Moneyball Review/Cards Glimpse/More

Ladies and gents,

Start your engines and allow me to dish a few ideas around the room here.  One of the challenging things about this new role of being a dad is finding time to do the things that were routine before you had a kid.  For me, it’s writing, movies and sports.  Working out and running falls around the work schedule, but those three things are what keep me moving and sane.  Something to chase after.  Many around me are surprised I have kept up the writing since his arrival, and all I can say is I do it because it’s a theraputic experience and serves as a way I can get passionate about something but also move past it the next instant.   Let’s get moving here.  Postcards from Buffa, the Rogue Edition, begins now.  Kicking things off with a movie review.

Moneyball Review

One of the scariest things in the world is change.  Risk and reward circle change and cause people to redefine their goals in life.  Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane went to his owner after the 2001 playoffs saw his team get kicked out in the first round of the playoffs after carrying a 2-0 lead in the series.  Beane asked his owner for more money.  The owner said no.  After that season, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen and Jason Giambi left for free agency.  Beane then discovered a new way to build a baseball team, with the help of Peter Brand, an assistant to the GM in Cleveland, whom Beane meets when Brand shoots down when of Billy’s trade proposals.   Soon after, Beane and Brand are working together on fixing the A’s , who carried a payroll around 39 million dollars.   Moneyball focuses on one idea, a strategy from Bill James, who wrote a book that mixed economics with baseball and changed the blue print for building a roster.  Beane’s wild idea was hated by his scouts, fans and any baseball historian who thinks relying on stats and computers instead of advanced scouting is ridiculous power playing.   Billy Beane is played by Brad Pitt, who slips easily into the skin of this renegade and gives one of his best performances in years.  An important reminder that before Pitt became a face, he was a good actor and live wire who could blow people away.   If you know baseball history from the past 10 years, you know what happens with the 2002 Athletics team.

Part of Brand’s advice and strategy given to Beane is building a roster of players who provide you wins and don’t cost you millions.   In one great sequence, Brand explains the true reason the Boston Red Sox threw 8 million at Damon.   Damon was a potential star and decent leadoff guy, but he wasn’t worth 8 million based on the wins he gave his team.   If any theory proves the overpaid scheme of baseball, James is the front runner.  Brand’s idea is to build a roster of players who bring you wins, which means you need runs, and players who can get on base.  Big sluggers like Giambi and A-Rod are great, but they cost too much money if you’re payroll is 40 million.  Beane tells one of his oldest scouts in a great sequence that in order to survive,  you have to “adapt or die”.  It’s here where the movie takes off.   Beane and Brand visiting Scott Hatteberg, and telling him they want to turn him into a first basemen because he gets on base.  Hatteberg never played first base before 2002.  Beane recruits older players like David Justice and Jeremy Giambi, cheap players who are old and broken or young and stupid but get on base.  On base percentage is Beane’s key idea here and it sticks because it’s an often overlooked stat in the game.  Every hitter’s goal is to get on base, via hit, walk, hit by pitch and hustling through an error.  Beane and Brand’s idea is finding those types of hitters.

Does it all work out?  Do the A’s reach the promise land with their new found ideal?  I’m not telling, but it’s no secret what is on Director Bennett Miller’s mind.   One man trying to change the way the game is played.  Played off the field.  The front office tiny dancers who work the magic behind the players on the field.  Billy Beane turned down a 12.5 million dollar offer to become GM of the Red Sox in 2003, and we are never told why he did it.   Here is what I think.  Beane was a former MLB player who got drafted out of high school by scouts who told him his time was now to make it to the show.  Beane wasn’t ready, but carried all five tools and joined the Mets.  He flopped and soon found himself out of the game.   Beane made a decision based on money, and he swore he’d never do it again.  He didn’t take the job in Boston because that offer was everything he had built himself up against.  Once he couldn’t get a bigger payroll, he changed the entire way he viewed collecting wins.  He couldn’t go back to star chasing.  The Red Sox could win a World Series and that would have been nice for him to be at the helm of it.  Beane’s goal was to change the game.  He wanted to win the World Series with the 39 million dollar A’s team that no one thought could win with a particular strategy.   He wanted to upset a perceived idea.   It wasn’t about wins, rings and glory.  He wanted to prove people wrong and find a different way for a team to win a championship than possessing the biggest bank account.  From 1996 to 2001, the Yankees won the World Series 4 times with a payroll exceeding 150 million.  A year after Beane’s moneyball team made from an “island of misfit toys” won 20 games in a row yet failed to reach the World Series, the Marlins upset the Yankees with a payroll of 53 million.  A small sample size, but Beane started something.  He didn’t have 12 million reasons to stay in Oakland, but he had a few solid ones.

Brad Pitt is the heart and soul of the film, installing Beane with a crafty rebel with a cause attitude that spread throughout the entire franchise.   Pitt is one of those underrated actors who gets lost in movie star land and much of his talent is shaded by his box office pictures.   He is the perfect guy to play Beane because of his live wire ability to get into character and entertain at the same time.  Jonah Hill plays Brand with a capable geek smart whip and does his job of playing off Pitt.   Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Art Howe, the biggest opposition Beane faced in his new ways.  Smaller roles with Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg and Robin Wright Penn as Beane’s ex are fine but the keys to the puzzle are Pitt and Hill.

Moneyball works because it is a 5 tool player in it’s own right.  The moral of the story is strong, the acting is versatile, Miller’s direction doesn’t get in the way, the timeliness of the story is worth it, and the cool and cocky script takes the biggest piece of the pie here.   Aaron Sorkin(Social Network, West Wing) and Steve Zaillian contributed to the script and it’s an intelligient mix of baseball jargon and integrity that creates a brand of sports symphony.  It is true some of the facts are stretched and there is a missing element in certain scenes and players are mixed around, but the best part about Moneyball is that the heart of the story stays true in Beane’s vision.  He wanted to change the game and while he didn’t quite reach his goal, the journey he took is worth watching.

Moving on…

Things to Consider in Philly this afternoon-

*Kyle Lohse faces the biggest test of his career.   Taking on The Phillies lineup in Game 1.   A rematch for the Phils against a pitcher who has shut them down twice in the second half and most notably, beat Roy Halladay two weeks ago in a pivotal series for the Cards.  Lohse finished 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA and is trying to make up time here in St. Louis.  After two years of being invisible in value due to bad pitching and injury, Lohse is starting to mean something here.  His start today is huge in order to secure momentum.

*The loss of Adam Wainwright hurts the most in the postseason.   Without him, the Cards lack a potent 1-2 punch in their rotation.   With him, The Cards win this series.  The absence of a 20 game winner pits the Cards as underdogs because that’s where the Phillies have the biggest advantage.   Cliff Lee, Halladay, Cole Hamels are threats.  Chris Carpenter is our only true weapon in the rotation.

*Something to consider.  The pressure factor.  Who faces more pressure to win in this series?  A clue.  They reside in the city of brotherly love.  Also, the place of massive expectations.   After the World Series in 2008, the Phillies faced similiar expectations the past few years but this year after acquiring Cliff Lee to complete the ultimate power rotation, the expectations are even higher.  They won 103 games in the season, and see only one result.  A World Series.  The Cardinals are the underdogs here and that helps them.  They weren’t expected to win anything this season and now reached the playoffs on an amazing streak that many baseball pundits don’t know what to make of them.  If the Cards win this series, the world will be shocked.  If the Phillies lose, they will be called chokers.  Hence the expression called the Upset.   The one thing the Cards dont face is pressure here.

*Roster moves thoughts.   Leaving Kyle McClellan off the roster is smart because he has nothing right now in the shape or form of a threat to a hitter.  He has a dead arm.  Don’t risk the chance of him blowing a game with a hanger.  If Jake Westbrook doesn’t start a game, there is a need to leave him on the roster to serve as a long arm in the bullpen.  Motte, Boggs, Salas and Sanchez are required roster spots and they all made it.  Sanchez for McClellan is key.

*Rotation moves.   Lohse is the right person to start Game 1, with his rest and history against the Phillies.  La Russa decided to start Chris Carpenter in Game 2 on 3 days rest, and while it’s dangerous I understand and approve the move.  Carpenter has never started on 3 days rest, but the Cardinals must take 1 game in Philly and if Lohse doesn’t get it done, you must throw the best at Philly and Carp is it.   Jaime Garcia starts Game 3 at Busch and La Russa declined to name the Game 4 starter.  This isn’t a complex question.  Edwin Jackson needs to start Game 4.   The Cards traded for him to fill a key rotation spot, and he delivered one of the most consistent arms on the team.  Jackson is a young force and can deliver 6-7 innings and keep the team in the game.  He deserves it more than Garcia at this point and unlike Jaime, Edwin doesn’t fall apart so easily.  You don’t need two starters in the pen.  Another unreal La Russa mind game.

*What else is there to say?  Go Cards.  Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman need to continue to dominate and carry the offense.  Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday will be on the roster, so that’s good news.  Allen Craig needs to find his way into this lineup.  Craig is too hot of a hitter at the moment to keep on the bench.  Bench players like DD and Punto will also play key roles in our depth.

Rams Notes for Sunday

*The Red Zone factor.  Who wins between the Rams and Redskins comes down to which team scores touchdowns once they enter the red zone.  A matchup perceived as a field goal battle can be changed if Sam Bradford and the Rams find their way into the end zone and execute.  Same for Rex Grossman and the Redskins.  Two teams built up in similiar fashion come down to which team gets 7 points instead of 3.

*The Rams have to run the ball all day against the Skins.  Steven Jackson’s durability will be tested here because if the Rams establish the run and push the Redskins back, Sam Bradford can unleash an assault on their secondary.  The Redskins carry London Fletcher at linebacker and Oshimigo Atogwe at safety, but Bradford can find holes if Jackson and Cadillac poke holes up front.  The Rams can’t be one dimensional but they must establish the run.

*My biggest worry in this game.  The big turnover by the Rams.   Sam Bradford has only allowed 3 turnovers, but all of them have been returned for touchdowns and switched the momentum of the game.

*Get the ball in Rex Grossman’s hands and make plays.  The Rams defense must keep Tim Hightower container so Grossman goes to the air and makes mistakes.  If the old Rex shows up(the one that lost the Super Bowl for the Bears in 2006), the Skins will have no chance.  The Rams secondary is the weakest link on this team, but Sunday it will be the biggest x-factor.

*This is a must win game in Rams Park.  Lose this one and we are 0-4 heading into a bye week and following that with Dallas, Green Bay and New Orleans.   Does that scare you?  If Ravens QB Joe Flacco can throw for 338 yards against our secondary, how many will be put up by Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and even Tony Romo?  The Redskins game is the one game where we carry a sliver of a chance to win and we must take advantage of it.  We saw how fast the Rams fans came back to the Ed Dome, but do you want to see how fast they can go away.  I’ll always watch, but I’m talking about the blackout attack on television if sellouts don’t happen.   Lose fans and you put the team in jeopardy and Steve Spagnuolo on the hot seat for the rest of the season.  Makes for an uneasy environment.  It would be truly ugly to see the Rams take a step back after last year’s near playoff spot.  Win tomorrow or carry a poisonous 0-4 record.

My prediction-A field goal game takes over in the second half and the Rams inch forward with a minute to go and take the contest, 20-17.

Blues Notes-

*In a tough decision, I have to take Brian Elliot over Ben Bishop unless Bishop plays unbelievable hockey in the preseason.  Elliot is a veteran and Bishop is the kid who could never put it together.  Bishop didn’t impress last year and may of lost it when him and Conklin changed places during games 2 times in March.

*Evgeni Grachev has been a goal scoring machine in the preseason but if a spot doesn’t exist, the kid is only 21 years and can start the season in Peoria.  He just puts pressure on the players to produce.

