Doors close on The Cardinals in 2013

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The only thing worse than losing is dying.   It may sound overly dramatic but ask any sports fan and they will tell you the same thing.   Loving a team isn’t easy when they don’t perform up to our standards.  When they get knocked out, we need an ice pack on our jaw as well.   It hurts watching your team swing through its final pitch and see the other team celebrate.  There’s a particular chill to the experience.

After the fourth inning tonight, when the Cards went down 6-0, I had to get off twitter and turn my phone off.  A necessary motion because at that point, I was simply tired of complaining.   For a guy who writes as many as 3-4 blogs a week and over a thousand tweets and goes on a radio show barking about it, I was literally tired of discussing their latest downfall.  So I sat and watched.  Every pitch and out.  The Cards made waves in a few innings and collected more hits than the Red Sox yet fell 6-1.   The series was lost in 6 games.

It stings because we were up 2-1 on Saturday and seemed to be taking control with an excellent Lance Lynn start and a 1-0 lead in Game 4.  Then, a Red Sox rally occured, Lynn left, Seth Maness entered and Johnny Gomes hit a 3 run home run that still resonates at Busch.  That, to me, was the tipping point of the series.  Kolten Wong gets picked off first base to end Game 4, our bats get shut down by Jon Lester in Game 5 and silenced by the Red Sox for a single run again in Game 6.   Fenway Park erupts for its first World Series clincher at home since Babe Ruth was pitching and playing outfield in 1918.  Good for them.  I mean that.  It’s hard to not like the Boston Red Sox at least a little.   They are classy and play the game right.   A similar bunch to the Cards.  They made mistakes in the past just like the Cards have with performance enhancing drugs.  They were rocked by a terrorist event in the spring.  Tonight, they celebrate and while it hurts to see my team lose, I can stand on two feet and remember we were beat by the best.   The Cards and Red Sox were the best teams in the majors and played a gritty World Series full of firsts and weird moments followed by huge hits and big game pitching.   The Red Sox were simply the better team.

I will meet anyone halfway about Mike Matheny’s roster compilation.  He put two pitchers on the World Series roster that barely worked in the previous two series’ in Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller.   He gave up two respect spots to those guys and cost the team depth on the bench and the bullpen.   That will be the biggest question facing Matheny and he will probably eat half that bullet.  Good for him, but shame on him as well.   He thought with his heart and not his head there.  Did it cost the team?  While it can’t be measured, I will say it did.  Secondly, Matheny hurt his team by playing slumping players.   Jon Jay and David Freese each didn’t record an RBI in the first 5 games and looked overmatched at the plate.  Yet, Matheny started Freese all six games and Jay 5 of the games.   Shane Robinson, the better arm, bat and center fielder than Jay, didn’t even get an at bat in Game 6 with runners on and the game somewhat in reach.  Matheny stuck with Jay and Freese and it cost him.  Kolten Wong did get picked off to end Game 4 but he also gives the team an element of speed that is lacking.  With Shane and Wong in for Game 6, I won’t say the outcome is different but the game may have been less ugly.  Freese won’t be back.  Jay will only be a part timer next year.  Matheny’s roster management was overall crap.  He knows it.  You don’t include a rookie of the year candidate and a man with 37 saves on a roster and not use them.   If they aren’t going to work, why include them?  For the division series, I saw the idea.  For the pennant, I thought it was enough.  For the World Series, I thought it was absurd.  This is Mike Matheny’s youth as a manager showing up.  He has things to learn before 2014.

Biggest difference in the World Series was Jon Lester outpitching and beating Adam Wainwright twice in Game’s 1 and 5.   The two aces clashed and Boston’s came out on top.  Lester, green goo or not, was magnificent.  Waino was average or a little better.  The second biggest difference was the big hits factor.  After breaking records hitting .330 with runners in scoring position, the Cards hit .259 with RISP in the World Series.  They LACKED the big hit.  All series and especially in Games 1, 5 and 6 where they put guys on base.  Matt Holliday had the only home runs.  Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig and Yadi Molina hit well.  No dent was made.  The Cards streaky offense hit a pale white stretch at the worst time.  It happens…and it sucks.  A lot.  The Cards 6-7-8 spots didn’t drive in a run.   The Red Sox got 4 RBI from Shane Victorino and a solo home run from Stephen Drew(6-7 hitters) in Game 6.  They got a game winning double from 8th place hitter David Ross in Game 5.

Sure, the Cards got raked by Series MVP David Big Papi Ortiz for the first 5 games, but they walked him 4 times in Game 6 and his teammates made us pay.  That was the third difference.   The Red Sox supporting players in the lineup didn’t hit well overall for the series but got BIG HITS.   Victorino finished the series 2-14.   Drew had one hit.  Gomes had 1 hit, the 3 run homer.  Ross had 3 hits.  These guys made their hits count.  The Cards did not.  End of story.

Lance Lynn didn’t get to finish things in Game 4 but came into Game 6 and pitched like garbage.  He relieved Michael Wacha and gave up 2 RBI singles and a walk.  That’s it.  His season ends appropriately.

The kid, Wacha, created magic four times in the postseason but threw his fastball tonight 48 of 68 pitches and got burned.  Instead of relying on his best pitch, the changeup, Wacha went high octane and got blasted.   The kid just didn’t have any more magic left in that golden right arm.  The future is bright for him.

The future is bright for the whole Cards team.  Lots of young arms.  Payroll getting slashed.  Opportunities abound.  Real quick.

