Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UCB top five stories of 2008

The 2008 season was a fun one. There were ups. There were downs. The NL Central went from being the underachievers to the enforcers. The Cubs dominated baseball for most of the year, then dropped a big, steaming pile at the division series (which is as much fun as anything for us). The Brewers and Astros made us all seasick with their rollercoaster-like movement through the standings. The Pirates and Reds played their usual role as spoilers, and somehow still put fans in the seats (as usual). The Cardinals played hard (and even found themselves on top for a while) and fought hard, but in the end, couldn't sustain the success. They did finish at 10 games over .500 and with a lot of dignity (winning the last six of the season), and made us all proud in a year that was predicted early to be a nightmare. We spent six months playing the "what-if" game, speculating about the bullpen, the offense, and the injuries. Though, after all is said and done, we are still lucky enough to be fans of the best team in baseball, and lucky enough to have witnessed a lot of history. And the really amazing thing is, we never forget that.

On a personal note, this was my first season blogging about the 'Birds, and I thoroughly enjoyed exchanging ideas and opinions with the other bloggers, and can't wait for the '09 season to get started. Bring on Spring Training, already!

The latest UCB project is a list of the Top 5 Stories (per individual interpretation) of the 2008 Cardinals season. Hereafter lies the list I have compiled. (For everyone else's, head over to C70.) Please enjoy! (And cheers to 2008!)


1. Yadier Molina

I gotta tell ya, as soon as I saw the topic, I knew exactly what my first story would be. 2008 was a break-out year for Yadi offensively. He batted .304 overall, with 7 homeruns, 56 RBI and 56 runs created, and struck-out only 29 times. (In fact, he was one of the toughest Ks in baseball.) He also kept up his defensive specs (although not quite as spectacularly as his '06 season) and finally received that most coveted of defensive awards, the Rawlings Gold Glove (for which he was overlooked in '06 and '07, although I am loathe to mention it). He was able to guide his pitchers through tough innings and tough at-bats. He was run over at the plate, suffered a concussion, and still held on to the ball for the out. He shed his equipment in the batter's box in protest of some questionable umpiring. He hit a double to the wall and then came around to score on a wild throw/error. Okay, I could go on and on about the toughness and talent that Molina showed this past season (and for as long as we've known him), but you all know what I'm talking about. He's our Yadi.

P.S. - After that infamous collision with Bruntlett at the plate, Bernie Miklasz basically summed up the whole season for the Cards in one line, and I feel like this line (as it says) says it all about Yadi and the Cardinals.

And when Molina wouldn't budge, that was the play of the summer, the play that told you all you needed to know about what drives the 2008 Cardinals.

2. The Rolen-Glaus trade

Another easy choice. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, in Cardinal Nation was skeptical about how this was going to turn out. Jays fans were elated, Cards fans were leery. I mean sure, Scott was a malcontent who couldn't get along with the manager or stay healthy for two minutes at a time, but he was like greased lightning with a glove at third base. He had range, reach, and athleticism. (And he could hit a little bit, too.) And here was coming Troy Glaus from Toronto, another malcontent with bad knees and a reportedly average glove. He had shown moments of greatness throughout his career, but had been declining of late (offensively and defensively). Our cautiousness was far from optimistic.

And yet, as pessimistic as we were, Cardinals fans (as is our way) didn't hestitate to give Glaus a chance to prove himself, and we were far from disappointed. Troy Glaus was not merely an adequate replacement, he was pretty damn good with the glove (narrowly missing out on the Gold Glove award--at least as far as the voters were concerned), and got plenty done at the plate (allergies and streakiness notwithstanding), racking up 27 HR (an appropriate number, no?), 99 RBI, and a .270 (hmmm....) average. Rolen, on the other hand... well, nevermind. It worked out for STL, at any rate.

3. The disintigration of the bullpen

This wasn't an easy choice so much as a given. No one who watched even a handful of innings from the 2008 season could argue that the bad news bullpen was problem number one and cost us more than a few games. I believe the blown saves totalled 30, and the late-innings meltdowns were innumerable.

To be honest, not much really needs to be said, save this: That "what-if" game I referenced earlier applies no more emphatically to any area of the team than it does the 'pen. The problem with that game, though, is that it traps you in time. It traps you in the past, and the longer you muck around, the more difficult it is to escape. Therefore, I'm done blaming the relievers for the disappointing losses and the missed playoffs. I'm tired of mucking around. Time to move on.

4. The departure of Anthony Reyes

The Cardinals front office did the only thing that could be done for A-Rey. They traded him for a double-A pitcher from a struggling organization. Then they salted the earth so nothing else would grow.

