Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome to the Bigs, Fat Matt

The last week has been a whirlwind for Cardinals prospect Matt Adams. May the 19th started out just like any other day for the 6' 3", 230-lb, slugging first baseman. AAA Memphis was in Las Vegas to take on the 51's (yes, that's actually the team's name). Fat Matt, as he has been affectionately dubbed by this blog, was penciled in to his usual position at first base. The 23 year old, hitting .340 with 9 home runs and 27 RBI while with Memphis, was a fearsome presence in the middle of the order.

Unfortunately, his path to St. Louis remained blocked, even with the recent departure of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Lance Berkman, Allen Craig (a Hometown Discount favorite) and Matt Carpenter have been red hot for the big league club. Finding at-bats for those three alone has been difficult enough, much less a rookies without an at-bat in the Bigs to his name.

However, the last 24 hours changed that, quickly. A recurring hamstring injury forced the A-Craig Hammer to the 15-day DL Saturday morning, continuing the Cardinals disturbing trend of injuries. Currently the Cardinals have six players on the DL in Chris Carpenter, Allen Craig, Kyle McClellan, Jon Jay, Scott Linebrink and Lance Berkman (we'll get to him in a sec).

At 9:00 CT, both Lance Berkman and Matt Adams took their positions at 1B, one against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the other against the Las Vegas 51's. The first inning failed to produce anything eventful, as both men failed to reach base in their at-bats. Then came the second inning of the game in Los Angeles, an inning which could prove to be the most pivotal inning in the Cardinals' 2012 season. Justin Sellers grounded a routine ball to shortstop Rafael Furcal who threw the ball over to first base. Unfortunately, Furcal's throw veered a little off-line, forcing Lance Berkman to lunge for the ball. As Big Puma lunged his right knee visibly buckled. Lance's face immediately contorted in pain as he hopped around and final collapsed to the ground, eerily reminiscent of No. 5's wrist injury last year. With significant help, Berkman was able to limp gingerly off the field. However, it didn't take a medical expert to know that his was serious, very serious.

Back in Las Vegas, Matt Adams was mashing like his usual self, ripping a fourth inning double down the line in right. Fat Matt would score later in the inning and went back into the clubhouse. Unbeknownst to him, he wouldn't be going back out onto the field. The Memphis Redbirds had received a call from St. Louis GM John Mozeliak. Adams was to be taken out of the game immediately and hop on a short flight to Los Angeles to join the big league club.

So, here we are. The Cardinals have placed three first basement on the DL in the last week. The job is Adam's. He follows in huge, Pujols-sized, footsteps. Is he up to the task? I sure hope so. Best of luck, Mr. Adams.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Early Christmas Gift

Mr. Beltran, welcome to St. Louis.

The gaping hole left by the recent departure of Albert Pujols is slowly being filled, this time in the form of six time All-Star Carlos Beltran. The newly-inked outfielder hit .300 with 22 home runs and a .385 OBP last year with the Mets and Giants. The deal (according to Derrick Goold) is reportedly worth $26-million dollars over two years. It also includes a full no-trade clause.

The addition of Beltran makes the Cardinals' offense one of the most fearsome in the National League. Beltran also fits nicely into the Cardinal's defensive alignment, being the projected Opening Day right-fielder. After Allen Craig recovers from offseason knee surgery, Beltran is slated to move into center-field. Even without Albert, the Cardinals projected line-up, after Craig returns, looks very, very solid: Furcal, Beltran, Holliday, Berkman, Freese, Craig, Molina, Schumaker, Pitcher. Scary.

GM John Mozeliak made a statement with this signing. It's more than just a baseball move, more than just on the field results. Mo' was left standing in the dust when Albert took his mercenary money and skedaddled out of town. He needed to prove that this historic franchise wasn't going to curl up and die simply because the resident superstar up and left, leaving behind only a note. He needed prove that to the fans. He needed to prove that to the players. He also needed to prove it to himself. Whatever Carlos Beltran does over the next two years is much less important than the declaration that the Cardinals' front office just made: We're here to play. We're here to win. Right now. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bye Bye (former) Birdie

Denial. They say the first stage of grief is denial. Denial that all that took place yesterday actually occured. That this wasn't some elaborate hoax played on us by the unforgiving media. Denial that St. Louis' appointed King of Baseball Heaven had just bolted to the City of Angels. Denial that, after being blessed by 11 seasons of watching Albert do his work, No. 5 will no longer anchor the heart of the Cardinals lineup. I'm still in denial, that's for sure. I simply don't want to believe it. And yet, there it is, plastered across the front of every website, newspaper, TV station and blog. They all bear the same, unfortunate news. It happened. It really, honestly, actually happened. Albert Pujols is no longer a free agent... and no longer a Cardinal. All it took was $254 million dollars from the West Coast.