Jake Westbrook, Rafael Furcal, and Chris Carpenter are gone.   Carlos Beltran is probably gone depending on what he wants.   David Freese should be gone.  Jon Jay could leave but will probably be brought back.  Jaime Garcia returns.   Tyler Lyons and John Gast are two impressive young lefties.   Jason Motte returns in May barring a setback.  Trevor Rosenthal is your closer and in my mind Carlos Martinez may be your 8th inning guy until Motte comes back.  The needs are shortstop and centerfield.   Watching the Red Sox celebrate, you wonder if two of their free agents, Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury, have a chance of wearing Cardinal Red in 2014.  Drew is highly more probable than Ellsbury but the need is there.  Oscar Taveras will be here next year.  Wong will be contending for a spot.   In my gut, I believe Wong can hit at least. 260 if given enough at bats.   At worst, he is your Kozma next season.  A light hitting defensive specialist with speed.  Shane Robinson SHOULD take Jay’s spot.  Adams takes over first.  Craig could move into right field but that’s dependent on the future of Mr. Beltran.   It’s unfortunate the team couldn’t win a World Series for Beltran, but he got there and sometimes that can fill the gap.   He may be back next year.  2014 should involve another battle with the Pirates and maybe the Reds.   The Cards will be contending for a long time just based off their unbelievable young stock of young pitching.

Remember this as you deal with anger managements the next few days.  This team was slammed with injuries to their starting crew.   The Cards got hit as hard as any team in the major leagues.   Motte, Carpenter, and Furcal for a whole season.   Garcia and Westbrook for part of a season.  Craig for the last month.  We dealt with and we kept on going.  The Cards got to the World Series and lost in 6 games.  This is not 2004.  Not even close.  Our Redbirds will be back.

Hang your head.  That’s fine.  Just don’t forget the amazing ride this team took us on for close to 7 months.

Thanks for staying and goodnight,

Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

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The Cards’ Last Stand

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Here we are, Cardinals fans.  Nearing the end of another amazing, intriguing, emotionally draining and all together viciously entertaining season of baseball.   For me, no other sport stirs up my emotions and drives me insane quite like the game of baseball.   Maybe it is the way they play it.  Maybe it is just the experience I have watching it and the memories that bleed into the present day.   Casual fans and non followers look at me in disbelief at how screwed up I can get watching baseball.  My dad, wife, and a few of my friends have the ability(and YES it is an ability) to simply watch, turn it off and move on.  I carry every loss around like a bad habit and break down every win.  It’s what I do.   It doesn’t matter if I find a job in sports journalism or driving a forklift in a warehouse(I can tell you which one is more likely), I will always come here and dish my take.  Whether you agree or not, all I ask for is that you appreciate and respect it.  I know only one way.  Blunt and unfiltered.

Here’s where my mind is on the eve of Game 6 of the 2013 World Series-

  • Pitching to David Ortiz is futile.  A man with a .742 batting average and who is known for delivering crushing blows to opposing teams doesn’t deserve a strike to be thrown his way, so my memo to Cardinal pitching is, outside…outside…outside.   Throw it to the backstop or roll it up to Yadi Molina.  Don’t let Ortiz help send you home unless you are flying home to a parade and a trophy awaits you.
  • Offense, light it up please.  The time is now to create one of those 2 out running scoring barrages.  The best offense in the NL needs to show up once in this World Series.   Don’t let Boston have all the fun.  We have scored 13 runs in 5 games in this series, and one came on an obstruction call that will paint Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks in odd baseball history for years to come.   Simply put, our bats haven’t produced more than 5 runs and have been held to 1 run twice.  That’s just not acceptable.  Let me say this. The Cards approach is bizarre.  Against a powerful hard throwing guy we will be patient.  Against a soft tossing hurting pitcher, we will be over aggressive and help him out.  When it comes to hitting, approach is everything.   Tonight, John Lackey is going to be firing that 94 mph fastball towards the strike zone.  He isn’t crafty like Jon Lester.  He dishes it up there and hopes you are stupid or ill-equipped to handle it.   Tonight, be aggressive.  Stop staring at called third strikes.  It’s bad for your resume.   Go for it.  Show up.  Destroy this Red Sox team in front of their own fans and put the pressure back on them in Game 7.   Their pitching is good but not this good, guys, so go after them.
  • Giving Michael Wacha a lead is important.   The kid can loosen up and fire more fastballs if he knows the bats have his back.  We have asked this kid to be Rambo this postseason.  Go into enemy territory and rescue the team from expected death.  Wacha has been amazing and will be World Series MVP if we pull this off.   He has been absolute NAILS for the entire postseason and he deserves a 4-0 lead for his month long efforts.  The Red Sox got one big hit from Ortiz in Game 2 off Wacha and that is it in 6 innings.   My feeling is an unconventional one in that Wacha will adjust more to their lineup than they will to him.
  • David Freese, do something with you life.   The pride of IMOS and St. Louis past glory needs to deliver a hit tonight.   For the love of baby jesus, take the ball to right field.   Be your old self.   Be the guy from 2011 or 2012.  Those guys were good hitters.  This 2013 nonsense needs to stop.  Freese could be playing his final game for the Cards.  Get over it, ladies.  He is arbitration eligible and will probably want too much to come back.   True or not, make tonight count Freese.  You have done little in this postseason worth remembering.  If you become lethal, this lineup looks pure doom for Boston’s pitching.
  • Here is something I can’t get out of my head.  Mike Matheny didn’t help himself by allowing his loyalty to burn him in this series.  I love the guy and most of his moves are good but his roster moves this postseason are amateurish.  You are facing a powerful team with a very good left-handed basher and you don’t load up your pen with lefties.  Here is my problem.   Ortiz has gotten to Randy Choate’s slow toss pitching and burned Kevin Siegrist’s high octane heat.   This is where Sam Freeman comes into play.   He has decent heat on his fastball and has a sweeping slider/cutter that moves away from lefties.   He could have been the ideal matchup for Ortiz but no, instead, we have Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica riding the bench and soaking up roster spots.   This is where loyalty needs to be broken for logistics.  He is hurting his bench as well, with a good pinch hitter in Tony Cruz being off limits due to his catching insurance behind Yadi.    A smart move would have been adding Rob Johnson to the roster so Cruz can be used in a pinch hitting role.  Instead, we have limited options in our bullpen and bench.  Thanks Matheny for being loyal but you failed here.   The inclusion of Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica on the roster takes away two valuable fresh players from this team.  Instead of strengthening his roster with worthy players, Mike Matheny got sentimental.
  • Shane Robinson needs to start tonight.  He hits RH pitchers very well and at this moment, is the best option for CF.   He plays better defense and is hitting just as well as Jon Jay.  I could root for the speed demon redemption seeking Kolten Wong to start at second, but I won’t get greedy.  Start Sugar Shane.
  • What has went wrong this series?  A few things.  The little things that pushed our locomotive forward all season are starting to show signs of wear and tear. Once unbreakable relievers Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist are capable of getting rocked suddenly. David Freese is incapable of getting a big hit. Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso can’t buy hits.  Lester has been better than Wainwright this series.  Our RISP has dropped dramatically.  Utility players like Johnny Gomes and David Ross have beaten Cards pitching at bad times.  The flipping point to me is still Lance Lynn being pulled for Seth Maness to face Gomes in Game 4.  Since then, it has been a fight.

