Monday, April 09, 2007

In the Aftermath of an Ion Storm

...utter weirdness ensues. Okay, I'm lying, I have no idea if there was an ion emission from the sun today or not, but there's gotta be some explanation for the random acts of oddness that kept popping up in baseball games (at least the ones I watched) today. Braden Looper, the much-flagellated whipping boy of this blog, pitched seven shutout innings against the Pirates while permitting only two hits and three apiece of walks and strikeouts, spoiling a chilly debut in Pittsburgh against Ian Snell. No, that's not a typo - a reliever who has made a career out of underwhelming in key situations actually appears (through two starts at least) to be an act of absolute highway robbery by pitching coach extraordinaire Dave Duncan. It appears as if the magic touch of Duncan elder may have turned not just Looper, but Kip Wells in addition, into serviceable starters (Kip also pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit, in a 10-1 Easter Sunday romp over the Astros). Still, I'm not ready to award either of them the Cy, as Sidney Ponson also started off well for the Redbirds last year before utterly disintegrating. (To bring a balancing touch to the bizarre events of the day, Sir Sid remained true to form and was shelled for 10 hits and 8 runs in 5.2 innings against the Twins). Looper has pitched well against the Pirates before, logging an 1.60 ERA coming into today's appearance, and let's face it, the 2007 Pirates aren't exactly the 1927 Yankees. Still, progress is progress.

Still, especially with the bad news about Carpenter, the Cardinals really need some quality outings -- which they have been getting, despite the snide idiocy of certain writers. (John Donovan ranked the Cards at #27 and added that they'd had a 2-4 opening with zero quality starts. John, may I bring to your attention: Wells, 6 IP, 2 ER, Looper, 6 IP, 3 ER, Wainwright, 7 IP, 0 ER, Wells, 7 IP, 0 ER, Looper, 7 IP, 0 ER. The pitching is the furthest thing from being the problem right now -- it's that the offense, even King Albert, still thinks it's in spring training). However, Albert cracked his first homer of the season on Sunday and followed it up today with a 2-for-3, 2 runs scored performance against personal nemesis Ian Snell. (Well, aside from his other personal nemesis, Brad Lidge, who lost the closer's job after allowing 5 ER in a ninth-inning stint against the Cards on Sunday... he never recovered after allowing Albert's climactic 9th-inning homer in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS).

As for Carpenter, it's bad news... part of my worst-case projection scenario was that he would be hurt. Still, as tempting as a bridge-leaping escapade might look, it's not actually the end of the world. The official diagnosis is moderate arthritis and impingement, so let's take that one at a time. Moderate arthritis is worrisome, and it's what eventually led to the end of Sandy Koufax's career, but he pitched three great seasons after the initial diagnosis was made, so it's not immediately threatening. As for an impingement, it's common with athletes who make continual repetitive motions (such as throwing, in Carp's case) and it's when the membrane of the elbow gets stuck in the elbow joint. Although it's painful, rest and medicine can help treat it -- arthroscopic surgery is the last-case solution and hopefully it won't come to that. Cards Nation can exhale a communal sigh of relief that there is, according to the team doctors, no torn ligaments -- a problem of that nature would likely require the nefarious Tommy John surgery and shelve Carp for the rest of the season. Injury to a guy who won the Cy Young less than two years ago is never what you want to hear, but the Cards could DL him retroactive to his last appearance (April 1) and have him miss only one more start after today. It all depends on how it's feeling and how well it responds to rest.

