Cards Aim For Home Field Advantage

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Let me just start by saying starting Jake Westbrook is a bad idea today.   It’s a “thanks for your services” giveaway from the Cards but it comes at a bad time.   In this day and age, I would think 9 million dollars for pitching half a season in 2013 would suffice but what do I know about sports politics.   The Cards control their fate today in the quest for home field advantage and Westbrook’s troubled right arm stands in the way.  Sitting at 96-35, one game ahead of the Braves and in the top spot in the NL ranks.   We aren’t just leading in run differential and RISP production.  Once again, the Cardinals sit atop the league with the best record.   Why give that away so Westbrook can feel better about his self esteem?   I would rather get ahead 6-0 first like the past 2 games this weekend over the Cubs and then insert Jake Westbrook.   He won’t be on the postseason roster, or at least he shouldn’t be.  If you have Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons in your pen, why do you need to give a highly important charitable spot to an aging vet with nothing to offer?   That question can fit into today’s dynamic.  Why give Westbrook a start against the Cubs(looking to spoil things in a different way) when a win could secure us home field advantage?  Westbrook has been horrible.  He doesn’t deserve anything from the Cards but a paycheck, and even that’s a stretch!

Let’s recap the last two days.   The Cards win the NL Central on Friday behind a solid outing from Lance Lynn and hits from Yadi Molina and Matt Holliday.   They win Saturday behind another fine start from Adam Wainwright and an early onslaught of key hits.   The Cards are playing great baseball.  This is the same Cubs team who gave the Pirates a stiff run for a win last weekend so don’t take them lightly.  One would expect the Cards from late July would have found a way to give away a win or two this week.   They have not and have the chance to finish the home stand in shut out fashion.   They swept a great Nationals team and can erase the Cubs today.   97 wins sounds pretty enough but its all the more tasty because of what it can secure.

The 2nd half of the season has found this Redbirds team to be dominant at home.   Far more shakier on the road than in their comfy confines of Busch Stadium, the Cards would be smart to make sure they play as many games under the Arch as possible.  We are 53-27 at home this season, as opposed to 43-38 at home.   We have a 3.13 ERA at home, as opposed to a 3.77 ERA away from home.   In the second half of the season, the Cards are 26-11 at home and most of the losses came in a dreadful 7 game home stand against the Dodgers and Cubs.   Look at how far we have come in 2 months.   In September, the Cards are 12-2 at Busch.   Teams don’t fare well here unless we turn into a deli and start giving games away like scraps of meat to the poor.   It’s is important for the Cards to not slow down today and maintain that cocky confident pace of play.

Do you want to play 4 of 7 at Pittsburgh or Atlanta?   I don’t think so.   Score as many games as you can where you thrive the most.   Plot out your safest trek during the biggest moments of the season.  Forget the regular season after today.  Every playoff team starts fresh in October.   This Thursday, all bets are off.  The Cards will have home field in their divisional series.  Let’s make sure we get it in the pennant as well before the AL home field takes over in the world series but may give the Cards an advantage if Allen Craig can swing a bat and run the bases.

Today’s game doesn’t look too important to the casual baseball fan but to the die hard it resembles air traffic control in a storm.  Navigate that plane into the right runway.  Set it up for success.  If I sound emotional right now, blame the sport.  Baseball brings out the romantic in me.  This is the greatest time of the year.  For the 10th time in the past 14 years, the Cards will be in the postseason.   For the first time since 2009, we own a division title.  Let’s not stop there.  Let’s win today, bring the Dodgers to Busch on Thursday and bring down the Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw for the third time this season.   I have a feeling about this Cardinals team.   One of those feelings that only comes around a few times per season.  We are playing great at the right time.  Too bad the playoffs don’t start until Thursday.  I recommend simulated games until then.   I am saying “we” so much because I consider myself a part of this team in some crazy way.  I am there, every game, every pitch, hanging on the result like an apple hangs from a twig before falling to the grass.

Let’s get greedy and win the finale and finish with 97 wins and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.   In other words let’s make Brian McCann lose his shit again!

Go CARDS!

Thanks for staying,

Dan Buffa

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Allen Craig’s Status Is Confirmed

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Allen Craig is out with Lisfranc, a tricky injury that happens when one or more bones in your foot are separated from the main bone, the tarsus.  It is also located right at the arch of your foot.   This is why the Cardinals and their medical staff were so secretive and privy with their timetable for Craig’s return.    Usually, the hacks at Busch get these injuries wrong but this time I can’t blame them too much.   This is a tricky injury that has spun around a few teams in its wake.   The Cards never gave any false hope or gave a direct timetable.  They tentative and hesitant to supply hope to a condition they were unsure of.  Craig’s foot showed no fracture and was put in a boot on September 4th.  Over three weeks later, his status didn’t improve so they did more tests and found out that Lisfranc will keep Craig out for at least the NLDS, which begins next Thursday.   What does this mean?