*Jason Arnott’s surgery on his eye is standard procedure and won’t deter him from taking over the third line. Arnott is important and embues the team with the veteran leadership they lacked last season.

*The Blues feature three strong lines for the first time in years and all three can produce goals and not just effort.  They will be more versatile in 2011-2012.

*Why is B.J. Crombeen on this team?  Grachev will challenge for his spot first and foremost.  Here’s to hoping Ryan Reaves makes the game lineup and gets his chance to solidify himself as the enforcer of this team.  An important spot on a team.

Random Thoughts-

*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close trailer is going to be an emotional journey but one worth taking.  Mixing together 9/11, a son’s pursuit of his father’s legacy, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and director Stephen Daltry.   Get ready for an emotional and original journey.   Different elements playing together on film is hard to pull off, but take a look here.   We need one of these intensely passionate stories every once in awhile.  How many son’s lost their fathers that day and wonder what got left behind?  A movie about the collision of good people and tough reality which gives way to a healing process.   The son finds a key left behind by his dad, who died in the 9/11 attacks, that unlocks all kinds of memories and sends him on a journey.  Sounds interesting to me.

*Terry Francona’s departure from the Red Sox is an expected move after the monsterous collapse of the team this year in the face of enormous expectations.  I don’t agree that Francona is to blame for the Red Sox rotation suffering injuries and simply not being good enough, the loss of Kevin Youklis in August, the loss of Papelbon during the season and the underperformance of Carl Crawford.  Francona brought two World Series here in his 8 seasons in Boston after they spent decades without one.   That’s what I’ll remember.  We also can’t forget that Francona wanted this as well.

*Upon second viewing, X-Men: First Class is one of the best superhero tales in the past 10 years becauser it is perfectly casted, lays down an origin story thick and also mixes in the Cold War with its plot.  Director Matthew Vaughn and producer Bryan Singer combine here to make a smart comic book film with a real story.  How would mutants fit in and would they take sides if we didn’t accept them into society?  A poignant question.

*Late Update on Cards Roster-Kyle McClellan is left off the roster as expected.   Eduardo Sanchez is also left off the roster due to the choice of keeping only 11 pitchers on the roster, leaving Jake Westbrook on the roster.  Carpenter, Lohse, Garcia, Jackson, Westbrook, Motte, Salas, Boggs, Rzep, Rhodes, Dotel are the pitchers.   I’d like to have Sanchez on there and not Rhodes but Tony’s group doesn’t surprise me.

*Music of the Day-“Who Made Who” by AC/DC, an easy going rock tune perfect for the opening day of the playoffs.

http://youtu.be/j2TADt0y5h8

That’s all for now.  It’s time to pull this latest train of Buffa Thought into the station and stop pinching off prose here on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Daddy duty is kicking in and so is the pregame festivities for Cardinal Red October action here at the Buffa Household.  There is more to say, but I have run out of time.

One more thing.  Many around the league and some around the city are saying the Cardinals didn’t earn their playoff spot and the Braves handed it to them.   That’s not accurate.  The Cardinals had to win the games they played and hope the Braves failed on the other end.  The Cards are deserving because they saved their best baseball for last.  If they don’t capitalize on the errors of others, there is no playoffs.  Same case as 2006.  If we don’t take advantage of the Tigers misplays, we don’t win the World Series so easily.  If you do nothing, there is no happy ending.  There it is.  Cut and dry folks.

Thanks for reading and goodnight,

DLB

 

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The Comeback

Deep breath in….and exhale.  Okay, here we go.

Elliot Ness once said, never stop fighting until the fight is done.  The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals did just that.   Faced with unmistakably tortureous odds, the Cards bared down and outlasted the Atlanta Braves with a 90-72 record to win the NL Wild Card.  On September 5th, The Cardinals were 8.5 games out of first place.  On September 29th, we are a playoff team.   Ask anyone in baseball or in St. Louis, myself included, if this team had a shot of making the playoffs in late August and you would have been laughed at.  However, once the Cards swept the Braves in September and cut the deficit to 4.5 games, everything changed.   There were many nights of comebacks and second chances, but on September 9th, the Cards proved they were in it for real.   Facing one of the best closers in the game, young gunner Craig Kimbrel, down 3-1 in the 9th and facing two outs with runners on second and third, Albert Pujols stepped to the plate.  Pujols worked the count to 1-1 and then bounced a base hit inside the first base line to tie the score and keep the Cardinals breathing.  A loss could have knocked us out.  Instead, an extra inning win that night kept us alive, gave way to a sweep and started the improbable run.  After that game, Albert Pujols went on a terror.  Kimbrel blew 3 more saves, including a huge one last night to set up the Phillies for their extra inning win.  The Cards rotation went into lockdown mode and the bullpen proved reliable.    How did the Cards really make the playoffs?  They finished the season 23-8, including 8 wins against the Brewers, Braves and Phillies.  The Braves finished 9-18 and collapsed, blowing a 10.5 game lead they held on August 25th.   Once again, the fight isn’t over until the fighting is done.  While I grew despondent at times with the team, I never quit watching them and never lost hope.  While their comeback was amazing, it’s surreal and hasn’t settled in yet.  I woke up today late for work and in a mad rush, so I couldn’t soak in the slow pleasing pleasure of a ride to work knowing my team is in.   As the hours roll by, I will sit here in wonder and amazed at my team.  How did it happen, precisely?  Allow me to explain.

The Recap-The Cardinals scored 5 runs in the first inning, added 3 more and easily dispatched the Astros 8-0 in less than 2.5 hours.  Chris Carpenter took the big lead and shut the door like only an ace of the rotation could.   Carp threw a complete game shutout, allowed 6 hits, and struck out 11 against only one walk.   Carp dominated on the most important night of the year.  Carpenter’s individual comeback, along with Pujols’, was impressive and worth the reward.  After starting 1-7 through mid June, Carp finished 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA.  The Cardinals used RBI hits from Pujols, Berkman, Freese and a late home run by Allen Craig to propel them to victory, but Carpenter was the engine behind the strong finish.   When in need, true ace’s stand up.    This is exactly what the Cards had to do against the horrible Astros.  Get a big lead, throw the arm on the mound and punch this team in the mouth quick to strangle the momentum of the evening.   The Cards victory was never in doubt after the first few innings where Carp looked filthy good.

Smaller Highlights of the Game-

*Allen Craig sure makes the absence of Matt Holliday sting less.   Craig has done nothing but hit clutch home runs, collect a .315 BA and drive in nearly 50 runs in only 95 games played.  Craig finished with 11 home runs and 50 RBI in a bench role.  He gives you plenty of options next season.  An exciting young talent.

*Nick Punto and Craig came up huge in the Astros series.  In the last 2 games, Punto and Craig combined to go 11-16 with three home runs and 5 extra base hits.   Teams win games when their bench players can perform as well or better than the players they replaced.   When Rafael Furcal and Holliday went down Monday, Punto and Craig stepped up in a huge way and helped this team secure a playoff spot.

*The bullpen gets a full night’s rest for the first time in weeks.   There aren’t too many complete gamers on the pitching staff, so the bullpen rest is vital before a playoff series.

Looking forward to The Phillies

*The rotation has to be Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Lohse for the five game set.  There is no way you can let Jake Westbrook work a playoff game with his inconsistent arm.   Short playoff rounds only need to carry 4 starters, so Jake will hit the bullpen for the Phillies series.   Lohse shut down the Phillies twice during the 2nd half and had a great second half all together.  He is a good candidate to get the ball twice because that’s the way the rest fits in.   Garcia’s start needs to be scheduled at home and not in Philly.

*While Albert Pujols finished up the season right below .300 and a RBI shy of 100, he still needs to contribute big hits in this Phillies series.   The Cardinals amazing September finish coincided with AP enjoying one of his best months ever.   When AP is on, the lineup is destructive.  If he comes up short in Philly, this will also.

*Cliff Lee scares me more than Halladay or Hamels.    Lee has as good of pitches and the right mentality to start a playoff game.  His stats are the strongest in the postseason and when he is on, the rest is history.  Lee pitches game 1.   The Cardinals will be tested right out of the gate.

*Craig blasted two homers off Cole Hamels on two badly timed pitches during the Sunday night game last week.  Craig is an integral part of the lineup and that includes going against Hamels, who is a great pitcher but one that makes key mistakes(example being Dan Uggla’s 0-2 bomb last night).

*Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal’s health are in question, but if they aren’t completely healthy, there’s no reason to push.   Punto and Craig are doing a fine job and don’t need to be pushed off by a hurting regular player.   Holliday can’t throw a baseball and Furcal can’t run.  Sit them down if needed.

*The starting pitching is key and the lineup has to produce, but to me its the bullpen which comes under fire this month.   Can Motte close games effectively?  Will La Russa overuse Motte and not use Boggs, who pitched well against Houston?  How many innings will Salas pitch, or will Sanchez(Tuesday’s winner) be able to help him?  Who gets the ball first, Rhodes or Rzep?  In my case, hopefully neither because they aren’t good lately.

*Do the Cards have a chance?  Sure they do.  All a team has to do is get into the postseason and let it rip.  I’m smelling a 2006 style of play this fall from the Redbirds.  Barely crawl into the postseason and then play your best baseball.   Win or lose, the comeback was incredible and the Cards saved their best play for last.  We were 6-3 against the Phillies in 2011, and played them very well in Philidephia two weeks ago.   The Cardinals have a chance to make things happen here or make life a living hell for Charlie Manuel and his troops.   I wouldn’t be surprised if we were beaten up but I also wouldn’t rule out a well played series.  With this team, it’s so hard to predict a result.   Facing Halladay, Lee and Hamels doesn’t faze me.  Good pitching can be defeated.  The small things worry me.   Philly getting hot over the week.  La Russa’s lack of confidence in his bullpen arms.  The Tony mind games.  What will get in the Cards way?  Their manager or their play?

The Wrapup of the Cards regular season finish

Allow me to throw something back here as I fight off a nap, handle the kid and prepare to add more juicy bits to my already forming Comeback Cards blog.  I’ll call this the finishing touch.   Mea Culpa indeed.  The Cardinals surprised all of us, including me, who drew the sunniest outcome for them all the way back in April.

There are reasons for everything, so here is my quick list of reasons why the Cards came back and stole the wild card-

1.)Atlanta let them back in the house.  I always imagined a final month surge as a family keeping their house safe and protected.  The Braves had a 10.5 game lead heading into the end of August, and that seemed stable enough to seal the deal.  However, they played horrible all around baseball and let The Cards slam right through the front door.   Their pitching fell apart after injuries, their closer imploded and their offense couldn’t score runs.   The Cards basically did the opposite.  Hit with power, pitched great out of the gate and found their young closer in Motte.  The Braves and Cards flip flopped fates.  I’ll take it.
2.)You can’t count out the work of Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman in September.   Both hit .360 plus and slugged homers and game changing hits during Matt Holliday’s sixth absence due to moth head and back cold.   Pujols has always been a late season strong finisher, and Berkman supported him on his off nights.  These two provided the basis of a foundation for our run production.
3.)The Bench kicked it up a notch.   Nick Punto filling in for Furcal and slapping hits around the yard.   Allen Craig hitting homer after homer in big games.  Daniel Descalso filling in on defense.   Adron Chambers and Tyler Greene giving us the speed factor late in games.   With the large amount of injuries, the bench had to come through and did.   Big plus.
4.)The starters shut it down in the final 3 weeks.  Cards starters sported a 3.20 ERA and pounded out quality start after quality start.   Carpenter, Jackson and a man named Kyle Lohse(2 huge starts in September) held up the weight while Garcia and Westbrook wandered.
5.)La Russa is a mad man crazy methodically insecure bitch, but he kept the ship moving, made some strong moves and created his own brand of crazy.  I won’t give him too much credit but he did stir this team in the right direction in the crucial stretch.
6.)Jason Motte closed 9 of 11 games in the clutch hour as well.  After setting a record of flawless pitching from June 23rd through September 6th, Motte took over the closer role, ran into exhaustion and growing pains but got the job done.   He came a long way from April of 2009 to September of 2011.  Big gain for this team in getting a closer.
7.)The defense improved.  Furcal coming in at short.  Jay coming in at center, and DD and Punto filling out the edges.  Berkman played well in right field, and the errors were minimized in the last month.

