Good afternoon folks,
The time has come for me to put my spin on the news. Ready or not, here I come. Let’s pick up the sledgehammer and bash through the door on a calm rainy Thursday.
The Cardinals Train Keeps on Moving-Am I Looking at a vanilla sky?
Sitting here watching this team make a serious run at the playoffs carries all the benefits a fan could ever ask for, but it doesn’t seem real. I keep waiting for my arm to be pinched or the crooked suit from The Wire to slap me and go, “Shiiittttttt”. The Cards are 19-6 in their current stretch of domination, and for the folks who think its all easy team beating; those wins included victories over the Phillies, Braves and Brewers, three other playoff hunting teams. This is reminiscent of the Cards 2006 playoff run. After barely making it into the playoffs with 83 wins and facing the Padres, there wasn’t a soul on the USA sports deck who cut us a sliver of opportunity. All of a sudden, we swept the Padres. After, we outlasted the Mets in a knockdown
drag out 7 game series that ended with Adam Wainwright freezing Carlos Beltran
at the knees. With a Tigers team out of sync after a 10 day rest, the Cards dropped them for a 5 game series win and 10th World Series trophy. What happened there and what is happening here, may you ask? Timely efficient play.
Everything is falling into place for the Cards at the right time. Pitching, hitting,
move making, bullpen, and a decent amount of luck are playing roles here. The Cardinals are playing well and the Braves are sinking. Short term memories are best kept secrets in this game. The Cardinals starters are 13-3 with a 3.12 ERA while the Braves starters are 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA. The Cardinals are thriving with 2 out rallies, having sparked them on Tuesday and Wednesday night to come back and dethrone the Mets. April wins are nice, but September thrillers are sacred. This is the most important time of the year. This is when you have to be at your best. If teams can’t figure things out by September, they don’t deserve a playoff ticket. The Cardinals have put fans through one of the biggest roller coaster experiences. They have taken a zig zag approach usually reserved for the Blues. Up and down, down and out and back up again. A thrilling if draining brand of baseball. This is the same team that blew 24 saves, has grounded into 162 double plays and had their rotation fall apart in July. The moral of the 2011 Cardinals story is it doesn’t matter how you play from April through July but how you finish in August and September. Lets run down some clips.
*The starting pitching is legit. Jaime Garcia delivered 7.2 innings last night and allowed zero earned runs. The starters have rebounded from a power outage in July to become a strength in September. It’s not only Chris Carpenter who is delivering outstanding starts. Kyle Lohse delivered a clutch start in Philly. Edwin Jackson got beat up early yet held the Mets in check. Garcia shut down the Mets after a big inning last night. The bats can’t come back unless the arms slow the other team down and this month, Cards starters are pitching deeper into ballgames and making the job easier.
*As I mentioned above, the Cards are delivering huge 2 out rallies. On Tuesday night, down 6-5 in the 7th inning, the Cards had two outs before Albert Pujols singled to start a 6 run rally. David Freese delivered two huge hits last night, both coming with two outs. Unlike the 2010 team, a late deficit doesn’t seem the Berlin Wall. This team has the ability to put something together with 2 outs and nobody on base. A much needed trait in playoff baseball where pitching takes over games.
*Albert Pujols is having another amazing August and September run. Does his incredible finish have anything to do with the Cards surge? It’s hard to deny. Pujols is hitting .389 in the month of September with 20 RBI and 18 runs scored. AP is doing more than hitting home runs. He is starting rallies, getting big hits and doing the little things to help his team win. For 11 straight seasons, Albert Pujols is putting together an amazing season. What started out as a perplexing story in April, with Pujols hitting .230 and looking more like a double play machine than a hitting machine is turning into another productive campaign. His comeback coincides with the team’s recovery. The Cards couldn’t do this without Albert’s efforts. While others wanted to call it the early decline of Albert, I knew he was going to end up with the regular solid Pujols stats. He is a player I can’t spend too much time worrying about. A truly great player who simply adapts at a faster rate than any player in baseball. Pujols isn’t declining like Ichiro Suzuki and Joe Mauer are. Once again, the naysayers of Albert have been there his entire career. The negative cynics who hate to admit the man is a born machine who continues to defy normal standards set by players before him. Did anyone think he was going to end up with a .305-.310 batting average, 38-40 HR, 105 RBI, 105 runs, and 165 hits in July? Unfortunately, more than you think. When the season ends, the Cards will have to pay up because Pujols has put together a career like no other and is tougher than most. If anyone deserves a golden goose deal, it’s Albert Pujols. The Cardinals waited to sign Albert and now that he has completed a miraculous turnaround this year, the need to lock him up for the rest of his career is required. Do it!
