Monday, September 04, 2006

5 Questions With the Cardinals

Update, 12:45 PM Monday: I've added another set of answers from Scott at CardNilly to the answers from Viva El Birdos and Matthew Leach. I've also got a link up to my answers to Leach's questions at Obviously, You're Not a Golfer. Matthew, what's the story behind that unusual blog name?

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The Nats completed a three game sweep of the Diamondbacks to win their fourth in a row! I'm back from a week-long business trip to Minnesota (I know you missed me)! Football season starts this week! w00t! Seriously, it's great to see the team playing well. If nothing else, the Nats need to end this season on some high notes.

Also, it seems that PT Bowden was mighty active in my absence, shipping Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward off for some pitching and acquiring CF Nook Logan from the Tigers. I remember Logan's name from last winter, when rumors were circling of acquiring him the first time around. I guess he's toolsy. Anyway, congratulations to Bowden for making some decent moves. I liked Ward a lot, but he's eminently replaceable, as is Marlon Anderson. However, the departures of these two open up another big need for the offseason: bench guys. Jamey Carroll redux, anyone?

Now, without further ado, it's time for a triple dip of 5 Questions With... This time we interviewed three Cards bloggers, Erik Manning of Viva El Birdos, Cardinals.com beat writer Matthew Leach and Scott from CardNilly. I'm super lazy, so I asked them both the same set of questions. I've posted their answers below. You can see my answers to Matthew Leach's questions at his oddly titled blog Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, here.

Curly W: The Cards are steaming right along while the Reds are foundering. Do you see any chance of the Reds catching up or do the Cards have the NL Central crown in the bag?

Birdos: I don’t see the Reds catching up, thankfully the Cardinals have got hot at the right time as the Reds have had the wheels come off. The Reds are a very strange team. They picked up about any DFA’d relief pitcher on the market and have gotten career years out of the likes of Scott Hatteberg, David Ross and Brandon Phillips. I continue to hear how much credit Wayne Krivsky deserves for putting together this team, but color me unimpressed. He’s basically picked up a bunch of unwanted players (while you can say Jocketty has some of the same thing) and he traded away 2 very good hitters in Lopez and Kearns to your team for a couple of middle relievers and Royce Clayton. I don’t care what radio talk show host or ESPN talking head says, in the long run, that’s a horrendous move.

Leach: Two separate questions, I think. Do I see any chance of the Reds catching up? Nope. They're done; they have no head-to-head matchups left, they're fading and the Cards appear to have stumbled across a rejuvenated Anthony Reyes.

But as for whether they have the NL Central salted away, I'm less sure of that. Houston is now within one game of Cincinnati, and they have two series left coming up against the Cards. I still think STL is a heavy favorite, given the lead and the amount of time left. But if anybody's going to overtake them, it's likely to be Houston.

CardNilly: Well, it’s sort of one of those things where we’ve been spoiled by the last two years, quite honestly. In 2004 and 2005 we had the thing wrapped up by double digits at this point in the year. This year we’re not as good, and these types of hot streaks have tended to be followed by ice-cold eight game losing streaks. The conventional wisdom out here in the Cardblogosphere is that the Cards are better than the Reds, but not that much better. Just a little while ago we were tied for the division lead. So it’s more of a situation where you hope the Reds keep scuffling just so things will be easy – there’s not as much confidence that the current version of the Cards team could actually pull through if it came down to a nip and tuck race. But hey – winning the division by default is still winning the division, right?

Curly W: We in Washington are looking forward to a new stadium in 2008 to replace what will be the last of the old saucer-shaped parks of the 60's/70's. In light of your experience with new Busch Stadium, what do we have to look forward to the most in a new park?

