Cardinals Playoff Preview Among Other Things


It’s time to get serious my friends.  Tomorrow, the Cardinals engage the Braves in a one game playoff.   It seems sometime over last winter Bud Selig wanted to inject a dose of the NFL playoff atmosphere into the MLB proceedings, and give the fans an extra dose of excitement with a one game play in wild card contest.  Baseball purists objected but I like it.  Why?  It makes the last week of the season more interesting and makes EACH wild card team fight for a playoff spot.  Sure it’s not completely fair, but neither is life, so deal with it.  The 2nd wild card spot allows an extra game between the two Wild Card entries to fight it out in one game, one night, one matchup for a chance to go on to an actual playoff series.  It’s a rematch of 2011.  The Cardinals sneaked up on the Braves and stole the wild card spot in 2011, and then blew away the competition in route to their 11th World Championship.   Freddy Gonzalez and The Braves will pose a fight with their lefthanded lineup, great bullpen and encore taking Chipper Jones.   A couple(or few) thoughts about Friday.

*First, let me tip the cap to Lance Berkman.  On Wednesday night, he pinch hit in the 8th inning and got a standing ovation.   A guy that only got 82 at bats in 2012 due to severe knee trouble yet captured the hearts(including yours truly) with his comeback efforts in 2011.  Berkman will go down as one of the best, if not the best, switch hitters in baseball history.   A man who enjoyed a period of dominance with the Astros from 2002-2007.   He came here on a one year 10 million dollar deal in the winter of 2010.  He produced a thrilling season, capping it off with an at bat I will never forget.  In Game 6 of the World Series, after Josh Hamilton’s home run gave the Rangers a lead, Berkman came up in the bottom half of the 10th inning with Jon Jay at second base as the tying run.  Down to his last strike, with the Cardinals season hanging in the balance and the Rangers ready to knock us out after David Freese’s thrilling 2 run triple in the 9th to tie the game, Berkman flared a single to right center and tied the game.  That set the stage for Freese in the next frame to win the game.  Berkman is one of the most candid athletes in pro sports.  He shoots the media straight and doesn’t duck questions.  His body shape won’t be turned into a statue anytime soon because he resembled a softball slammer more than a professional athlete.  In a way, he was one of us.  Berkman is going to retire.  That’s what I think.  He could go to Houston and be a DH in 2013.  However, the pain in his knees won’t soon go away.  It will persist.  It cut short an amazing career.  After he tapped back to the pitcher Wednesday night, Berkman limped down to the first base bag, touched it and retired to the dugout.  A Cardinal for only 2 seasons he was given a sendoff that is consistent with St. Louis Cardinals fans.  I won’t sit here and call them the best in baseball.  That’s a ridiculous statement.  They are a pretty good bunch of supporters.   Berkman will be missed.

*The roster won’t be too hard to figure out.   Mike Matheny will keep more position players than pitchers.  15 fielders, 10 pitchers.   I expect Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson to be on their for their speed.  I expect, unfortunately, Fernando Salas and his straight fastball to be on the roster as well for the one game.  Unique to the new system, the manager can make a roster specifically for this one game play in game.  The roster can be then be changed when the winner goes home to face Washington, the top seed.  In 2012 only, the wild card winner will host the top seed.  The Cardinals just took 2 of 3 from the Nationals last weekend, so I like our chances.  Lance Lynn will probably back up Friday starter Kyle Lohse in the bullpen.  Lohse’s leash for danger will be short.  If he gets into trouble in the 3rd or 4th inning, he will be yanked.  This is do or die, so I expect Matheny to have a quick hook.

If I had to guess, the lineup will look like this.

Jon Jay-CF, Carlos Beltran-RF, Matt Holliday-LF, Allen Craig-lB, Yadi Molina-C, David Freese-3B, Daniel Descalso-2B, Pete Kozma-SS, Lohse-P.   That is the reality.  Here are my tweaks.  I would love to get Matt Carpenter in there because the utility bat of the year is hot and clutch.   However, Lohse deals ground balls so I want the defense of Descalso, at least for the first 5-6 innings.  Also, I would like to split up Descalso and Kozma so the bottom of the order isn’t so light hitting.  Put Molina down in the 7th spot and insert Kozma in the #2 hole in order to spark the top of the lineup with defense and load up the bottom half.  I don’t expect this to happen.  In going 12-4 down the stretch, the Cards will go with the lineup featured in the last two weeks and that’s fine.  I’m just providing my ideas.  Like an unneeded devoted fan firing off words here for his own good.  Roll along with me.