We can dwell on things like double plays, blown saves, micromanaging leadership, starter wear and tear, but during the last month the Cardinals played their best baseball.   Small things like Ryan Theriot becoming the ultimate late inning pinch hit threat helped.   The return of Eduardo Sanchez this week.  Chris Carpenter going 10-2 in the second half.  Pujols coming back.   Berkman finishing strong after a dry period in July and August.   My friends, we can all lay down our picks in April, reestablish those ideas in July, August and September, but the team we watch and torture ourselves over controls the true cards.  Predictions are halfhearted attempts at a GOD complex.   This Cardinals team was the most frustrating group because they drove in so many directions throughout the year.  When they traded Colby, they were in first place.  A month after the deal, we were in 2nd place and buried.  Two months and two days later(today), we are wild card champions.   That’s baseball.  That’s life.  How did this team do it?  Putting all the pieces together and getting a little help from the Braves.  The 2011 Cardinals never gave up.  They just kept on fighting.  A never say die spirit that wasn’t always distributing a pretty display each night and game, but one that got stronger as the season got shorter.   This is a special year because we will remember the hard times and stressful moments to go with the end result.   We bleed this year and got a huge payoff.

Wednesday night, September 28th, was one of the greatest moments in baseball.   The Red Sox, picked to walk to the World Series, dropped the ball horribly in September and were beaten by the Orioles in the clutch hour while the left for dead small salary Moneyball team Tampa Bay came back from a 7-0 deficit to win on a walkoff and steal the AL Wildcard.  A dream of mine is seeing the Cards and Rays, the forgotten teams, battling for the World Series.

It’s easy to say the Cards face a tough challenge in the Phillies.   Would they have it any other way this season?  Facing Cliff Lee and the Phillies in Game 1 on Saturday is exactly what the Cardinals need and the perfect spot to shock the world again.   Was this playoff entrance more thrilling than 2004, 2005, or 2006?  I believe it was because of the manner in which they plowed towards it.   Unpredictable, entertaining, heartbreaking and unforgettable.   Years from now, I can tell my son Vincent that when he was born the Cardinals completed a highly improbable and thrilling comeback that the sport hasn’t seen in years right as he turned 2 weeks old.

Hey everyone, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the playoffs.  Repeat that a few times until it sticks.  What am I going to do on my night off from The Rogues in Red?  Go watch Moneyball, a film about a renegade GM(Billy Beane) who figured out a different way to build a major league baseball team and make it into the playoffs.   A fitting way to spend my time before the Cards make their desperate walk through October.  The hardest part is over for the Cardinals.  All a team has to do is get into the playoffs.   From there, it’s anyone’s game.

That’s all I have for now.   The surreal nature of this playoff ticket is settling in as we speak.   All day, I have fought off sleep deprivation, tried to keep myself busy and not fall asleep on my forklift.   It’s still a pleasure to hear on the radio that the Cards made it in.   Unbelievable in fact.

Now, I am going to relax and let my eyes close for a few minutes.   The past 24 hours has felt like a jet lagged trip on a french train.   A lot of speed and no in between pauses.  Here’s to the small plunge back into reality.  I am not pinching myself but I do suggest a tiny reminder that what I am seeing is real.

So long for just a little while,

DLB

A Pack of Words for the Cool Kids

Hello Ladies and Gents,

A pack of silent words for the cool kids here as we roll around towards 1am.   While I have to be at work in 5 hours, I am withholding sleep(daddy hours limit) and will pound a few words into the wind here before I get a few hours.  I’m one man with one set of hands with a need to inform.

Very Quick Takes on a few subjects-

The Cardinals fire a blank in Houston 
In a season opportunities lost, The Cards miss another golden opportunity.  It doesn’t matter who you face in the big leagues. You have to execute!  If we had did our job and taken care of business on Thursday and tonight, we’d be leading wild card race by a game.  Instead, we are down a game. Players are paid for a result and not just effort.  The Cardinals are a ton of effort, but no result.   We had a chance to score in the 3rd, and Albert Pujols was thrown out at the plate.  We had the bases loaded in the 6th and only got a run on a double play ball.  In the 8th when we tied the game, the Cards had 2 on and nobody out, and nothing happened as Nick Punto slid headfirst into an out at first base.  Ridiculous.  The Phillies put runners on and scored.  They won 4-2.  They have 100 wins.  The Cards have to win the last two and hope that Roy Oswalt and company deliver a couple wins for us to steal this thing.   An amazing run of 20-6 this month is going to fall short unless we can drag out talent and wit together to beat Houston rookie Henry Sosa(no relation to Sammy) tomorrow and Brett Myers on Wednesday.   FORGET about Thursday until we make it there.   The Braves aren’t going to wilt.  Braves centerfield Michael Bourn(no relation to Jason) called his Houston teammates and told them to keep on playing.  Any Cards fan who was mad at the Astros squeeze is a sore loser and forgets the ultimate rule of competitive sports.   You can never look bad by competing your ass off and winning.  The Cardinals head is on the chopping block, and believe me I am done talking about them. 
This is what the Cards need to watch and listen to..
http://youtu.be/WO4tIrjBDkk

Final Say on Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Victor Ortiz fight
I watched the fight, all 15 minutes of it and have this short cut on it.  The end was exactly what it was called.  A failure to recognize an action by Ortiz.   After headbutt and break, Joe Cortez said “let’s go” and Ortiz left his hands down and got caught. Fair and firm.  The immaturity of Ortiz stood up again.

The Rams Are Ugly Losers
Make no mistake my good friends.  The Rams aren’t just losing.  They are getting their asses kicked.  You’d have to be blind to miss it but you can’t misstep reality.  Sam Bradford and the Rams are playing shitty lazy lifeless robotic football and don’t show any sign of coming out of their tomb.  They are getting outscored 96-36 in their first three games and still have 4 tough matchups before they catch division foe Arizona.  Next week, they get Washington, who lost a close game to the Cowboys tonight yet still own 2 wins under quarterback Rex Grossman(that wasn’t a joke).   Grossman is putting up solid games and doing his job.  If he walks into the Ed Dome and dishes us a beating, I’m going to poke holes in Bradford’s tires, cut open Steven Jackson’s fat lip and shit in Spags’ hat or hide his hair gel.   The Rams can’t score touchdowns in the red zone, and other times we can’t reach it.   The secondary is lousy.   When you allow a rookie playing his first game in Baltimore’s Torrey Smith to score 3 touchdowns in a single quarter, your unit isn’t playing NFL caliber football.   There is no big name stopper on our secondary.   The Rams didn’t care to inquire about one of the Eagles three corners or free agent Antonio Cromartie.   We were set with our collective group of crap.   Where’s Stan Kroneke’s check book now?  Get the ink pen, Stan or realize what you gave up one of our Colorado bases franchises for?  The Rams have stepped back into 2009, where they won 3 games and looked pathetic 89 percent of the time.   Ask Bradford what’s wrong and here’s his answer, honest as a dull knife.  “Where do I start?”  Jackson and the running game aren’t doing much.   Lance Kendricks can’t catch a pass.  The receivers drop too many passes as a whole.   Bradford is going to be hiding in the video room by the end of the season if he keeps getting sacked and blindsided.  The offensive line isn’t protecting him and will relinquish 64 sacks at the current pace.   Big draft pick Jason Smith couldn’t stop Oprah Winfrey on a pass rush right now.  What’s on the agenda at Rams Park?  A strong test of character and skillset.   Spags needs to realize what he has on deck and find out what he needs to pull this ship together and back on course.   Call GM Devaney and communicate with Stan.   Do something.  Go on a team hunting trip.  Kill shit together.  Bond.  Watch Remember the Titans.  This isn’t what we paid for and hoped to see while we nearly drowned in a lockout full of money and greedy grease.  This team was picked by some to finish 10-6 and 11-5.   It’s time to rethink those numbers. My own personal prediction of 9-7 is looking retarded right now.   Rams fans united, what do we really have here?

Until Spags gets a clue, here’s what the Rams need to hear….
http://youtu.be/y-AXTx4PcKI
“You don’t want to hear it…well, the good news is pal, you’re fired.  And you have one week to regain your job.   Starting with tonight’s sit.”-Alec Baldwin In Glengarry Glen Ross, a classic Mamet film about salesmen in a make or break desperation weekend sale
“You can’t close the leads you’re given.  You can’t close shit.  You are shit.  Hit the bricks pal and beat it, because you are going out.  What’s my name?  Fuck you, that’s my name.  I drove an 80,000 dollar Mercedes.  That’s my name.”

One more time-Peyton Manning isn’t coming back in 2011.  If the Colts are 0-10, why risk the potential of losing Manning for part of 2012, or year 2 of the 5 year 90 million dollar contract?  More commercials for Peyton while he signs his brother up for reading classes.

The Blues Expectations
Make the playoffs and then some.  Do Something productive.  The Cardinals are breaking our hearts again and the Rams are shitting on top of them, so take a stand for the first time in years.I want more than the playoffs.  I want a semifinal playoff game.  The Blues are built to kill and gain a playoff spot on paper, with or without brain damaged Frenchman David Perron.    Perron is a mystery.  I don’t know if he is coming back to the broadcast booth or the team.  He is doing light skating and lifting, but that’s a far cry from getting your clock cleaned on the ice.  They announce big news coming and then tell us he isn’t even expected back for awhile.  Save the ink boys.  Perron is a casualty of war and may never be the same.  Unfortunate because the kid’s talented and puts us over the top this season if he is healthy.  I agree that any production from Perron will be icing on the blue and gold cake.  Take the “soon” out of your first sentence mang.  Perron will attempt to come back during the next 6 months from his concussion, which was suffered last November on a mid ice hit from Joe Thornton in a game I attended.  He scored the winning goal that night and left in the 3rd period.  I’ll believe Perron’s comeback when I see him skate with the team in a game.   The chances hinge on the play of Jaroslav Halak and our defense.   The team needs to improve on the power play and limit the 5 goal games allowed.  If not, well, it’s the same story for the Blues since their arrival here.  Failure on all fronts.    It’s not so hard, is it?  There are 8 playoff spots in the Western Conference.  Get one of them.  That’s double the spots in the National League in baseball, for the Blues fans bashing the Cardinals.   In hockey, the record is polished with bullshit.  Overtime losses aren’t put in the loss column.  They have their own special spot.  That would be nice for baseball.  Lose in extra innings and there’s a special column for it so the record doesn’t look so fucking pathetic.  I guess what I’m saying is this.   Blues, give us something real for a change.  Misery is tapped out here in St. Louis in 2011. 

