a playoff beard? Wearing the same, smelly Mets cap to bed every night? Asking the baseball gods to locate Sidd Finch and rush him to the Mets rotation? Or maybe checking to see if Seaver and The Doc still have live arms? Inquiring minds want to know. Would Listmaker be up for posting an NLCS preview of the Mets on my blog, in exchange for me giving him a post to his blog on the Cards?

I guess I just needed to warm up to the idea that my Redbirds were good enough to win a playoff series, and now that I am, I'm ready to watch some NL baseball. On the wall of my office at work, staring at me all day long, is a shrine to Cardinals past. (Sure, that may sound cheesy, but I do work at a sports publisher, so it also makes some sense.) Nine framed black and white photos adorn the wall: The Dean brothers, Gibby, Rajah, Flood, Country Slaughter, the Gashouse Gang, Brock, and The Man. But the ninth in particular has caught my eye right now: a photo of Boyer, Gibson, and McCarver hugging on the mound after the '64 Cardinals knocked off another New York team, the Yankees, to win the Fall Classic. Fans are spilling over the 12-foot-high outfield fence at Sportsman's Park, preparing to storm the field. Maybe, just maybe, this'll be the year...


My new favorite band

Meet Black Lips, who hail from Atlanta. They puke on stage. They play their guitars with their dicks. They drop-kick each other. They love feedback like no other. They play with the shittiest equipment money can buy. They're fucking stoopid. They've been banned from a slew of clubs and stiffed by an army of promoters. They don't shower and they refer to themselves as "Flower Punks". And they covered one of my favorite obscuro garage rock tunes of all time -- Jacques Dutronc's "Hippie Hippie Hoorah" -- on their 2005 full length Let It Bloom.

Greg Shaw signed 'em when they were still in their teens. Then they went to In the Red and now they're on the hip Vice Records and are opening shows for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Who knows how long they'll be this good. See for yourself...

Black Lips - "Fad"


Who's excited for the NL playoffs? Not I.

We've been hearing all about it for the past few years: the AL reigns supreme over the NL. The point has been driven home in All-Star games and World Series alike. ESPN is the leading booster, making certain we know it's so by pumping as much AL-related content down our throats as possible. (We must have deep throats, too, considering all the fucking Red Sox-Yankees-White Sox games we had to choose not to watch this year.)

But the truth is, well, the truth: the AL is superior to the NL. This year's playoffs will surely cement that point as Fact No. 1 in baseball's collective conscious. Think about it: In the AL you've got four supremely talented teams paced by exciting players (yes, even the Tigers have Pudge, Jonesy's handlebar stache, and a 100-mph-throwing phenom named Joel Zumaya, who you will know soon enough); in the NL you've got, uh, Pujols? Do the Padres get your blood pumping? No, not even in their camo jerseys. Not even when Trevor "The All Time Saves Leader" Hoffman toes the rubber to unleash a nasty 74-mph change up. Not even with Mike "Tight Pants" Piazza batting clean up and Brian "I Will Walk 500 Times" Giles in the two-hole.

What about the Dodgers? Sure, they've got Nomah (when he's healthy enough to play) and JD Drew (when he's healthy enough to play) and Kenny Lofton (when he's healthy enough to play) and Brad "my career highlight came when I struck out the side in the '06 All-Star game" Penny. But they've also got at least one player who is nearly impossible to root for -- Jeff Fucking Kent -- and a legion of no-name, good-play rookies.

How about the Mets minus Pedro? They've still got Glavine and El Duque and Wagner and a scary lineup ... but you gotta admit that without Pedro, you find yourself doing a huge double-take before handing over the NL pennant to the Mets. Pedro had been unhealthy and ineffective for the entire second half of the season, so the Mets won't really miss him. (They were 54-35 at the break this year, and just a tick worse at 43-30 after, even as Pedro posted just two wins and an ERA north of seven.) But still, this is Pedro we're talking about. You can't really believe New York's chances will improve by inserting a rookie into Pedro's spot in the rotation, or needing to count on a strong start from the likes of Steve Trachsel.

And then there's my Cardinals, who finished the year doing their best impersonation of a ticking time bomb. I know ya'll are sick and tired of hearing me babble on about Sir Albert Pujols, but if you really don't think that he's deserving of the MVP Award, then you don't know jack about baseball. He ended our most recent 7-game losing streak just in time with yet another walk-off homer to ensure that we had a fighting chance of fending off the reigning NL pennant-winners, those pesky (steroid using) Astros. The Cardinals suck, folks. I mean, they suck bad. Only in this weak-ass NL playoff picture do we actually stand a chance at winning a division series, even if no pundit on Mother Earth will put their rep on the line and pick us to do so.

So, am I excited by the prospects of watching my Cards fall behind early and often to the Padres? Am I anxious to see Greg Maddux face off against Tom Glavine in a battle of 40-something ex-teammates? Uh, FUCK NO. The only thing worth watching in this year's playoffs is the play of Jose Reyes, who is the best player in the NL not to have his name thrown into the MVP voting ring. (When was the last time your team's leadoff hitter smacked 66 extra-base hits, drove in 81 runs, and swiped 64 bases?)