*The Cards made it into the postseason, officially.  Technically.  Give it a name but this team made it.  Through rapid inconsistency and frustrating up’s and down’s, the Cardinals battled through adversity and got into the wild card game.  It’s an accomplishment that anyone cares to argue with will be slapped without courtesy.  Every other team in the NL had a chance to get the 2nd wild card spot and failed.  The Cardinals proved that the season lasts 162 games and 6 months.  They played hard at the end when it counted.   They took 7 of 9 against the Cubs and Astros and finished by taking 4 of 6 from the two best teams in the NL who started their playoff lineups.  The Redbirds earned it.  In a way, we did it again.  Resilient and hard edged, perseverance was this team’s ally.  Throughout the season, injuries struck this team dramatically.  Chris Carpenter only made 3 starts.  Berkman missed months.  Allen Craig missed a month.  Jaime Garcia missed 2 1/2 months.  Skip Schumacher missed a month.  David Freese missed a month.  Yadi Molina turned into Conan the Destroyer and played through injury.  Bad knees weakened Beltran in August and September.  A bad back hindered Matt Holliday.  The Cards fought through with MVP efforts from Molina, who won’t win but deserves consideration for everything he does on a baseball field.  Catching, situational hitting, and leadership.   Allen Craig pumped 22 HR, 92 RBI and a .306 batting average.  Holliday and Beltran had solid seasons.  Lance Lynn replaced Carpenter, overcame a bullpen stint and won 18 games.  Lohse went 16-3 and deserved better.   A small trade made by John Mozelaik fortified a tough bullpen in August. When he traded for Edward Mujica and inserted him into the 7th inning, the last three innings of every game were on lockdown.  Mitchell Boggs led the league in holds and had an excellent season.  Jason Motte tied Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel for the NL lead in saves with 42, closing out the playoff chase in high style with 9 saves in 10 chances in the month of September.  For the first time in 6 seasons, one man accounted for all the saves on the Cardinals.

*Mozelaik and Matheny proved that bold decisions can lead to great efforts.  People dismissed Matheny as a manager, and he turned into a hard nosed veteran presence in the dugout.  Rookie mistakes were made, but Matheny is the 3rd Cardinals rookie manager to make the playoffs in club history.   Mozelaik rebounded from the loss of Tony La Russa, the loss of pitching coach Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols to install his confidence and team in the hands of Matheny.  In November, it was a bold move.  Nearly a year later, the decision has paid off.

*Speaking of Pujols, his high salary Angels didn’t make the playoffs.   They were outlasted by Texas and a team with the second lowest payroll in MLB in the Oakland Athletics.  Pujols finished with 30 HR, 105 RBI, and a .285 BA to go with 50 doubles and a lower on base percentage and lower walks total than 2011.  His numbers, overall, went down from the previous season, but he rebounded from a horrible start to put up solid power stats.   However, he is no longer the best player on his team.  Mike Trout took that over in 2012.   Pujols is just the 25 million dollar DH that may continue to fall.   It was his decision to leave St. Louis and he knows it.  More than simply a money decision, Albert felt betrayed by the Cardinals and ran off to LA.  What’s the difference between 210 million and 254 million?  Mix in California taxes and it’s not much, but Pujols left anyway.   He will never be an icon in LA.  He had the chance to be one in St. Louis and hold EVERY Cardinals record at the end of his career.  He gave that up and he did it alone.  GM Jerry Dipoto, the man who wooed Pujols away from St. Louis with one lovely phone call, is in danger of losing his job.  Mike Scorscia, a staple in the Angels manager spot, is on the hot seat now.  That’s a year’s difference for you.  Albert wins a World Series, walks away from St. Louis and decreases in starts at first base and watches his number suffer a little more and doesn’t make the playoffs.   OUCH!  From my point of view, Mozelaik’s decision to play “take it or leave it” with Pujols paid off big time.  Do the Cardinals make the playoffs with Pujols this year?  I am not sure.  His numbers were close, in some ways, to Carlos Beltran’s.  If we give Pujols 25 million, Lance Berkman doesn’t come back along with Beltran.  Seeing what happened to Lance, that wouldn’t be so bad.  However, Allen Craig would have played right field exclusively and we don’t know how long his weak legs would have held up over a whole season.  You can play “what if” with this scenario and come up right or wrong.  I like Mo’s decision to hang tough with an icon when he decided to pout.

*Chris Carpenter came back and impressed in his three outings.  No wins but a steady increase in mph on his fastball, efficient cut on his 2 seam fastball, and his curve getting more nasty with each start.  Against the Cubs, Astros and Reds, Carpenter threw 17 innings and allowed 7 runs and struck out over 10.  It was important for him to come back in 2012.  Prove to us he is ready for 2013 and gear up for the playoff run, if the Cards get past Atlanta.  The 2013 rotation is set.

*In some ways, I wonder why the Cardinals spent 9 million and brought back Jake Westbrook for 2013 even though they had Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller ready to take on a starter’s role in 2013.   Miller carried a no hitter into the 6th inning and struck out seven Reds last night.  Joe Kelly only got stronger in the rotation and exists as a deadly high octane bullpen threat on Friday.  Why spend money on Westbrook, who produced a solid 2012 season but went down with an strained oblique, if you have 2 smoking guns in the bullpen?  Kyle Lohse will depart in free agency because he will want 15 million per season for at least 4 years and Scott Boras will at least get him that after his brilliant season.  Along with Berkman’s departure, the Cards lose Westbrook and there is 32 million opened up in the books right there.   I guess Jake was insurance but he is costly insurance because I would rather see a young gun like Miller or Kelly take over the 5th spot in the rotation.  If the Cards don’t bring back Mujica, Trevor Rosenthal moves right into the 7th inning spot before Boggs and Motte.