Very Very Quick Takes
-Tony Romo engineered another 4th quarter comeback against the Redskins, a game the Cowboys won in 6 field goals.  Romo’s still a little choking bitch.
-The Steelers almost lost to the hapless Colts.  There’s the lesson again.  Winning is about executing against anybody. 
-Watch the youtube clips above.  They apply to both those team recaps.  Trust me.  Watch the entire clip.  The best 12 minutes of your day. 
-That’s the difference between winning and losing.  Living and dying.  That inch!  Pacino could light a match under a bunch of fat cats.
-The Red Sox fall with the Rays rise is the best story in sports.   Boston’s payroll is right up there with the Yankees, and they made a big splash in the offseason with the signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.  Crawford has tanked under the spotlight while Gonzo has thrived, but the Red Sox pitching is shit, starting with Daiska’s final fall, Lackey’s crumbling, Wakefield’s weary arm, Beckett’s health and Lester’s resistance.  The Rays were picked to win shit.   They lost Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano in the offseason.  A piece from each pie, but they added Johnny Damon and found solid pitching and a closer in Kyle Farnsworth.  The Rays tied the Red Sox for the Wild Card last night.  While the Cardinals are struggling to finish their comeback, the Red Sox are choking the hardest.  A desire to be like the Yankees is falling short, unfortunately.   What happens this week will be remembered throughout baseball until the day spring training starts.  Will Boston get back up?
-Watching Jonathon Papelbon close games or pitch in tight spots is must watch television.  The man personifies intensity on the mound.  He burrows his lips into a bullet hole, rears back and fires smoke to go with a devastating changeup.  If the Red Sox don’t want him back, I would be inclined to ask John Mozelaik inquire about his services.  Forget Health Bell.  Paps pitches in the ironclad AL East.  I’ll take him in a heartbeat. 
-If there is a chance to trade Jake Westbrook in the offseason, I pull the trigger and throw in the worn down Kyle McClellan in order to keep Edwin Jackson here.   However, the last thing I’ll ask of Jake Westbrook is to turn in a solid performance tonight in Houston.   That’s all I ask from Jake.  Keep the hope alive and burn every Journey CD in the Cardinals clubhouse.
-Listening to the clubhouse in the postgame of another brutal loss, you wouldn’t know it from the music, chatter and players.  They don’t sound defeated and will come out tomorrow swinging. 
-The 2011 Cardinals officially own the record for double plays at 170 and counting.  Ask La Russa and he’ll tell you we put a lot of baserunners on and that’s what happens.  He’s only half right. 
-TV Shows to Look Forward to-Boardwalk Empire and Dexter.  Empire’s first season chronicled Prohibition and Steve Buscemi’s city treasurer’s Nucky Thompson’s stranglehold over Atlantic City.  A teasing intelligient first season left us wanting more, but I savored the brutality of the characters and the well rounded cast and storytelling.  A slight chill was in the air.  Dexter returns for round 6 on Sunday.  Coming off a season where our good hearted serial killer discovered love lost and did some soul searching, this fall Dexter is going back to straight crimefighting and mixing in spirituality.  I’d be worried if the supporting cast didn’t included Edward James Olmos and Mos Def. 

Right now, I can use a shot of espresso injected into my neck.  That means I am taking a bow and going home to my bed.  Kiss my kid on the head, kiss my wife on her cheek and fall down for awhile.  8 hours of work, a run at lunch, a workout after work, and a Cards game that drained my soul again.  In a few hours, I start it over again and that’s fine by me.  I’ve spoke my mind and the head is clear for now.  I will be back, so read up on this and wait for my return.  Spit up and shitty diapers included. 

Things are changing, but my soul is well intact. 

Goodnight and good luck,

DLB

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a  team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”-Vince Lombardi

The Proper Way to Anticipate If You’re A Sports Fan

Fine Ladies and Wise Gents,

We have officially entered do or die territory in Cardinal Nation.  The theory no longer applies.  The reality is alive and well.  The Cardinals control their fate this week in Texas.  The idea is that we have 3 games to decide our fate in Houston.  The Cards defy the normal thought of momentum.  When we seem to be running on 4 legs, a brutal loss halts us in our tracks.  Momentum is poison to this Cards team.   What can a fan do?  Stop predicting, hoping and praying.  Just watch and see.  The odds are in our favor, but does that mean anything at this point?  The Cards are facing the worst team in the major leagues and the Braves are facing the best team in baseball, according to record.  In Vegas, we are looking good.  In reality,we are ordinary contenders.  Will the team fall victim or become the predator?

Before you calculate the odds, realize how far this team has come.  A month ago, we were 10.5 games behind the Brewers and Atlanta.   Hopeless bitches without a chance.  Today, we are a game behind the Braves and looking dangerous to a first round opponent.   Once this team lost Waino’s 20 wins and Carp and Albert took first half naps, this team was toast.   If you need to see how a team is doing, look at the table setters.   Carp went 9-2 in the second half and Albert hit .360.   Both recaptured their dominance and helped this team get right. There were smaller contributors but these two led the way.   We were picked to finish 4th in the NL Central.  We’ll finish 2nd to a bionic Brewers team and no worse than 14 games over .500.  The Cardinals didn’t piss excellence until September, but this week everything is up for grabs and its fittingly ambitious for a team that couldn’t decide if they were good, bad or ugly.

We can look back on missed opportunities like a tourist scanning a field of dead bodies.
-25 blown saves
-166 double plays hit into
-Horrible defensive lapses
-Thursday brutal collapse

Gentlemen and ladies, I’m all in.  I’m a true diehard fan and I never left the team.  I cut my arm open a long time ago and started bleeding next to this team.   I didn’t jump ship like most(I’m talking to you, season ticket holders in late August) and are now scrambling back.   Whether I like it or not, I am strapped to this bomb.

Tonight, we face Wandy Rodriguez, the pesky lefty who shut us down in July but is a vulnerable starter playing with a AAA offense behind him.   My questions are simple..
-Will the mentally unstable Jaime Garcia be able to pull off the start of a lifetime?  This is his first true playoff atmosphere test.   Will he sink or swim?
-Will Pujols reach 40 HR and 100 RBI and stay above .300?  Forget the pending free agency.   He has 3 or more games left this season.   Advice to local media.  Stop asking him about it.  The man is a machine and needs to focus.
-Will Tony La Russa micromanage, overanalyze and wreck this team ship?  That’s my biggest fear. La Russa mismanaging the bullpen is a huge X factor here.

Remember, folks.  One game at a time.  There are people asking me about Thursdays one game playoff.   We have to survive first.  One game at a time.  The Cards are built to disappoint but aren’t going down without a fight.   Wait and see my friends.

How am I treating my pregame wounds?  A 20 ounce starbucks iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso.   Bold, black and strong like Oprah.  A Gunpowder blend of coffee.

That’s all.   Thanks for playing.   The season is almost over.  Will October matter to the Cards?  We need this.  The Rams are playing like lifeless cardboard impersonators and the Blues are an entertaining if uncertain bunch.

As a sports town, we need a comeback.

Go Cards!

-DLB 

A Rant, Pure and Simple

“My father once told me, life is like sucking honey from a thorn.  There’s good times and bad times.”-Robert DeNiro in The Killer Elite

The Anatomy of A Comeback
There I am, driving down the street prepping a day of shopping that will result in an exhausted glow of despair for the upcoming evening.   My wife and I are attacking the beast on a Saturday afternoon to clear the Sunday bill for football and relaxation before my ass heads back to the warehouse on Monday.   In addition to our shopping misery comes an extra passenger in our car, a man by the name of Vinny.   The kid doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s going on, spending the heavy share of the day in a car seat with little wiggle room and only a bink to suck on.   We leave the house and the Cardinals are down by a single run heading into the top of the ninth.  The tip of the iceberg is approaching this 2011 Cards ship, ready to crack it in half.  If the Cards lose today, we stay 3 games out of first place and with 4 games to play, that’s a stiff deck of cards to pull a quality hand from.   As we pull out of our street, Lance Berkman ropes the first pitch from Cubs closer Carlos Marmol to center field straight into Marlon Byrd’s mitt.  One out already.  Before I can hit a fucking stop sign, this team is down to 2 outs.  The Chicago Cubs are holding the knife this weekend, plunging the dull blade into our shoulder as the blood starts to pour all over our hometown grass, which was cut that morning.   Marmol is a nasty pitcher with a power fastball and an unfair slider that dives off the plate.  He throws a pitch and gets one out, but the fun is only starting for Cardinal nation.  The 42,000 in attendance are getting loud, rumbling the seats, shaking their drinks, and screaming like its the Last Supper.  They honestly can’t shut up and the Cubs have no idea what this means because they eternally suck.  Before the first pitch, the crowd was going so crazy Cards radio play by play legend Mike Shannon commented that this was the loudest he had heard this crowd get before a rally.  “LISTEN TO THIS CROWD!”.   Shannon said all they wanted was a couple tallies.  I’d take a sign of life.  Since their brutal loss on Thursday, the Cards surrendered their bats to their psychic evil twin  The lineup had registered only 1 run in the 19 innings, and it came in a suicide squeeze in Friday’s 5-1 loss.  It’s like the Mets stole the game and hid the bats from our boys.   Motherfuckers!  Anyway, Marmol gets the ball and climbs the hill against Matt Holliday, the returning brute who has pounded the ball into the ground all fucking day.  2 groundouts to third and a useless bounce to short.  On the second pitch, he rips a line drive to right center for a long single, cut off by the amazing Byrd, who has spent the entire day robbing the Cards of plays.  Cards bench speed demon Tyler Greene runs for Holliday, basically telling the Cubs catcher Geovanny Soto to put his arm in lock and stock mode because a steal is coming.  Greene steals second and the ball glances off his back and into center field.   With one out, the tying run is at third.   The crowd gets louder.  By this time, we are pulling through the ATM, which is always a frenzy.  There I am, paying attention to the game and depositing a check.  It isn’t rocket science but sometimes a lab coat is needed to roll through a bank ATM and stay focused.   Making sure I don’t withdraw 500 dollars instead of giving 50, I take my time and work slow.  Like a jungle cat on steroids speed slowly coming down from the high point of the drug.   Type in my bank code, listen to a pitch, tap deposit, listen, hand the check over, listen to a pitch.  This takes a multi-tasking brain plan that puts you in an athletic frame of mind.  Three cars sitting behind me.  They are waiting for their own chance to see the misery of their bank statement while I juggle two tasks at once.  What are they doing?  Talking on the phone, listening to Yanni, jerking off.   I’m doing important shit and need to concentrate.  My heart starts to skip a few beats.   It’s uncontrollable.  I finish and pull away, but Rachel knows I am off my driving game.  She is my co-pilot for life, and right now I am flying the plane at 60 percent participation with a portion of my heart, brain and mind on a baseball field 15 minutes away.   David Freese strikes out.  Chump.  Greene is still at third and Marmol is gaining confidence.   The Cubs are a classic fuckup artist franchise, blowing leads for life and becoming the symbol of embarrassment in the major leagues.   It’s a shameful practice.  Marmol carries the weight of 103 years of futile baseball on his shoulders every time he closes a game.   He has 34 saves on the season, but he won’t reach 35 today.   Yadi Molina comes up and works the count to 3-2.  Molina is a perfect foil for Marmol’s power sinker-slider-fastball assortment, because he is a Harvard grad when it comes to taking pitches and making pitchers work.   He confounds Marmol.  He fouls off a couple pitches.  Marmol throws the slider and Yadi lays off and walks.   First and third, 2 outs.  Skip Schumacher strolls to the plate.  In my eyes, a 50/50 clutch hitter.  He steps out between each pitch to tighten his batting gloves and preach quiet words of confidence to himself(look closely at him at the plate and he is speaking to himself).  The man watches Caddyshack and Ted Knight too much.   Marmol is starting to lose control completely.   His counts with Freese and Molina carried a confidence and fear during the matchups but Skip is seeing zero hittable pitches.  The count runs to 3-1 before Marmol misses by a foot off the outside portion of the plate.  Bases loaded.  Adron Chambers runs for Molina.  Second and third base are full of speed, meaning a single will most likely score both and give the Cards a win.   Corey Patterson, a regretful excuse for a major league roster spot, stands on deck during Skip’s at bat.  A decoy towards Mike Quade’s Cubs bench to fool them into thinking they will get to face the Ex Cub Patterson and escape with a victory.  La Russa closes the book on Patterson and sends in another Ex-Cub, Ryan Theriot.  Simply put, Theriot will draw a walk before Corey Patterson lays off any breaking pitch.   Theriot works the count to 2-0 and the umpire hands a gift basket to Marmol in the form of a strike call, which registers as Marmol’s 2nd strike in 10 pitches.   Theriot works the count full.   Tension rises.  We have pulled into the Blockbuster parking lot to return a film(Bridesmaids=sucked) and Rachel wants to get a bite to eat.  I am hungry but my capacity to focus right now on anything other than a 3-2 pitch isn’t possible.   Theriot takes a close inside pitch and walks.   The game is tied.  Brand new life for the Cards.  Rachel knows me well.  She knows when I am frustrated, tense, disturbed and sitting in the palm of this team’s hand.  She takes my Subway order and leaves the car.  Now, it’s the radio, Vinny and myself.  My own private Idaho.  Bases loaded, Rafy Furcal up and the Cubs haven’t left the danger zone yet.  I smell something in the air.  That’s fresh bread from Subway, my mistake.   It’s hard to explain the next few moments because I nearly went into shock and sat in disbelief.   I would later find out that Marmol threw a nasty sinker on an 0-1 count, that passed Furcal, Soto and the umpire back to the backstop and bounced towards the Cubs dugout.  Chambers streaked down the third base line, scored, jumped into Molina’s arms and the Cardinals won 2-1.   A thrilling victory that almost didn’t seem real until Mike Shannon came back from a break and read the box score.  Shannon is still a marvel behind the microphone in tight situations.  With Theriot at the plate and a 3-2 count, Shannon dusted off an old gem, “Here we go, folks.  The most exciting play in sports.  Bases loaded.  3-2 count.  All runners off with the pitch.”   When Chambers scored, I pounded on the steering wheel in Troy Siade fashion.   Aggressive celebration is the only way to do it.  After 48 hours of misery, the Cards recaptured the spirit of the fans and their souls with a breathtaking comeback.  Sure, Marmol handed them the win but taking pitches and working a walk is harder at times than making contact.  I can tell you with money down that if Patterson hits instead of Theriot, the game is over and the Cardinals lose 1-0.   Theriot hasn’t had a good year but he hasn’t had a bad one either.  He is hitting .272 and has gladly taken a bench/sub role since Furcal showed up.   Theriot is clutch and can draw a walk and has improved at second base.  He was the true star of the game because that 3-2 pitch was close.  Folks, this is living.   Sitting in a car, emotionally tied to your team, with the rest of your day hanging on their actions.   True freefall dedication.  Being strapped to a bomb comes with a fair dose of sweet and bitter. 
In the end, the Cards won 2-1 and stayed alive in the wild card race.   With 4 games to play, they are 2 games out. I can’t tell you the odds right now.  I’m too close and keeping this one close to the chest.  I could tell you the boys have a shot and be proved wrong tomorrow when everyone is watching football.  I will say this to the masses and the experts of the world….anything can happen.

Will Sunday be Albert Pujols’ last day in Cardinal home red and white? 
My answer would be no.   I can’t see this team without Albert at first base.  After the 11 years he has put together, I can’t see a single route where the Cards don’t make every gesture, move and attempt to keep AP here.  Give him what he wants.  He has done something A-Rod has not, and stayed maddeningly consistent for 11 seasons at a reasonable price.  Pujols deserves a raise and will get one.   We all would love to see Albert play the blue collar cool card, walk into Cards headquarters tomorrow morning before the biggest game of the season and tell John Mozelaik that a deal needs to be locked up and I’ll play for 8-10 more years at 16 million.   That would rock the baseball world and put Dan Lorzano in a mental home.  It won’t happen, but its our own little dream.   Easy measures aren’t located in lengthy contract talks.   The local media is prepping the swan song ride for Pujols on Sunday and I refuse to play along.  I have said all along that Albert Pujols is a man of his word.  When it comes time to decide yes or no, he will make the call and stay here.  He wants to retire here like Stan Musial.  He has built a kingdom here.  He makes a good salary.  His entire life is here.  Does he really want to change that at this point in his career?  I really don’t think so and already have a standing bet of 20 dollars with a co-worker of mine.  When the media noise lessens and the two camps meet in a quiet conference room to discuss the contract or convene over a phone call, the real ideas will come out.   Mozelaik knows there is too much revenue in Albert to let him go.   He means 200,000 in attendance to this team.  The Cards won’t gross 3 million fans in 2012 without Albert.  While they would contend in a poor division, the Cards money bank would take a hit without Albert.  He is approaching milestones, carries the Cards name on his chest and is the face of the franchise.  What happened to Edmonton when Gretzky left?  What happened to Cleveland when Lebron left?  Money was lost.   In some way, shape or form, the organization will take a hit.   It makes more sense to keep him here.  Pay the man his money.  Instead of having a bad year, Albert rebounded, hit .395 down the stretch and has pounded 37 home runs, 98 RBI and scored 102 runs to go with a .302 batting average.  There’s no way Albert walks away from St. Louis and there’s no fucking way the Cards let him.  Please don’t believe what you hear in the press, local or national.  Every paid writer has a motive and an external plan to their words and point of view on Albert.   I’d bet the mortgage that Pujols or his agent never asked for 10 years at 300 million dollars.   That was media created.   Albert doesn’t want to be the highest paid player in baseball.  He just wants market value and a fair deal that represents his status as the best in baseball.  Both sides aren’t stupid enough to break up this happy marriage.  End of story.

Movie Reviews Of The Week

The Killer Elite is an engaging action thriller with dramatic weight and action chops to set it up as the latest great thinking man’s action ride.   Jason Statham holds his own with Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro and the story is solid.  Based off a true story and adapted from a book called “The Feather Men”, this movie works a British Spy tale into a delicious cocktail that’s part Ronin, Munich and The Mechanic.   Statham plays Danny, an Ex-Special Ops agent pulled back into the operation to save his mentor, Hunter(DeNiro) from a Sheik who wants revenge for the murder of his three sons.    The kills came at the hands of the British SAS, which means Statham must bring down 3 hardcore killers in order to get his friend back.   Standing in his way is Ex-British SAS agent Spike(a cunning and clever as always Clive Owen), who wants to protect the isolated agents against the will of his former superiors.  The movie sets the three men on a collision course.   The rest is action drama gold.   Director Gary McKendry knows how to fuse fine drama with full blooded action sequences.   Statham and Owen clash in a series of fights that satisfy the action fan, while the quieter moments between Statham and DeNiro please the more complacent crowd.  One has to think the producers had Statham attached and came up with an idea to up the ante with the additions of DeNiro and Owen.   The result is a deeper than usual action film, with plenty of twists and turns towards the end and an ending that leaves the audience wanting more yet glad they paid money to attend it.   Statham is at his usual bone crunching best, but his acting talent displayed in Snatch and Bank Job come through here.   Unlike Arnold or Jean Claude Van Damme, Statham can act when he has to and add the wild action stunts as a dessert course.  The Killer Elite is an entertaining british spy film that combines the rugged brutality of Statham, the clever talent of Clive Owen and the wise wine of DeNiro to create an intelligient action story about natural killers running the world like hungry lions in a den.  This is more than just another Statham banger with the game acting and worthy story.  See it to believe it before you cast it off into the wasteland of contending films for your attention. 

Bridesmaids sucked.   A disappointing film that failed to match the hype given to it upon its release and weeks later when it grossed over 100 million dollars.   Look, I went into this so called Judd Apatow produced “Female Hangover” with a decent set of expectations and wanted to like it.  The result was a comedy that loaded up on the raunchy material yet fell short in laugh out loud moments and a solid script.   Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a single woman in need of a bump up in her life.  She recently lost her bakery and her boyfriend in one swift shot and now she is reeling.  Right at the moment of despair, her best friend Lillian(Maya Rudolph) tells her she is getting married.   Cue the fireworks.  Lillian brings in Helen(Rose Byrne), who quickly becomes a thorn in Annie’s side and the two start to butt heads on the wedding and start ripping Lillian in half.   The rest of the film is the buildup to the wedding and the slow maturation of Annie as she struggles to find any sense of safe ground in her life.  Melissa McCarthy has some laughs as one of the bridesmaids, but she isn’t enough to carry the film.  The biggest weight of the miss falls on Wiig, a SNL veteran and a fine supporting actress who can’t carry the proceedings here.  Wiig is too bland to care for here and Rudolph and Byrne don’t help at all.  I never cared too much about  Annie’s fight because the entire film is played like a joke and when it tries to get serious late, the attempt is incomplete.   Comedies that don’t reach the level of their hype carry a case of anticipation blue balls syndrome.  The Hangover carried the same weight heading into theaters.   The word of mouth was strong, the trailer was hilarious and the setup looked fresh and with a talented comedy director(Todd Phillips) navigating and the star in the making Bradley Cooper headlining the cast.   That met and exceeded expectations because all the jokes weren’t located in the trailer.   The comedy was fresh but the reason the film was loved was because we cared for and believed in the group of guys slowly losing their nerve yet regaining their souls in Vegas, the land of wild fun and absolute turmoil.  The fact that the ladies go to Vegas in this film is an insult.   The one highlight of the film comes in the form of Jon Hamm, who works 3 scenes here as the biggest douchebag/fuckbuddy of Wiig’s Annie.  Every time Hamm comes into frame, the movie gets a push.  This comes from a big Hamm fan, but the reason I liked him here was we saw another shade of his talent.   While he plays a cutthroat bastard on Mad Men, Hamm’s role here carries an extra serving of asshole.  How is this for a greeting?  “What’s up, fuckbuddy?”  Hamm owns the film and he only appears in 3 scenes.   Bad news for a heavily favored contender like Bridesmaids.  Pure disappointment. 

