Let’s do a weekly check-in on a few items, shall we?
1. Albert Pujols will be fine. It’s official. I’ve officially lost count of the number of sports shows on ESPN affiliates talking about Albert Pujols’ slow start. Fans are freaking out, analysts are talking doom and gloom, and Albert continues to hit into double plays. Eh. I’m not concerned. Albert is making contact and hitting the ball hard multiple times a game. He’s had several strokes that look gone or off the wall when he hits ’em…only to be caught near the warning track. He’s had line drives caught by crouching left fielders. He’s not striking out multiple times per game. He’ll be fine. This is just one of those things we love/hate about baseball…statistical oddities. Albert is hitting into more bad luck than any player on the team, and that won’t last. If anything, he’s simply swinging ahead of pitches. He’s feeling strong, pain-free, and jumpy (fyi – this is the reason for so many double plays as he swings ahead of pitches and rolls over on them). He’s gonna’ hit.
2. Holliday’s presence and impact is significant and obvious. Since rejoining the team, the Cardinals have won two in a row…scoring 6 runs and 8 runs for their highest run totals of the year. This is no fluke. Sure, Allen Craig carried himself well in his brief run in Holliday’s place…but it just ain’t the same. The swagger of this lineup is just different…more pronounced…with a slugging Matt Holliday in the cleanup spot. You could say it’s because guys get pitched differently with Matt in the 4 spot…and there is probably some truth to that…but the biggest and most visible impact appears to be a string of confident and bold at-bats up and down the order. Berkman hits two homers…Freese hits a homer and has a 3 for 4 game…and the Cardinals are finally getting key hits in key situations. This is no coincidence. The Cardinals are thrilled to have Matt Holliday back at work.
3. Big Puma is swingin’ the lumber. If Lance Berkman maintains his power stroke…look out. With Holliday back, Freese hitting, and Albert poised to break out, a power hitting Berkman will put this lineup up there with the elite teams in the league. We could see something special over the next two weeks…IF Lance Berkman’s power display wasn’t simply due to poor pitching and a friendly ballpark.
4. Colby Rasmus is…again…everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Everyone seems to be criticizing the young center fielder’s defensive effort. So…who is the real Colby Rasmus? The kid certainly has the talent…and he’s showing the ability to make year-to-year adjustments at the plate (he looks like a different hitter in the box in 2011)…but can he make the same adjustments in the field? We’ve already seen an improved throwing arm – better accuracy, better decisions, more aggressiveness – but can he make that final step to reach the level of “winning player”? We saw it in Jim Edmonds…and we saw it in Rick Ankiel…the in-game, single-focus desire to do absolutely whatever it took to win a game, to get that ball…to put it all on the line. So far, Colby hasn’t displayed that same solitary focus. He still has a significant step ahead of him.
5. The Cardinals are attempting to string hits and wins together. If the Cards can get a win tonight, they’ll have not only their first official winning streak with three in a row…they’ll also have their first series win of the season. They’ll try to do just that behind the arm of Chris Carpenter. Let’s be clear…this must get done. The team simply cannot afford to waste starts by their ace…and they can’t afford to continue dropping series after series if they expect to remain in contention. Tony LaRussa teams are famous for “just winning the series”…but thus far, that hasn’t happened. This team needs to show some fortitude tonight and get the job done. With David Freese and Lance Berkman swinging hot bats, Matt Holliday back in the lineup and looking like he never left, and Carpenter taking the mound for his third start of the season with no wins…the Cards simply have to win tonight. If they do…watch out…’cause then this team has some momentum.
As we wrap it up and look towards tonight’s game, I have to wonder…will it come down to Ryan Franklin in the ninth? And if it does, and if he costs this team a Carpenter win, a possible series win, and a 3 game winning streak…he simply must go. I don’t know that one more blown save is enough to dethrone him…but if he blows THIS save, I say replace him. Mitchell Boggs may not be 100% “ready” in TLR’s estimation…but so what? If Franklin continues to blow saves…then a “not ready” Boggs is better than a “not gettin’ it done” Franklin any day. One more blown save…no big deal…but blowing THIS save…that is a morale killer and must be addressed.