We can only hope the delay in the trip to Boston last night had more to do with bat retrieval than mechanical failure. This team has barely hit. We haven’t put on display a barrage of hits yet in this series.   Defense and pitching wins games, but tonight the Cards bats need to provide a little magic in order to support their rookie pitcher and save the series.

Will the Cardinals offense show up or will we fall short of greatness?

If we fall, ladies and gents it has been fun. Every season it seems I make new friends and build great conversations through my doses, activity on twitter and facebook. Sports can be the greatest connective tissue in life.  Thanks for mixing it up and reading.

Go Cards!

-Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

PHOTO CREDIT-THE GUARDIAN

Mistake Filled Game 4 Evens The Series

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Prepare yourselves.  I am about to defend Kolten Wong.   The rookie second baseman made a crucial mistake in the bottom of the 9th inning, getting picked off first base with Carlos Beltran standing at home plate representing the tying run.   It’s easy to jump on Wong after this loss but the man entered the game in the ninth inning.  There are other people to blame for this Game 4 collapse and I am going to lay it out for you.  Let’s go.

*Believe me, Kolten Wong’s mistake was brutal.   He should have kept a leg on first base because his run represented basically nothing, unlike last night when he pinch hit, singled, stole second and was stranded.  Tonight, he had the energetic kick of a young base hound and was caught.   A rookie mistake.  Wong will be back and deserves another shot.  In my opinion, he should start Game 5 at second base because he is mad, hungry and deserves to right the ship.  Mike Matheny has a way of going back to struggling young players and I hope he does here.  Wong isn’t the reason we lost this game.  He is merely one of them.   The kid messed up. Big deal? Yes!  Throw it on him only?  No!  Get it right in your head.  Kolten Wong deserves another shot.   Hopefully his teammates pick up his shoulders tonight off the floor and remind him baseball is great because everything can be turned around on the next huge play.

*Somehow, some way, we let a sore shouldered Clay Buchholtz’s sore shouldered ailed body pitch 4 innings and only allow 1 run.  We had a chance to jump on his soft tosses and missed out.  Bad approach, bad swings and little execution.  Do baseball readers read scouting reports?

*We can let David Freese start again.  Why not?  Imos boy is 1-12 in the World Series with 40,000 guys left on base.   His defense at third isn’t gold glove material so he needs to sit.   His bat can change a game with one swing and that means put him in a bench role.

Let him come off the bench late, when it’s Freeze Hour.  He doesn’t deserve 4 at bats a game right now.  He looks flat, solved and dead at the plate.   He wasted opportunities tonight but gets a pass because he was great in the postseason 2 years ago.

Freese has topped out and after a magical 2011 postseason and solid 2012 season, looks like damaged goods about to be released in the offseason.

*Mike Matheny shouldn’t have taken out Lance Lynn in the 6th inning.  Johnny Gomes was 0-2 against Lynn and looked horrible.   Why put in Seth Maness, your contact pitcher who is brought in for double plays, when you just need one out and your starter is fresh?  Lynn was visibly mad, not whining, and I back him here.  He was at 89 pitches, had life on his fastball, had 2 outs, and had only allowed 3 hits.

What made Matheny pull him?   Mike Matheny is afraid to let Lynn lose a game.   Why?  In September, John Mozelaik wanted Lance Lynn out of the rotation.   He told Matheny this and Mike backed his young starter and Lynn paid off his debt and did well.   However, Matheny is so scared to let Lynn give up the big bomb.