The Cards are without their RBI machine for a decent time frame.   Derrick Goold made a smart comment on The Fast Lane this week about the mere presence of Craig on the bench in the playoffs being a threat to other teams.   He could be there for the one swing the team needs late in the game and replace the guy, Matt Adams, who took his spot at first and hopefully be good in time for a World Series if it happens.   Now, you don’t know what to think.  Craig is out for the unknown future and the only difference is there is now a reason behind it.  Once again, the Cards medical staff made no promises to the public for the past three weeks.  The timetable for his return is more precise now.

X-rays don’t often locate the injury and treatment depends on the particular extent of the injury.   Less serious cases are 6 weeks.   More serious cases are 12 weeks.  Surgery may be needed.  It may not.   The Cards and John Mozelaik are taking a conservative approach and sitting him for the next 2 weeks in hope that the injury corrects itself with treatment and Craig is ready to go in some capacity for the NLCS, should the Cards make it that far.

Right now, it’s too hard to tell but this much is known.  Don’t blame the medical staff.  Plenty of teams have missed this kind of injury and even if they caught it, the down time may have been the same.  This isn’t a simple fracture or sprain or strain.  This is tricky.  Best case scenario is 2 more weeks.  Worse case is spring training.

Craig’s loss will be felt over the long term but seeing how much more improved Adams has been in his second extended playing time stint, I doubt this will be traumatic.    It only means players like David Freese, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran need to keep producing.  Pick up the slack.  Patch it up.  Move on.  The same thing this 2013 team has done since February.

Play on.  Clinch the division tonight.  Let Adam Wainwright pitch tomorrow because it would put him on regular turn for Game 1 of the NLDS and keep him in rhythm.  The Cards want the top home field spot in the playoffs as much as anybody.  We are playing very well at home right now.   Pitch Waino tomorrow, keep him on pace and don’t mess around with schedules.  Keep going with what got you here and don’t get fancy.  That’s all.

-Dan Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

The Fate of Sam Bradford

When the Oklahoma product showed up at Rams Park in 2010, the sky seemed like the limit for the face of the Rams future.   If there was going to be change in The Rams organization and winning hopes, it was coming from Sam Bradford’s right arm and not Steven Jackson’s legs.

Bradford threw 15 interceptions to his 18 touchdowns in 2010 but led the Rams to a 7-9 record.  Granted it was against a soft schedule but for a door mat Rams team it was the fresh water in the ocean after a long trek through muddy land.    Bradford regressed due to injury and a horrible offensive line in 2011, playing on a bad leg and completing only 53 percent of his passes.   He was barely 100 percent that entire season and that is when the haters came out in full force and demanded his head on a platter.   They forgot that he was the closest thing to a franchise QB the team has seen since Marc Bulger and didn’t realize Bradford was taking the same kind of torture from opposing defenses.   Was this talented brainy quarterback slowly getting clubbed to death?  Jeff Fisher took over in 2012 and Bradford rebounded in a big way.  He started all 16 games, fumbled only 4 times, and threw 21 TD to 13 INT.   His completion percentage went up to 59 percent with 144 more attempts than 2011.   Fisher took the head coaching job at the Rams because of Bradford and immediately saw the reward in his decision making.   Bradford was revitalized.  He had a rough first half of the season, but finished on a hot streak.  He improved his red zone accuracy in the final half and had some of his better play on the football field.   2012 was when Bradford took control of the team.  So, why has he seemed to regress with an upgraded offensive line and younger faster receivers in 2013?  Why he is failing with the additional talent?

It’s not all Sam’s fault.  That’s as dumb as saying it’s all Fisher’s fault.  The running game is non existent without a trio of part time backs trying to be full time carriers.    The defense has broken down and has been torched, often putting Bradford and company in comeback mode early on.  The offensive line has broken down badly, allowing Bradford few times to actually set his feet and pick his receiver.   He is getting sacked a lot and hurried almost every snap.   His feet aren’t set in stone but he also can’t run like RG3 or Cam Newton.   Bradford is more like Jay Cutler.  A pocket passer who can move when threatened but still vulnerable to hurried throws and someone who will check down quickly.   Bradford is playing gun shy right now.  He is pressured and his receivers are dropping passes.  When the pressure has hit Sam in the face this year, his passing accuracy has been downright horrible with a completion percentage of 48.1.

This is a separating mechanism that will determine the rest of his career.  Plenty of quarterbacks in the NFL have these problems and find a way to win.   Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have played with similar issues.  No running game.  Bad offensive line.  Young raw receivers.   They have found ways to make it work.  By no means am I comparing them to Bradford but in order to push your team beyond mediocre in the NFL, a quarterback must make great throws in tough spots.    Against the wall, bleeding and breathing through bruised ribs and a dented helmet, he has to make throws that propel his team forward.   Forget about what you don’t have and find a way to make it work.  Nobody is going to feel sorry for the last #1 draft pick to get ridiculous money a long term cushion.   The Rams are seeing the end of that deal and thinking twice already.