*Seeing the Pujols deal ahead, Cards GM John Mozelaik is setting the tables by tying up loose ends on this team for 2012. This team is going to contend. Mozelaik is carving a contender with his moves. Anytime you resign veterans, the win now attitude is continuing. This morning, Lance Berkman signed a 1 year extension for 12 million, another solid move by Mozelaik. Berkman is also putting together an amazing finish to his comeback campaign, with numbers right behind Pujols. He was given a chance by the Cards and paid them back in full. He gets a 4 million dollar raise that limits the future liability of this team and sets up both sides for next season. This move benefits both sides in that it satisfied the team needs and Berkman’s desire to stay here. Also, Berkman’s extension is an insurance plan just in case Albert decides to walk. A good move on all sides. This is Mozelaik clearing the table for the Pujols negotiations. Taking care of the easier extensions and deals.
*Keeping Furcal won’t be hard. His down year will pull his price down. He came here to win a championship, gets to hit leadoff, play every day and play for an instant contender. Furcal is set up fine here. Cards offer him 1yr/6 million and he stays.
**NL Central looks weak and unsure next season due to contract indecision. The state of the division hinges on the destinations of Pujols and more importantly, Prince Fielder. The Cards can contend without Albert to an extent, but the Brewers will be weaker without Prince.
*Edwin Jackson has pitched very well for this team, but there is no spot for him on this team in 2012. All 5 starters in the Cards rotation are set. Carpenter, Wainwright, Garcia, Lohse and Westbrook. All contracts are guaranteed and that is fine by me. Unless you can move Westbrook or Lohse, the group is set and that’s also good for table setting. Jackson is young and talented, but he doesn’t blow teams away. Every one of his starts is a grinder and while he has better stuff than Lohse or Westbrook, he struggles just as they do to complete quick innings. As much as I like this pitching and his youth, he won’t be back.
*What does the rest of the season bring? Thrillers, drama, heroics, headaches and a payoff that’s the greatest of endings. After 6 months of devotion and hope, all fans want is playoff action. We sit at a poker table in April, place a bet, make raises and holds, and wait for a payoff. It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the next 6 days or where this team will be in October, but this current ride is pretty fun and worth the wait. I still don’t believe its happening, but I am along for the ride.
Let’s hit some other topics before coming back to the Cards final stand.
Rams Motiviation Technique
After my unplugged venting on Monday night, I’m ready to settle down and talk about this team.
*The trend of this teams play bothers me more than their record. Special teams getting in trouble, rough turnovers, penalties, the resistence to playing rookies and the ability to score touchdowns in the red zone. Starting out 0-2 in the weakest division in football isn’t detrimental. Its the way this team is playing.
*Risky roster cuts coming back to haunt the Rams. Cutting talented if brittle receiver Donnie Avery stands out. Marty Gilyard could return kicks as well as line up. There was a feeling I knew what the Rams were doing at the time but now I wonder if the right moves were made.
*On second thought, sitting Steven Jackson was smart. forcing a player with a muscle strain in Week 2 is a bad idea. If SJ isn’t 100 percent, he can’t play because his liability is too high two games into the season.
*Sam Bradford’s play is encouraging. He is making throws and driving the team down the field. His yards, rating and average per catch is solid. A couple bad turnovers have hidden a quality start from the kid. Bradford is everything you want in a QB. Smart, accurate, demanding and carries a short term memory. Now we’re waiting for results.
*The Rams can move the ball, but can they push it into the end zone. Monday night, we were inside the 10 yard line twice and failed to get 7. Do something and get a 7 spot. Hand off to Jason Brown or throw a fade to the corner of the end zone. When you enter the red zone, you better leave with 7 points or you give the other team a pass.