Mozelaik has more say in the management of this team than some believe I think.   He wanted Lynn gone, Matheny backed him and walks in fear daily.  Just my feeling but maybe a reason behind the early pull of Lynn tonight.    Lance Lynn had the stuff to finish the 6th inning.

*Daniel Descalso can have a bad day at the plate.  No hits. Bad strikeouts.  His big hits make us forget he is about as good of a hitter overall as Pete Kozma.   He is a magic man in that department.  Descalso popped up ball four in a crucial 7th inning spot where we had a chance to score more than 1 run.  He left too many runners on base, decides to swing the bat before the pitch comes and doesn’t need to start another game this series.

*Seth Maness has come down off the mountain in October.  He has allowed 6 of 10 inherited runners to score, which is the meat and potatoes stat for relievers.  He should only come in when a double play is needed and only then when the bigger guns are tied.

*Allow me to point out that two pitchers on the roster aren’t pitching meaningful innings.  They aren’t pitching at all.  Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller.   I understand loyalty to players and letting them know that their services rendered means something but you have to cut that off in the World Series.  Why isn’t Sam Freeman or Tyler Lyons on the roster as arms who can get people out?   Why not disable Miller or Mujica and activate Lyons or Freeman?  It’s probably not possible but it was worth the line.   I just don’t understand it.  How many managers waste a playoff roster spot twice?  Barely any.  Talking to you Mr. Matheny.  Give me an answer in that gruff Eastwood voice.

*Find a way to start Allen Craig.  He is so money at the plate and it’s hard watch him get one chance per game.  Before Wong’s mistake, Craig put the Cards in line to tie the game.  I don’t care if he can’t run.   Let him launch bombs and limp around the bases for all I care.  He has the winter to heal properly.  If he can field grounders let him go.  Play Matt Carpenter closer to first or something.  Make up for lost ground.  Get Craig in there.  Off the best closer in the American League, Craig has cranked two hits.  One to left and one to right.  He will be deadly against Jon Lester tomorrow.  Find a way.  Matt Adams is slowing down at the plate and will serve as a solid pinch hitter off the bench in the 8th or 9th.   Find Craig some Icy Hot, a Tony Robbins video and a live chicken. Get him out there.

Look, it wasn’t going to be easy.  If you want easy, apply for jobs on http://www.careerbuilder.com.   Winning the World Series takes guts, glory, comebacks and true clutch moments.  This is center stage.  The Cubs, Mariners, and Padres dream about this stage.  The Cardinals are here for the 4th time in 9 years and are in a dogfight with a team that plays baseball in a similar fashion to them.  Hard and to the end.   In Game 4, we got up early, and seemed to be in control until Gomes hit a ball out of the park.  We didn’t quit and lost in a tragic fashion.  Every game in this series has been dramatic and intense.  Expect the next 3(if needed) to be just as emotional and crazy.   That’s baseball in October.  Tense encounters.  Which team’s will breaks first?  We made two horrible errors and lost our way in Game 1.  We benefited off their mistakes and came back in Game 2.  We won a contested battle on a technicality in Game 3.  Game 4, a few bad decisions and performances cut us short.  What happens in Game 5?  This is what I want.

Don’t let David Ortiz beat you.  Let Adam Wainwright throw 130 pitches if needed.  Check Jon Lester’s glove for Clay Buchholtz’s green hair gel.  Don’t start David Freese.  Don’t start Daniel Descalso.  Start Kolten Wong.  And find Shelby Miller.  As long as the Cards play sound defense, get a few clutch hits and don’t self destruct I think Waino will bring this Game 5 home.

That’s all.  Thanks for staying.

-D. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

IMAGE CREDIT-Fansided.com

 

 

The Cardinal Way Appears At Fenway

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I believe in the Cardinal Way.  While the Boston Strong moniker is wearing thin on me, this brand name sticks because it connects to the way the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball.   At their best, the Cards grind out at bats, make the plays, get timely hits and present young guns on the mound to make the other team squirm or look like old haggard sluggers.   On more than one occasion, Boston right fielder Shane Victorino stared out into space after striking out against Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.  Dustin Pedroia went to a knee reaching for a Martinez delivery.  Johnny Gomes looked as useless as a plant in the winter time at the plate against Trevor Rosenthal.   Throughout their two years under Mike Matheny and the final portion of the Tony La Russa managerial streak, the Cards have been a team that strings the little hits together, doesn’t quit until the end and makes every effort count.  We are either universally loved or hated for never putting these attributes to rest.   As I said in the NLCS, the Cards play like they all grew up together and became a team and weren’t merely assembled to win.   Here is what happened Thursday night for the Cards to win 4-2 and pull the World Series even at 2 games.

*Michael Wacha pitched very well without his best stuff.  The Red Sox stuck to their sickening trend and made the young hurler work for his outs, but Wacha didn’t break.  Sure, David Ortiz hit a changeup above the green monster for a brief Boston lead, but that was all the Sox could score off the kid.   Wacha shut down another offense for 6 solid innings.  He is 4-0 this postseason.  I have a feeling he will adjust more to the Red Sox than they will to him for the next game.