I am not one of the guys who saw a deal RG3 as a better option than Bradford last year simply because there is no guarantee RG3 makes it work here and he is going to be an injury prone player.   Bradford deserved the chance to thrive under Fisher and did for one year but now looks nothing like a guy who can lead his team out of the dark and into the promise land.  Through 4 games, his TD/INT aren’t bad but 2 of his 3 picks have been turned into 6 points and the other was taken away in the end zone.   Two of them have been tipped but Bradford has missed wide open targets.   With better accuracy, the Rams could have at least 3-4 more touchdowns in the books.

Plenty of QB’s get it done without a good running back or line to back them up.   The question is…can Bradford become that guy or will he keep walking towards the box labeled “disappointment”.   He is in the 4th year of a 6 year contract and will keep making more annual money.   The years aren’t guaranteed in the NFL so he better get his act together.   Call more team meetings, get together with the lazy bland play calling Brian Schottenheimer and convince the coordinator to use the no huddle more often.   I have rarely seen Sam look more comfortable than when he is using the no huddle.   His confidence is high and drives are longer and more effective.  So why not use it?   How much longer will Fisher and company go against a strategy that works?

The Rams improved last year, going 7-8-1 against a tough schedule and turning heads.  This year, they are 1-3 after 4 games and have lost 3 in a row.  Bradford has gotten worse each game.  After nearly bringing the Rams back in Atlanta, he has gotten zero energy out of his offense and gotten little going against Dallas and San Francisco.  He was facing a weakened 49ers defense and still could only muster a single touchdown late in the game.   What happens in the last few weeks of the season when Bradford and the Rams head to SF to face a probable full defensive attack?   How much blood will be in the water then?

The time has come for Bradford to find out who he is.  It’s not early anymore and he doesn’t have Steven Jackson to take the blame for a bad day at the office.   This is Sam Bradford’s team and the question, can he handle it?  Can Sam Bradford rise up, make tough throws and lead his team out of the dark tunnel?  We will see soon enough because on Sunday the Rams face a horrible team in Jacksonville.   Regroup there and blast off.  If not, fall to the ground and drift away.    Bradford may be starting to drift out of town.  This is the NFL.  Put up or shut up.

Thanks for reading,

Dan Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

Seven Promising Future Cardinals

While the parent club sprints towards a division title and potential deep playoff run, it’s fitting to take a look at what their future may look like.   As the 20 different rookies on this year’s team help propel the team towards their amazing season, what players make up the next fleet of talent to hit the St. Louis Cardinals?  Some of my selections are with the club already but haven’t fully blossomed yet and others are still waiting for their launch ticket from the minors.   Here are my seven promising future Cardinals.

1.  Oscar Taveras-Outfield-He will top nearly every United Cardinal Bloggers list because he is the biggest world renowned talent to hit the system in 10 years.   At least, that is the word being spread around the league.  Oscar has Pujols like ability and can play the outfield.   He is part of the reason the club may not have to concede in contract talks with Carlos Beltran.   Slowed by an ankle injury in 2013, Taveras was never able to truly show off the immense talent that consumes his profile.   All field power, speed, good arm and a very young age.  He will certainly play a huge role in the 2014 makeup of the parent club and is someone to watch.

2. Kolten Wong-Second baseman-The young second basemen is on the club as we speak, but fighting for starts and at bats with David Freese, who has been proclaimed by everyone as the September-October king of swing even though his bat isn’t backing up the reputation.   Wong is a technician at second base, turns double plays like there isn’t even a runner in sight and hit .300 in the minors.   He sprays the ball around and uses his speed.  I like this kid and think with more at bats, he can be a great starting second baseman.  He is a base stealing threat and smells third base every time he reaches base.   Wong just needs time and at bats.

3. Carlos Martinez-RHP-The righthander received three visits with the parent club this season and is finally getting a full fledged role in the bullpen.   A young arm with Pedro Martinez like explosiveness and starter ability, Martinez is benefiting from the failure of other current Cardinal pitchers and not wasting his chance.  That is the way young pitchers get a chance in baseball.  An older veteran goes down or another rookie fails and a slot opens.  When Edward Mujica faltered this week, Martinez saw a chance for more innings.  Seen all year as the raw hard throwing kid with can’t miss stuff but needing time to grow, Carlos is starting to thrive and gain confidence.  He closed down an important game in Cincinnati in early September and has played a key role in other late inning matchups.   Seen as a reliever this year more than a starter based on need, Martinez has impressed and will throw his name into the ring for postseason innings and a 2014 starter spot.