Ten Final Bits of Info

  • How did MU do against Oklahoma Saturday night on FX?   To quote the great Ari Gold, how did the fucking bay of pigs go my friends?  MU got their ass handed to them and I once again remind you this will be a down year for the school.   Rebuilding a team doesn’t happen in one season.   QB James Franklin will learn to throw better or simply run faster than a linebacker.  T.J. Moe will provide plenty of highlights but Gary Pinkel’s team will suffer a losing season.   This is what happens when there is no QB in the waiting when your star leaves for the NFL.   Blaine Gabbert is starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, so there’s one small perk.  He didn’t leave for nothing.  How many games has Chase Daniel started in the NFL?  Zero.  Hello to the life of Drew Brees’ backup.
  • Can The Rams beat The Baltimore Ravens on Sunday?  Sure they can.   Matt Hasselback and the Titans kicked their ass last week.   It comes down to red zone efficiency and the minimalization of mistakes for this Rams team.  Will there be a fight in this team or will we beat ourselves again?
  • How many interceptions will Eli Manning throw against The Eagles tomorrow?  My cold hard cash is banking on at least 3 picks, with one being a pick 6.  Michael Vick will rip apart the Giants secondary and the Eagles roll 38-21.
  • Song of the Day-Florence and the Machine-“What the Water Gave Me”.   Forgo the soft name and enjoy the well trained pipes of Florence Welch.  The red haired shedevil can sing and her vocals power this fast moving alternative rocker. 
  • Enjoying a small treat in being a dad right now.   As I write here, little Vinny is passed out in his basonet next to me listening to the rockabye baby soundtrack.   Marley, Vinny and I are all getting a little tired but this is what I dreamed about when I found out Rachel was pregnant.  Creating prose right next to my creation.
  • Attention all old drivers.  Stop fucking driving unless you can follow the simplest rules of the road.   Signal, drive the speed limit, stay in your lane and look before you turn.   Stay at home and die or get a bus route. 
  • Beer of the Week-Guinness Black Lager, a new combination of a lager(one of my favorite kinds of beer) and the Guinness stout.   A stone cold tough guy/girl blend of malt.  Try it if you dare.  We aren’t talking bud light or michelob ultra here.  Prepare yourselves for something called TASTE.
  • The Blues lose to fall to 3-2 on the preseason.  Why can’t the regular season carry 5 Blues game in a week?   I love this tommy gun schedule of back to back to back games in a single 7 day stretch.   The idea is that the training camp is so short, the leagues gets the teams on the ice as fast as possible to throw them into serious game shape.   If you come back from the offseason in shitty shape, good luck in the preseason.   While the scores don’t count, the shifts do and the floor scrappers looking for work need to be ready to push the first week.   Once again, there’s no way the Blues shouldn’t contend for a playoff spot this season.   After two shitty seasons of being unable to finish in the top 8 spots in their division(imagine is MLB carried 4 extra spots per league in its playoff picture), the Blues need to make the playoffs and go deep this season.  The team isn’t young anymore and the veteran presence is ingrained into this team’s roster for the upcoming 2011-2012 campaign.   There’s no more excuses.  Get it done.  The first week proves this team will score plenty of goals but how well the defense and goaltender Jaroslav Halak play will determine the fate of the St. Louis Blues.  Stop the Journey commercials and win some fucking hockey games, dudes!
  • After being off work for nearly 2 weeks, I return to Senoret Chemical on Monday.   While I loved being at home for Vinny’s first week, the time to return to work is right and I will be a proud producing papa working the blue collar grind to keep a roof over our heads.   Going to work carries an additional incentive now along with the sadness of being away from my kid for 10 hours for 5 days a week.   Remember what I said earlier.  The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter.
  • There are times when being a father is lovely and full of ambitious excitement, and then there are times when your son fires shrapnel like shards of shit at your face while you change his diaper in a Walmart parking lot.   Priceless moments my friends.  For the record, he missed me for the most part.  This matchup will carry a sequel. 

The time has come to wrap this up.   A mini Buffa Blast of thought and opinion.   Remember, be nice to your friends and family but keep them close and don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel and speak your mind at all times.  Blood bonds and likeness should never hide a brutal shot of truth serum.  

Thanks for reading and goodnight,

Dan L. Buffa

The Autopsy Report of a Cards Loss

First, let me start things off by saying the Cardinals suck.   That’s right.  They are losers and in my overall opinion,don’t deserve to deliver food to a playoff stadium based on the amount of stress and heartache they have saddled their fanbase with this season.   The 2011 Cards are a series of false starts and severe fumbles, if its okay to use football jargon to apply to this summer burn.  Thursdays loss was easily the worst loss in the last decade on the basis of its significance. If they blow a four run lead in the 9th on April 22nd, fans shrug and shake it off.   When the carnage falls on September 22nd and in the heart of a pennant race, an autopsy report must be filed and an investigation must be laid out.  This is the price of being a true sports fan.  Emotional investments come back to haunt you and unless you root for the Yankees, Patriots or Red Wings, there’s a decent chance your soul will be burned.  Let’s go over a few reasons we lost on Thursday and wasted a golden(truly crispy golden brown crust variety) opportunity to gain a half game on the idle Braves.   Vicodin may be required.

1.)Motte pitching the 9th yesterday in a 4 run game after throwing 24 pitches on Wednesday night.  A bad call to push a guy who’s have to assume the role of Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas the past 2 months.  Motte recorded a 4 out save the night before and needed the day off.  Closers don’t come into 4 run games and if you know Cardinal history, they often blow up non save situations.  La Russa’s failure to recognize Motte as the closer the past few weeks led to this move.  If Motte was closer in chief, he wouldn’t be out there throwing 29 pitches and walking 3.  This isn’t giving Motte a pass for a bad outing. I’m simply telling you it never should have happened.  La Russa argued after the game that the media put it in Mottes head that he was a closer and that it hurt him.  I disagree with the genius.   Motte was the closer based on performance but if he understands how to read a box score, the kid was wearing down.   Where was Mitchell Boggs, a forgotten man who could of started the 9th inning?  Motte is wearing down from an innings and role workload.  Thanks to La Russa for that.  He fucked up the setup of this game with his desperate push of Motte, who has started to weaken the past week.  Bad call by Don Tony.

2.)Furcal’s error was detrimental to success in the 9th.   After a leadoff walk, Motte induced a double play smelling soft grounder to short that Rafy Furcal booted and fumbled away.  A potential inning changer gets wasted in one hurried movement.   Furcal is so good that you sit in shock when he makes a Theriot like error.  However, that’s his 5th error in his past 6 games and 11th as a Cardinal.  We forget about this because he makes the amazing plays so often and looks so smooth. However, he has made several low throws to first and muffled a few easy plays the past week so it may be time for a rest.   Start Daniel Descalso at short or put a shock bracelet on Furcals wrist.  The great shortstops always try to make the great plays but in this case Furcal fucked up an easy 6-4-3 DP and it broke his team and set up a big inning that saw 3 relievers get used.  La Russa set up the damage but Furcal compounded it with another mistake.  His bat doesn’t produce enough to cover up a few ordinary play misfires, especially at this time of the year.

3.)Does this bury the Cardinals?  No.  There is still time.   6 games against the Cubs and Astros, who are a combined 300 games under .500 and only exist as spoilers in this last second race.  This is a painful loss because of the timing, but there’s still time.  Painting a coat of shine on a shit storm of a game isn’t easy, but here I go.  The Braves face a pesky Nationals team this weekend, including a DC opening task of taking on Steven Strasburg.  The Nationals are hot, winning 10 of 12 including a beating of the Phillies this week.  After that, The Braves face the Phillies.  Charlie Manuel wants to get his team going before the preseason, so you’ll bet the Phils will be tough.  Things are set up for the Cards to win this race, but losses like Thursday definitely change the attitude of the fanbase.  The lesson gets spread around the camp that no wins come easy and 4 run leads can be blown by any team.

4.)The bullpen is burnt.  Anyone else think Jake Westbrook could have pitched a 7th inning after only 84 pitches?  During the past month, La Russa has a quick hook for Westbrook, which is fine if he was pitching bad.  Jake was pitching well into the 6th and an extra inning saves the bullpen and allows Octavio Dotel to finish the game.  A huge factor in the teams downfall is the tendency of La Russa to lose faith in his rotation and put the pressure on the bullpen to pitch more innings than required.  The micromanaging brain of La Russa got him in trouble yesterday and its an ugly trend that hasn’t lost steam all season.  A perfectionist always screws up the outcome.

5.)There’s no room to blame the offense.  Were there moments for them to score more runs?  Sure, but 6 runs is enough to win most games and I can’t fault the bats.  They built a 2-0 lead, added to it and gave the arms a chance.  A realization this season has been that the lineup has done the job amidst the turmoil.   Thursday’s loss was reminscent of the entire season.  The starter doesn’t go deep into the game and the bullpen takes a push to finish the game and crumbles.   A sad story.

What happens next?   The Cards and the Cubs clash tonight in a matchup that makes me feel uneasy. The Cubs are playing better lately and always play the Cards tough in September.   Chris Carpenter will pitch tonight and Wednesday, giving the Cards a fighting chance.  The bats are firing on cylinders right now, scoring 23 runs against the Mets.   The bullpen has to rebound and La Russa must unleash Sanchez if he carries zero faith in Boggs.   If a manager carries zero faith in a pitcher and only uses him 3 times in 3 weeks, why keep the player on the roster, and that’s whether he’s good or not.  Mitchell Boggs hasn’t gotten a chance in the second half, so why keep him here?  Sanchez could be a fresh tool to throw in the shed.

In summary, what the hell happened yesterday?
-Tony La Russa micromanaged,panicked a bit, pulling Jake Westbrook earlier and letting a tired Motte enter the ninth and refusing to pull him while the inning got detonated.  Managers don’t play the game but they can still make an impact on a game with their decisions.
-Rafael Furcal commits a horrible error and shifts the momentum of the inning.  He muffled a routine grounder and lost a chance at a double play, which could of drastically changed the inning.  Furcal is looking worn down and making more errors on plays he usually makes with his eyes closed.  A pure shame.  Bad defense helped lose the game.
-A throwing error, wild pitch and passed ball allowed a run in the 7th inning that gave the Mets a run and showed off the rough Cards defense.   The Cards D has been a liability all season.
-Instead of gaining a half game, the Cards fall 2 full games back.
-Allen Craig and Albert Pujols homers are wasted.

All in all, a game that may haunt the Cards.  A bad day at the office.  If we lose out on postseason play by a game, this will be the painful reminder of an opportunity lost.  That will never go away, but its a pain that can be saved for next week.

Along with savoring the unfortunate flavor and moving on, the Cards need to clear their heads and just keep playing.  There’s six games left to erase the memory.  Get on with the dance because the drama isn’t letting up.

While I wait for the miracle drug, I’m going to calm my nerves by watching Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen do battle in the Killer Elite.  Until killing becomes legal, we watch others blow shit up and enjoy ourselves.

Also, a key to keeping my cool when watching the Cardinals blow a huge lead in a game.  Sitting next to my son, Vincent.  That’s right my friends.   Putting your kid next to you in games makes you take a more quiet approach.   If you wake him up, its time to clean up shit or get him carried away back to sleep.  Parents spend the first part of their lives avoiding doom.  Vincent is my new therapist.  I made a shirt for him that says, “Don’t”.

Alright, thats it.  I wrote a bulk of this earlier today, took a break to see the film and now will send it off.  Take it as you usually do.  Straight up and down the hatch of reality.

Thanks for reading,

DLB

The Time of the Season

Good afternoon folks,

The time has come for me to put my spin on the news.  Ready or not, here I come.  Let’s pick up the sledgehammer and bash through the door on a calm rainy Thursday.

The Cardinals Train Keeps on Moving-Am I Looking at a vanilla sky?

Sitting here watching this team make a serious run at the playoffs carries all the benefits a fan could ever ask for, but it doesn’t seem real.   I keep waiting for my arm to be pinched or the crooked suit from The Wire to slap me and go, “Shiiittttttt”.  The Cards are 19-6 in their current stretch of domination, and for the folks who think its all easy team beating; those wins included victories over the Phillies, Braves and Brewers, three other playoff hunting teams.   This is reminiscent of the Cards 2006 playoff run.   After barely making it into the playoffs with 83 wins and facing the Padres, there wasn’t a soul on the USA sports deck who cut us a sliver of opportunity.   All of a sudden, we swept the Padres.   After, we outlasted the Mets in a knockdown
drag out 7 game series that ended with Adam Wainwright freezing Carlos Beltran
at the knees.   With a Tigers team out of sync after a 10 day rest, the Cards dropped them for a 5 game series win and 10th World Series trophy.  What happened there and what is happening here, may you ask?  Timely efficient play.

 Everything is falling into place for the Cards at the right time.   Pitching, hitting,
move making, bullpen, and a decent amount of luck are playing roles here.  The Cardinals are playing well and the Braves are sinking.  Short term memories are best kept secrets in this game.  The Cardinals starters are 13-3 with a 3.12 ERA while the Braves starters are 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA.   The Cardinals are thriving with 2 out rallies, having sparked them on Tuesday and Wednesday night to come back and dethrone the Mets.   April wins are nice, but September thrillers are sacred.  This is the most important time of the year.  This is when you have to be at your best.  If teams can’t figure things out by September, they don’t deserve a playoff ticket.  The Cardinals have put fans through one of the biggest roller coaster experiences.   They have taken a zig zag approach usually reserved for the Blues.  Up and down, down and out and back up again.   A thrilling if draining brand of baseball.   This is the same team that blew 24 saves, has grounded into 162 double plays and had their rotation fall apart in July.  The moral of the 2011 Cardinals story is it doesn’t matter how you play from April through July but how you finish in August and September.  Lets run down some clips. 

