Friday, June 02, 2006

Red alert

The Cubs travel down I-55 this weekend to renew the National League's best rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals. It must be a fun time to be a Cardinal fan these days. The team is walking away with the NL Central, Albie is gonna win the MVP and set a few records too, and they have a new ballpark to boot. Times are good in river city. Earlier this week ryan vb at Cardinals Diaspora approached me about exchanging questions on each others teams. I sent Ryan ten questions on the Redbirds and he sent me ten on the Cubs(here are my answers). Here's what Ryan told me about the birds:

1.) What impact(if any) do you think the Houston signing of Roger Clemens will have on the Cardinals run for another division crown?
rvb: Clemens' return will be important, but I don't think it will make them a legitimate threat to take the NL Central - barring unforeseen circumstances. Houston needs offense on top of that, and a lack of run production will cost them some games they'll need to win the division. Roger's return won't help Pettitte's off year either. Aren't we just glad to have the whole drama over with?

2.) One of the few weaknesses that people talk about with the Redbirds is the bullpen. Still somehow the guys down there seem to stand up and get the job done. Are you concerned with the Cardinal bullpen as the season progresses?
rvb: In spite of the numbers, I'm perpetually worried about the bullpen. It seems to me that there's such fluctuation for bullpen pithcers from year to year that it's almost impossible to effectively predict. With Rincon out for the season, we have just one proven lefty reliever, Randy Flores. Tyler Johnson has been okay so far, and can probably serve just fine in the LOOGY role. In Tuesday's game with the Astros, there was some concern after the pen gave up the lead by letting inherited runners score. Righty Josh Hancock has allowed 10 of 18 inherited runners to score. We have been pleasantly surprised with Adam Wainwright's performance. In the spring we needed a "shut 'em down" righty that can get the strike out; Wainwright gave us that guy. Right now I feel okay about the pen, but I don't know if I'll let the Paxil subscription run out.

3.) What's the status of Chris Carpenter? Could this injury be more serious than reported? Same question on Edmonds?
rvb: Carpenter's injury is fine, and all indications are that his stint on the DL was really just more of a precautionary move. It was a smart one though, and I won't complain a bit if he doesn't reach 20 wins because we rest him more throughout the season. He's the only truly dominant starter we have in the rotation. Edmonds' groin could be a real problem, note I threw in the "unforeseen circumstances" caveat above. Of course, he's been playing well below capacity all season (SLG below .400!), and we've be able to win games. However, without him we have no solid lefty hitter with power in the lineup. I was keen on the idea of trading Edmonds all winter. There's no telling how long he's out either. The Cards will make a move for a bat now.

4.) You're the opposing manager, Pujols is up bases loaded 2 outs in the ninth, your team is up one. How do you instruct your pitcher to try and get Albert out?

rvb: Very carefully. No, seriously. I'd have my pitcher (and I feel that as the sim manager I can say "my pitcher") work low on the outside corner and pray to Jah that he hits it on the ground. I can't believe he's not being walked more than he is.

5.) Besides Albert, who is the Cardinal player you can least afford to lose for a long period of time this season?

rvb: Among the position players that's a tough call. My gut tells me Rolen, since he's essentially the only good, proven hitter that can be slotted into the lineup behind Pujols, with Edmonds slumping and/or injured. Of course, the obsessive in me says that Eckstein is indispensable because he works pitchers so well, hits, and gets on base. In later innings, where he's the second or third guy to the plate, he's used his skill to make sure Pujols gets to bat during the inning.As far as the pitchers go, I would normally say Isringhausen, given the pen's past tendencies to totally fall apart in save situations without him. This season, I think we have a couple guys, Wainwright and Looper, that can fill the role for a while. Carpenter is the pitcher we absolutely can't afford to loose. We might still get to October with our collection of soft tossing dullards, but we wouldn't win more than a game or two without Carpenter.

6.) Let's assume the Cardinals win the division (I already have), who do you most fear in NL Playoffs? And Why?

rvb: Oh come on now, the Pirates could always sneak up on us. The Mets seem awfully intimidating, because they have a solid bunch of hitters that can eat alive a Ponson or Marquis - or even a Mulder. I still think that the home run is a key in the playoffs, and they have a lot of guys in their lineup that can take the ball deep. When you take away Pedro and Carpenter, though, the rotations are prettty even. Still, I'd keep all the breakables out of my way if we meet the Metrosexuals in October.

7.) Minor Leagues: Three starting pitchers that Cub fans should be aware of in your minor league system?

rvb: This question is a lot harder to answer than it should be. Anthony Reyes has made two big league starts this year, and was a stud each time. He's back in Memphis for now, but I have hunch he'll be up as soon as the Cards deal for a bat, unless he's the one being dealt. Most Cardinal fans REALLY want to see him in the rotation next year. I'd really hate to lose him before he gets a chance to shine full time. Stu Pomeranz is pitching really well for double A Springfield, MO. He's 22, and has a 6-1 record with a 3.70 ERA pitching in a hitter friendly park in the Texas League. He's not a fireballer like Reyes, but he has the tools to be successful. The third is something of a surprise this season, a kid named Jamie Garcia. The lefty might be the best pitching prospect in the Midwest League with Quad Cities this year (65K, 14 BB, 60 IP). He was our 22nd round pick last year, and did I mention he's a lefty?

8.) Three minor league position players?

rvb: This one is really tougher than it should be. OF Colby Rasmus, 19, was the Cards' first round pick in the draft last year. He came out of high school, where the lefty hitter was considered one of the best HS hitters in the country. Cody Haerther is another OF hitting prospect whose strength is hitting for AVG, but he's having a bad go of it in AA this year. He's 23. Bryan Anderson, 19, is a catcher the Cards drafted in the fourth round last year. He had a good spring, and has swung a hot bat in his limited time in the system. John Sickles was "intrigued" by his bat. He'll probably switch positions, and has already been playing 1B and DH some this year. Of course, with Molina's hot bat this year, maybe he should hang on to his catcher's mit.

9.) As a Cardinal fan, do you still consider the Cubs to be your biggest rival? If yes why? If not, who is?

rvb: No matter where either team is in the standings, no series gets Cardinal fans as fired up as one versus the Cubbies. Just look back at last season, some of those series we played were totally meaningless in terms of the standings, but they had an intensity that rivals the playoffs. Both franchises have such a rich history together and sense of tradition and the fans really carry that torch as well.

10.) As an outsider, what is your take on where the Cubs find themselves?

rvb: The feeling around Cardinal nation (the Diaspora if you will, sorry couldn't resist) is that the Cubs would be really dangerous under new management, both in the front office and the dugout. I understand Lee's injury has really hurt the team, but it doesn't seem like they should have lost as many as they have since he's been gone. It seems to me that Dusty Baker's biggest shortcoming, besides pitcher abuse, is pulling the team together and getting them to play well through adversity. Even without Lee, there are still top flight players on your team that can compete, but they're battling the Pirates for the division cellar.

I think almost every Cardinal fan would like to see the Cubs in a better position, because jockeying with each other in the standings make the best rivalry in sports even better. Remember how great those games in 2003 were? Those were essentially playoff games, and were much more exciting than a lot of the games in the playoffs that season.

Thanks to ryan and the guys at Cardinals Diaspora for this exchange. Maybe one of these years the Cubs can be in the race and we can talk some smack.

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