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Upcoming Series Against Milwaukee Represents What Could Have Been

August 30, 2011
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Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers has words with Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals at first base at Miller Park on August 3, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

The last time the Brewers and Cardinals began a series against one another, the two teams were tangled in a seeming down-to-the-wire race in the National League Central. The Cardinals stood a mere 3 games behind the first place Brewers at the time. Hopes were high in St. Louis. Win three in a row, we’re tied for first. Except, that’s not what transpired. The Brew Crew took two of three from us in our home ballpark and marched onward to win 21 games and counting in August. St. Louis has only gone 7-9 since the series against the Brewers was completed. Several Cardinal players have been quoted as saying they are shocked to be so far back in the standings. “If you would have told me in spring training that we would be 10 games out, I would have told you, ‘You are crazy,'” first baseman Albert Pujols said. “Look around. With the kind of ballclub that we have, it’s hard to understand where we are at.” Pujols hit the nail on the head. The collapse of this Cardinals ballclub, that in recent years seems to have become an annual event, doesn’t make sense. St. Louis has been credited to possess the best offense in the National League for most of the season. The pitching, at least on paper, has not been awful. But it’s been all about missed opportunities. The Cards have had more than their fair share of late game letdowns, granted most of the damage in this area came from now-unemployed reliever Ryan Franklin. Starting pitching has been incredibly inconsistent, so while the numbers don’t look too bad, some nights have been downright awful. But the other problem that St. Louis fans forgot could exist is defensive ability. This could quite possibly be the worst defensive St. Louis club in the past two decades. The careless mistakes and misplays affect the entire team. The pitcher has to stay on the field to get another out, the bullpen has to come in earlier and as a result tires over time, and runs are scored when the pitcer did little to nothing wrong. Despite all the shortcomings, Cardinal players haven’t given up just yet, even though most fans would agree the season is over. “We’re kind of in a win-only scenario,” points out left fielder Matt Holliday. “We have to win the majority of our games. We need them (the Brewers) to lose quite a few of theirs. I think we all know that the mathematics are simple — we need to win a lot, and they need to win a little. It’s not just this series. You’ve got to win the other games, too. We’ve got to beat everybody.” The persistence of the Cardinals team is admirable. The result of say a 90 or 85 win season would be nice, even though we would have nothing to cheer about in October. To win 90 games the Cards will have to win 20 of their remaining 28 games, and to win 85 they must win 15. It’s good to see the club’s leaders still fighting at this point in the season: “It’s going to be up and down, up and down, and there are no breaks. But you can’t give up yet. We can make a run,” Pujols said. “If I tell you right now that the season is over, it’s kind of giving up. We don’t do that until the last out of the season.” If there was ever a time for the Cards to start a winning streak, it’s this series in Milwaukee.

-KG

 

Rams Run Past Chiefs, Win Governor’s Cup

August 28, 2011
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Steven Jackson was impressive in the Rams’ third preseason game, gaining 72 yards on the ground.

The third preseason game in the NFL is the closest you will get to real football all preseason. It is the final game before the first round of required cuts, and is commonly referred to as a “dress rehearsal” for the 16-game regular season. After struggling on offense for most of the game against the Titans last week, the Rams got rolling from the start thanks to Steven Jackson. Jackson began the game with a 25 yard run on the first play of the game from scrimmage. “We definitely wanted to come out and set the tone for the game, get into a rhythm for the offense, especially the running game,” SJ39 said. “We really wanted to get out and set a tone.” The Rams’ definitely accomplished that goal, scoring 14 points on their first two drives and never looking back. Jackson finished the game with 15 carries for 72 yards, averaging almost 5 yards per touch. The passing game for the Rams’ was also in sync Friday night. Sam Bradford started the game with eight straight completions, good for 76 yards and two touchdowns to Mike Sims-Walker and Lance Kendricks. The only blemish Bradford had all night was an interception in the second quarter. The Rams’ defense was impressive, holding the Chiefs’ explosive runningbacks to just 14 yards total on the night. The passing defense did not fare quite as well, giving up 251 yards through the air, but the Rams’ D held Kansas City on third downs well. The Chiefs converted only 3 of the 14 third down opportunities. The Rams’ 14-10 lead was threatened in the final minutes by a Chiefs’ drive in the redzone. But after getting three consecutive stops, the Rams’ blocked a field goal attempt by the Chiefs and never gave the ball back. The next few days will prove interesting around the NFL as the first round of required cuts must be made by Tuesday. The Rams’ still have two position battles still very much alive: outside linebacker and wide receiver. Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber both started at OLB and were impressive, giving them a shot at being the starters at the position. That would mean some difficult cuts would have to be made, possibly including either Zac Diles or Brian Kehl. At wide receiver, no one had a spectacular performance, although Donnie Avery had a nice night with 2 receptions and Mardy Gilyard brought in three completions. The most interesting component of the wide receiver battle at this point is the no-show of rookie Austin Pettis, who did not have a catch all night.