At least this happened early in the season instead of September, and there's still every chance that Carp can come back and have a dominant '07 campaign. It probably explains a bit about his bad Opening Night start, however. And all things considered, the rotation is much stronger at this point than it was one year ago, despite that none of the current four were there in April 2006. It's shed Ponson, Marquis, Weaver, and injured Mulder, so I have hope that they can carry the slack while Carp's gone. Randy Keisler, an unspectacular reliever, will be making Carp's scheduled start tomorrow -- Blake Hawksworth in Memphis was mentioned as a possible solution, but he's still young, possibly not ready for a full-time assignment, and you don't want to start his arbitration clock too early if he's not prepared for the pressures of the big leagues. Keisler's bad, but there's no one you could possibly run out there who would be as good as Carp. Hopefully it's just one or two spot starts and then the Cards get their ace back. I repeat: it does not appear to be serious and season and/or career-threatening.

Now pardon me while I go jump off a bridge.

Just kidding, of course. To add to the weirdness of today, Preston Wilson actually came up with a clutch two-run double in a late-inning situation, Jason Isringhausen worked a 1-2-3 ninth without a single baserunner, and Chris Duncan didn't make an error in the field. (Kidding again... I have a great fondness for Duncan the younger, at least for his bat, and his defense hasn't been nearly as atrocious as it was in the World Series). Pujols and Rolen are still struggling to stay over the Mendoza line, but both have shown recent signs of coming around, which is good. All in all, the Cards have won three of four since being swept by the Mets to inaugurate the season, and there's no need for widespread panic in Redbird Land.

Ah, who am I kidding? I've already jumped off that bridge.

Anyway, the Rockies also overcame a fairly big hurdle (and no, not their manager, although he does quantify as a permanent obstruction) by coming into Los Angeles and taking the Dodgers' home opener from them by a score of 6-3. Garrett Atkins hit his first homer of the season, a solo jack in the first, and totaled 3 RBI, the other two coming on sacrifice flies. Brad Hawpe continued to flash a hot bat, and Jeff Baker seems intent on carving out regular playing time by hook or by crook. But the weirdest thing of all was that anemic leadoff man Willy Taveras actually smoked a line-drive double and ran out an infield hit for a 2-for-5 day. (He also struck out twice, naturally, including once to kill a big rally, but you can't have everything...) Taveras has looked bad in the opening weeks, and not just getting-unlucky bad, as in totally-overmatched bad. He had the lowest on-base percentage in the league and although his speed is excellent for throwing pitchers off, it does absolutely jack-squat if he can't get on. Steve Finley is just as bad, and for some reason, the Rockies refuse to entertain the notion of promoting Ryan Spilborghs from AAA Colorado Springs to fill this vacancy. All he did was hit over .400 in the spring, and he's definitely got the speed for center. But no... although I am now just as passionate about the Rox as I am about my other two teams, I have to admit that the obstinacy and sometimes sheer idiocy of their management kills me on a regular basis.

Jeff Francis continued the string of shockingly excellent pitching from the Rox's starting rotation, going 6.2 strong innings and allowing only 2 runs. Brian Fuentes got himself into a heap of trouble in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with none out, but escaped with an infield-fly popout, a sac fly, and another flyout to seal the deal. The Rockies were 4-15 against the Dodgers last year, and even a 9-10 record would have put them at a 81-81 (.500) overall, so improving there will be key. Hopefully they also win the following games of this series, something that they failed to do in San Diego despite also taking the opener. They played the Padres very tough and were repeatedly screwed by some god-awful umpiring, so if it wasn't for the blue and LaTroy Hawkins (who is personally responsible for two of their three losses) they could be 6-1 or even undefeated despite their vaunted offense not being entirely on the stick just yet. This is a very good and very underrated team that I'm doing my best not to get too excited about, because, pardon my French, I just know Clint Hurdle will find a way to shit the bed. I have zero confidence in his ability and desire to win.

Well, the A's home opener kicked off about fifteen minutes ago, with Rich Harden making the start against the White Sox and Jose Contreras. If the A's win, it'll be the first time that all three of my teams have won on the same day this season.

(P.S. Further evidence of crazy-world. Harden started Paul Konerko off 0-2, then completely lost his command and threw him four straight in the dirt to walk him. That ion storm is powerful stuff).

No comments: