Thursday, October 26, 2006

How to Survive the Baseball Offseason

by Scott Silversten

Now what?

For those that haven’t noticed, the baseball season ends this weekend. On Saturday night, we turn back the clocks so that darkness falls by 5 p.m. Halloween is
only days away, and winter is fast approaching. It’s the worst time of the year … The Baseball Offseason.

I know there is always the Hot Stove League: Will A-Rod be traded? Are the Marlins trading Willis? Is Barry Bonds returning to San Francisco? However, those discussions and debates can only do so much to fill the cold nights that lay ahead.

So without further adieu, this esteemed columnist gives you a Top 10 list of ways to pass the time before the arrival of Opening Day, which is only five short months away.

1. The National Football League – Readers of this space have on a few occasions read my high praise for the NFL. Let’s get something straight: Baseball is a way better game than Football. However, there is very little the NFL does wrong, from a near perfect playoff system to this year’s new “flexible schedule” slate of Sunday night games. If the best thing in the world is sitting back to watch a baseball game on a warm summer evening, then the second best is taking in a football game from your couch on a blustery winter afternoon.

2. 24 – With the departure of all-time best drama in television history, The West Wing, the week’s best hour on the boob tube occurs Mondays at 9 pm as Jack Bauer attempts to save the world one minute at a time. When we last left Mr. Bauer, he was in the bowels of boat en route to China. Something tells me he won’t be there for too long. Unfortunately, Season 6 does not begin until January, but the 24 hours will come fast and furious.

3. “Books, Jerry. Books” – The winter is a good time for getting through some of those hardcovers that have been collecting dust on the shelves. Yours truly hopes to get to three before the first pitch is thrown in April:

All The Stars Came Out That Night – A fictional account of an October 1934 meeting at Fenway Park between the stars of the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball
The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World – I’m dying to know if Thomson was really tipped off to the most famous pitch in baseball history.
Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas

4. The NCAA Tournament – Very few events in sports are as close to perfect and rarely disappoint like the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t take place until mid-March, but serves as the perfect filler during the final few weeks of Spring Training. Chances are you’ve never heard of some of the players and schools that will capture the March spotlight, and it’s likely you won’t remember the names by early April. That’s part of what makes the tournament so compelling.

5. SLEEP – October is a stressful month for all baseball fans, what with so many important games starting around 8:30 pm and lasting until the wee hours. Since your team will likely make its first West Coast swing in late April, use the winter months to get extra shuteye.

6. ESPN Classic, Yankees Classics, Mets Classics – These games are NOT to be scheduled. Do NOT sit down and watch from the beginning. Instead, let your remote control flip by accident to the many classic baseball games that are broadcast. Be amazed for how long you are unable to change the channel. Billy Hatcher hitting the foul poll. Sid Bream racing around third. Tino and Brosius going deep!!

7. THE GYM – Winter can be a time for packing on the pounds, but it’s also the best time to hit the gym. You’ll notice a smaller crowd, as people are less likely to trudge through the snow and cold to get in their daily workout. Of course, when spring rolls around, you’ll be less likely to get aches and pains from enjoying the first days of warmth with a jog, game of pickup basketball or round of golf.

8. NBA and NHL – If you are having trouble with suggestion No. 5, try watching some regular-season action from these two leagues. I guarantee your problems will be solved.

9. DINNER AND A MOVIE – Enjoy a night out with the wife, finance, girlfriend, etc. I call on brother Douglas to supply the must-see theater choices of the upcoming holiday season.

10. And finally, find yourself two boxes of white index cards. Write the numbers 0 through 158 on them, and leave the stack in a convenient location. Counting backwards, remove one card daily, rip it up and toss in the garbage. When you hit 0, all will be right with the world again.

See you on Opening Day!!

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dave Duncan and the 5 Reason the Cardinals are in the World Series

by Jeremy Bird

I have been a St. Louis naysayer since the Cardinals started to collapse towards the end of the season. Scratch that. I have been a St. Louis naysayer since Mark Mulder went down and the best pitching savior GM Walt Jocketty could find was the 3-10 struggling Jeff Weaver.