4. Stephen Piscotty-Outfield/Third Base-Drafted 36th overall from Stanford University in 2012, Piscotty is a righthanded hitting and batting outfield threat that is still a year or two away but intrigues nonetheless.  Splitting time at Palm Beach and Springfield this season, Piscotty hit 15 home runs and drove in 59 runs while hitting .295 with only 46 strikeouts in 471 plate appearances.   Piscotty can play third base as well as the corner outfield spots and offers outfield depth to the Cardinals in 2014 and 2015 and beyond.

5. Lee Stoppelman-LH relief pitcher-This 6 foot 2 inch lefthander made the jump from Class A to Class AAA inside one season.  The 23 year old is a strikeout artist working out of the bullpen into a possible closer future.   He strikes out 9 batters per 9 innings and doesn’t issue free passes.  All together in 2013, Stoppelman struck out 46 and only walked 7.   He is yet another bright light in a stock pile of pitching depth for the Cardinals.

6.  Greg Garcia-Shortstop-A position of increased need for the parent club, Garcia looms as the wildcard option behind Ryan Jackson and Pete Kozma for an internal fix at the position.  Garcia is your scrappy defensive minded player who can shine at the plate and on the bases in different ways.   He hit .271 at Memphis in 2013 and stole 14 bases in 16 attempts while smacking 4 triples in 424 at bats.   Similar to Kozma and Jackson but adding the ability to steal bases, Garcia is a fresh option that just needs a chance.  Drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 draft from the University of Hawaii, Garcia isnt’ exactly a spring chicken but sits at this spot on the list due to the need at the position.

7.  Tyler Lyons-LHP-We have seen the lefthander start games and come out of the pen, and the thing that intrigues me most about Lyons is his ability to adapt and improve.  Take a huge start at home against Cincinnati where he allowed 4 first inning runs but recovered to pitch 5 effective innings and keep his team in the game, which led to the Allen Craig three run game winning home run.  Lyons has pitched effectively as a long arm out of the pen in September, leaving him as a strong candidate for the postseason roster.  Think of him as the lefthanded Joe Kelly.  A pitcher without strikeout stuff but an effective changeup who can adapt to adversity and stay strong inside a big game.  After he was rocked in three straight starts, Lyons seemed to fall off the charts.   He worked on his pitches and made adjustments, and came back in the past month and earned his innings.   His role in 2014 is intriguing going forward.

The lists will look similar but it’s all in the reasons here.   Why does this particular player intrigue me and will he see time on the club in the near future?   These seven Cardinal prospects are all capable of being on this team by late 2014 or starting the 2015 season with the parent club.   You never know with prospects in any sport, but in baseball you have to earn you spot and play well to keep it.

Thanks for staying,

Dan Buffa

@buffa82 on twitter

For more looks at the Cardinals blooming prospects, check out http://www.unitedcardinalbloggers.com.

Stream of Consciousness

imageedit_1_6944541551(photo by Nina Woss)

Straight from the well of opportunity and free speech comes an unfiltered blast about the random material in my head.  I will dispatch a dose on the Cards later and kick out some film-addict work too but right now I feel like the best way to kick off the creative flow is to unload a dose of wild fire topical conversation.   Here we go.

*The original Die Hard will never be touched as far as greatness is concerned and the birth of the terrorist/one man hero squad/real time movie.   It came out in the late 1980’s at the high point of B movie action heroes and this gem belongs to Bruce Willis and no one else.   The realism in this film along with the high jinks and wild adventure never get old and every character brings something different to the party.   Alan Rickman’s cunning villain.  Bonnie Bedalia’s scared yet strong wife.   Reginald Vel Johnson as the heroic cop who assists our hero, John McClane.  The sequels that followed were serviceable action films but this original always garners my attention when it slips onto late night cable.   Willis, spending a majority of the film in a tank top with khaki’s and bloody feet to go with an attitude that was lost on any previous villain, owned the show.   He was Rambo with a go fuck yourself cockiness and to this day, it ranks as one of the best, if not the best, heroes of all time in film.  Check it out.  Stop watching the bald McClane chronicles and remember the days where Willis ran around that skyscraper with fake hair, a few brain cells and a reckless abandon that wasn’t seen before.  1988 was a special year.

*How much of a magazine honk am I?  I have stopped by at least 7 shops, malls and stores looking for the latest issue of Rolling Stone, with Michael J. Fox on the cover.  RS writes long epic finely written feature stories that cut the shit and tell the entire tale.   They are underrated journalists and not just Doors/Grateful Dead hippies who sit around and puff weed all day.  They are very good and I have a bad feeling this magazine doesn’t hit stands until tomorrow.

*My kid is amazing, tough and free spirited.   He split his lip open on Sunday night and required five stitches.   The next morning, he was up and running around like Lancelot after a sword fight.  The 30 pound 3 foot chunk is invincible right now and basically does what he wants.  All a parent can do with a two year is keep him or her alive and feed the beast when needed.  They pretty much take care of themselves and have no need for pants during the day time.  You will remember the name Vincent Daniel Buffa.