Birdos: I have not been to the new stadium, so I can’t tell you definitively. From what I’ve seen of the new ballpark is the view is very open, and you can see the city much better. It just highlights the beauty of the downtown area. From what I’ve heard about the Nat’s new plans for a stadium, it should do the same. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Leach: Hrm. Cardinals folks are not the best to ask about this, because new Busch is nice but not overwhelming. I'm also in a different position, since my exposure is strictly in the press box rather than the seats. Still, even in the worst of the new parks (and I won't say which one I think that is, but it's not new Busch), there's that new ballpark smell. It's just a neat, exciting experience to walk into a new place. In the meantime, folks in DC/NoVa/MD should take the trip up to Philly to see a really high-quality new park. Obviously Camden is great too, but I think Citizens Bank Park is somewhat underappreciated. Neat facility.

CardNilly: Higher prices, worse sightlines, and a long period where they are “just working out the kinks…” if New Busch is any sort of indication. The architects of New Busch screwed everyone over who wasn’t a luxury box owner – the decks are pitched too shallowly, so that your view is almost always blocked by someone of petite size sitting in front of you. Or, in my case for my season tickets, by a series of railings and safety bars that effectively prevent me from seeing anything on the field (http://cardnilly.com/?p=322).

I don’t know what kind of community there is at RFK right now, what with the team being so new (relatively speaking), but at Old Busch there was a sense of camaraderie in the stands, particularly in areas where season ticket holders had been sitting next to each other for years on end – decades sometimes. Some sections had Christmas parties and mailing lists and the like. All that was ripped apart in the move: people were scattered about, and you might see a couple people you knew from the old park, but that was it. I’m sure that over time the sense of community will come back, but I miss it right now.

Bottom line: if your sixth question had been “New Busch or Old Busch?” I’d have answered Old Busch in a heartbeat. I hope that the new stadium y’all are getting doesn’t provoke that kind of a reaction for you. You guys deserve a great new stadium, and I hope you get it. I hope we get it with Busch IV in twenty-five years, too.

Curly W: One of the Nats bloggers has an obsession with former Nats and current Cards backup catcher Gary Bennett. Does he get this level of esteem in the Cards' blogosphere?

Birdos: No, Bennett did not get the same esteem, until last weekend when he hit a couple of game winners, including the walk off grand slam against the hated Cubs. That of course will endear you to the fans. I’m a big stat guy normally, but some of the "intangible" things about Bennett is the way he calls a game and handles a pitching staff. Last I checked, the Cardinals were leading the league in hit bats men, and as you can imagine some players have got steamed at time with our pitchers. But I’ve noticed on thing Bennett always does is get the heat off the pitcher and protect his pitcher, stepping in front of the hitter. This actually made him an unpopular signing, as there was an incident a few seasons ago like that between him and Albert Pujols. But, yeah, I’ve come to like the guy.

Leach: Not that I know of. He is very well-regarded by his teammates and beat writers, however. And probably less so by Dusty Baker.

CardNilly: Eh. The guy he’s backing up, Yady Molina, is particularly loved in Cardinal Nation – he’s sort of unintentionally cute and cuddly – so the ladies love him – and he’s got a cannon of an arm and a knack for clutch hitting, even if he doesn’t ever hit any time else. So the guys are cool with him, too. Bennett was the backup catcher we got so we didn’t have to deal with Einar Diaz any more, and with TLR there’s the expectation that the catcher won’t hit and is pretty good behind the plate.

For most of the year, Bennett was an even worse hitter than Yady (which is saying something pretty spectacular), and wasn’t all that great defensively behind the plate. But he tried and he hustled, so while people weren’t happy with his level of suckitude, it’s hard to get all fired up about a backup catcher when Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen are consistently throwing games away, you know?

Then he had an incredibly hot week, where he outhit Albert and more or less singlehandedly won two games in the Cubs series. So that spurred a huge wave of positive sentiment, even if it was heavily tinged with disbelief. Then he hurt himself, which was more or less met with a collective shrug. When he leaves as a free agent after this year, I’ll probably sum it up like this:

Gary Bennett: We Don’t Have Anything Against Him Anymore.

Curly W: The Cards have been dominant for several seasons now while the Cubs have been in the tank. Has this affected the intensity of the rivalry between the two teams?

