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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Two Steps Shy of Streaking in the Streets of Joplin

I’m on a new diet. I’m exercising for the first time in years. My air conditioner went down yesterday. I broke a tooth last week. I think I’m getting sick.

And the Cardinals are losing.

If you showed up on my doorstep and offered to instantly address any of those issues – I’m sad to say I would pick the Cardinals. Does that mean I’m too involved in this team’s win/loss record? Usually. This is typically the point in the season where I make myself step back, re-orient myself, and minimize the impact of a Cardinals loss on my daily life.

But screw that.

I (like most of you) have high hopes for this team, and I refuse to accept anything less than a 2011 playoff berth. This is not 2010. This could be Pujols’ last season as a Cardinal. It could be LaRussa’s last season as a Cardinal. It could be Carpenter and Wainwright’s last seasons as Cardinals. It is most likely Lance Berkman’s only season as a Cardinal, and Colby Rasmus is looking less and less like a sure-fire part of this team’s future.

And let’s not forget yet another year of Matt Holliday’s 7-year contract potentially wasted (the Albert Pujols treatment).

I refuse to accept that this team may end up sharing the fate of the 2010, gut-wrenching version of Cardinal baseball.

With that said, here are a few quick hits as I sit two steps shy of full-on streaking in the streets of Joplin:

1) Ryan Theriot moving to 2B ain’t all that simple. I keep hearing about the Cardinals’ potential involvement in the shortstop trade market. Jose Reyes is not going to happen. We just can’t/shouldn’t give up the pieces it would take to get him for half a season. Jason Bartlett has been floated as a name from the Padres (perhaps an alluring “package deal” scenario involving Heath Bell?), but it brings issues as well…primarily, what to do with Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker.

Theriot doesn’t want to move to 2B. Is it worth messing with the team’s chemistry to upgrade SS (see: surly Theriot)? Maybe…but chemistry and resilience has been tagged as an enduring strength of this team since day one. And Skip Schumaker is hitting. He’s playing adequate to good second base…in fact, I would argue he has been and still is our best option at second this season (assuming a no-move by Theriot). Punto isn’t exactly showing an ability to gain and sustain momentum. Kozma couldn’t hit here (yet). Greene couldn’t hit or consistently field this season. Etc. So…you gain a SS and move Theriot to 2B. What do you do with Skip? Return him to the outfield? Why? You have 3 strong starters (2 of which are All Stars) plus Jon Jay and a soon-to-return Allen Craig. Skip isn’t going to see much playing time in the outfield. Trade him? Oh hooo…remember the Luddy trade of 2010? Sure, the offensive downgrade isn’t the same as a Skip trade…but again, chemistry and core…Skip is a major player in that department. Is it worth upsetting the team’s clubhouse balance? And let’s remember…Theriot’s errors haven’t exactly been SS-related errors (for the most part). Dropped infield-fly, horribly ugly throws, mis-handled “right to him” grounders. How much improvement can we expect at 2B?

And what about a straight-up trade of Theriot for Bartlett? To be clear, you’re talking about trading a lead-off hitting SS hitting .293 with 13 doubles and 13 errors (Theriot) for a .249 hitting SS with 8 doubles and 11 errors (Bartlett). Is Bartlett the better SS? Absolutely. Is the defensive upgrade enough to justify the significant offensive downgrade (.317 OBP for Bartlett – .346 OBP for Theriot)?  Hmmm…certainly Bartlett has better range, etc., but enough to cost us our lead off hitter? I don’t know. I think all things considered, I would prefer to sit tight on the Theriot/Bartlett/Schumaker situation. This team can win with Theriot/Schumaker in the middle infield.

2) David Freese returns to the hot corner. To me, this is perhaps the single biggest news of June for the Cardinals…the return of their RBI-producing third baseman. Daniel Descalso has certainly been fun to watch – and he’s won a lot of support during his stint at this level – but his bat is nothing compared to Freese’s bat. Even if it takes him a week or two to get up to speed at this level in the five-hole, he still stands a better chance of driving in runs than Dirty Dan. And with Albert out, RBIs are now a proverbial premium (I don’t think I used “proverbial” correctly…but I don’t really care). Do not underestimate the impact of David Freese.

3) Nick Punto will surprise you with his impact. All those at-bats with Kozma, Brown, and Tyler Greene trying to hit MLB pitching in key RBI or on-base situations…replace them with a shockingly relevant 2011 version of Nick Punto. Suddenly, the Cardinals are no longer bringing a knife to a gun fight. Rest Theriot at SS, spell Schumaker at 2B, or just pinch-hit in key, game-on-the-line situations…a veteran, switch-hitting Nick Punto is a significant upgrade over the Brown-Kozma-Greene scenario.

4) The bullpen is going to get better – finally. I’ve been saying it since day one. Miguel Batista should not be trusted in significant situations. Sure, the downfall of Ryan Franklin (and the subsequent bullpen shuffle) made Batista’s role a bit more pronounced…but it was clear from the beginning that TLR held a special preference for the aging fireballer. Look, I felt bad for The Poet, but the reality was that he just couldn’t be trusted to find the strike zone when he absolutely had to. He skated by on sheer luck for much of the season, but it was just a matter of time before his tolerable inconsistencies became high-profile guffaws. He needed to go.

And as much as I like Trever Miller, I commend the organization for finally seeking an alternative to our lefty on lefty match-ups. When a manager like TLR prefers a hard-throwing, straight fastball right hander like Jason Motte over either of our lefty options against Ryan Howard (I don’t care WHAT Howard’s numbers are against lefties)…that is a screaming indicator of a major-league level problem in the ‘pen. I’m just surprised the organization positioned themseves to provide reinforcments with Valdes to the ‘pen in AAA . Hopefully, with the infusion of Valdes, the release of Batista, and possible future moves, the ‘pen can return to some sense of normalcy regarding roles and responsibilities.

5) Odd-ball roster moves. I’m not sure what Mo is thinking this year (and I love Mo), but he clearly fell in love with the idea of promoting minor league guys to fill big league roles. Maybe he just wanted to really get a handle on what he did and did not have in the system before making a trade. Maybe Descalso’s hard-nosed, durable play impressed him enough to consider other AAA’ers. Whatever the reason, it’s time to stop the Memphis Mafia invasion here. We seem to be turning a corner (fingers crossed) on the injury front. Freese and Punto are back. Craig is due back soon. And even Albert’s prognosis is showing early-return promise. The young guys were an almost adequate stop-gap to this point in the season, but it’s nearly July, now. It’s time to start committing to MLB level baseball.

And a quick note on Matt Carpenter. I was excited by the promotion, but I also disagreed with it. The time for lil’ Carp was at the beginning of the season in a Dirty Dan role – not in the midst of a struggling streak by the big club after Matt endured a slow start to the AAA season. Bringing him in at that point – if not for his mental toughness – risked setting him back in his development.

WRAP-UP!

Alright, all…my body aches, my home is sweltering, my cravings are growing more intense by the minute…and my desperation for a strong push by the Cardinals is reaching “go streaking in the streets of Joplin” level. I could really go for an injection of Cardinal wins right about now.

GO CARDS!!!

NOTE: A special CONGRATULATIONS to my good buddy @dmbfan81 for undisclosed news – get on Twitter and ask him yourself! – this week. Atta’ guy 😉

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