*Nice to see a Cardinals farm system based lineup beat up the MLB stacked lineup of the Reds last night.   On a game that meant little in the grand scheme of things, Matheny used every Memphis farmhand he had in tow while Dusty Baker poured out his premium cable crew.  Shelby Miller, Jason Motte and Matt Carpenter took care of business.

*I liked Matheny’s choice to keep the players on the field after Wednesday’s 1-0 season finale.  The coaches and players tipped their caps to the Cardinals fanbase which grossed another 3.2 million in attendance in 2012, ranking 6th in baseball.  Behind all the premium markets on the West and East coast, the Cardinals faithful once again filled the seats.  They may be rewarded on Friday with a series starting at Busch Stadium on Sunday against the Nationals.  First, the Braves must be pushed down.  Along with Chipper Jones’ sendoff, the intriguing factor of the Braves-Cardinals one game matchup.  Bullpen.  The Cardinals and Braves have the top two closers, saves count wise, in the National League in Motte and Kimbrel.  Kris Medlen is white hot for the Braves rotation and Atlanta has won his last 23 starts, but I am guessing the Cardinals won’t go down without a fight.  Interesting note.  Brian McCann, a big lefthanded power bat, will not start tomorrow.  Never the less, The Braves have Michael Bourn leading off, Martin Prado, Freddy Freeman, Jones, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward ready to roll.

Other Things-

*What harm comes to the woeful New York Jets if they give Tim Tebow a start?  Mark Sanchez looked dreadful the past 2 weeks and as expected, is wilting under the pressure of the big city action and backup tension.   Tebow isn’t as polished of an arm as Sanchez, but is certainly more clutch.   Please don’t discount his 2011 heroics as luck.  In the brutally physical NFL, there is no such thing as luck.  Tebow may not be your typical QB, but he can do no worse than Sanchez.  He did beat the Jets last year when he miraculously led the Broncos to the playoffs, where he beat Pittsburgh in Heinz Field.  He is a big deal and a fan draw, so please tell me why not Rex Ryan?

*The resurgent St. Louis Rams of our northern tip of the city take on the Cardinals tonight.  The unbeaten 4-0 Cardinals.    This was probably an afterthought on the Thursday night football schedule, but they didn’t count on Jeff Fisher’s crew bullying Detroit, Seattle, Washington in route to their 2-2 record.   The Rams are gaining a reputation as a physically villainous bunch of skull crackers.  I like it.   If we win dirty, fine by me.  In the NFL, the record is all you have to worry about.  Let Roger Goodell worry about the “safety” of players.  

*Peyton Manning takes on Tom Brady in Foxboro.   Both quarterbacks have had decent 2012 seasons and each team is 2-2, so whoever leaves this game with their head up is a game changer for each icon.  As people, Manning and Brady are bigger than the game, with his comedy work in commercials and Brady’s off field life as Mrs. Gisele and the frontman for Under Armour.  This Sunday it’s all business.  Tune it in CBS.

*Don’t look here for Presidential debate comments.   Politicians are born comedians and professional liars.  I installed faith in Obama and while he did some good over 4 years(a hole in Osama’s head, thank you), he did a shitload of lying as well.  As a jobless man who needs income for his family, I can properly say, FUCK YOU BARACK.  Get this country some jobs assbag and keep your promise. Romney will be no different.  All talk and no walk.  In the next debate, there needs to be a drinking game involved and  both candidates need to be high as a kite during their questions.  If it’s drummed up theater, at least make it interesting or fun to watch.  Or let Clint Eastwood come back with his empty chair.  Tell these suits to get real jobs and stop draining my banks’ funds, stealing my patience and wasting my time.  Politics is a gladiator sport and I don’t like jail so I will stay away from the arena.  Please don’t fire off all your political knowledge in responses.  I will just laugh and click on.

My kid just woke up so I am going to wrap this up now.  I need to go be a good parent, take of my kid and be productive at home.  Since I am out of work, all I have is my home and family.  That’s life.  It’s not fun and games, but there is a dignity buried in the middle of it all.

Movie Checkup From the Doctor-

Taken 2 is exactly the trailer presents it as.  A straight up escapist action thrill ride with zero surprises and a commanding convincing performance from Liam Neeson.  It’s not Oscar worthy but its fun.   My need to watch movie is END OF WATCH, a brutally realistic and utterly shattering story about two LA cops.  It’s a 5/5 here and definitely Buffa approved for Oscar watch.

Don’t forget to check out my website, if you want anything having to do with movies.  Reviews, insight, DVD instant watch, showtimes, cinema spotlights or addicts corner to vent your thoughts.  Come on over and bring it.  We will respond.

Thanks for reading,

Dan L. Buffa


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