For once, I'll be much more interested in watching the AL, where I will take pleasure in watching the Tigers embarrass Joe Torre's crew (one can hope) while the playoffs best series -- Twins v. A's -- develops one for the ages. And by the way, a big FUCK YOU to Major League Baseball for having Santana v. Zito be the fucking NOON game on Tuesday. Why, you ask, would baseball be so dumb? Oh, so the Yankees can have primetime to themselves. ESPN, Fox, and MLB needs to grow some balls and kindly do what's right for baseball fans around the globe whose teams aren't in the hunt -- whom their new playoff advertisements are oddly enough targeting -- instead of worrying only about the ratings. Give us a chance to actually watch some exciting baseball this October. Better yet, allow Oakland fans to actually watch some evening playoff baseball instead of sticking them with the early morning game every time out.

Okay, moving on ... I've got one last tidbit to tidy up from earlier in the season. Way back at the end of April, when Pujols was ripping the cover off the ball much as Ryan Howard did in Half Two, I made the following prediction as to how Albert's season would finish up. Of course, I didn't foresee the oblique strain that would sideline him for 15 games, permanently altering his season when he was in peak form. But, for comparison's sake, let's see how he ended up.

My April prediction is listed first, followed by his actual production (asterisk denotes career high).

Plate appearances: 675/634
Walks: 140/92
At-bats: 515/535
Hits: 182/177
2B: 36/33
HR: 52/49*
RBI: 123/137*
Runs: 148/119
On-base %: .487/.431
Slugging %: .753/.671*
Avg: .353/.331

Conclusion: While he missed my high marks overall, Pujols still posted some career highs in key categories. But the Cards' lack of punch hurt Sir Albert, as his run total was down this year despite homering at a career-best rate. For the first time in four seasons, he won't lead the league in runs scored.

We also know that opposing managers were foolish. Given his 24 game-winning hits (tying Willie Mays for best ever) and the fact that he killed with runners in scoring position, Albert should have been walked more frequently. He was intentionally walked a career-best 28 times, but that was less than Ryan Howard's 37 IBBs. Given Howard's lack of productivity with runner's on, that difference is a bit perplexing. Pundits love to point to that stat in affirming why Howard should get the nod over Pujols in MVP voting, but that's just silly. Why put such stock in a number that is essentially based on reputation and not in the player's immediate control? There's no shame in Howard being the NL MVP, but it won't make it right should it happen.

To wrap up this post, here are my postseason predictions...

Howard, PHI (I'd give it to Pujols, of course)
NL Cy: Carpenter, STL
NL Manager: Girardi, FLA
AL MVP: Jeter, NYY (although I'd give it to Mauer or Morneau)
AL Cy: Santana, MIN (for shits and giggles, compare him to Wang, who also finished with a 19-6 record)
AL Manager: Leyland, DET

Cardinals over Padres in 5
The Padres have learned the hard way to walk Pujols late in games, but for once the Cards offense will jump on top first, allowing Pujols to do enough damage early in games and negating the Padres solid pen.
Dodgers over Mets in 5
Gutsy call, and not a popular one. Penny and Maddux didn't fare too well versus the Mets in the regular season, and Penny specifically has stunk it up since the break. But I like LA's chances with a staff that keeps the ball in the yard. And something just tells me that this isn't the Mets year. (See: Pedro)
Dodgers over Cardinals in 5
Unless Pujols suddenly becomes Babe Ruth and toes the rubber, I don't see the Cards advancing any farther in the playoffs. They were 7-0 against the Dodgers this year, but they're going to be 1-4 against them when it counts most.

Twins over A's in 5
I think this is the series to watch. Too bad I won't get to see much of it thanks to TV scheduling. On paper, this is the weakest of Beane's Moneyball teams. They struggled all season long offensively, but the Twins rotation is paper thin beyond Santana, so I see lots of offense in this series, despite two solid pens. Slight edge to the Twins.
Tigers over Yankees in 4
Great oh-fence for the Yanks, but can they keep their opponent from scoring? The Tigers offense pales in comparison. Still, I like the Tigers deep, consistent rotation and lights-out pen. Choke time for Torre and Co.
Tigers over Twins in 7
Great matchup, but will anyone pay attention to two northern midwest teams? Unless Santana figures out a way to start four games, I don't see the Twins taking out the Tigers. Mauer keeps 'em in it until Game 7, when The Gambler blanks 'em through seven and Zumaya, his arm ready to fall off, slams the door shut with 102 mph fastballs at the knees.

Dodgers over Tigers in 6

So what if no one else saw this coming? The difference maker here is that the Dodgers are the fresher team, having taken care of the Cards in five. Takashi Saito pitches five scoreless innings of relief to notch three saves, and everyone in the country learns how to correctly pronounce his name. Meanwhile, Jeff Fucking Kent hits a game-winning home run, and Nomah, wincing in pain after every swing, delivers his own walk-off home run in the clincher against Todd Jones, who curses his handlebar stache after the game as having betrayed him for the last time!

Am I nuts? Rob Neyer agrees with me regarding the Dodgers, so maybe so. Just a hunch. After all of my earlier talk of the AL's dominance, I think this may be the year the NL gets even. Ever the optimist, I suppose.

What are your picks?