Throughout his career with the Cardinals, Anthony was never viewed as more than a fill-in for a tired arm in the rotation. His pitching, while commanding at Memphis (and even rarely at Busch) did not mesh with Dave Duncan's demands. His high fastballs, intended to get fly-outs, went against the basic mores of the LaDunc regime. (I say this, of course, with all respect due Tony and Dave, because no one respects those two more than I do. However, I never agreed with the way they handled this situation, and I don't feel a bit bad for mentioning it.) Besides that, Anthony always seemed to be the hard-luck pitcher for the Cards. He threw a complete game one-hitter against the White Sox and got the loss. He picked up a loss against the Mets in a game that was called after five innings because of a little rain. He certainly paid his dues.

Luis Perdomo, the pitcher acquired in the trade, was with the club for four and a-half months (and pitched exactly 18 double-A innings) before being swiped by the Giants in the Rule-V draft (even though the roster was not full and he could easily have been protected). The whole business was stinky and ugly, but at least Anthony is now with a club where he'll get a fair shot at starting and maybe even surprise everyone by leading the Indians to a World Championship (you never know).

5. The rocket launcher attached to Rick Ankiel's left shoulder

Rick Ankiel fell apart on the mound. He completely lost his control and was forced to reconsider his career path. He put down the ball and picked up a bat. He worked hard and gave himself over to the transition, never questioning the choice (by his own account) to overhaul his dreams and take up an outfield glove. His inspiring, emotional story leads the league when it comes to inspiring, emotional baseball stories. But to be honest, it's old news. It's been said, it's been written (far more eloquently than I could ever put it), and it's been rehashed to the point of saturation. Therefore, it isn't on my list.

What is on my list is the unbelievable... no, incredible... no, i-n-d-e-s-c-r-i-b-a-b-l-e outfield assists he made from center to third on May 7 of this year against the Colorado Rockies. Yes, indescribable. Too extraordinary for description. I absolutely cannot put into words how amazing those throws were. Far, fast, accurate, and just plain sick. You know what I mean. You were thinking the same thing. I still get goosebumps.

Throw #1: Helton hit a long, deep fly ball to center, and Taveras (one of the faster runners in the game) tagged up at second to try and make it to third. Ankiel camped under the ball, came up throwing, and pitched a strike to Glaus at third. Taveras was out.

Throw #2: Quintanilla got one to hit the ground in left center, and after chasing it all the way to the wall, Ankiel spun around and lasered another missile in to Glaus, and Quintanilla was out. (I think my favorite part of the whole sequence on that one was watching Glaus stand there like a statue, giving absolutely no indication that he was expecting a throw, and then applying the tag like the guy never had a chance.)

After the game, Hurdle remarked that even though it wasn't fun being on the receiving end of those outs, they sure were fun to watch.

Honorable Mention:
The surprising Kyle Lohse

A late addition to the team, Lohse was supposed to come in and provide a little protection for the rotation that featured some young guys and hoped to see its two aces come back from injuries (and never really did). What he did went above and beyond what anyone expected. He led the team in wins. He led the team in innings pitched. He posted a 3.78 ERA. He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension on the last day of the regular season. In a word, he rocked.

Honorable Mention: Albert Pujols' 2008 season

Albert hit career home run number 300.
Albert was an All-Star.
Albert competed for the batting title and finished with a .357 average.
Albert finished his eighth consecutive season with 30+ homeruns and 100+ RBI.
Albert won his second NL MVP.
Albert won the Roberto Clemente Award, the Silver Slugger, the Fielding Bible, the TYIB Hitter of the Year, the Sporting News ML Player of the Year, the MLBPA Player of the Year, and the Oscar Charleston Legacy Award.

Why isn't this #1 on my list? Because he does it every year. I'm not saying it's less special or less important, but you have to give the other guys some credit every once in a while. Besides which, the title of the project is "top 5 stories" and Albert ceased being a "story" when he started being Albert. Kudos, big guy, on your unyielding greatness.


So that's it. 2008 officially ends around midnight tonight (depending on where you are), and 2009 takes over. (Of course, it'll take me about 2-1/2 months to start writing '09 on my checks, but that's life, I guess.) In other news, my New Year's Eve plans involve pizza, beer, and going to bed early, although if something interesting happens, I could be persuaded to stay up. I figure I've had a whole year of '08, and '09 will still be there when I get up in the morning. There's really no need to sit in front of the clock and wait for the calendar to roll-over. And the sparkly ball lost all interest for me after I was about eight.

But nonetheless, I hope all you bloggers and fans have a great celebration. Be smart and be careful. Somebody would miss you if you were gone.

Les deseo un próspero año nuevo... Diviértense mucho... ¡Nos vemos en 2009!