-KG

Cards Still Searching For Their Shortstop of the Future

August 26, 2011
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The Cardinals are in the midst of a seemingly never-ending search for a quality, all-around shortstop that will stick around for a substantial period of time. It has now been four years since fan-favorite SS David Eckstein left the club, and since then STL has not been able to find a suitable replacement. Sure, the front office has tried. Cesar Izturis was brought in to start during the 2008 season, and he finished the year with a .628 OPS. Not exactly my idea of production. Then during the ’08 offseason, the Cardinals’ acquired Khalil Greene from the San Diego Padres. That move resulted with Khalil’s demotion to Triple A before the season’s end due to lack of production and difficulty controlling his emotions. 2010 presented Brendan Ryan the chance to start at short, and he finished the year with a .223 batting average, although he was arguable the National League’s top defensive shortshops throughout the year. Also since 2009, top prospect Tyler Greene has been given some opportunities to shine at SS, but he has never played a full MLB season and has not proved himself during his stints up in the big leagues, posting just a .213 career batting average. This year the Cards’ brought in Ryan Theriot, who excelled at hitting but mightily struggled on the defensive side. Because of the negatives Theriot’s defense was bringing to the club, the Cards’ traded for LA Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal. I’m assuming Ryan Theriot will never regain his starting spot after his midseason demotion. Since the trade, Furcal is batting around .230 and has played solid defense. But he is 33, so his career is inevitably on the decline and probably not the best option to build around. So what will the Cards’ do at shortstop in the future? So I’ve got three suggestions:

1.) Let Tyler Greene play everyday this September and see if he can produce. Greene has struggled while in the MLB, but this might just be attributed to lack of consistent playing time. Greene is hitting well over .330 at AAA Memphis playing everyday. So it just doesn’t make sense that he would be just .200 hitter in the big leagues. Since the Cards’ are already out of contention, they should bring Tyler up and see what he can do in a starting role instead of just utilizing him off the bench. Give him a one-month audition to win the job next year.

2.) Let Rafael Furcal go. I mean no disrespect to Furcal, but I don’t think it is in our best interests to keep him. He has played at a solid level for us during the second half, but his 2011 contract is worth 13 million and he will probably want a decent amount to resign. With money already tight with the other big free agents we will have on our roster, the Cards’ do not need to be big spenders on an aged shortshop like Rafael Furcal.

3.) If the front office in St. Louis does not feel that Tyler Greene will ever be our starting shortstop, the Cardinals should look around and try find a young shortstop who is starting to find their identity at the big league level. If that doesn’t pan out, the Cards’ should have an open competition between utilityman Daniel Descalso and Ryan Theriot. This would not be the ideal situation being that Descalso is not a natural shortstop and Theriot was not impressive this year. However, we need a cheap contract because most of the payroll will be tied up with the core players.

-KG

High Expectations Lead to Bigger Disappointment for Cards’ Fans

August 24, 2011
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Albert Pujols leads the National League with 31 home runs with a month to go.

Now that the Cardinal’s are out of contention in the National League Central Division (barring a miracle…), St. Louis fans are extremely upset and shocked by what we saw fade away in front of our own eyes. Just five weeks ago, the Cardinals were tied for first place with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. But ever since then, the Cardinals have free-falled to their current spot 10 games behind the Brewers. I feel your pain. But let’s take a step back and get a better perspective on the situation. The Cardinals current record of 67-63 is by no means a great record. But also in no way is it a bad record. 67-63 is good for the 6th best record in the NL. The Milwaukee Brewers are simply just a better team, which is hard for many diehard STL fans to accept. Milwaukee has won 22 of their last 26 games, definitely the best streak by any team in the majors all year. The Brewers also possess the second most wins in baseball with 78. So while there is plenty of disappointment for us all to share, let’s face it: The Milwaukee Brewers are a better ballclub. Over the years, from Stan, to Gibson, to Brock, to Ozzie, to Albert, St. Louis fans have been gifted by a perennial powerhouse that owns second place all-time in number of World Series championships. The expectations for the Cardinals’ ballclub each year have become atronomically high. Anything short of the playoffs is a disaster, so it seems. Our superstar, Sir Albert, is batting over .290 and leading the league in homeruns. Yet, he is receiving lots of criticism for having a “down year”. We, as STL fans, have come to expect too much every year. Most years will end with us in the playoffs, but some years we will not be able to push through. But let’s take a look at the other top contenders in the Central division. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season in 19 years, and even though they are seven games below .500 this years, Pirates’ fans are calling this season a success. And while STL, Houston, and Chicago have been taking all the division championships for the past decade, Milwaukee has been sitting behind the stage waiting for their turn. Talking to other STL fans over the past few days, I have heard a common theme, something along the lines of “We stink.” Even I have caught myself saying this. But at the end of the day, we still have a winning record and plenty to be proud of. Not every year can be our year, however disappointing that may be.

-KG

It’s Official: Cards’ Playoff Hopes are Gone

August 24, 2011
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Jaime Garcia had his worst outing of the year Thursday, lasting only 5 innings while giving up 6 earned runs.

The St. Louis Cardinals just completed what was quite possibly the worst three-game series imaginable. Playing a three-game set against the underachieving LA Dodgers, the Cardinals scored only seven runs total and let the Dodgers’ offense score twenty-four. TWENTY-FOUR. The Dodgers came into the series 12 games under .500. The Cardinals came into the series needing to win each game just to keep within 8 games in the division. But now, the Cards stand 10 games back, even after a rare Milwakee loss todayy, and I can confidently say that we are done. What happened? This is a question that will haunt STL fans all offseason. How does a team with the best offense in the National League and decent pitching not make the playoffs? What’s with Jaime Garcia, a pitcher with an ERA around 3, imploding and giving up six runs in one inning? How do the Cards lose a game in which Chris Carpenter pitches eight scoreless innings?  No one will ever know for sure. But my best guess is this team has a severe case of underachieving. Now the only thing for the St. Louis club to play for is pride, and hopefully we can at least turn things around a bit and finish the year with a respectable record. And while they’re at it, why not get AP’s average up over .300? That would be a positive, one of only a few for the Cardinals in the final two months. Thankfully football season is starting soon.

-KG

New Era of Mizzou Football Set to Begin in 2011, Predictions on the First 6 Games

August 22, 2011

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Faurot Field in Columbia will once again be packed on Saturdays with all eyes
on the Missouri Tigers football team. But under center won’t be #11, the now NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert. This year the quarterback of the Mizzou Tigers will wear #1, and his name is James Franklin. Even with all the change this year will bring, anticipation is high among the players, coaches, and fans. Some feel like this is the strongest team Mizzou has had in a while, and there is plenty of reason to feel good about them following a 10-3 season last year in what was supposed to be somewhat of a down year. Mizzou football is rising up into a perennial powerhouse under the leadership of Gary Pinkel, and the program has amassed 40 wins in the past four season along with six straight bowl game appearances. Here’s my prediction on the first half of the Tigers regular season games:

September 3 vs. Miami (OH): The Redhawks finsihed 10-4 last season, good for first in the MAC East division. Miami Ohio is finally starting to get the attention of other NCAA teams, with Minnesota, Army, and Cincinati all having games against the Redhawks. But given Mizzou’s elite offense and stingy defense, Miami (OH) simply has no chance in this game. My money is on: Mizzou winning by at least 20 points.

September 9 at Arizona State: All college road games are tough, especiallywhen they occur early in the season. Which is why this game will be a gauge of what to expect from Mizzou this season. ASU is a team Mizzou should definitely beat. The Sun Devils finished with a 6-6 record last season, and finished in the bottom half of the PAC 12 standings. They were 0-3 vs. ranked opponets, and Mizzou enters the year at #21 nationally. One thing to watch out for when playing ASU is the passing game; they finished 15th in FBS last season in passing yards per game. My money is on: Mizzou pulling away in the second half to win by at least a touchdown.

September 17 vs. Western Illinois: The WIU Leathernecks finished with an 8-5 record last season and scored over 430 points. But to be quite frank, no team playing in the MVC and not dominating is going to come close to competing against a team like Mizzou. My money is on: Mizzou winning big and taking out their starter midway through the second half.

Septemver 24 at Oklahoma: Yikes. Oklahoma enters the season ranked #1 overall, following a 12-2 campaign in which they scored 521 points. And most of their team is back from last year. I understand we beat pretty much this same team at home before, but on the road is an entirely different story (ie: @ Nebraska last year). As much as I would like to see the Tigers prevail in this one, I can’t realistically say I believe it will happen. My money is on: Oklahoma pulling away after Mizzou’s offense suffers through some ineffective drives and winning by 7-14 points. But wouldn’t it be great to pull another upset?

October 8 at Kansas State: The Wildcats are coming off a relatively disappointing year that ended with a 7-6 record and 1-3 record vs. AP top 25 teams. Add to the the loss of RB Daniel Thomas to the NFL and you get another disappointing year for KSU fans. Even though this is a road game, Mizzou should be in complete control. My money is on: Mizzou winning by at least 10 points, never in doubt.

October 15 vs. Iowa State: The Cyclones finished the 2011 season with a record of 5-7, failing to make a bowl game appearance. ISU only won 3 out of their eight conference games last season, and this year will be without leading rusher Alexander Robinson who graduated. I expect ISU to be better this season. And last season, if you reflect, they only let the powerful Mizzou offense score 14 points total. The problem? They scored 0. So however much improved they will be, they will still have trouble hangin with Mizzou, who themselves are improved from last year. My money is on a close game, which most people probably don’t expect, but in the end Mizzou will prevail and win by at least 7 points.

My prediction for first six games total: 5 wins, 1 loss

Second half games: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas

-KG

Rams Come Away With Win, Players Not Satisfied

August 21, 2011
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Rams WR Brandon Gibson runs to the endzone for a touchdown on a 83-yard pass from Sam Bradford.

The Rams second contest of the 2011 preseason looked a lot more like preseason football than their first game vs. the Colts. Mistakes were made, defensive assignments were botched. But if it provides any consolation being that it’s preseason, the Rams finished the game with the score in their favor 17-16. “Did we come away with a win? Yes, we did,” Rams center Jason Brown said. “But did we move the ball like we wanted to? No, we did not. There’s going to be a lot of teaching points and a lot of criticism and constructive things we can learn from this game.” The Rams will head back to the practice field this week to prepare for their matchup at Kansas City vs. the Chiefs next Friday. And the players acknowledge there is plenty to work on. “Nothing we saw was anything new,” Bradford said. “We had seen all those blitzes in practice, we could have picked those up. We know what we need to work on.” The Rams scored on the first offensive play of the day, with Sam Bradford connecting with receiver Brandon Gibson for a 83-yard touchdown score. But the rest of the first half was dominated by Tennessee as the Titans took a 16-7 lead into halftime. In the third quarter, the Rams came back within two points following a touchdown pass from backup quarterback A.J. Feeley to receiver Donnie Avery. The Rams defense was solid in the second half, led by second or third string players. On what turned out to be the final possesion of the night, Thaddeus Lewis, the Rams third-string quarter back, and Greg Salas, the sure-handed rookie receiver, led the Rams into field goal range. With five seconds left, Rams kicker Josh Brown booted a 42-yard field goal as time expired, after the Tennessee coaching staff attempted to ice the kicker.

-KG