The Cardinals newest slugger is Rick Ankiel. Once a superstar rookie pitcher, Ankiel imploded in the 2000 playoffs and has now completed the conversion to power-hitting outfielder. In about a month with the Big Club, the lefty rightfielder has nearly matched Jim Edmonds homerun output for the whole season. He has also easily eclipsed injured slugger Scott Rolen’s homerun total as the third baseman is now out for the season. Ankiel’s season totals read like this: .353 BA, 9 HRs, 29 RBIs, 30 Hits, and 6 doubles in just 85 at-bats. However, this once feel-good story of redemption has recently been spoiled by a performance enhancing drugs controversy. The New York Daily News reported that while living in Florida and recovering from ligament replacement surgery, Ankiel received 8 shipments of human growth hormone (HGH) between January and December, 2004. Ankiel was an injured pitcher at the time and pitched in just 5 games for the Cardinals that season.
Now Rick Ankiel has made a magnificent comeback to the majors. The day before the HGH story broke, the rightfielder had his second 2 homerun game and a career-high 7 RBIs in a Cardinals 16-4 victory over the Pirates. I awoke Friday morning, expecting to read all about this great hitting display by the newly converted slugger, only to read the Daily News story on the front page of STLtoday.com. This story seems to take all of the feel-good out of Ankiel’s return and he has neither admitted or denied receiving the shipments of the now banned substance. Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty now finds himself doing damage control once again as he did with the LaRussa DWI and Josh Hancock’s fatal drunk driving crash. "We know that he was under the care of licensed physicians inFlorida…" Jocketty said. "All the medications and prescriptions he
received were legal (and prescribed) by licensed physicians. That’s all
we know at this point. There was no violation of Major League Baseball
rules. There was no violation of any laws." The tricky aspect of this situation is that HGH was not banned by Baseball until 2005, reportedly after Ankiel stopped receiving the substance. Cardinals fans, the media, and baseball fans in general wonder if we lump Ankiel into a Barry Bonds category and write him off as a cheater or do we treat this as we treated Mark McGwire’s admitted andro use. That is to say, both Ankiel and McGwuire’s alleged use of now banned substances occurred before MLB banned them.
This Cardinals season was finally fun to watch with Ankiel, and rookie Brendan Ryan leading the newly resurgent offense and Adam Wainwright leading the starting pitching staff. However, despite the suspect timing of the story, a cloud is now over all that Ankiel is accomplishing. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to cheer for Rick as he continues his dominance of Major League Pitching. Time will tell if he can continue to impress under this new cloud and avoid any punishment from MLB…
The 2007 Cardinals are finally playing like the October 2006 Cardinals. After being below .500 and playing terrible baseball for the first 4 months or so the Cardinals are finally making a run at the NL title. Once Carpenter was basically out for the season and then some after a single opening day start, the Cardinals have played without urgency and have only gotten consistent contribution from two starters, Pujols and Duncan. The retreads that Jocketty brought in over and over proved to be bad moves. Mike Maroth: terrible so far with the exception of his first NL start. Tomo Ohka: did not even make it to the majors with the Cards.
Then there’s Kip Wells who has been terrible up until his last few starts. His resurgence, the acquisition of a seemingly solid starter, Joel Piniero and the recall of Rick Ankiel has coincided with the Cardinals surge to 3.5 games out after two victories over the Brew Crew. Piniero has won his last two starts, including one against the Brewers, Ankiel hit 3 homers in his first three games as a Rightfielder, and Kip Wells has won his last two starts and allowed just two runs in a loss before starting his current winning streak. In fact he is 3-2 since with a Cardinal-won no decision since July 18, which was the first game after he was nearly permanently dropped from the rotation. Now in 6 games since being called up, Rick Ankiel is coming back to earth but is still batting .295 with 3 homers and 6 RBIs and is slugging .667. So the Cardinals are 5-1 since Ankiel’s promotion and are only 3.5 games out with four games left against the now struggling first place Brewers and 8 games remaining with the second place Cubbies.
