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Don’t Bet Against This Team…and other Game 5 Thoughts…

A few thoughts on last night’s World Series loss to the Rangers…

1. For years the Cardinal Rule has been, “Don’t run if you find yourself on first base in front of Pujols.” If you make it, they walk him and you’ve taken the bat out of his hands. If you don’t make it, you’ve cost us an out and stolen an RBI opportunity from our best hitter. And in a 2-run game, it doesn’t even make sense to move that runner into scoring position…because he doesn’t matter unless the man behind him scores, too. At best, you save yourself from a double play. That is the only reason in the world for Allen Craig to run in front of Pujols…twice! And that is telling. Have the Cardinals FINALLY become so concerned about hitting into double plays? All season long we’ve heard it wasn’t a concern…”It means we have a lot of men on base,” Tony would say…Derrick Goold even performed a quick analysis in the Post Dispatch confirming Tony’s comments (that the Cardinals GIDP rate is no more than about average…we just have more men on than most teams)…but suddenly the Cards are concerned enough about GIDPs that they break the Cardinal Rule…in the World Series?!?! I don’t care if Albert called the hit-and-run or Tony called it…they broke the Cardinal Rule in Game 5 of the World Series…and that just can’t happen.

2. What is it with this team and situational hitting? The Cardinals pitiful performance with runners in scoring position (RISP) last night was news to a national audience…but it was more of the same to Cardinals fans. With the exception of September (a low pressure, “nothing to lose” period), this team has consistently foundered with RISP. And it’s not just in “get a hit” situations…it’s sac flies, making contact with two strikes, working good at-bats after a pitcher walks two men in front of you, etc. These are all things previous Cardinal teams seemed to excel at…so much so that fans began to identify it as part of the “Cardinal Way.” But lately, the opposite has been true. The Cardinal Way has become long-ball hunting, over-aggressive hitters who are more likely to strike out in a sac fly situation than get the runner home. And it’s not specific to one player or a few of the same players…it’s the entire lineup. Doesn’t that speak more to approach and coaching than it does to the players involved? Are TLR and his Merry Men failing to properly instruct their hitters regarding the correct approach at the plate in key situations? Not likely, considering Tony’s obsessive preparation tendencies. It seems more likely Tony has his hitters “pushing” (as he would say) when the opportunity arises rather than simply getting a run home. On one hand, it’s out of character for TLR to ignore a small-ball, run-hungry approach…but on the other hand, Tony has a LOT of confidence in this lineup…especially his 3 through 7 hitters…and I could absolutely see him accepting a more hands off, trust the hitter approach at the plate. In some cases, it’s working…in others, it’s not. Hitters are making obvious mistakes and errors in judgment. Some are trying to pull the ball way too much…others are swinging at the first pitch when a pitcher clearly has control issues…and still others are simply failing to recognize the value of a single sac fly run in a tight ball game. It makes me wonder about the coaching staff…both Tony’s overall approach and McGwire’s failure to properly interact with his hitters during the game to prep them for specific, situational at-bats and to make necessary adjustments when a pitcher is clearly shutting them down. I don’t know what’s up…but someone has to figure it out…and fast. It’s do or die time, gentlemen.

3. If no hit-and-run is on in the ninth… To harp on this a bit more, if no hit-and-run is on in the ninth with Craig on, Albert at the plate, and no outs…Pujols likely doesn’t swing at a pitch out of the zone…and takes ball four to put men on first and second, Holliday up with Berkman on deck, and a wild pitcher on the mound. No excuse…unless someone was worried about the GIDP.

4. The streak is broken. I believe Bernie wrote in the Post Dispatch that neither the Cardinals nor the Rangers had lost two games in a row in the postseason this year. Now the Cardinals have done that in losing two games in a row to Texas in Arlington. It’s time for the Rangers to lose two in a row in St. Louis. What goes around comes around.

5. Rain is in the forecast for Jaime’s start in Game 6. Apparently a lot of rain is coming. It’s enough of a concern that people are asking the question, “If the game gets rained out, will Carpenter get Game 7 on 3 days rest instead of Lohse?” I have to think the answer to that question is ‘yes.’ Carp, Dunc, and TLR are all emphatic regarding Carp’s struggles in his only short-rest outing of his career – mechanics, not fatigue, were supposedly to blame. If that’s the case – and even if it’s not, to be honest – you cannot let Kyle Lohse make a Game 7 start when you have Chris Carpenter available in any capacity. Keep him on a short leash…all hands on deck, essentially…but Carpenter has to throw a Game 7 start if he can somehow steal 3 days rest. Honestly, I wonder if that was already on Tony’s mind when he pulled him last night…hoping to prevent him from being overworked in his start prior to a possible Game 7 on short rest. But understand this…a rain out only helps the Cardinals if it is a TOTAL rain out. If Jaime Garcia starts the game for the Cardinals…and then it is suspended…that’s very, very bad. Suddenly, the Cardinals are in a do or die game with Kyle Lohse getting a start because Garcia pitched the night before. While I don’t worry as much about Lohse in Busch as others do, I certainly don’t want him pitching Game 6 in any capacity. Once the game starts, I believe our best chance is to get at least to the 7th or 8th innings with Garcia. Then, if it’s suspended, we start the game with our bullpen the next day…but I would rather finish it out the same day than force our bullpen pitchers to step out of their comfort zone and start a game.