*Carlos Gomez is a classless bitch.  There I said it.  Braves catcher Brian McCann is an attention grabbing hog most of the time but I felt like what he did last night was somewhat honorable.  Let me explain.  Gomez launched a long home run and walked at least 7 steps before running, staring down pitcher Paul Maholm and getting the wrath of McCann and Freddie Freeman.   McCann blocked homeplate and that wasn’t a good idea and that’s where he stepped out of line.  The benches cleared and a lot of bad breath was smelt and words exchanged in close proximity.  Gomez and Maholm have a history and don’t like each other.  This wasn’t surprising but I still think Gomez was the biggest clown because he had to take 7 steps before running after a home run.  Unless you are a legend, that is unacceptable.  My take.

*Drinking Buddies comes out tomorrow in St. Louis.  Finally, this quiet gem of a romantic comedy gets a Midwest release and will grace the floor at the Tivoli.   I watched this film in August on demand from my couch but will implore you to give it a shot.  A few reasons.  Olivia Wilde is in it and she gives an amazingly fresh performance as well as looking amazing.  Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick are also great.  It’s 90 minutes long and goes by quick.  Director Joe Swanberg really injects a lot of heart and soul into this simple tale of two best friends who work at a brewery who start to question whether being friends is enough.   A familiar concept is given new light here.   It’s a heartfelt honest depiction of young people breaking down the barriers of the different forms of love in this world.   I was taken aback by this movie because it was more than I initially thought it would be.

*How good are the Cardinals?   Their rookie pitchers have propelled them in 2013.   Guys like Michael Wacha, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Tyler Lyons.    What looked like an older club in spring training got very young and did it very quickly this summer and have provided this team with a fresh boost of mentality and attitude that has proved to be the equalizer.   A month ago we were strangling off clubs for the division lead.  Now we hold the Central by 3 games after sweeping the Nationals.   How great is that?   After Mujica flamed out in the closer role, Trevor Rosenthal stepped in and closed down all 3 games against Washington.   The flame throwing big right hander used his changeup effectively at times but overpowered hitters with his 99 mph heater.   Rosenthal looked confident.    Siegrist set him up for saves twice.    The lefty has turned heads this year the same way Trevor did in 2012.   Wacha almost threw a no hitter on Tuesday, losing it because he wasn’t tall enough.   His presence in the rotation gave them a jump start two weeks ago and along with Wainwright’s comeback and Lynn’s redemption, has the Cards starters leading MLB in ERA in September.   You can score runs and have the bullpen turn off the lights but you need a starter to provide stability early on.  We have 94 wins and are playing our best baseball at the right time.   I would have Wainwright start Saturday’s game so he remains on normal rest for the probable start in Game 1 a week from today.   Hold him off and he may be rusty taking the mound then.   Keep the ship rolling forward and don’t make too much changes.   The only thing I am worried about is the three day break coming next week.  I only wish we could play simulated games to keep the flow going.

*TV greatness right now.  As I power my way through five seasons of Breaking Bad, I am watching some good shows week to week.  First, let me give my take on the most talked about series on cable right now.   I won’t pile drive 30 episodes in time for Sunday’s BAD finale, so I am okay with extending my stay with Walter past his primetime cable expiration date.   Breaking Bad is a pretty good if not great show.  At least not yet,  I am 7 episodes into Season 3 and feel it getting more confident and better but there is still more to reach.   The writing is the stable engine behind the show.  It’s so honest, brutal and well placed.   Bryan Cranston is every bit as phenomenal as Walter White but I find myself loving the quiet funny moments with his character.    What’s cooler than a boring middle aged science teacher getting cancer and deciding that the nest egg his family will be left with comes from meth production and distribution.   Since the launch of the first season, everything around White has started burning and I am not sure it will be put out any time soon.   My take on other current television.

*Boardwalk Empire, 3 hours in, is every bit as amazing and multi-dimensional as it has ever been.   The cast is so good and Terrence Winter’s guidance of the real events with the fictional drippings is so well played.

*Dexter wrapped up its final season and left our anti-hero in a fitting place.  I won’t spoil it but let me step out and say the entire season was very sloppy, poorly written and didn’t feel final but they sort of pulled it together in the final hour.   Certain things were hokey and not wrapped well but there were careful steps taken to leave our good guy serial killer in a fitting situation.   And it leaves the story open for revisiting.  I am all for an older Dexter.  This show did decline in the final four seasons.   It would never live up to the plateau it hit with the Trinity killer in Season 4.   Dexter is like David Freese.   Peaked early on and not just taking up space.

*Ray Donovan was also a strong piece of work on Showtime.  The first season closed on Sunday and left the characters in a fitting place as well.  Once again, a familiar plot with flawless work from the cast, especially Liev Schreiber and Eddie Marsan.  A show about a fixer in LA was only the start of a 13 hour story about a boxing family and the repercussions of bad decisions.