*Throw the ball to Danario Alexander. Throw it to him on 1st down. Throw him the fade to the back of the end zone. Get that kid the ball. If he is covered, somebody else gets freed up. *The offensive line needs to give Bradford more time.
*Our run defense needs to step up. We’re getting run over all in the these first two games while our secondary is getting ripped for big plays. Defenses work like a ballet in football. Each group hinges on the play of the other groups on the field. The defensive line getting pressure helps the secondary and safety and the initial contact of the line helps the linebackers set up for the run or short pass. The Run defense needs to step up its play or the offense doesn’t get a chance. While the main culprit so far is the offense, the defense needs to be less sloppy, stay away from penalties and do a sharper job.
*This week, Baltimore comes to town and we know a few things about them. We know Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs can ruin a quarterbacks week. Lewis brings the heat from all directions while Suggs goes for your spine and Reed waits for the mistake. The Ravens are a talented team yet beatable. If you get protection, they can be defeated. The Ravens destroyed The Steelers in Week 1 and got beaten by The Titans in Week 2. The difference? Turnovers. Pressure on the QB and the lack of a Joe Flacco attack. The offensive line works in each corner this week. The Rams get pressure and cause Flacco to throw INT’s. The Rams offensive line keeps Bradford on his feet and good things can happen. Another test lies in front of the Rams. Will they learn from their mistakes and make plays or once again fall prey to a better team? One can argue the Eagles, Giants and Ravens are better than the Rams, but that doesn’t turn into losses Sunday. The ability to make plays in the pocket, stop a team on 3rd down and do the little things to win do.
NFL Takes of The Week-
*Tony Romo plays well in the 4th quarter overall, yet makes horrible decisions that stand out further. Two weeks of action and we see both shades of Romo. Week 1 where he blows 14 point lead and turns the ball over twice. Week 2 where he gets clobbered and hurt early, comes back late and helps his team eliminate a 14 point deficit. A mixed bag set in stone that will always take smack for failing in the most important moments and laughing about it. Unlike Marc Bulger, Romo walks away from an interception smiling, and if I were the Cowboys fanbase, I would be enraged. Today, Romo can’t move around without severe pain and that’s what happens when you get two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. In order to be efficient for his team, Romo needs to get hurt first.
*Put down the Cam Newton kool aide. While I admire and have written on his early solid play, lets not start the comparisons wheel already. It’s an amateur move by the media to throw Newton into the Brett Favre comparison talk. It’s a ridiculous claim that’s bent in the wrong direction and isn’t fair to anyone. Lets try something. Stop comparing him to other quarterbacks. Let’s let him play. A couple years of action and then a status report. The sports world lives and breathes on weekly ideas, but they get into trouble with serious comparisons. When I start comparing Jason Motte to a crazier version of Bruce Sutter, shoot me.
*Name one team that’s hard to beat and I have to say the New England Patriots. As much as I love to see the call stealing, mighty unstoppable creepy Belechick-Brady train, they are hard to doubt. The only way you can beat them is to put pressure on Brady. The only way they lose is if you knock Brady off the field and put the emphasis on their defense, which is “bend if don’t break” built. The Giants beat the Patriots by constantly pressuring Brady, making him move in the pocket. The Ravens beat the Patriots by stopping Brady and running the ball all over the defense. Akin to the Eagles and Vick, you stop him and you stop the Patriots. Their play functions off the play of the quarterback. Guess what? Right now, no team can stop the Tom Brady Machine empowered by the La Russa stoned brain of Bill Belechick. Picture Albert Pujols as a forthcoming nice media guy who says all the right things and you have Brady. I would like to shoot him in the face because he is so good, but right now, I just can’t. Add in the fact that he has to go home to the ugliest woman on the planet in Gisele Buncheon and its hard to not like his chances.