*Carlos Beltran, fresh off a shot of painkillers to his bruised ribs, collected 2 key hits and knocked in a huge insurance run in the 7th inning where the Cards netted their lead taking charge to reclaim the game.   Beltran is a smooth easy going presence that could make walking across a tight rope look easy.   He has saved this team many times this postseason with different methods.  Deemed a slowing down player in September, Beltran slammed a 3 run bomb to open the playoffs at home against Pittsburgh.  He put on a one man show in the first game against the Dodgers, throwing out the winning run at home plate before knocking in the eventual game winner.  He saved a potentially back breaking embarrassing grand slam in Game 1 against the Red Sox on Wednesday night.  Under the shadows of playoff glory, Beltran is working his October magic.  I am glad it’s on our end and not like in 2004-2005 when he helped make our life a living hell while playing for Houston.   He is a Cardinal now and it will be hard to let him go after this season.

*Matt Holliday is quietly putting together a big postseason.  He isn’t collecting a ton of hits but he has made them count.  He hit a solo HR in game 1 and tripled and scored the first run last night.  In the first series’, he seemed to collect that HUGE HR and get the hits when needed.   It would be amazing if this long ridiculed left fielder won the World Series MVP.  That would shut all the haters up.  For all the errors on the infield and NLCS hijinks in the outfield, Holliday has played a solid outfield for the Cards.  He handled the green monster in Games 1 and 2.  He doesn’t make many flashy plays but he makes the routine ones and has a better arm than either of his center fielders.   Holliday is a secret weapon.

*The Young Arms reveal themselves to the Red Sox hitters.   Carlos Martinez, after being used here and there for most of the season, has broken out during the past month.   Once again, Matheny was keeping a hot sports car in the garage as long as he could until he had to use it.   Down the stretch run to the division title and through the playoffs, Baby Carlos is proving to be the late inning setup man to Rosenthal with his eye popping fastball and wicked breaking pitch and nearly folked Victorino up last night.   He threw a crucial 2 inning last night to form the bridge to Rosenthal’s shutdown 9th inning and is starting to lose the baby tags.   He is a mult-tool threat for the future that could contribute in the bullpen and rotation.  One of many.  Nice to see Rosenthal climb the rubber at Fenway and blow 11 fastballs past the Red Sox and silent their postseason momentum and that stuffed crowd of raucous beantown fanatics.  If we win this series, it will be on the heels of our great young pitching.

*Our defense stayed strong.  In a ballpark known for sending opposing players into fits, the Cards made the plays last night.  The highlight of the night was Pete Kozma redeeming himself with a misdirection grounder field and throw in the 7th inning that reminded people why he started so many games this summer for the Redbirds.   Kozma is a plus defender with a great arm and helped the defense hold the fort yesterday.

Instead of being down 2-0 and looking fatally wounded, the Cards come home with a 1-1 series and 3 games at Busch.   Sure, Allen Craig will probably be on the bench, but then again Boston will lose either David Ortiz or Mike Napoli.   Each team will lose an offensive bullet so its even.   The series will be defined by how little mistakes are made and how great the relief pitching can be.   So far, it’s tied and looks like a 7 game series.  At the moment, the momentum belongs to the Cards.

Thanks for staying,

D.L.B.

@buffa82 on Twitter

 

Fenway Torture in for The Cards

Ladies and gentlemen, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the danger zone in the 2013 World Series.  On Wednesday night, the Redbirds were coldly introduced to the horrors of playoff baseball in a park famous for making visiting teams show their ugliest color.  Right from the outset of Game 1, bad things were in store.  Bad defense, subpar pitching and a lack of the big hit kept the Cards from breaking out on top early.  The rest was sad to see.   Just in case you had the pleasure of not watching last night’s game, allow me to tell you what happened and why we lost Game 1.

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Adam Wainwright Doesn’t Bring His A Game

It happens more often than people give his stat line credit for.  Lately, Adam Wainwright had found a way to escape his worst inning, the 1st frame, without much damage.  Last night, things weren’t going well for our ace pitcher.   His curve ball didn’t have the bite it usually had.  The cutter was out of the strike zone.  His mistakes came on his fastball up in the zone and on bad changeups.   Waino wasn’t bad last night but he was far from sharp and got beat up.   Out of all the hits given up, Mike Napoli’s three run double was the hardest hit.  Others were seeing eye singles through the holes or bloop hits.  If madness had a name, The Cardinals found it and don’t forget, the rough pitching of Waino was the start.   He could have exited the game without throwing 95 pitches but since Shelby Miller is missing yet on the roster, the Cards would have further exposed their bullpen if Waino hadn’t made it out of 5 innings.   Waino’s runs allowed weren’t all earned, but if you asked him, he will take responsibility for all of them.  He couldn’t get a patient Red Sox lineup to bite on any of his pitches so he had to come to them and the results weren’t pretty.

Bad Defense Blues Strike

In my blog yesterday, I picked the Cards in 7 but I pointed out that the one thing that could hold them back or make them fail is their bad defense.   In nearly every category, the Cards ranked near the bottom in defense in 2013.  The Red Sox play solid defense and don’t make too many errors.   The Cards are capable of shooting themselves in the foot.  Last night, it happened early.  Pete Kozma is a pretty good defensive shortstop and may be our best choice at shortstop but he had a horrible night.  He didn’t get a hit but he allowed a few runs to be possible with his defense.  With a runner on base, David Ortiz hit a ground ball to a shifted infield and Matt Carpenter fielded the ball.  Kozma, forgetting where he was, moved to his left first and then had to back up to the second base bag.  Kozma received a weak toss from Carpenter and dropped it.  The second base umpire ruled the runner out but after a discussion with the fellow umpires, the ruling was reversed.  Two on and only 1 out.  Eventually, the bases got jammed and cleared by Napoli’s shot into left center.  In the regular season, you can make errors and survive a game.  Here, in this game, in Boston in the World Series, an error can break a ball game in half and futility can define your game for the night.   The Cards couldn’t overcome bad luck, bad plays and bad pitching last night and lost miserably.  In the 3rd inning, a pop up dropped between Waino and Yadi Molina.   Two runs scored that inning.  Another grounder went off Kozma’s glove.  A few more singles and walks led to runs.  Ortiz missed a grand slam but eventually took Carlos Beltran out of the game when the postseason hero pulled back the fly ball for a mere sacrifice fly.   The Cards committed 3 errors and have committed 6 errors in 12 games this postseason which leads all teams.  Defensively, they are a liability and in Game 1, the Red Sox used that to get ahead in the series.