Sure, I grew up on Cardinal baseball. Yes, I still remember Willie McGee’s wall-scaling catch in the 1982 World Series. Still remember Bruce Sutter closing it out. Sure, I wanted them to win it all again in ’06. But, I am too old and cynical to ignore reality.

No way would a St. Louis team with a starting four including Anthony Reyes (6+ ERA), Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver make it to the World Series.

Just two weeks ago, in this column, I predicted the Mets to take down the Cards in 6 games. I was praying for major rainouts and wondering how the Cards could win a single game without Carpenter on the mound.

I have been a St. Louis fan all my life, but sometimes you just have to be realistic. Listen to reason. You can’t win with Juan Encarnacion hitting fifth. You can’t win with a rookie closer who did not have his first save until September of this season.

No way we could get to the Big Dance with a bullpen full of untested rookies and a left-field platoon of Preston Wilson and Scott Spezio.

Who would have thought Jeff Suppan would have become a CY Young pitcher all of the sudden? Who would have thought Jeff Weaver would have remembered how to pitch after an abysmal season? No way would Adam Wainwraight, the rookie with little experiencing saving games at any level, strike out the Cardinal-killer Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded in the ninth of game 7?

Well, there a few reasons why the Cardinals, with the second worse regular-season record of any World Series team, have made it this late into October. And, if the Cards win the series, these will be the reasons for another ring.

Reason #1 Cardinals are in the World Series — Dave Duncan
The Cardinals pitching coach has always been respected. After bringing Weaver to life and walking Anthony Reyes through some tough games this postseason, people should really start to take notice of Duncan’s skills. Not only that, he has taken a very young bullpen and showed them how to pitch. Not to mention that if it were not for him, the Cards would not have Chris, Dave’s son, who has had some huge hits this postseason.

Reason #2 Cardinals are in the World Series — The Jeffs
Jeff Suppan has been lights out. Right now, he is Cards ace and the only reason we beat the Mets. While not nearly as good as Supp, Weaver has kept the Cardinals in every game he has pitched this postseason. Even in Game 2 of the World Series, he kept the red Birds in the game through some tough innings.

Reason #3 Cardinals are in the World Series — Rookies in the Pen
Adam Wainwright is a phenomenal pitcher. Some day he will win 20 games as a starter. Now, as a closer, he has shown the poise of a veteran. But, the set up and long relievers have been equally impressive (minus the meltdown against the Mets in Game 4). The Cardinals bullpen was supposed to be a huge weakness coming into the playoffs. Now, it is one of the team’s biggest strengths thanks to a cadre of rookies under Duncan’s watch.

Reason #4 Cardinals are in the World Series — Yadier Molina
The guy has always been a great defensive catcher, throwing out over 40% of all base runners in every major league season. At the plate, he has been a different story. After batting .217 this regular season, he has gone on a tear this postseason. His homer in the ninth inning against the Mets in Game 7 was the icing on the cake. He is hitting over .400 in the playoffs. Even his outs against Rogers were for the most part hard hit balls. Defensively, he has been consistently strong behind the plate, mostly in blocking balls and working well with the young pitchers.

Reason #5 Cardinals are in the World Series — Tony LaRussa’s crazy move
Mostly, I think LaRussa manages too much. He tends to make moves to make moves. In hindsight, however, the best move he made all season was NOT to start Chris Carpenter on the last day of the season when the team faced a playoff game against the Astros if they lost and Houston won. The move worked out brilliantly, and Carpenter was able to start Game 1 in San Diego. That game set the tone for the series, and set up Carpenter for Game 4 in St. Louis, where the Cards closed out the series. If it goes back to San Diego, the Cardinals might have been out in the first round. At the time, the move seemed crazy. Now, LaRussa seems like a genius on that move.

Sure, the Cardinals have Pujols, a rejuvenated Rolen, the still potent (sometimes) Edmonds, and a good bench. But, without the young bullpen, the two Jeffs, one of the best young catchers in the game, a great pitching coach and a crazy managerial move, the Cards would never be in a position to win the World Series.

Me? I’m still a naysayer. I think the Tigers’ pitching, pine tar or no pine tar, will be too much for the Red Birds over the next five games. But, damn is it fun to watch such a rag-tag, banged up team compete.

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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