*If the Rams fail to win this division with the lack of talent within the division, the embarrassment will settle in quick. While I don’t expect the Rams to knock every good team they face, I do expect them to take care of business against the lesser teams in the division, even the Kevin Kolb enabled Cardinals. Going from 3-13 to 7-9 in one season was satisfying, but the thirst needs to be quenched with a return to playoff activity and given the lack of talent in the division, the Rams have every reason to take advantage. The NFC West is a joke, but the bigger joke will be missing out on a golden opportunity. Easy division can still produce a Super Bowl contender.
*The Giants players faking injuries is pure sacrelige. Wrong in every way one can imagine. While the Rams were driving down the field in a no huddle offense, the Giants decided to have two players drop to the field in order to get a break from the action. The NFL responded by sending out a memo to all teams preaching the idea of an honor code. Sam Bradford said he heard two Giants players whisper to each other, “someone go down”. That’s just bad for football.
Interesting Things about baseball’s late season dive-
*Boston’s collapse. After spending a ton of money on Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and resting his ace of the staff duties on John Lackey, the Red Sox are putting together a regretful finish. They are 5-16 this month. It’s a combination of bad defense, bad pitching and an awake or dead offense. Scary stat. If the Red Sox don’t score 12 runs, they are 1-15 in September. They just got beat by the Baltimore Orioles in a pivotal series. That’s similiar to the Cardinals losing the season in 2010 to teams like Pittsburgh and Washington. Their collapse coincides with Tampa Bay’s riveting surge. Tampa Bay lost Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and got off to a horrible start. Now they are standing tall. Every season comes down to playing well in September folks.
*Best 1-2 pitching combo in baseball. Move over Halladay and Lee. Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde are coming on as the ultimate game day combo. Verlander leads the AL in 24 wins and every major pitching category and Valverde is 47 for 47 in save opportunities. Deadly. Quietly a dangerous team in the postseason.
*The Phillies, Braves and Brewers are playing shitty September baseball. While this may not mean playoff subtraction, the quality of a team’s play does roll into October. Remember 2009 and the Cardinals enduring a horrible final 10 games before getting swept by the Dodgers? Playing well in October is all about finishing well, unless you’re the 2006 Cardinals.
Blues News of the Week-Along with winning their first two preseason games in a home/away series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blues endured bigger news yesterday. Max Chambers, a Calgary businessman, made a 167 million collar proposal to buy the Blues and was rejected. This is a development I find unfortunate and short sighted. Dave Checketts is trying to find a buyer for his main investor, Towerbrook Corporation. Tom Stillman’s group offered a proposal near the 110-120 million range. Chambers’ offer is the highest offer this team will get. Towerbrook wants 190 million, which is ridiculous and out of the question. Logic is leaving here. Forbes Magazine lists the Blues value at 165 million, which calls one to wonder why Towerbrook rejected the offer. Where is the other offer making them hold out? Why the wait? Chambers told the STL Post Dispatch that he wanted to inject 8-10 million into the payroll(currently at 52 million) and craft a Stanley Cup playoff team and keep the team in St. Louis. Checketts isn’t to blame here, because he wants to remain in the ownership and is trying to find a way to remove Towerbrook from the picture. Chambers’ offer is the best offer this team will get. Finding a stable owner by the start of the season was important, and now the future of this team’s ownership appears in doubt. I assume Chambers offer will remain on the table. However, what does that say about Towerbrook Corporation. They can’t seriously be asking for 25 million above the listed value of a team, can they? The sale of the Blues gets delayed once again.
Appreciate the good start by the Blues in the preseason, but don’t take it too far. Preseason wins are as worthy as a decent shit. Once you hit flush, the victory ceases to exist. You’ll never hear me write that spring training wins mean good things for this team. The Rams went 4-0 in the preseason and are 0-2 in the games that count. The serious Blues sections here come when real games are played. Having said that, I like their start.