Beltran Goes Down and Out

Our star rightfielder, playing in his first World Series game in his storied career, made the wonderful catch over the wall on Ortiz but damaged his ribs on the right field wall.  One of the crazy features in Fenway is the right field wall that comes up to a normal sized player’s rib cage.  It isn’t like the outfield walls around the major leagues where you basically bounce off it and make a throw.  Fenway’s right field wall may as well have thorns sticking out of because when Beltran made that catch he bruised his ribs, left the game, and may be affected by it the rest of the series.  Remember what happened to Hanley Rameriz in Game 1 of the NLCS?   The Cards got a dose of that feeling last night with Beltran going down.  With Allen Craig unable to play the field as of right now, losing Beltran would be detrimental to the chances of a title.

Fenway Park Familiarity 

The Cards don’t have it and looked like a team lost in space last night in Boston.   Both teams deal with the conditions there, but the Red Sox are used to it because it’s their home.  The Cards looked out of sorts and homesick last night.   The green monster in left field.   The way it is set up, you think the left fielder is standing right behind the shortstop.  A base hit to left doesn’t score a runner from second.  A ball off the wall is probably a single and not a double.   Right center is a potentially hazardous situation.  The place seats less than 40,000 people and when stuffed to the gills, it resembles a very crowded church.  People are everywhere and the smaller the environment, the more noise can be made.  The Cards aren’t used to that and have played in some hostile places(San Francisco) but not like this.  This isn’t Chavez Ravine in LA where a lot of seats are empty.  Fenway Park is a cathedral of baseball heaven in its own right and for visitors it can be hell.   Busch Stadium is a great place to be and works in the Cardinals advantage, but it doesn’t have the quirky confines like Fenway does.   If you aren’t ready for it, Fenway can swallow you whole.

The Offense Fails to Produce The Hit

Two chances.  Two double plays.  The Cards had chances to get back in the game but David Freese and Yadi Molina hit into double plays.  Chances erased.  We had 7 hits, as many as Boston, but could only produce a single run, which was a Matt Holliday bomb in the 9th inning of a 8-0 game.  Forget the pitching and defense for a minute.  The Cards have to find a way to score.  In the last 3 games of the Dodgers series, they were starting to break out.  There isn’t a living and breathing defensive handicap like Yasiel Puig in right field anymore.  The Cards have the offensive firepower, with or without Beltran, to score at Fenway.  On Wednesday night, they put runners on base but couldn’t score.

Let’s talk about the hairy elephant in the room…..

The Gooey Substance on Lester’s Hand

Maybe it’s nothing.  Maybe it’s something.  Either way, I would like to know what was on Jon Lester’s glove throughout the game.  A Cardinals minor leaguer spotted it and you can see it in pictures.  I don’t care who put it up first, social media or a private source.  I want to know what it was and if it gave Lester an advantage.   Excuse me for looking out for the sanctity of the game here but if there was cheating going on, something needs to be done.   In the cold weather, two things are effected.  Your feet and hands.  Pitchers have a hard time getting a grip on the ball.  The substance looked like vaseline.   If Lester was using it, I am not sure if he was, then that is a huge advantage.  Throwing a good curveball is all about the grip on the baseball.  If Lester cheated, hopefully the MLB investigates.  If there is a shed of doubt about his innocence, go after it.  What was it?  What is the name of it?  What does it do?  Why were you using it?  Tell me now.

Looking ahead to Game 2 With Wacha Taking The Mound

The good thing is rookie sensation Michael Wacha goes in Game 2 tonight.  The same guy who was pitching to college players last year takes the mound in rowdy Fenway Park tonight with the hope of sending the Cards back to Busch on Saturday with an even series.  Going back down 2-0 would be like escaping quick sand.  Wacha shut down the Pirates and Dodgers.  Now he goes into the toughest place to pitch and will try to create magic again.   The bats need to make an appearance.  Score early.  Get Wacha some runs.  Create an aura of confidence because right now, it’s non-existent.  The Cards have to take the series back tonight and along with the necessary needs, good defense will be required or you can call this series over.  It’s that simple.

Thanks for taking the time,

Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter

Reasons Why The Cardinals Win the World Series

Reasons Why Cardinals Have the Advantage in 2013 World Series.

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Tonight, the Cardinals and Red Sox open season on the World Series at Fenway Park and it’s hard to find a part of me that isn’t excited to see the Redbirds compete for their 12th championship title.   Baseball isn’t an easy sport to love.  It takes patience, exasperates your nerves and requires a particular brand of devotion only developed at a very young age.  It was hard to tell what would come of the 2013 Cardinals but if any team has earned the right to return to the center stage of the playoffs, it St. Louis.   Minus three starters, a shortstop, closer and their RBI machine first basemen for the most important stretch of the season, the Cards used 20 different rookies to climb their way back to the top.  They beat their division rival Pirates in 5 games and outlasted the hapless and mercenary assembled Dodgers in 6 games to reach the World Series.  It’s a helluva story that will see an end in about 10 days.   The best team in each league meets this week in the World Series and the winner will be justified.   Who wins and why?   I believe the Cards will win in 7 hard fought stressful games and here are a few reasons why that can happen.   I will leave the ridiculously detailed observations to the stat hounds on twitter.  I am going to swing the blunt stick here for the pleasure of my readers who don’t have all day.