*The Newsroom is still tops in the books for my favorite show of the year but Ray Donovan comes close.  If only Aaron Sorkin wrote an episode of dialogue for Ray Donovan.

*BANSHEE returns in January and that is a hallmark date for this ridiculously devoted fan of the Cinemax program.

*Television is the world of anti-heroes these days.   It started with Tony Soprano, and then Don Draper.  Walter White.  Dexter Morgan.  Ray Donovan.  The entire cast of Game of Thrones.  Nucky Thompson.  All these half good/half bad/all gray souls who do bad things yet come off honorable.   That’s great television.

*The Rams were pathetic on Sunday in Dallas.   Penalties, bad defense and a boring offense.   No adjustment from Jeff Fisher.  A big YAWN.   They are still 1-2 and can change everything tonight with a home win over the equally walking wounded San Francisco 49ers.    Sam Bradford spent more time on the ground in Dallas than he had in the past 4 games combined and couldn’t do much of anything.  Our receivers showed nothing.  Our offensive line was manhandled.  I saw Jake Long get tossed to the ground by Demetrius Ware at least twice.  Our secondary was horrid.  Our running game was non existent.  Steven Jackson is currently injured with Atlanta but I feel like that’s a better status than our current group of tailbacks.   Anyone up for producing 80 yard by themselves on the ground?   Hmmmm….tonight it will be nice to see the Rams score first and play respectable defense.  You have been rough for all three weeks and the last 4 quarters were awful.  I felt like checking the sideline for Steve Spagnuolo on Sunday.  That can’t happen again.

*The Blues are firing up the engines for opening night in a week.   This team didn’t make too many changes over the offseason but added some integral veteran parts.  They switched out David Perron for another unpredictable and maddening young player and added two vets in Derek Roy and Brendan Morrow.  The netminder will be Jaro Halak until his hamstring pops and eventually Brian Elliot and Jake Allen will see time.  This is Halak’s final year and swan song.   Hopefully he plays at least 60 games.   Ken Hitchcock gets his first full season with the team and that will be interesting.  Can the Blues truly create something exciting or will we rehearse the same old sad song in June?

*Still having a lot of fun with twitter.  Opportunities galore and the connective powers on there are just phenomenal.   I get a kick out of that site every day.  More than Facebook, which is a bloated high school classroom most days.   Twitter is fresh, challenging and innovative.

*Michael J. Fox deserves all the attention he gets.   A fine comedic actor who has enjoyed a comeback with guest spots on Rescue Me and The Good Wife and now gets his own show on NBC.  This guy is a true hero and speaks out for a disease that has affected his life and the lives of many others.  Unlike Lance Armstrong, he isn’t a lying cheat.  He is a tough guy who didn’t let a disease ruin his life.   Like Magic Johnson and Muhammed Ali, he just kept on throwing punches.  An imperfect legend.

*What else?  I love my wife.   Few husbands who married young can say that after 8 years of marriage and 11 years of a relationship.  I got lucky and there isn’t a date where I forget it.

*Mike Matheny is a good manager and has done a marvelous job this year in dealing with injuries and using the large depth he has on the roster.   He drives us nuts and doesn’t make sound decisions all the time but what skipper does?  Matheny, in 2 years, has proved he belongs.

*The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comes into town tomorrow. I can’t wait to watch these SF rockers light up the Pageant.  The under the radar rockers are a truly soulful bunch of musicians and have slowly worked their way into my must listen music list nearly every week.   Good for runs, drives or walks, the band can play.

*Watch this Jimmy Kimmel clip where Jon Hamm, the golden boy of St. Louis, defends the supremely delicious pizza, IMOS.  His quotes as he eats it are priceless.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOTC_G6V6nM

I’ll leave you with that clip.  My work here is done.  Time for a break.  Let the hands fly here and now I need to check on my prodigy.

Thanks for staying,

Dan Buffa

@buffa82 on twitter

Daily Cards Bits

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(PHOTO-Associated Press)

After last night’s gritty rousing take down of a hot team in the Washington Nationals, it was good to be a Cardinal fan.  With 5 games remaining, they are two games up on Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, who will duel with each other over the final weekend of the season and have guaranteed themselves a spot at least the wild card game.   Once deemed comedic, the NL Central now sports three playoff teams.   The Cardinals dispatched the Nats last night, 4-3, using every weapon in their arsenal.   Pitching, timely hitting and great bullpen work.  Let’s take a look at a few things that stand out heading into tonight’s battle and the rest of the week.