The Other Topics-
*Underrated Movie of the moment. Book of Eli, currently playing on cinemax. A movie that thrives on the starpower and great acting of Denzel Washington. There are a handful of movies that stay alive due to a great script, direction or sheer audacity of the action scenes. Book of Eli is carried by one of the best actors in the game. Washington plays Eli, a road warrior with one goal. Get a sacred book across the country while battling evil and avoiding distraction. One of the distractions comes in the form of Gary Oldman’s boss, who wants the book for his own gain. A movie that speaks one language. Action power. The idea that if a book ended up in the wrong hands, the entire world may lose its soul. Eli is a mysterious man with lethal abilities, but we do know his motives are heroic and driven by a need to fulfill a mission. The supporting cast is fine here, but Washington’s ability to convincingly transform into an action star while maintaining his dramatic range is the strength of this film. Add that to some amazingly choreographed action scenes and you have a devilishly good film about survival of the fittest.
*Side Cards Note-Allen Craig cranks a 431 foot homer to put the Cards up 2-0 in the finale of the series this afternoon and also doubled in the third. Craig is becoming a serious power bat to complement the outfield for 2012 and making a mad claim to a spot with his September finish. Craig came up in 2009 and didn’t do well. Too many holes in his swing like Joe Mather. In 2010, he made adjustments and collected some huge hits and finish with solid numbers. This season, he started well, got hurt, and has come back with an ability to take over games. He hit two home runs off Roy Halladay on Sunday and hit a shot off Chris Capruiano today. Quietly, Craig is becoming the Cards secret weapon in this stretch run.
*Song of the Day-
The National-Apartment Story
While I celebrate the hidden jewels and wonder of their latest album, High Violet, I present to you an older selection from this great indie rock band. Taken from their first crack into stardom, The Boxer, comes this track about salvation in the form of a crowd of familiar souls. Lead singer Matt Bomer’s painfully brutal voice fills the lyrics with a sincerity that you can’t teach and the supporting instrumental empowers the track. It’s a good track for a calm fall day. Enjoy and ask for more National. This is a band you truly have to seek out because they won’t come to your doorstep on the radio or MTV. An independent talent. It’s plain old moody rock ballads with a tragic tale about individualism, innocence lost and the healing power of music.
*The Cardinals are playing very well lately, but they carry a weary reluctance to put teams away with early opportunities. They wasted a bases loaded chance to add on last night in the 4th and this afternoon they have wasted two situations with a runner in scoring position and less than 2 outs. They must create an ability to step on the throat of teams.
*Hardest lesson for a new parent. Being able to decipher between a standard crying session and a loud furious scream. Dealing with all the levels in between. Vincent has a way of gearing up for crying that it makes our job harder. Three reasons a baby starts to cry fall on needing a diaper change, wanting to feed and needing to sleep but being unable to get him to relax. Finding out what’s wrong when all three have been met is dangerous ground that results in me picking him up and rocking him to sleep. You also have a schedule that needs to be kept so he doesn’t keep you up all night. A great line from Will Arnett on the new NBC series, Up All Night, comes when he asks his wife, played by Christina Applegate, if this is real. “Are we dead?” A great moment for any new parent to see because of how frequently you are up in the middle of the night and standard hours are thrown out the window. The fight wages on.
*Albert hits a bomb to left on first pitch. 37th homer of the season, bringing him closer to 100 RBI and getting his batting average up to .306. A down season by Albert is a dream season for anyone else.
*Manny Rameriz wants reenstatement and will serve his ban for his second strike using steroids. After leaving the game and beating up his girlfriend, Manny wants to go play again. The role of a housewife doesn’t fit him. Can you picture Manny mowing the lawn or doing the dishes?
*By the way, who the fuck wants to do dishes? Nobody wants to do dishes.
*Whether you like or dislike Ben Affleck, his Madden 2012 commercial narrations are awesome. His Boston swagger talking about the internal battles of digital football war is priceless. Here’s a taste.
*Jake Westbrook is the kind of guy who you send on a beer run and trust him to not drop the easy 24 pack on the way back or get robbed by a group of hitters. He walks a lot of people, gives up long innings of stress inducing baserunner misery, and makes every start a gamble on your mortgage. He has 12 wins, but has enabled 1200 Cardinals fans to become drug addicts during his turns on the mound. He makes the game of pitching a riddle of unconventional proportions when it comes to getting 18-21 outs with the lead. He is tough to watch, like the guy crossing the street with a coffee, the newspaper and a blackberry in his two hands as he checks out the hot chick in the lobby. Today, he is working with a 4-1 lead in the 6th inning and even when he gets out of it, you feel like you need a shot of whiskey.
