Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Batting Averages: .333 Last Night, .167 Overall

Well, the second day of the season went better for some, less so for others. The Cards haven't returned from the sun-soaked idylls of Spring Training, evidently, as not even their ring ceremony could spur them to pull out a win over the Mets. New acquisition Kip Wells did well until the sixth inning, when the wheels fell off and culminated with him yielding a two-run double to the possible android El Duque, who never seems to get any older. Unfortunately, the Cards' bats couldn't chip back, with the exception of a solo homer by Scottie Rolen - the first dinger hit at Busch in '07 and the first for the team in general. The Cards had a great opportunity with Pujols up, two on, and two out in the bottom of the eighth, but Pujols couldn't produce - he had been hitting the ball hard all game, as most of the Cards were, but they just weren't finding holes. The Cards also didn't help their case last night with three double plays - no sooner did the leadoff man get on than they would be erased by a twin killing. Still, the last time the Cards got off to an 0-2 start was in 2004, when they won 105 games and steamrolled everybody (albeit not in the World Series) so there's hope. Everyone's three years older and a little worse, now, so things in Redbird Nation will bear careful watching.

I'm not that worried about the Cards, at least not offensively - their luck has to start changing and balls have to start finding holes eventually. At least they're all making solid contact and there have been very few strikeouts. However, I am worried about the mutterings surrounding Chris Carpenter and his prized right arm. Apparently it stiffened up on him after his start, to the point that he couldn't touch his right shoulder with his right hand, and he's being held out of his scheduled Friday start as a precautionary measure. At least it's not his shoulder, which has a much more checkered history, but there's never a good time for Carp to go down. At least it's at the very beginning of the season and not in the stretch drive, but it goes without saying that if the ace is decommissioned for any substantial length of time (and no, he's not on the DL... the consensus seems to be that it's very minor) then the Cards are going to lose a lot of ground in terms of divisional advantage. Carp is the anchor of the rotation and they need him back as quickly as possible. The medical staff has taken every opportunity to reassure the fans that it won't be serious, but they, like the A's, are rarely known for being upfront about the health of players. Time will tell, and cross your fingers.

Speaking of the A's, they also fell victim to some bad luck last night. Joe Blanton had a rocky outing against the Mariners, a team that he usually dominates, and Richie Sexson hit his second homer in two days - if he's fixed the many holes in his swing and become more of a contact hitter, he's going to be incredibly dangerous. The man has the size to send it a long way and if he's shed his propensity to strike out, he could be one of the best hitters in the AL. But it's still much too early to be making such calls -- we'll have to see.

The A's did manage to scrap back and tie the game at four apiece in the top of the seventh, but usually lights-out relievers Kiko Calero and Justin Duchscherer combined to give up four more to the Mariners in the bottom half of the frame for an eventual 8-4 final. There's nothing you can do about it when your go-to bullpen guys don't have it -- more bad luck that should be corrected in the karmic wave after the fashion of the Baseball Gods. Still, though, these Mariners have a lot more punch, at least against the A's, then they did last year. There's no way that it could be expected that the A's would go 16-1 against them like they did in 2006, but the playing field, literally, is a lot more level between them than it was. But yet again -- isn't it maddening that you want to extrapolate, theorize, make up stuff, and know that it's really too early to have any sense at all of which way things are going to turn out? Hopefully the ball starts breaking in the Cards' and A's favor very soon. That would be good for my mental health.

Thus far, the only win in six games played by my teams has been scored by the Rockies, who managed to do so in eleven innings last night despite Byung-Hyun Kim's concentrated efforts to blow it earlier. Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins both got off the schneid, as Holliday had two hits including an RBI and one in the decisive bottom of the eleventh. Atkins made good contact and finally was rewarded for it with a ringing double in the eighth, but was thrown out at the plate on a hit by Hawpe, which preserved the 2-2 tie and eventually sent the game to extras. As for Hawpe, he continues to look very strong at the plate, consistently making the pitcher work to six or seven pitches and coming up with timely hits. Unfortunately, he grounded into a double play in the eleventh that very nearly killed the rally then, but Troy Tulowitzki doubled to tie the game and Chris Iannetta hit a hard shot that D-backs third baseman Alberto Callaspo couldn't handle, bringing home Tulo with the winning run. It's great to see the kids come through - I'm getting honestly excited about the Rockies' chances this year. There isn't a power in the NL West, hasn't been for a while, and mainly consists of people getting lucky at the right time. With the roaring thunder of that Colorado lineup, all they need is some decent starting pitching and quality bullpen work. They also require a new manager. Coincidence that the Rox won on the night that Hurdle was suspended? ;) I think not. Then again, it was a really bone-headed move to put Kim in, as he's said he doesn't like bullpen work and I honestly don't put it past him to sabotage the team in that role so they trade him to some place where he can start. Not professional, but he's never really struck me as an overtly professional and courteous guy.

They also need a different eighth-inning guy. I nearly had a heart attack when they put in LaTroy Hawkins for a second consecutive night after blowing it on Opening Day, but he managed to induce a double play and escape with a scoreless inning. The seventh inning appears locked down by talented young fireballer Manny Corpas, but there is a big hole in the eighth before they can get it to Brian Fuentes in the ninth. Plugging Jose Mesa into this spot last year had bad results, and they'll lose just as many games this year if they can't, for the love of Christ, just get a reliable set-up man - one of the more underrated positions in baseball, if you ask me. I suggest they use Ramon Ramirez instead, as he can actually pitch. In my preseason preview of the Rockies, I noted that Hawkins has maintained a consistent level of suck for a number of previous employers, and that there's no reason to think that that'll change in Coors.

I'm still happy that baseball's back, but early-season wins would, as always, make it go down sweeter. Braden Looper is pitching tonight for the Cards against the Mets.... eeeerp, a season-opening sweep at the hands of the team they beat to get to the World Series would suck, but there may be no choices - they'd just have to go into Houston and take care of the Astros, another usual pest. Things look better for the A's, as they're throwing young Rich Harden against Miguel Batista. The only problem will be getting Harden through the game with no injuries. The A's showed some resiliency by tying things in the seventh yesterday, so it's possible that they can escape Seattle with a win before heading to SoCal to tackle their chief rivals, the Angels.

The Rockies throw Rodrigo Lopez against new Diamondback (and former Brewer) Doug Davis in a match-up of mediocre-to-bad pitchers in the finale of the season-opening set at Coors. More later (possibly tomorrow) on that, and a fun little feature that I'll probably start soon. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading...

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