Those are tough words to swallow. However, I do have some good news for you. The Cardinals will continue to play baseball in St. Louis in 2012 and beyond. Albert Pujols or no Albert Pujols, the reigning World Champs have a tradition of baseball excellence to continue. So, the question arises, "where do we go from here?"

Even without the Best Player in Baseball, the Cardinals are still the favorites to win the NL Central. With a pitching staff headed by two legitiamate aces in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, along with a young up-and-comer in Jaime Garcia, the pitching staff is one of the tops in baseball. The lineup, though visibly weakened, is still the best in the National League.

The further I am removed from the news, as far as time goes, the more level-headed I become. I'm not angry at the Cardinals for failing to lock him up. There's no way I would've been happy paying that exorbitant amount of money to him. From ages 38-41 the deal will be paying him over 100 million dollars. Only twice in the history of baseball have players been All-Stars age 38 or older. One of those was, suspiciously, Mr. Barry Bonds. The deal, especially considering that the Cardinals are a mid-market team, would potentially cripple the organization for half of a decade.

I'm not particularly angry at the Angels. On the cusp of signing a gigantic new TV contract, they have money to spend. They felt, even at a astounding cost, that this Pujols deal made sense for their club. No blame can be assessed simply because Pujols is (or possibly, was) a St. Louis icon.

I'm also not particularly angry at Pujols himself. The man owed nothing to the Cardinals organization. He's paid his dues, providing the Cardinals Hall of Fame quality baseball at an exceptionally minuscule price for the last 11 years. The man deserved to be paid and he got what he deserved. However, it still hurts. Hurts deeply. I, like so many others in this great city of St. Louis, had hoped that words like legacy and icon played a little more loudly on the strings of Albert's heart. Apparently they didn't.

Watching Albert Pujols mashing the baseball with an embroidered halo on his head is going to be tough. It won't feel right. Watching Matt Holliday bat in the three hole won't feel right. Watching Lance Berkman dig his cleats into the first base dirt won't feel right. None of this feels right. I'll learn to deal with it eventually... I'll have to. I have no choice. However, right now, I can't seem to get past denial.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welcome Aboard, Captain

Well, that didn't take long. The Cardinals took care of item #2 on their Wish List a few hours ago. Mike Matheny, who anchored the plate for the Cardinals from 2000-2004, has been hired as the new manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Matheny has no professional managing or coaching experience, though has "instructed" for a short time in the minors. John Mozeliak cited "leadership qualities" as the main reasons for choosing Mr. Matheny. As a player Matheny won four Gold Gloves (three with the Cardinals) and had a career slash line of .239/.293/.344. (For those who don't know, that's batting average/on-base %/slugging %)
 The hiring will be announced officially at an 11 AM press conference Monday morning. Matheny received two years, with a club option for 2014. 
This is an extremely high-risk, high-reward hiring by the Cardinals. In selecting Matheny they  place a championship callibur under the leadership of a man who will be learning on the job. To make things harder than they already are, Matheny follows in the  footsteps of surefire Hall-of-Famer and mad genius Tony La Russa. I'd be guilty of over-simplification if I described Tony's methods as eccentric but extremely successful. Matheny will have to win over the clubhouse and earn the respect of the high-profile men he will lead, though according to Derrick Goold of the Post Dispatch, he already has
As always, time will tell if the decision is successful or disastrous. Nonetheless, national scrutiny will remain focused on Matheny throughout his inaugural season, ready to jump on each and every mistake he makes. If Matheny posses the qualities espoused on him by Cardinals execs, he will be able to steer his team away from the criticism. But, supposedly stronger men have folded to that pressure. 
There is no way of knowing what will come of this until the season begins. In the meantime, we wish the best of luck to Mike Matheny.