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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Here Come the Reds…

The Reds are coming to town…and they’re bringing with them their newly extended center pieces in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. It’s almost like they’re flaunting the fact that they got their big names signed the year after Albert left St. Louis, right? Well…it feels that way!

All kidding aside, I feel fairly comfortable facing this team for the first eight innings. It’s the ninth that concerns me. For whatever reason, the Reds have been snatching wins from teams at the last-minute – and it makes me nervous. Hal McCoy – the long-time, Hall of Fame writer for the Dayton Daily News – would have us believe it all goes back to a pre-workout conversation Dusty Baker had with the team early this year. It seems Baker challenged his offense to surpass the gaudy number of last-at-bat wins put up by Arizona in 2011 (I think it was something nuts like 47 or something). So far, they seem to be taking him seriously.

But I have to wonder…how sustainable is something like that? And is it a compliment or an insult to your ball club if a good portion of your wins come in the final inning? Does it say something that you couldn’t get it done in the previous eight innings? It sure didn’t seem to for Arizona – unless you count their early exit from the playoffs…which I don’t.

And speaking of the Reds’ offense, Cards fans should remember that Brandon Phillips is back in their lineup after missing a few days with a leg injury…and he thrives on boos in Busch Stadium. With him back at the top of their order, and Cueto starting the series off against Lohse in St. Louis, this could be an interesting early series for both teams. Of course…I think it would be REALLY interesting if the PA announcer added the General Manager’s names to the lineups during pre-game. Could be fun to see how Cards fans react to 2011 World Series winner John Mozeliak compared to 2006 World Series winner Walt Jocketty.

Especially after the likely “mystery team” attempting to lure Albert Pujols away from St. Louis seems to have been Walt Jocketty and the Reds. Maybe the announcer can remind fans of that before calling out Jocko’s name.

Okay, okay…let’s move on from there and get into the rest of the post…

Is Tyler Greene ever really going to put it together? I don’t know if it’s a focus issue or if it’s just a talent gap, but Tyler Greene still doesn’t look quite right – and frankly, I’m not comfortable with him in the field. In two straight games against the Cubs, I’ve watched Greene just flat-out boot the ball twice (once in each game). In the first game, a relatively soft line drive was hit directly at him with a bit of a slice on the ball. A man was on first with less than two outs. Appearing to get over-excited about a potential double play, Tyler simply took his eye off the ball and attempted to make the exchange too quickly – and the baseball caromed off the end of his glove and into right field. Because the baserunner at first – and everyone else in the park – expected Tyler to catch it, the runner was diving back into first base to avoid getting doubled up. His belly flop in the dirt gave Greene the time to retrieve the ball and throw to second for the force out…and avoid being charged with an error. Okay, fine…everyone gets an occasional goof, right? Next day…grounder hit right at him. Booted it. No excuse, no explainable reason. Just booted it. This time, he did get charged with the error. At what point do the Cardinals give up and start to believe the player they’ve seen in Tyler Greene is simply the player he is? I’m not saying they should…but answer me this, in all honesty – with the season on the line, in Game 7 of the World Series…do you feel comfortable with the uber talented and exceptionally athletic Tyler Greene at second base for the Redbirds? If the answer is yes…pass me some of whatever you’re drinkin’. If the answer is no…doesn’t that say something about his future in St. Louis?

For that matter, isn’t Rafael Furcal supposed to be good at shortstop? When he came over to the club last year and made a few errors – and we’re not using errors as an evaluative statistic, only as a way to refer to plays he obviously should have made in a general sense – I think we all kind of chalked it up to his abbreviated season, trying to get comfortable playing again, and getting used to a new team. But the same thing is happening again this year. Sure, he makes the occasional stellar stop…and his arm makes up for a lot of less-than-perfect efforts in the field…but again, at what point is Furcal simply missing plays he should make? Now, I think Rafi is going to be fine…but the early “yips” have me a bit concerned.

