Under Pressure or Station to Station?

Great game last night, outside of the rain delays. Still, even with all the time spent watching the tarp, it was a beautiful game.

Although, you know what? It was actually worse than watching the tarp. FSN's rain delay programming is just god awful. Oh, how I long for the days of rain delays on good old Channel 11, when the inclement weather meant Three Stooges shorts and Schweig Engel commercials. In fact, I'm calling for FSN Midwest to immediately go out and purchase the rights to the Three Stooges catalogue. Rain delay? Hey, here we go! Ooh, this is a Shemp episode. Good stuff. Not as good as Curly, of course, but a far cry better than the shameful Joe Besser years. Get it done, FSN.

Anyhow, great game. I was more than a little surprised to see Kyle Lohse coming back out after the first delay; I was utterly flabbergasted when he came out after the second. I understand that Tony wanted to get him the win, and that's fantastic. But is the win worth risking Kyle's health? I worry about it. We've talked a lot lately, particularly in Lboros's excellent piece yesterday, entitled "Heroes", about Tony leaving pitchers in under conditions when maybe they should be out of the game, Wainwright in particular. I worry that La Russa's loyalty to his players, and his determination to help them succeed, may actually be having the opposite effect, and blinding him to the very real risks to the player. Part of the manager's job is to be responsible for the players, who most likely aren't going to be responsible for themselves. No pitcher is going to tell the manager he shouldn't be out there. It's up to the manager to make that decision. Sometimes the most important job a manager has is to protect players from themselves. I worry that Tony forgets that aspect of the job. I'm not as concerned about Lohse as I would be about Wainwright; I don't expect Lohse to be a building block for the next ten years of Cardinal baseball. But I still watch things like what happened last night and I wonder if Tony is really taking all the risks into account. Oh well, moving on...

The best part of the game last night, to me at least, was the double steal in the fourth inning. You almost never see that play anymore, least of all from a Tony La Russa managed club. But as a child of the 1980s, I miss the running game. I miss the excitement that you felt every time a man was on base, knowing that you may see something happen on every single pitch.

Beyond even just the fact that I thought it was exciting personally, though, I thought it was a great play for the Cardinals to attempt at that point in the game. It got them to a 5 run lead, which is, as evidenced by Monday's game against Pittsburgh, always significant, and it illustrated a facet of this particular Cardinal team that I think is going underused so far this season.

The past few years, we've become accustomed to watching the Cardinals play strictly station to station baseball. There were a couple of reasons for this, both of them pretty decent. One, with the firepower that the Cards could throw out there on a regular basis, with the MV3 and all, you didn't want to run yourself into any extra outs. Knowing that Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds were coming up was a powerful reason to keep baserunners right where they were. The proverbial three run homer was always a distinct possibility. Two, and this is probably an even more important consideration, the Cardinals simply didn't have the players to do much running. Tony Womack was, of course, capable of stealing a base, and did so in 2004. Renteria had enough speed to occasionally take a base, and Reggie Sanders could run, but that was about it. As recently as last year, the Cardinals' biggest stolen base threats were David Eckstein, who simply didn't have the speed to take many bases anymore, and Juan Encarnacion, who was nobody's idea of a burner.

This year's team, though, is a different bunch. There are quite a few players on this team that have the speed to be threats on the basepaths. We all know about Brian Barton's speed. Cesar Izturis has some definite quickness on the basepaths. Brendan Ryan, Rick Ankiel, and Joe Mather are all fast enough to steal a bag. Not every single time they get on, of course, like a Michael Bourn or one of those types, but definitely now and again. Even Ryan Ludwick has better than average speed.

Still, though, we've seen remarkably little aggressiveness on the bases from this team so far in 2008. As a team, they've swiped only 24 bags, with Cesar Izturis accounting for a full quarter of those.

The problem, I think, is simply a reliance on the old ways. I think La Russa is still, in large part, going on the premise that you simply can't afford to hand away baserunners. This, though, is a different offense. This offense has some thunder, yes, with Pujols and Glaus and Ludwick, oh my. But there is no MV3 in this lineup. We've seen this offense continuously put runners on base in large numbers and then struggle to plate them. I think it may be time to try something a little different.

We see Tony employ the hit and run, but almost never just the straight steal. To me, if the team has the talent to play the running game, you have to consider doing more of it. We saw last night, on a couple of occasions, what speed on the basepaths can help to accomplish. Besides the double steal, we saw in the first inning what the speed of Barton was able to do. The error on the attempted double play off Albert Pujols' grounder back to Perez was caused, in large part, because the pitcher had to try and rush his throw to get the speedy Barton. Perez hurried the throw, and it wasn't a good one. Guzman tried to hurry his catch and throw, and ended up unable to handle the ball. Net result? Instead of a potential double play, you had two men on base and a big inning in the making.

There are plenty of arguments against the running game, and most of them have some definite merit. But to me, the benefits outweigh the possible stumbling blocks. Just the added pressure alone, on the pitcher, the catcher, the fielders, can be a difference maker. Constantly putting pressure on the fielders to rush, to make perfect plays, ends up resulting in more chances to score runs, in my opinion.

We've seen the Cardinals play station to station. This year, though, the players are in place to try and take advantage of a different dimension, that of speed. I think it would behoove the team to try and take advantage of it. Anybody care to chime in?

Two things. One, I sincerely doubt I can keep the David Bowie theme going much further. If anyone has a suggestion of how to use "Life on Mars?" in a title, let me know.

Two, I'll be back here tomorrow, blogging for draft day. I've been looking forward to it since January, and it's finally here. I had planned on trying to collect draft pick guesses from several different people, such as the staff here, over at FR, and some others from Gateway Redbirds and places like that, and chart them up in preparation for tomorrow. Unfortunately, I didn't think of it until Monday morning, the net result being that I didn't have the time to contact everyone and do it the way I wanted to. So, new plan. I want to do a community draft prediction. If any of you out there are interested in making your predictions ahead of time, send them to me and I'll  chart them all up.

What I'm looking for is two separate things. I want to know who you WANT the Cardinals to draft, and then, separately, who you think they WILL draft. If the two happen to be the same, that's fine. Just tell me. I'm only looking for the Cards' first pick, at #13. Trying to do any more than that gets very, very complicated in a hurry. So just the first pick.

I'm going to collect everyone's predictions and make up a community chart for tomorrow. I just think it could be interesting to see what everybody thinks going in. If you would like to participate, please email your predictions to me at

asaeschafer@gmail.com.

I'll get them all put together and we'll see how everyone's guesses work out. If you do send me a prediction, please include your username so I know who you are. Thanks.

Erik and the guys over at Future Redbirds are going to be all over the draft today and tomorrow. Check over there regularly for little tidbits and updates.

I'm going to program the game threads automatically tonight, as I probably won't be around to do so this evening. So, if there's any big news or anything, I apologise for not keeping abreast of it in the game thread. I am a bit concerned with Albert's calf; if he goes down for a few days, do we see Duncan back up, or do we see Mather get some time over at first? Personally, I would rather see Mather over there. Duncan was sent down for a reason; bringing him back up right now isn't going to help him get himself straightened out. Anyway...

Have a nice day, everybody, and send me those picks.

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