*The starting pitching is legit.   Jaime Garcia delivered 7.2 innings last night and allowed zero earned runs.  The starters have rebounded from a power outage in July to become a strength in September.  It’s not only Chris Carpenter who is delivering outstanding starts.   Kyle Lohse delivered a clutch start in Philly.   Edwin Jackson got beat up early yet held the Mets in check.   Garcia shut down the Mets after a big inning last night.   The bats can’t come back unless the arms slow the other team down and this month, Cards starters are pitching deeper into ballgames and making the job easier. 

*As I mentioned above, the Cards are delivering huge 2 out rallies.  On Tuesday night, down 6-5 in the 7th inning, the Cards had two outs before Albert Pujols singled to start a 6 run rally.   David Freese delivered two huge hits last night, both coming with two outs.   Unlike the 2010 team, a late deficit doesn’t seem the Berlin Wall.  This team has the ability to put something together with 2 outs and nobody on base.  A much needed trait in playoff baseball where pitching takes over games. 

*Albert Pujols is having another amazing August and September run.  Does his incredible finish have anything to do with the Cards surge?  It’s hard to deny.  Pujols is hitting .389 in the month of September with 20 RBI and 18 runs scored.  AP is doing more than hitting home runs.  He is starting rallies, getting big hits and doing the little things to help his team win.  For 11 straight seasons, Albert Pujols is putting together an amazing season.   What started out as a perplexing story in April, with Pujols hitting .230 and looking more like a double play machine than a hitting machine is turning into another productive campaign.   His comeback coincides with the team’s recovery.   The Cards couldn’t do this without Albert’s efforts.   While others wanted to call it the early decline of Albert, I knew he was going to end up with the regular solid Pujols stats.  He is a player I can’t spend too much time worrying about.  A truly great player who simply adapts at a faster rate than any player in baseball.   Pujols isn’t declining like Ichiro Suzuki and Joe Mauer are.  Once again, the naysayers of Albert have been there his entire career.  The negative cynics who hate to admit the man is a born machine who continues to defy normal standards set by players before him.  Did anyone think he was going to end up with a .305-.310 batting average, 38-40 HR, 105 RBI, 105 runs, and 165 hits in July?  Unfortunately, more than you think.   When the season ends, the Cards will have to pay up because Pujols has put together a career like no other and is tougher than most.  If anyone deserves a golden goose deal, it’s Albert Pujols.  The Cardinals waited to sign Albert and now that he has completed a miraculous turnaround this year, the need to lock him up for the rest of his career is required.  Do it!

*Seeing the Pujols deal ahead, Cards GM John Mozelaik is setting the tables by tying up loose ends on this team for 2012.  This team is going to contend.  Mozelaik is carving a contender with his moves.  Anytime you resign veterans, the win now attitude is continuing.   This morning, Lance Berkman signed a 1 year extension for 12 million, another solid move by Mozelaik.   Berkman is also putting together an amazing finish to his comeback campaign, with numbers right behind Pujols.  He was given a chance by the Cards and paid them back in full.  He gets a 4 million dollar raise that limits the future liability of this team and sets up both sides for next season.  This move benefits both sides in that it satisfied the team needs and Berkman’s desire to stay here.   Also, Berkman’s extension is an insurance plan just in case Albert decides to walk.  A good move on all sides.  This is Mozelaik clearing the table for the Pujols negotiations.  Taking care of the easier extensions and deals. 

*Keeping Furcal won’t be hard.  His down year will pull his price down.  He came here to win a championship, gets to hit leadoff, play every day and play for an instant contender.  Furcal is set up fine here.  Cards offer him 1yr/6 million and he stays.

**NL Central looks weak and unsure next season due to contract indecision. The state of the division hinges on the destinations of Pujols and more importantly, Prince Fielder.   The Cards can contend without Albert to an extent, but the Brewers will be weaker without Prince.

*Edwin Jackson has pitched very well for this team, but there is no spot for him on this team in 2012.  All 5 starters in the Cards rotation are set.   Carpenter, Wainwright, Garcia, Lohse and Westbrook.   All contracts are guaranteed and that is fine by me.  Unless you can move Westbrook or Lohse, the group is set and that’s also good for table setting.   Jackson is young and talented, but he doesn’t blow teams away.  Every one of his starts is a grinder and while he has better stuff than Lohse or Westbrook, he struggles just as they do to complete quick innings.  As much as I like this pitching and his youth, he won’t be back. 

*What does the rest of the season bring?  Thrillers, drama, heroics, headaches and a payoff that’s the greatest of endings.  After 6 months of devotion and hope, all fans want is playoff action.  We sit at a poker table in April, place a bet, make raises and holds, and wait for a payoff.  It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the next 6 days or where this team will be in October, but this current ride is pretty fun and worth the wait.   I still don’t believe its happening, but I am along for the ride. 

Let’s hit some other topics before coming back to the Cards final stand. 

Rams Motiviation Technique

After my unplugged venting on Monday night, I’m ready to settle down and talk about this team.
*The trend of this teams play bothers me more than their record.   Special teams getting in trouble, rough turnovers, penalties, the resistence to playing rookies and the ability to score touchdowns in the red zone.  Starting out 0-2 in the weakest division in football isn’t detrimental.  Its the way this team is playing.

*Risky roster cuts coming back to haunt the Rams.  Cutting talented if brittle receiver Donnie Avery stands out.  Marty Gilyard could return kicks as well as line up.   There was a feeling I knew what the Rams were doing at the time but now I wonder if the right moves were made.

*On second thought, sitting Steven Jackson was smart.  forcing a player with a muscle strain in Week 2 is a bad idea.   If SJ isn’t 100 percent, he can’t play because his liability is too high two games into the season.

*Sam Bradford’s play is encouraging.  He is making throws and driving the team down the field.  His yards, rating and average per catch is solid.  A couple bad turnovers have hidden a quality start from the kid.  Bradford is everything you want in a QB.   Smart, accurate, demanding and carries a short term memory.   Now we’re waiting for results.

*The Rams can move the ball, but can they push it into the end zone.  Monday night, we were inside the 10 yard line twice and failed to get 7.  Do something and get a 7 spot.  Hand off to Jason Brown or throw a fade to the corner of the end zone.   When you enter the red zone, you better leave with 7 points or you give the other team a pass.

*Throw the ball to Danario Alexander.  Throw it to him on 1st down.   Throw him the fade to the back of the end zone. Get that kid the ball.  If he is covered, somebody else gets freed up. *The offensive line needs to give Bradford more time. 

*Our run defense needs to step up.  We’re getting run over all in the these first two games while our secondary is getting ripped for big plays.  Defenses work like a ballet in football.  Each group hinges on the play of the other groups on the field.   The defensive line getting pressure helps the secondary and safety and the initial contact of the line helps the linebackers set up for the run or short pass.  The Run defense needs to step up its play or the offense doesn’t get a chance.  While the main culprit so far is the offense, the defense needs to be less sloppy, stay away from penalties and do a sharper job. 

*This week, Baltimore comes to town and we know a few things about them.   We know Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs can ruin a quarterbacks week.  Lewis brings the heat from all directions while Suggs goes for your spine and Reed waits for the mistake.   The Ravens are a talented team yet beatable.  If you get protection, they can be defeated.   The Ravens destroyed The Steelers in Week 1 and got beaten by The Titans in Week 2.   The difference?  Turnovers.  Pressure on the QB and the lack of a Joe Flacco attack.   The offensive line works in each corner this week.  The Rams get pressure and cause Flacco to throw INT’s.  The Rams offensive line keeps Bradford on his feet and good things can happen.   Another test lies in front of the Rams.  Will they learn from their mistakes and make plays or once again fall prey to a better team?  One can argue the Eagles, Giants and Ravens are better than the Rams, but that doesn’t turn into losses Sunday.  The ability to make plays in the pocket, stop a team on 3rd down and do the little things to win do. 

NFL Takes of The Week-

*Tony Romo plays well in the 4th quarter overall, yet makes horrible decisions that stand out further.  Two weeks of action and we see both shades of Romo.   Week 1 where he blows 14 point lead and turns the ball over twice.  Week 2 where he gets clobbered and hurt early, comes back late and helps his team eliminate a 14 point deficit.  A mixed bag set in stone that will always take smack for failing in the most important moments and laughing about it.  Unlike Marc Bulger, Romo walks away from an interception smiling, and if I were the Cowboys fanbase, I would be enraged.  Today, Romo can’t move around without severe pain and that’s what happens when you get two broken ribs and a collapsed lung.  In order to be efficient for his team, Romo needs to get hurt first. 

*Put down the Cam Newton kool aide.  While I admire and have written on his early solid play, lets not start the comparisons wheel already.  It’s an amateur move by the media to throw Newton into the Brett Favre comparison talk.   It’s a ridiculous claim that’s bent in the wrong direction and isn’t fair to anyone.   Lets try something.  Stop comparing him to other quarterbacks.  Let’s let him play.  A couple years of action and then a status report.  The sports world lives and breathes on weekly ideas, but they get into trouble with serious comparisons.  When I start comparing Jason Motte to a crazier version of Bruce Sutter, shoot me. 

*Name one team that’s hard to beat and I have to say the New England Patriots.  As much as I love to see the call stealing, mighty unstoppable creepy Belechick-Brady train, they are hard to doubt.   The only way you can beat them is to put pressure on Brady.   The only way they lose is if you knock Brady off the field and put the emphasis on their defense, which is “bend if don’t break” built.   The Giants beat the Patriots by constantly pressuring Brady, making him move in the pocket.  The Ravens beat the Patriots by stopping Brady and running the ball all over the defense.  Akin to the Eagles and Vick, you stop him and you stop the Patriots.  Their play functions off the play of the quarterback.   Guess what?  Right now, no team can stop the Tom Brady Machine empowered by the La Russa stoned brain of Bill Belechick.  Picture Albert Pujols as a forthcoming nice media guy who says all the right things and you have Brady.  I would like to shoot him in the face because he is so good, but right now, I just can’t.  Add in the fact that he has to go home to the ugliest woman on the planet in Gisele Buncheon and its hard to not like his chances. 

*If the Rams fail to win this division with the lack of talent within the division, the embarrassment will settle in quick.   While I don’t expect the Rams to knock every good team they face, I do expect them to take care of business against the lesser teams in the division, even the Kevin Kolb enabled Cardinals.   Going from 3-13 to 7-9 in one season was satisfying, but the thirst needs to be quenched with a return to playoff activity and given the lack of talent in the division, the Rams have every reason to take advantage.  The NFC West is a joke, but the bigger joke will be missing out on a golden opportunity.   Easy division can still produce a Super Bowl contender.

*The Giants players faking injuries is pure sacrelige. Wrong in every way one can imagine.   While the Rams were driving down the field in a no huddle offense, the Giants decided to have two players drop to the field in order to get a break from the action.  The NFL responded by sending out a memo to all teams preaching the idea of an honor code.   Sam Bradford said he heard two Giants players whisper to each other, “someone go down”.  That’s just bad for football. 