Furcal’s bat is cooling off as well. After a hot start to the season, Rafi is now 2 for his last 22 with only 1 walk. That’s just not going to be good enough. The season is still too early by far to know which Rafi is the real Rafi, but the Cardinals better hope it’s the hot-hitting one. If Furcal falters in the leadoff spot, I’m not convinced we have a viable alternative. Descalso can play, yes…and get on base…but after a stellar Spring camp, his offensive numbers are normalizing. Can he walk? Yes. Can he scrap out a rally? Sure. But can he hit enough at the top of the order to get on base at a regular clip every day? Doubt it. Greene may be a decent option given his speed and on-base ability from Spring Training, but he swings and misses a bunch, and he’s not exactly hitting – and it means we have to start him at second base nearly every day (see above). Likely the answer would be Jon Jay…but I dislike this answer strongly. I really like seeing Jay hit lower in the order…or maybe even in the two hole. He’s kind of like Molina, to me…plug him in where he’s comfortable and leave him alone. He’ll contribute from his sniper position. (Plus, his slumps have, historically, been maddening to watch.) Perhaps the answer would be two-fold. With Berkman’s unusually high OBP, perhaps it would be best to switch Beltran and Berkman – hitting Berkman in the two hole and Beltran in the clean-up spot – to maximize OBP potential with a less-than desirable leadoff man. Hmmm…

Does Carlos Beltran look…awkward to you? I know he’s getting older, and his knees aren’t exactly fresh…but he looks a bit…I don’t know…slow at times in right field. Not to mention awkward. After an ill-advised dive on a ball in the outfield – and an inability to track down a couple of balls in his expected area – I have to wonder if he is quite as comfortable seeing the ball off the bat in RF as he suggests. He doesn’t look like an All-Star center fielder playing a corner outfield position. He looks like a bat we’re trying to hide in the outfield. Now, that’s not to say he always looks like that…but he has had a few cringe-worthy misplays thus far. Given what we know about Beltran, he just looks like he isn’t seeing the ball off the bat as well as I would expect. He just looks a bit…awkward.

Can Matheny prevent Matt Carpenter from getting exposed? One of the little-noticed aspects of Tony La Russa’s tenure as manager was his ability to protect young players and bench/role type guys from getting exposed at the plate. He seemed able to play guys just enough to keep them fresh and contributing, but keep them out of the lineup just enough to prevent pitchers from exposing them at the plate. We’ll see if Matheny can do the same with Matt Carpenter. The kid’s got a bat and he’s a gamer…but Major League pitching is…well…it’s Major League pitching. And it has a tendency to expose rookies when expectations and injuries force them into too much playing time too early. Carpenter is hitting a lot of balls hard – especially this weekend – but I’ll be surprised if he gets the opportunity to square up on many of them going forward after his 4 for 4 day in St. Louis. That said…how much fun was that?!

* After watching him struggle the last few games, it’s gonna’ be fun to watch Matt Holliday break out this week against the Reds in big spots.

* Jon Jay might just be one of the best center fielders – when it comes to tracking down balls – in the National League. I would love to see someone reading this post – *ahem* – send me a statistical analysis of his defensive performance thus far…and how it measures up to others in the game.

* Let’s hope Yadier Molina continues to stay focused at the plate and resists the urge to swing for the fences after his suddenly impressive power display to start the season.

* David Freese is flashing some leather at the hot corner. After not being quite right the last few years, he’s finally healthy enough to show off all aspects of his game – power, RBI ability, and defense.

* With Chris Carpenter out even longer, is it time to sign Roy Oswalt before another team snatches him up? Remember what happened when Kyle McClellan was a member of the rotation into June of 2011…should we be concerned about the same from Lynn?

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for today. Get yourself geared up and ready to go for the Reds/Cardinals game tonight. It’s quick-kickin’ Johnny Cueto in Busch Stadium…and Lord knows what that means!

GO CARDS!!!

P.S. Earlier in the season I briefly compared the Brewers’ NL Central Championship banner to the Cardinals 2011 World Series Championship banner by saying, “Our banner’s bigger!” Matt Holliday later said, “Our banner’s cooler.” While researching for today’s post, I visited the Reds’ site and noticed a large web banner at the top of the page that says, “This is Reds Country!” I like the Cardinals’ web banner better. It says, “2011 World Series Champions!” We are Cardinal Nation.

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