4 Reasons Why The Cardinals Win The Series.

*The Cardinals have a better 1-2 punch in their rotation at the moment and that means everything because these two will pitch twice in the series and determine the initial momentum and the outcome.  For the last month, no combo has pitched better than Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.   Wainwright has been nails for the better part of September and all of October.  He is an ace and has pitched like one.  If he can make it out of the first inning,  Waino has been nearly unhittable.   Coming up behind him is the rookie sensation Wacha.   He didn’t just pitch good the past 2 weeks.  He has dominated hard hitting good teams.   He dominated the Pirates in the division series to keep the Birds in it and proved his mettle by beating the Dodgers twice in the NLCS.   What makes you think the Red Sox will have a shot against him at Fenway or Busch Stadium?  Wacha is the deal breaker when it comes to which starting pitching has the edge.   I am sorry but Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Clay Buckholtz and John Lackey don’t scare me and neither of them form a 1-2 combo better than Waino and Wacha.

*Allen Craig is back and that is great for many reasons.  First, his bat in this lineup instantly it deadly.   This is a guy who drove in 97 runs in about 5 months.   Craig doesn’t do it by bashing home runs.  He collects his RBI by knocking in runners with 2 outs and the stress levels higher than the roof of a stadium.   He doesn’t have to crush the ball or swing the bat like Thor like his teammate Matt Holliday.  Craig has a nice and easy going swing that lobs base hits to all fields.  His timing won’t be an issue.  If he had to catch up to the Cards’ young arms fastballs there would be problems.   Most of the Red Sox rotation relies on command and offspeed pitching, and Craig has shown the ability to hit any breaking ball.   He is a smart sound RBI machine that is the offensive X-Factor for the 4 games in Boston.    There is a chance he could play first base for 1 of the 3 games at Busch and the good thing is he has until Saturday to prep his legs for that.   Home field advantage is nice but without it allows the Cards to see what Craig can do on the base paths.  If he plays first, Mr. Matt Adams carries his sledgehammer back to the bench for late inning heroics.  If not, Craig sits at Busch as the most deadly man in the stadium waiting for his chance to make a dent.  A healthy and effective Allen Craig makes the two lineups seem pretty even.  Allen Craig and Wacha are difference makers ladies and gents.

*Our bullpen is better than the Red Sox pen.   Sure, the team gave Edward Mujica a guest spot again but still bolster a group that throws hard moving heat and can break off the curve when needed.  Have a problem with David Ortiz?  Bring out Randy Choate or Kevin Siegrist.   Need a double play?  Ask Seth Maness to spin a sinker up there and the inning is over.  Have a problem with switch hitters?  Siegrist can handle them and there also is a guy named Carlos Martinez down there waiting to make an impact.  Martinez has been pitching lights out of the pen lately, filling himself with confidence and arrogance on the mound.   At the end there is a man named Trevor Rosenthal who has been a door slammer this month.   Rosenthal is also pitching with more confidence since taking over the closer role.  He shut down Washington in the final week of the season and didn’t run in any problems with Pittsburgh or Los Angeles.    Just remember this.  The Red Sox outlasted the Detroit Tigers because the Detroit bullpen pathetically blew two fine games pitched by Max Scherzer.   If Waino, Wacha or Joe Kelly hand a lead to this Cardinal bullpen, it won’t be blown and it definitely won’t happen twice.  The turning point in the Detroit-Boston series was the Tigers pen blowing a 5-1 Game 2 lead.   Once that happened, the series was swung in the other direction towards Boston.   They were given a life and took advantage.  Against our hard throwing arms, they won’t see a shred of that advantage this next week.

*Carlos Beltran.   Yeah, I am getting sentimental here but I have a feeling Beltran will finally capture his long awaited World Series ring.   He has waited 15 years to get here and I doubt the Cards will let this opportunity slip away.  There is no guarantee Carlos will return next season so this is the best shot to deliver the veteran a smooth ride home.  Beltran has been a great teammate and ambassador of the game in St. Louis and came here to win it all.   This team may get down but it won’t let sadness reach their savvy old right fielder again like it did in 2012.  Beltran is a postseason beast and will take care of business.  We wouldn’t be here without his heroic efforts in game 1 of the NLCS and I have a feeling we are in for a couple more signature Beltran moments the next week or so.  Sure, the Red Sox are playing for the grieving city of Boston, which is still reeling from the bombing earlier this year.   The Cards are playing for simpler reasons that include Beltran and a guy named Stan Musial, who passed away right before spring training.  The Cards have honored their fallen legend by playing in a manner that would make Stan proud and that won’t stop this week.

One Reason The Cards may have trouble

*The defense playing in Fenway park.   Left and center field are deal breakers.    Matt Holliday was taking fly balls off the green monster in left field and Jon Jay will be manning a center field with an awkward and potentially hazardous layout.   The two games the Cards lost in the NLCS were games the defense let the pitching down.   The Cards either play great defense or throw the ball around and drop pop ups and miss fly balls.  Make a mistake in this sandbox American League park and the entire game and series could be flipped in another direction.   The Cards must play GOOD DEFENSE.  Avoid errors, make the throws and catch everything you can.  Simple duty if you let it be.