Update: 5a. Okay…I waited until I could read more about the bullpen screw up(s) in the 8th last night before writing about this one. I honestly…like most, it seems…have no idea what happened in that inning. Here’s what I thought was happening as it happened: Zep to face the lefty…makes sense…Napoli comes up…expected a RH…wondered who was left…Lynn unavailable, Dotel already used…Motte for possibly 5 outs? Especially after zero swings and misses on Ranger ABs this Series…and the blown save the other night? Seemed a stretch…then Buck/McCarver begin talking about how Tony said, “Don’t be surprised if Zep goes in to face a righty”…then announcers said something…was it “three strikeouts against all three RH batters this series or postseason”?…I know Zep has looked good against righties this postseason…huh…seems like Tony’s gonna’ leave him in for Napoli…ok…pound him low and inside, Zep!…huh…that’s odd…Lynn’s up in the ‘pen…thought he was shut down…ah well…BOOM!…damn it, Napoli!!!…suddenly reading tweets about TLR stupid for leaving Zep in to face Napoli…really?…found out Napoli awesome against lefties…oh…wait…why is Lynn in there? To IBB a hitter?! Really?!…oh, and NOW Motte comes in…strikeout…sheesh.

And now, it all makes more sense…sort of…we still don’t know what happened exactly, but the decision to leave Zep in, perhaps, makes more sense if it was a screw up…but again…if Tony can delay with Lynn there…why not delay with Lynn earlier when Napoli was up? Oh…because he didn’t want to walk Napoli but could walk Kinsler with a base open. I guess that makes sense…all in all, this explanation by Joel Sherman (via twitter) of the NY Post seems the most plausible:

@Joelsherman1 My gut: Lilliquist under noise/stress messed up in pen. LaRussa didn’t want to blame him, but also didn’t want to blame self. Blame phones

We all know how protective Tony is about his coaches and players…even the new ones like Lilliquist…but especially his coaches. Only thing I can figure is that Sherman’s explanation rings closest to the truth. I will say this…Tony is taking a pounding in the media for it. Lilliquist…if it is his screw up…should step forward and alleviate some of the hammering Tony is taking for him. But it still leaves the question…why didn’t TLR at least TRY to delay a while with Zep on the mound to give Motte time to warm up? Dude warms up fast…mound conference…5 or 6 throw overs…very slow walk…etc. I don’t know…we may never know…but one thing is for sure…Tony did NOT win any fans with his handling of the 8th last night. ugh.

6. This team is down but not out. In all reality, I believe we gave away the World Series with last night’s loss. Let me tell you why…Garcia, as good as he’s been, hasn’t picked up a win in postseason yet. Lohse has been Jekyll and Hyde on the mound – starting out effectively but finishing off horribly. And winning two games in a row against this Texas lineup in ANY ballpark…just hard. Just real damn hard. But let me say this…I have learned not to bet against this team. They’ve played under the cowl of pseudo-elimination status since August…and every time…each and every time…they’ve cast it off and lunged to victory. I believe the team gets on the plane today, has a “come to Jesus” meeting…and steps off the plane rejuvinated and ready to pull off the impossible yet again. Lance Berkman is going to corner the other 24 men on this roster, and he’s going to give them the, “I ain’t gettin’ here twice just to lose this damn thing again” speech. Waino’s gonna’ clap his hands and give the, “Nobody wants to play us for Games 6 and 7 in our house” speech. Carp’s gonna’ say, “Get yer f****n jocks outta the dirt and win this f****n thing!” And Tony’s gonna’ say, “One game…Just one game…focus on today and let’s get Game 6…Game 7 isn’t even a reality right now…it doesn’t exist…one game.” This team will come out ready to play in Game 6. Let’s hope they have the chance to do the same with Game 7.

It’s back to the NL for real baseball, ladies and gents! So, throw on your suit and tie, straighten your hat, and get out to the ‘ol ballpark for a real humdinger! It’s October baseball in St. Louis…and it just don’t get no better than that!

GO CARDS!!!

P.S. Because I’m sure some will ask…I actually don’t care about the “Lynn in to IBB a hitter” fiasco. Tony made Lance Lynn unavailable that night barring an emergency, anyway. At least he’s contributing by allowing Motte to get warm. No big deal. It’s highly unlikely Lynn is needed in extra innings at that point in the game, anyway.

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