*Adam Wainwright, ladies and gentlemen.  Make that four brilliant outings since the Reds debacle.   Our ace has righted himself and after a rough first inning that hung on one bad curveball, Waino shut down the Nats for the next 6 plus innings.  It was impressive and satisfying to see our guy stop a red hot hitting team and send a message.   So many times in big series the past 2 months, Waino would falter in that series opening game.  Last night, he was dominant.   112 pitches, 5 strikeouts, 0 walks, 7 hits, and 3 runs.  Steady and productive.  If this is the last start he makes, what a statement.  He is 18-9 with a 3.01 ERA, 214 strikeouts and 236.1 innings pitched.  A true horse shows little doubt.  Waino walked only 34 batters all season and threw 5 complete games and 2 shutouts.   He won’t win the Cy Young but he reminded us in September why he is the ace of the present and future.

*Matt Carpenter.  It seems like every night he breaks a record.  Most doubles.  Most multi hit games, involving doubles, home runs and fine facial hair.  I kid but with this versatile player, it is easy to get swept up.  Carp has given so much to this team.   A fine defensive second baseman.   A great leadoff hitter.  A guy who is as good as Yadi Molina when working a 2 strike count.  He is hitting .324 with 197 hits and 124 runs.  He has 11 HR and 77 RBI.   With the 54 doubles, he also has 7 triples with an on base percentage at .397.   He borders on the ridiculous, which is why local commentator Dan McClaughin tosses praise at him like we toss water down our throats.    He is easy to like, humble, worked his ass off to get here and has turned in one of the most surprisingly productive season in Cardinals history.   The man deserves all the words directed his way.   Stay tuned.  His season isn’t over yet.

*Carlos Beltran came back from the dead last night and launched a game winning 2 run home run, his first in a month.  While his average has dropped to .298, Beltran still has 24 HR and 84 RBI to go with 162 hits.  Keep in mind he has also played in 141 games, a number no one prescribed in spring training but without Oscar Taveras looming, was given new realism last month.   Beltran’s health is always in play because of his sore knees.   He’s old but still capable of changing a game with one swing.

*The closer situation doesn’t scare me.  This team has gone with committees before and flunked out completely but something tells me this group is special.  I am normally against the committee idea.  I am old fashioned.  I like having one guy be the option and the stopper.   No negotiation.  However, I am all for a committee that includes the likes of Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and John Axford.  That is a deadly mix with raw talent and save experience.  They will work and there’s a good chance one will stand out and take the job.  What I don’t like is seeing Mike Matheny use two of them in the ninth inning last night.  Siegrist and Rosenthal combined to close the game and while I understand it’s a close 1 run battle,  I would like to only warm up one of them so the other is fresh for the next day.   Rosenthal has been on and off lately, while Siegrist has no experience closing and Axford was the best for a 2 year period.   However, some pitchers just go out and pitch and don’t think of the inning.   Here’s to hoping that is the idea with this group.

*It is important to note how strong of a club the recently eliminate Washington Nationals have.   Their lineup is full of imposing hitters like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Adam LaRoche.  Their rotation is sharp and bullpen can’t be taken lightly.  They had a horrible two months to begin the season and dug a deep enough hole for the Braves to run away with the division.   Factor in the strong play of the NL Central teams and this Davey Johnson led crew is looking up at playing spoiler this week.

*As long as Joe Kelly doesn’t face the Brewers he will be decent.   The avenging formerly banished righthander was shelled again by the Brewers, allowing 6 runs(3 earned) and again using bad defensive skills to pour more gasoline on the fire.  I still think Kelly is aces and he has another start to prove so and one that could be vitally important on Saturday against the Cubs.

*Medical updates on Allen Craig bring a bad taste to my mouth.  The RBI machine who was injured in a first place accident on September 4th will get another x-ray on his foot.   This only tells me the club is confused about his lack of progress and re-analyzing his injury.  This can’t be good for his chances.   He has barely swung a bat or fielded a ball in the past 3 weeks.  The Cardinals are doing okay without him but seeing other big players go down and others become weary.   If Craig is in, Beltran gets more rest.   With him out, the other sluggers have to fill the void.  The updates on Craig remind me Scott Rolen and Mark Mulder.   At first, it wasn’t a fracture and he was put in a boot.   Weeks went by.  No progress.  Wrong strategy?  Bad luck? You don’t need a lab coat to figure out the Cards medical staff misses as many fastballs as Pete Kozma.  When will we see Craig play again?  He is too important to write off as pending.

*Matt Holliday is hurt again.  Every time the big guy goes on a streak, his back aches and sits him down.   He has missed two games due to back spasms.   With these kind of injuries, a return is hard to tell because the pain can linger or suddenly just vanish.    Due to other fragile areas of the lineup, Holliday’s status is vital.   If he can’t go, Shane Robinson is inserted into the lineup and the 6-9 spots in the order seem very ordinary.  Easy outs.  When Matt Holliday goes down, the Cards lack of outfield depth becomes very apparent.

*The injuries to Craig and Holliday will expose yet again a very weak Cards bench.  WIthout Adams on the bench lingering as a threat, all the opposing team will see are AAA able players with little experience winning clutch games.   Unlike Craig, who can be replaced with Adams, there is no easy replacement for Holliday.   Which makes the absence of a fresh young talent like Oscar so painfully visible.