The Cardinals also did a bit of addition by subtraction that coincided with this surge such as relegating the not-quite-ready for the DL Juan Encarnacion to the bench and struggling first year Cardinal Adam Kennedy, hitting in the low .200s all season out for the season with knee surgery. Sure LaRussa’s public humiliation of Juan does not do much for team morale or public team image but Juan simply does not hustle and unless he has 25-30 HRs and 75 RBIs by this point he cannot be allowed to lolligag if this team is going to succeed.
Within the next two weeks the Cards will get long injured formerly dominant starting pitcher Mark Mulder so the fact that they did not get Dontrelle Willis or even Joe Kennedy at the trade deadline does not hurt as much. Plus they have until September 1, the waiver deadline to make a Woody Williams like pickup. The Cardinals need someone to be there postseason Jeff Weaver (should they make it there).
The fact that the Cards are still in contention is a testimony to the character of their players. The Cardinals have had three drug or alcohol related incidents one of them involving manager Tony LaRussa and it is arguable that LaRussa is to blame for the Cards poor first half plus. But if Tony can guide his team to yet another division title and beyond, he will deserve that elusive manager of the year award.
Amazingly it’s been over three months since my last post. And since then the Cardinals became World Champions! With clutch performances by Yadier Molina, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Jim Edmonds, and Adam Wainwright, to name a few, the Cardinals easily defeated the San Diego Padres, squeaked by the New York Mets and obliterated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Now it is time for a report card on the key players from the St. Louis Cardinals championship run.
Albert Pujols: A
Albert finished as the runner up to Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard for the N.L. MVP but also one his first gold glove at first base. He set career a career high in homeruns despite his first trip to the Disabled List in his career.
Chris Carpenter: A
Chris finished third in Cy Young voting and if not for a rocky September caused in part by his manager’s insistence on pushing his pitch counts to get key outs late in games. He was effective in the Playoffs as well though he was overshadowed by Weaver and Suppan.
July 31st came and went with the Cardinals adding one "impact" bat and one power arm for the bullpen. However, that impact bat was not Bobby Abreu, Carlos Lee, Pat Burrell or Alfonso Soriano. Instead it was the solid hitting second baseman Ronnie Belliard. At 31 and with the Cardinals on the hook for 1.4 million dollars for Belliard, he represents only a slight upgrade over the player he was traded for, Hector Luna. Luna was younger and cheaper and not a pending free agent as Belliard is. However, the Cardinals seemed reluctant to play Luna consistently at second where Aaron Miles was instead doing most of the starting. The light hitting Miles, he actually contributed in last night’s game with a homerun after entering the game in a double switch, becomes the backup second baseman and presumably shortstop with Luna gone.
The Cards were unable to add a frontline starter though they are rumored to have gone after Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis. They were also unable to acquire a veterean left handed reliever such as Rheal Cormier who was traded to the Reds. The second place Reds are a stark contrast to the Cardinals as they made lot of moves, mostly to improve their pitching. The Cardinals did add the enigmatic Jorge Sosa who was 13-3 last season with the Braves but pitched well under .500 this year in both the rotation and pen. After apparently falling into Bobby Cox’s dog house, Sosa was designated for assignment and then promptly traded to the Cardinals for a minor leaguer.
If Mark Mulder cannot return and pitch at his pre-2006 form and the bullpen in need of "plus arms," Sosa may yet prove to be an important addition. The Jeff Weaver trade continues to look like it will not pan out and Sosa could find himself in the rotation if LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan decide they have finally seen enough of Weaver.
While the trade deadline lapsed and the Cards are mired in yet another protracted losing streak, the waiver deadline is still weeks away and the Cards may look to add a true impact bat, such as Shawn Green or Luis Gonzalez. Or they may just get Mulder back from DL pitching well and hope that his return can bolster the rotation and the team enough to stave off the Reds and actually advance come October.
The Cardinals are now past the halfway point of their season and have a record of 52-41. They have lost two in a row after winning a season high seven straight. The Cardinals had also lost eight in a row in June. The starting rotation has shown rays of promise at some points but the staff’s leading winner, Jason Marquis with eleven, has an era close to 6. Sidney Ponson has been released and has gotten another chance, this time with the starting pitching-thin New York Yankees.