Both the Cards and Red Sox finished 97-65 and got to the World Series.  It’s a rare moment where the best of the best meet in the final round and picking a winner isn’t easy.   Both teams are playing with momentum but I think the Cards are on a higher level due to their takedown of Clayton Kershaw twice in the League Championship series.   The Red Sox couldn’t solve Max Scherzer in two start lasting nearly 14 innings and needed the horrible Detroit bullpen to cough up the leads.   The Cards got to the World Series by destroying Kershaw and the Dodgers.  After that raucous triumph, no one on the Red Sox pitching roster scares me.   Bring it on Boston!  Your city will be quite strong without another world championship ring.  Prepare to fall.  At 730pm tonight, the 2013 World Series begins and I can’t wait.

Thanks for staying and GO CARDS,

Dan L. Buffa

Dose of Buffa Movie Review Special

Before the Cards completely take over my day and I go deep into World Series analysis, here are a couple movies I had the chance to watch in the past week.   Captain Phillips and Escape Plan.   Two films that couldn’t be any different or swim towards a more diverse audience.  One is a true story Oscar contender about the hijacking of a boat(or the soul of a few men for their lives) and the other involves two heavies from the action blood drunk 80’s finally sharing the screen for an entire film.   Which one did I love and which one can I easily say can wait for the DVD racks?   Find out next.

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CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Directed by Paul Greengrass

Starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi

Quick Setup-Captain Phillips is a multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates.

Buffa’s Blunt Take-This is a superb thriller for many reasons and a movie that won’t soon leave your memory.   A lot of movies, even the good ones, quickly leave you memory once you leave the theater or watch something else.  Captain Phillips hasn’t left my head just yet.

One of the things this movie does so well is maintain a frenetic pace for its entire 134 minute running time and it keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat.  All it takes is a google search to find out what happened to Captain Phillips and his crew aboard the Maerska, Alabama, a U.S. container ship, when Somali Pirates tried to overthrow it for money.  Director Paul  Greengrass has the ability to keep you guessing whereas to the conclusion of this horrifically tragic story.  He directed the last two Bourne films and this movie has the same level of intensity and forward thinking of Greengrass’ 9/11 film, United 93.

Dealing with a true event that placed a lot of innocent men in danger, Greengrass doesn’t shy away from the perspective of the Somali Pirates here.    They aren’t cardboard cutout villains but portrayed as real people with an unfortunate agenda and that is one based in robbery.

The arrival of new actor Abdi is key here because his face could tell a thousand words about desperation and depravity.   Hanks is phenomenal here but he has key scenes with Abdi that resonate because of how great the men play together.  One man comes from entitlement and the other from a source of criminal livelihood yet both are determined and hard working.   Whose will will break fist is the heart and soul of these tale?

Hanks once again is just marvelous here and it’s what he holds back behind those quietly heroic eyes that keeps you enthralled.  Don’t be mistaken, this is the Tom Hanks show and we are all the better for it.  The rookie actor who specialized in comedies has developed into a powerhouse name that can easily slip into any role and dominate.  Hanks saves his best for last in the movie’s final scene.  Sitting cold and shaken on a medic table, paralyzed by traumatic occurrence, Phillips slowly breaks down after holding it together for days and it’s so penetrating and emotional that you feel as wounded as he does.  Credit Hanks with taking us there.  It’s an Oscar worthy performance.  Saying that with a Hanks role is like saying when you step near an ocean your feet will get wet.

See this movie.  Forget about what really happened.  The movie is adapted from Phillips’ account in his book, and sitting there running through the details isn’t worth your effort.  This is a cinematic adaptation of a true story.  Expect a little push and give here and there in the telling of the tale.  Ride the wave with Hanks here and when you step off this ship Greengrass’ film will stay with you.   A great movie is like a virus.  It infects your system for days.

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ESCAPE PLAN

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Amy Ryan, Vinnie Jones and Vincent D’ Onofrio

Quick Setup-Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a prison security specialist who finds himself locked inside one of his own facilities and must team up with a mysterious fellow prisoner in Emil(Schwarzenegger) to find a way out.

Buffa’s Blunt Take-Save this one for DVD.  While the thrill of seeing two action legends tangle on the big screen and share some scenes together is a good site and makes for a light entertaining guilty pleasure, there’s no way I will tell you pencil this in for a theater visit.  It’s best served at home on your television, where you can pause it, take a break, get some dinner going, and come back to it.   Seen at once, the plot becomes too complex for its own good and takes away from the fun of watching Sly and Arnold exchange macho dialogue and funny one liners.   One scene in particular reins as the finest moment and that is when FINALLY, these two guys exchange punches.  Hearing Arnold tell Sly, “You hit like a vegetarian” is something I won’t forget but the rest of the movie is quite amateur.  This movie would have been killer in the late 1980’s when these two were at the top of their game.  Now, it’s like watching a couple of old lions put on the same tired uniform and after 45 minutes, it gets a little dull.

That’s all for now.  Two Film-Addict specials here on A Dose of Buffa.  Come back next week for my take on Last Vegas.  Until then, stay tuned for more Cardinals blogging leading up to Game 1 of the 2013 World Series between the Cards and the Red Sox.

-Dan L. Buffa

@buffa82 on Twitter