Birdos: The Cubs have played us very tough the past 2 seasons, so while they’ve not been a contender they’ve been very pesky at playing the role of spoiler. They’re still rivals, but they are more of a nuisance then anything else.

Leach: A little bit. Back in 02 and 03, especially 03, those games were bloodsport. The famous "Three Nights in August" series was exciting, but I've never seen more compelling regular-season baseball than the series at Wrigley that soon followed. Cubs took four out of five in knock-down, drag-out ball that was amazing stuff. And it seemed to take a ton out of the Cards.

The thing to know, though, is that to the players, the organization, etc., Houston is nearly as big a deal, if not bigger. Houston-St. Louis games are ALWAYS competitive, always entertaining. I look forward to them more than Cubs games. Plus now you have two playoff series' worth of recent history on top of it all.

CardNilly: Yes and no. Historically, the Cards and Cubs are never good at the same time, so the rivalry’s gotten used to that dynamic. It’s not a Yanks/BoSox thing where we’re always scrapping for the division lead. That changed in 2003 during a pivotal five game series in Chicago where the Cards essentially lost the division to the Cubs. 2004 was the most intense I’ve ever seen the rivalry, since the Cubs had all the bandwagon fans who needed to prove the genuine nature of their fandom with their actions during the rivalry series. In 2005 all those bandwagon Cubs fans had gotten bored with the team, but there were a whole slew of bandwagon Cards fans who were doing the same thing in reverse.

This year it’s been okay from that point of view, but the Cards managed to get swept their first three series up in Chicago. Considering how bad this current Cubs team is, that’s plenty sufficient to keep the rivalry up and alive. There’s no Cardinal fan out there that isn’t secretly freaked out about the potential for a healthy rotation of Zambrano, Prior and Wood. So thank goodness for Dusty Baker, huh? Four more years!

Curly W: The Cards should have no trouble reaching the NL Championship Series, but do you think they have what it takes to beat the Mets for the pennant?

Birdos: Well, I’m not sure they won’t have trouble getting past the NLDS. Outside of Carpenter, the pitching has been extremely inconsistent this year. Their #2 starter in the playoffs would likely be Jeff Suppan, not exactly a Brad Penny or Chris Young that other contenders have. I think if the pitching can stabilize, they have as good of a shot as anyone else. But they will be without Mark Mulder, and they might be without Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. I think if they would give Anthony Reyes a chance in the playoffs, that would help, but given Tony LaRussa’s predilection for veteran pitchers, I’m afraid we Cardinal fans could endure watching the likes of Jason Marquis getting knocked around in October. And after seeing them get swept by the Mets a week ago, I’m not completely sure they have what it takes to make it to the World Series. But it’s baseball, so "youneverknow".

Leach: Depends, depends, depends. A healthy Mets team is clearly the class of the NL. But how healthy is their rotation? If it's held together by chewing gum, they're as beatable as anybody.

The other half of that is that STL is no lock to make it through the first round. They're very up-and-down. They're a tremendous team every time Chris Carpenter takes the mound, and with Jeff Suppan's hot streak and the seeming new-old Reyes, they're starting to look like they have a playoff rotation. But nothing would shock me with this team -- not a first-round exit, not a trip to the World Series. OK, winning the WS would be pretty surprising, but I wouldn't put any postseason outcome past them.

CardNilly: Nope. I’m not even sure they have what it takes to reach the NLCS. Or even the playoffs themselves, for that matter (though I think they will). Realistically, I think we win the NLDS in three or four games (TLR’s got a fantastic record in division series play, and we always come out like a house afire), and lose the NLCS in five games. Optimistically, I hope that the injuries to Pedro and Glavine are quite serious for the rest of the year (Nothing against those two, since I really like both of them. But I’d prefer we not have to face them), and that one of the Carloses comes down with mono or something right as the series starts. We’ve found out the hard way over the last two years that being the best team in baseball in the regular season doesn’t get you squat in the playoffs – hopefully we’re due some kind of positive karmic payback for that. Just gotta get hot at the right time for eleven wins, right?