The Cards are limping into the finish but they approach it as one of the strongest teams in the league.   Take a step back every once in a while and remember this.  The Cardinals have reached the playoffs 10 out of the past 14 seasons and gross 3.4 million souls a year in a small market.  We are a game back of the Braves for the best record in the NL and have dealt with the largest amount of starting player injuries in the majors.   Yet here we are.  5 games to go.  27 games over .500 and 2 games ahead in the division.   Every year, no matter if it’s Tony La Russa or Mike Matheny, with or without Albert Pujols, using 20 rookies or 5 rookies, the Cards find a way to compete.  They are always right there in September.  If Holliday and Craig can make recoveries, there isn’t a stronger club in the National League.  The Dodgers and Braves are beatable.  No team is invincible.  For the Cards, everything is at least possible.

Time is ticking away.  The regular season is nearly over.  Where will the Cardinals stand on Sunday?   Let’s hope a division series berth is in talks.

Thanks for reading,

DLB

A Dose of Buffa Special-PRISONERS review

There comes a time when I must spotlight a little of my Film-Addict work on the blog because I can’t trust everybody that needs to hear about a certain film to go to the site.  Consider this a Dose of Buffa Special.

PRISONERS

Movie-Prisoners

Rating-R

Running Time-153 minutes

Directed by Denis Villenueve

Cast-Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano

Plot-How far would you go to protect your family?  Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is facing every parent’s worst nightmare.  His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in.  The only lead is a dilapidated RV that had earlier been parked on their street.  Heading the investigation, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests its driver, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), but a lack of evidence forces his release.  As the police pursue multiple leads and pressure mounts, knowing his child’s life is at stake the frantic Dover decides he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.  But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

 

 

Buffa’s Take-When I left this movie, the first thing I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.  The second thing I wanted and needed to do was inform everyone within a ten mile radius how important it is for this movie, Prisoners, to be seen.   Easily one of the year’s best films, French Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s spellbinding tale will get inside your bones and stay there a while.  Few movies have the power to be present you with a moral dilemma and take the necessary time to lay out their story while inserting every scene with authentic tension.  Never mind the trailer that some believe gives away too much.  What you get there is a basic setup that covers a third of the film’s running time.  Prisoners is full of juicy compelling moral questions and features the best ensemble cast of 2013.  Let’s dig in.

Hugh Jackman’s work as Keller Dover deserves Oscar attention.  It goes without saying that the actor is as versatile a talent in Hollywood as one can find, but here he puts on display his best screen work to date.  He turns it all up a notch.  Forget his Oscar nominated work in Les Miserables last year.  That is surface imitational work compared to what he does here as Dover, a father who won’t be stopped until he finds out where his daughter is.  A survival specialist who keeps natural selection close to heart, Dover won’t be stopped and Jackman electrifies with his portrayal.   This is the same man who grows claws out of his hands as Marvel’s Wolverine and dances on Broadway.  Jackman is astounding and the emotional glue that holds the film together.

Gyllenhaal is nearly as brilliant, playing a detective who fills his whole life up with police work.   He doesn’t have a home he dares to sleep in nor a vacation to seek.  Detective Loki’s life is consumed by his cases and Gyllenhaal doesn’t fake a second of it.   Concentration as sharp as a knife even though his eyes continue to blink and beg for starvation, the actor becomes this character and doesn’t stop at merely impersonating an officer.  Gyllenhaal’s work in End of Watch must have helped him greatly here.

The rest of the cast is stellar.   Bello, showing loads of despair but never creeping towards manipulation, turns in her best work since The Cooler.  Davis and Howard, parents looking for their child with less hostile maneuvers, turn in solid work.  Dano cranks up his quirky weird vibe on the outside yet slowly reveals a tortured soul beneath as his story line collides with Jackman’s.  Melissa Leo, in a few scenes, creates someone that doesn’t leave your head far after the credits roll.  She is the picture of realism.

Villenueve has only done a handful of films, but one can only hope he trusts the Hollywood system to deliver more of these style of films.   The film is shot beautifully by Roger Deakins, covering the dark tale in perfectly set grey tones.  Editor Joel Cox doesn’t waste a single frame in conveying the director’s message.  The production work here is aces across the board right down to the understated and powerful score by Johann Johannsson.

If art’s goal is to imitate life, this film comes pretty close.  Prisoners is a truly complete cinematic experience. The story is pulverizing and shocking.  It won’t just take a piece of parents, but any soul with warm blood flowing through it.  It’s challenging for moviegoers because it presents lingering questions that begin and end with emotional response.  The end isn’t tied up like a cute little knot.  A very deserving film of your attention, Prisoners may be the best film I have seen in 2013.

 

Buffa Rating-5/5

 

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