Interesting Things about baseball’s late season dive-

*Boston’s collapse.  After spending a ton of money on Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and resting his ace of the staff duties on John Lackey, the Red Sox are putting together a regretful finish.  They are 5-16 this month.  It’s a combination of bad defense, bad pitching and an awake or dead offense.  Scary stat.  If the Red Sox don’t score 12 runs, they are 1-15 in September.  They just got beat by the Baltimore Orioles in a pivotal series.  That’s similiar to the Cardinals losing the season in 2010 to teams like Pittsburgh and Washington.   Their collapse coincides with Tampa Bay’s riveting surge.  Tampa Bay lost Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and got off to a horrible start.  Now they are standing tall.  Every season comes down to playing well in September folks. 

*Best 1-2 pitching combo in baseball.  Move over Halladay and Lee.   Justin Verlander and Jose Valverde are coming on as the ultimate game day combo.   Verlander leads the AL in 24 wins and every major pitching category and Valverde is 47 for 47 in save opportunities.   Deadly.  Quietly a dangerous team in the postseason. 

*The Phillies, Braves and Brewers are playing shitty September baseball.  While this may not mean playoff subtraction, the quality of a team’s play does roll into October.  Remember 2009 and the Cardinals enduring a horrible final 10 games before getting swept by the Dodgers?   Playing well in October is all about finishing well, unless you’re the 2006 Cardinals. 

Blues News of the Week-Along with winning their first two preseason games in a home/away series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blues endured bigger news yesterday.   Max Chambers, a Calgary businessman, made a 167 million collar proposal to buy the Blues and was rejected.  This is a development I find unfortunate and short sighted.   Dave Checketts is trying to find a buyer for his main investor, Towerbrook Corporation.  Tom Stillman’s group offered a proposal near the 110-120 million range.   Chambers’ offer is the highest offer this team will get.  Towerbrook wants 190 million, which is ridiculous and out of the question.  Logic is leaving here.  Forbes Magazine lists the Blues value at 165 million, which calls one to wonder why Towerbrook rejected the offer.  Where is the other offer making them hold out?  Why the wait?  Chambers told the STL Post Dispatch that he wanted to inject 8-10 million into the payroll(currently at 52 million) and craft a Stanley Cup playoff team and keep the team in St. Louis.  Checketts isn’t to blame here, because he wants to remain in the ownership and is trying to find a way to remove Towerbrook from the picture.  Chambers’ offer is the best offer this team will get.  Finding a stable owner by the start of the season was important, and now the future of this team’s ownership appears in doubt.  I assume Chambers offer will remain on the table.  However, what does that say about Towerbrook Corporation.  They can’t seriously be asking for 25 million above the listed value of a team, can they?  The sale of the Blues gets delayed once again. 

Appreciate the good start by the Blues in the preseason, but don’t take it too far.  Preseason wins are as worthy as a decent shit.   Once you hit flush, the victory ceases to exist.  You’ll never hear me write that spring training wins mean good things for this team.   The Rams went 4-0 in the preseason and are 0-2 in the games that count.   The serious Blues sections here come when real games are played.  Having said that, I like their start. 

The Other Topics-

*Underrated Movie of the moment.  Book of Eli, currently playing on cinemax.  A movie that thrives on the starpower and great acting of Denzel Washington.  There are a handful of movies that stay alive due to a great script, direction or sheer audacity of the action scenes.  Book of Eli is carried by one of the best actors in the game.  Washington plays Eli, a road warrior with one goal.   Get a sacred book across the country while battling evil and avoiding distraction.  One of the distractions comes in the form of Gary Oldman’s boss, who wants the book for his own gain.  A movie that speaks one language.  Action power.  The idea that if a book ended up in the wrong hands, the entire world may lose its soul.  Eli is a mysterious man with lethal abilities, but we do know his motives are heroic and driven by a need to fulfill a mission.  The supporting cast is fine here, but Washington’s ability to convincingly transform into an action star while maintaining his dramatic range is the strength of this film.  Add that to some amazingly choreographed action scenes and you have a devilishly good film about survival of the fittest. 

*Side Cards Note-Allen Craig cranks a 431 foot homer to put the Cards up 2-0 in the finale of the series this afternoon and also doubled in the third.  Craig is becoming a serious power bat to complement the outfield for 2012 and making a mad claim to a spot with his September finish.  Craig came up in 2009 and didn’t do well.  Too many holes in his swing like Joe Mather.  In 2010, he made adjustments and collected some huge hits and finish with solid numbers.  This season, he started well, got hurt, and has come back with an ability to take over games.  He hit two home runs off Roy Halladay on Sunday and hit a shot off Chris Capruiano today.  Quietly, Craig is becoming the Cards secret weapon in this stretch run.

*Song of the Day-

The National-Apartment Story

http://youtu.be/orpCX6rL_lk

While I celebrate the hidden jewels and wonder of their latest album, High Violet, I present to you an older selection from this great indie rock band.   Taken from their first crack into stardom, The Boxer, comes this track about salvation in the form of a crowd of familiar souls.   Lead singer Matt Bomer’s painfully brutal voice fills the lyrics with a sincerity that you can’t teach and the supporting instrumental empowers the track.  It’s a good track for a calm fall day. Enjoy and ask for more National.  This is a band you truly have to seek out because they won’t come to your doorstep on the radio or MTV.  An independent talent.  It’s plain old moody rock ballads with a tragic tale about individualism, innocence lost and the healing power of music. 

*The Cardinals are playing very well lately, but they carry a weary reluctance to put teams away with early opportunities.  They wasted a bases loaded chance to add on last night in the 4th and this afternoon they have wasted two situations with a runner in scoring position and less than 2 outs.  They must create an ability to step on the throat of teams. 

*Hardest lesson for a new parent.  Being able to decipher between a standard crying session and a loud furious scream.   Dealing with all the levels in between.  Vincent has a way of gearing up for crying that it makes our job harder.   Three reasons a baby starts to cry fall on needing a diaper change, wanting to feed and needing to sleep but being unable to get him to relax.  Finding out what’s wrong when all three have been met is dangerous ground that results in me picking him up and rocking him to sleep.  You also have a schedule that needs to be kept so he doesn’t keep you up all night.  A great line from Will Arnett on the new NBC series, Up All Night, comes when he asks his wife, played by Christina Applegate, if this is real.   “Are we dead?”  A great moment for any new parent to see because of how frequently you are up in the middle of the night and standard hours are thrown out the window.  The fight wages on. 

*Albert hits a bomb to left on first pitch.  37th homer of the season, bringing him closer to 100 RBI and getting his batting average up to .306.  A down season by Albert is a dream season for anyone else. 

*Manny Rameriz wants reenstatement and will serve his ban for his second strike using steroids.   After leaving the game and beating up his girlfriend, Manny wants to go play again.  The role of a housewife doesn’t fit him. Can you picture Manny mowing the lawn or doing the dishes?

*By the way, who the fuck wants to do dishes?  Nobody wants to do dishes. 

*Whether you like or dislike Ben Affleck, his Madden 2012 commercial narrations are awesome.  His Boston swagger talking about the internal battles of digital football war is priceless.  Here’s a taste.

http://youtu.be/j3D3zW2DPdk

http://youtu.be/j5ktK-6pQX0

*Jake Westbrook is the kind of guy who you send on a beer run and trust him to not drop the easy 24 pack on the way back or get robbed by a group of hitters.  He walks a lot of people, gives up long innings of stress inducing baserunner misery, and makes every start a gamble on your mortgage.  He has 12 wins, but has enabled 1200 Cardinals fans to become drug addicts during his turns on the mound.  He makes the game of pitching a riddle of unconventional proportions when it comes to getting 18-21 outs with the lead.  He is tough to watch, like the guy crossing the street with a coffee, the newspaper and a blackberry in his two hands as he checks out the hot chick in the lobby.  Today, he is working with a 4-1 lead in the 6th inning and even when he gets out of it, you feel like you need a shot of whiskey. 

Footnote-This rant is going on and on, but only because I love doing live incerpts as I go about my business here.  Some of my rants are 2,500 word quick hits, but this 4500 word monster will go down as an uneven mess but a worthy walk into the wild badlands of failing to shut the fuck up.  Don’t blame me.  Blame the mind that doesn’t stop firing.  I always have something to talk about.

*Corey Patterson is still employed in the major leagues.  An additional useless hack from the Rasmus-Jackson trade.  Patterson doesn’t  do anything well.  He can’t play the outfield that well anymore.  He can’t hit.  He can’t steal a base.  My bet is he can’t even make a good spaghetti sauce.  Patterson is a classic La Russa crush, because he’s over 38 years old, occasionally gets a hit and grows a fine beard.   When he gets to the plate, you write down a K on your scorecard. 

*Deweys is the dinner destination for the Buffas.   Thats right.  A large brooklyn style pizza that’s so good and fresh you’d bet that a group of tiny italian elves made it supported by a large caesar salad that gets mixed with the perfectly seasoned dressing that it makes you lick the plate clean.  Add a pint of Rogue Dead Guy Ale and lightning may strike your colon. 

*Shows to avoid on television.  Network bullshit.   Zooey Deschanel is adorable and talented, but her new sitcom New Girl is poorly conceived, badly written, and carries that unreal sitcom set aspect that distracts from appreciating the show.   It’s just bad.  23 minutes of boredom that annoys.  She’s a 30 year drama queen who gets dumped and moves in with 3 guys and bores the shit out of them so much they fall in love with her.  Three men and a lady.  She sings to herself, sings about her status and watches Dirty Dancing over and over.  After 23 minutes, when the guys rescue her from a bad date, you want to drop a grenade in her apartment.   This is being hailed as the next TV hit, but let me tell you only having a week off and a lazy remote hand allowed me to run into this worthless piece of FOX created shit.  Give me another prescription for House instead.  I’ll spend 43 minutes with a cranky entertaining narcisistic doctor rather than hang out with an emotional drama queen who doesn’t even take her clothes off. 

*Cards lead 4-1 in the seventh with Arthur Rhodes on the mound.  Going from Westbrook to Rhodes is like exchanging a heart attack for triple bypass surgery.  Switching from a t-bone to a ribeye poorly undercooked.  Another La Russa fossil child.  As I polish off this tormented section, Rhodes records a 1-2-3 inning.  Works every time. 

*Take a shit on Killer Elite all you want critics, because it won’t stop me from enjoying the latest Jason Statham asskicking fest with a little added spice in the form of Robert De Niro and Clive Owen.  These films aren’t made to receive good reviews.  They are crafted to create an entertaining experience that critics can’t understand.  Moneyball is the more likely pick and I can’t blame you for that because Billy Beane’s story is wildly engrossing and Brad Pitt’s live wire tactics make it very interesting.  However, The Killer Elite is a movie I have been waiting for all year.  The early fall action packed thrill ride.  It’s a one course meal.  Take it or leave it. 

*Let me answer a question.  Real Steel, with Hugh Jackman as a former champion boxer turned robot trainer, looks far fetched and retarded.  However, on second glance, you see the father-son relationship as the heart of the film.  The idea of rescuing your life by proving yourself to your son by building and training a robot boxer.  Anyone who likes Rock Em Sock Em robots also has an interest in this film.  It may not be the future, but it’s entertaining.  Every film isn’t made to win awards.  Some just want to entertain.  Certain wonders, like the Town, Inception, and Dark Knight, can do both. 

*Sons of Anarchy is the current show to watch.   A show about a biker club battling the authorities and rival clubs for control of Charming, a small city in California, is entertaining and well made.  Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunman lead a cast that also includes the lovely Katey Sagal.  Kurt Sutter created this FX gem as a story about family values within a criminal corporation and this is a case where you root for the bad guys that carry the least amount of evil.   FX is quietly becoming a versatile series powerhouse. 

That marks the end folks.  There isn’t much left to say and if there is, the content waits for another time and day.   Every day is another chance to get something important done.   Savor the flavor of today’s accomplishments and move on.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more. 

Goodnight and good luck,

Dan L. Buffa