Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The beginning of the end with the Cardinals

To commemorate the final stretch of games with the St. Louis Cardinals, we asked long-time friend of Astros County C70 At the Bat some questions (The Constable answered C70's questions over here):

AC: As you likely know, the Astros took three of four from the Phillies (!) over the weekend. Let's let that sink in for a second... Okay, does that change your outlook on this series?

C70: I don't know that it does, but my outlook on this series might not be what you expect it to be.  Obviously, I'm more comfortable with the Cards spending the next 10 days playing the Astros and the Cubs than the Dodgers or Reds, but this has been such an inconsistent team that it's hard to get too high on a series that, on paper, should be a huge mismatch.  Because if this season had been played out on paper, the Cards would have won a whole lot more games.

Having Houston playing well does temper some expectations, of course.  I'd rather be facing the team that lost 34 of 38 than the team that has more September wins that St. Louis does.

AC: What the heck is it with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's obsession with Jeff Luhnow (and what seems like a party line of "He wasn't that great")?

C70: You have to know that Jeff Luhnow was a very polarizing figure.  When he was brought on board, he brought the sabermetric mentality with him, as you are seeing in Houston now.  The problem was, not everyone in the front office was ready for that.  There was a pretty obvious rift that developed between the "new school" set and the "old school" set.  This culminated back in 2007 when Walt Jocketty was let go and John Mozeliak was hired to be the general manager.  Mozeliak's mission was to reconcile the stats and the scouting side of things (and, from all appearances, has done a good job).

Anytime that you are such a visible part in a change to a civic institution, you are going to get a lot of focus on you.  I expect that there will be some monitoring of Luhnow for a while, just like there has been of Pujols this season.  It'll lessen as time goes on, but it'll never quite go away.  When you "discover" someone that has success elsewhere, it's natural to keep an eye out.

Now, as for the latter part of your question, I don't know much about that unless it plays back into that rift he was part of.  Most internet observers seem to be fairly fond of him.  Could be some "cushioning the blow," could be some acknowledgement that no man is an island--but I know Luhnow took a few important palm trees (or rocks or whatever works to extend the analogy) with him to Houston also.
AC: Piggy-backing on that, how do you feel about Luhnow?

C70: I think he turned things around in regards to the minor leagues and helped bring a new mindset to the drafting process.  His support may have unintentionally poisoned the well for Colby Rasmus (who was often termed "Luhnow's boy" within the organization, if reports are right) but there's no denying that the Cards have more high-talent prospects in their system than ever before.  I think he'll do a fine job in Houston and wish him well.
AC: Y'all have almost $90m in payroll already committed to 2013. What does the future of the Cardinals look like for the next five years?

C70: The future is, at least to these biased eyes, very bright.  There is a lot of payroll committed, but it's not to dead weight (or at least, not much).  You have Chris Carpenter, who hopefully will be at least close to his ace-like self after a year off next year, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Beltran (that one may hurt, but it's just one more year) make up the bulk of the big money going forward and all should be good for 2013 (again, save possibly Beltran).  The expectation is Wainwright will sign an extension this season and be here for the long haul.

After 2013, the holes that get created are likely to be filled from within.  Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn--all of these could be in the rotation by 2014.  Second base has a Kolten Wong-sized hole waiting to be filled.  Oscar Tavares is going to be ranked in the top 10 of most every prospect list this offseason and should see St. Louis by next September.  There is going to be a lot of cheap young talent coming through to help offset the expensive contracts elsewhere.  Right now, the window for championship runs seems as wide open as it's ever been.
AC: Can the Cardinals (a) make the playoffs and then (b) beat the Braves in a one-game playoff?

C70: This Cardinal team can win the World Series.  This Cardinal team can also completely miss the playoffs.  As frustrating as they've been, they've got the pieces to beat just about anyone when they come together.  The problem is, especially with the one-game playoff, they don't always show up.  I could easily see the Cards losing a 1-0, 2-1 game to Atlanta after leaving 10 men on and having at least two ill-conceived bunts.  If Carpenter gives them some focus and everything finally comes together, though, 12 in '12 is not out of the question.  
AC: Speaking of, since StL is in the mix, how do you feel about the 1-game playoff?

C70: If you are going to do a second wild-card, this may be the best way to do it.  I'm not a fan of the second wild card--I am not really a fan of the regular wild card either--but hindering them somewhat going into a playoff series should help the "best team" win more than just the hot pitcher.  I think it'd be better just to make four divisions and let the winners get into October.  Plenty of pennant races and you'd actually have to win something.

AC: What was your favorite Astros/Cards game?

C70: So many good ones to choose from, but I think it has to be Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS.  The catch by Edmonds, the home run by Rolen, beating Roger Clemens....those are things that are hard to top.  
AC: As a team lucky enough to stay in the National League, what are your thoughts on what happened to the Astros, in regards to the move to the AL?

C70: I think it was an incredibly stupid thing to have even considered, much less gone through with.  The idea of interleague play, which was never one of my favorite ideas, going on every single day is a terrible one in my book.  Plus the whole idea of a deal being held up so that a perfectly legitimate owner could be blackmailed into moving a team with 50 years of history?  Move the Brewers back if you have to move someone--they've played both sides of the fence.  It was a shameful episode in a history of baseball rife with shameful episodes. 
We'll be back in touch with C70 for a last hurrah next week.