Footnote-This rant is going on and on, but only because I love doing live incerpts as I go about my business here. Some of my rants are 2,500 word quick hits, but this 4500 word monster will go down as an uneven mess but a worthy walk into the wild badlands of failing to shut the fuck up. Don’t blame me. Blame the mind that doesn’t stop firing. I always have something to talk about.
*Corey Patterson is still employed in the major leagues. An additional useless hack from the Rasmus-Jackson trade. Patterson doesn’t do anything well. He can’t play the outfield that well anymore. He can’t hit. He can’t steal a base. My bet is he can’t even make a good spaghetti sauce. Patterson is a classic La Russa crush, because he’s over 38 years old, occasionally gets a hit and grows a fine beard. When he gets to the plate, you write down a K on your scorecard.
*Deweys is the dinner destination for the Buffas. Thats right. A large brooklyn style pizza that’s so good and fresh you’d bet that a group of tiny italian elves made it supported by a large caesar salad that gets mixed with the perfectly seasoned dressing that it makes you lick the plate clean. Add a pint of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and lightning may strike your colon.
*Shows to avoid on television. Network bullshit. Zooey Deschanel is adorable and talented, but her new sitcom New Girl is poorly conceived, badly written, and carries that unreal sitcom set aspect that distracts from appreciating the show. It’s just bad. 23 minutes of boredom that annoys. She’s a 30 year drama queen who gets dumped and moves in with 3 guys and bores the shit out of them so much they fall in love with her. Three men and a lady. She sings to herself, sings about her status and watches Dirty Dancing over and over. After 23 minutes, when the guys rescue her from a bad date, you want to drop a grenade in her apartment. This is being hailed as the next TV hit, but let me tell you only having a week off and a lazy remote hand allowed me to run into this worthless piece of FOX created shit. Give me another prescription for House instead. I’ll spend 43 minutes with a cranky entertaining narcisistic doctor rather than hang out with an emotional drama queen who doesn’t even take her clothes off.
*Cards lead 4-1 in the seventh with Arthur Rhodes on the mound. Going from Westbrook to Rhodes is like exchanging a heart attack for triple bypass surgery. Switching from a t-bone to a ribeye poorly undercooked. Another La Russa fossil child. As I polish off this tormented section, Rhodes records a 1-2-3 inning. Works every time.
*Take a shit on Killer Elite all you want critics, because it won’t stop me from enjoying the latest Jason Statham asskicking fest with a little added spice in the form of Robert De Niro and Clive Owen. These films aren’t made to receive good reviews. They are crafted to create an entertaining experience that critics can’t understand. Moneyball is the more likely pick and I can’t blame you for that because Billy Beane’s story is wildly engrossing and Brad Pitt’s live wire tactics make it very interesting. However, The Killer Elite is a movie I have been waiting for all year. The early fall action packed thrill ride. It’s a one course meal. Take it or leave it.
*Let me answer a question. Real Steel, with Hugh Jackman as a former champion boxer turned robot trainer, looks far fetched and retarded. However, on second glance, you see the father-son relationship as the heart of the film. The idea of rescuing your life by proving yourself to your son by building and training a robot boxer. Anyone who likes Rock Em Sock Em robots also has an interest in this film. It may not be the future, but it’s entertaining. Every film isn’t made to win awards. Some just want to entertain. Certain wonders, like the Town, Inception, and Dark Knight, can do both.
*Sons of Anarchy is the current show to watch. A show about a biker club battling the authorities and rival clubs for control of Charming, a small city in California, is entertaining and well made. Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunman lead a cast that also includes the lovely Katey Sagal. Kurt Sutter created this FX gem as a story about family values within a criminal corporation and this is a case where you root for the bad guys that carry the least amount of evil. FX is quietly becoming a versatile series powerhouse.
That marks the end folks. There isn’t much left to say and if there is, the content waits for another time and day. Every day is another chance to get something important done. Savor the flavor of today’s accomplishments and move on. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.
Goodnight and good luck,
Dan L. Buffa