The Cards added Jeff Weaver, although his numbers this year are worse than Ponson’s, and that made Ponson expendable. As a Cardinals fan it was pretty disappointing to see LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan’s handling of Ponson. Whether he wouldn’t buy into the pitcher’s running program or not, Ponson was not the worst pitcher on the staff when he was released. Time will tell how he adjusts to facing the big bats in the AL east. Weaver started his Cardinals career and got thumped allowing 6 runs including and 2 home runs including a grand slam in 4 innings of work. In his Yankees debut Ponson allowed a first inning 3-run home run but went 6+ innings and kept his team in the ballgame yesterday. It will be interesting to see how Weaver and Ponson’s respective second-halves unfold.
It has long been rumored that the Cardinals need another impact bat via trade. Names that continue to surface in trade rumors are David Dellucci, Alfonso Soriano, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Lee and previously utility man Craig Wilson of the Pirates was often mentioned. The Cards have supposedly made young pitchers Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright untouchable and with the way the number of free agents in the Cardinals current rotation (3) plus the injured Mark Mulder, also a pending free agent, the Cards are probably wise to hold on to Reyes and Wainwright. An "impact" bat would be nice but the Cards have given up back to back double digit runs to the Braves in their current series and the pitching still needs to be stabilized. Perhaps the historically effective Mark Mulder can help when he comes off the DL sometime in August. The Cards got consistency from their pitching during their seven game winning streak but my guess is they still need some help with the rotation and bullpen and perhaps trading one of their ineffective free agents to be will be considered.
On a better note, Jim Edmonds continues to hit the ball better in July after his long funk to start the season. With a ******** 3 million dollar buyout the Cards would be wise to extend Edmonds’ contract. He is still a gold glove caliber center fielder and it would be quite disappointing to see him not retire a Cardinal.
Stay tuned for a blog devoted to the trade deadline which is fast approaching!
The Cards are 4-3 after 7 games of baseball. They swept the Phillies on the road then traveled to Chicago where they were promptly swept there then returned home for the inaugural game at new Busch Stadium where Mark Mulder defeated the first place Brewers 6-4. The lefty hit a two-run homer, allowed two runs over 8 innings and started the ninth inning but was pulled with a man on and no outs. Unfortunately, LaRussa went to the revamped Cardinal bullpen which has been the achilles heel thorugh the first week and nearly blew the game as Izzy held on for the 6-4 win. This was after the previous night the closer could not get an out in the 8th in Chicago and allowed the go-ahead grandslam to Michael Barret. Veteran RHP Jeff Nelson was released with a week to go in Spring Training while former closer Braden Looper had a terrible spring leaving LaRussa and Duncan with no confidence in him and using younger less experienced pitchers in pressure situations which directly led to at least one loss in Chicago. Another problem seems to be LaRussa’s somewhat quick hook with his starting pitchers at least that was the case until he allowed Mulder to start the 9th yesterday. Ponson was pulled after just 5 on Sunday and the bullpen couldn’t hold on to his 4-3 lead.
About the hitters:
Juan Encarnacion has been tremendious disappointment through the first week hitting well under .200 with no RBIs, playing a mediocre outfield and running the bases poorly when he does get on. Batting second in the order doesn’t seem to suit him well. Pujols has 4 homers including the first Cardinal one at new Busch while Rolen’s bat has been one of the big positives of the first week as he has a couple of long balls , is batting .370 with 2 SB and 9 RBIs. He hit a grandslam against his former team in the season opener in Philly. Edmonds bat is off to a slow start but his fielding is still there and he got a a key RBI to get things going last monday. There is a revolving door in LF, with So Taguchi and Skip Shumacher getting most of the time with John Rodriguez banged up and Larry Bigbie on the DL. Junior Spivey surprisingly didn’t make the club but accepted an assignment to the minors; the Cards will probably need his bat as the year progresses.
About the New Ballpark:
I had the privilege of attending the new ballpark on opening day monday and it was great. Not a lot of dramatics in the pregame festivities but the stadium looks nice though not complete. The scoreboard is an improvement though the out of town scoreboard of other games distracting and unnecessary at least until mid September. The seats seem bigger and it with Mark Mulder hitting his first career homerun as some evidence it may prove to be a hitter’s park if I had to lean one way or the other.
Thanks for reading.