Ah, the All-Star break. That special time of the year when we all huddle up together around the television with a big bowl of popcorn and listen to Chris Berman make an ass of himself calling the Home Run Derby and then watch one of the biggest farces in all of sports. That's right, everybody! We thought of the best way to determine who gets home field advantage in our sports' championship series! Nope, not the best record. Not even close! We're going to use the outcome of an exhibition game! I know, why didn't we think of this years ago? Oh, and on top of that, we're still going to require that every team be represented, and we're still going to let the fans decide who plays in this utterly meaningless yet somehow ridiculously important game!
Sorry, everyone. The whole All-Star game thing just really, really pisses me off. My apologies for the angry rant. I shall attempt to keep myself a bit more under control.
Well, since we're here at the break, I thought I would take a moment to look at some of the positives and negatives from the first half of the season. Well, technically, the first half of the season ended more than two weeks ago, but don't tell baseball. They want us to think the All-Star game still comes in the middle of the season. Let's just play along.
Anyhow, I was going to do the three biggest positives and the three biggest negatives. But, in the spirit of trying to remain optimistic, I decided to do four positives and three negatives. Maybe that'll give us all some good karma going forward.
First the good news, tomorrow comes the bad news...
1. Yadi's Bat I'll just get it out of the way right now. I'm not a huge fan of Yadier Molina. It has nothing to do with him personally. Yadi does everything that everybody says he does. He's the best in the game right now at throwing out base runners, and he's become a plus at blocking balls and all of that stuff, too. Defensively, he has no real equal. The reason I'm not a huge fan isn't because of anything that Yadi does or doesn't do, I just happen to think that catcher defense is hugely overrated. I value defense a ton when it affects balls in play, but catchers simply don't affect the game nearly as much with their gloves as conventional wisdom states, I don't think. The game plan is drawn up before the game ever starts, and the pitcher has to decide for himself what pitch to throw. A truly awful defensive catcher can really hurt your team, but as you head up the ladder, the law of diminishing returns kicks in in a big way. The difference between an average glovesman behind the plate and an elite one just isn't that great.
Anyway, enough of all that. I'm writing about good things here, and Yadier's bat definitely qualifies. I admit, I never saw him as developing into anything more than a below average hitter. For this season, at least, Yadi has looked to be much better than that. He's currently hitting over .300, and looks to have come up with a comfortable, consistent approach at the plate. Of course, we've thought that before, only to see him change his batting stance again a week or two later. But still, he's been a bit plus this year at the plate. I still worry about the lack of walks, as batting average along is just too volatile to maintain a high on base percentage, but I've got to give the man his due. He's hitting far better than I expected him to this season, and it's been great.
2. The Kids are All Right Remember in years past, when you would look at the Cards' minor leagues and see only a vast wasteland, all maroons and greys? Well, no more, and you don't even have to look at the minor leagues to see the difference anymore. Just look at the major league roster. The proof is right there. In fact, the kids have been the brightest point of the season thus far.
Ten players have made their major league debuts with the Cardinals this year, and most of them have managed to hold their own in their first tastes of the big leagues. In the bullpen, Chris Perez and Kyle McClellan have been arguably the only real bright spots. Joe Mather has struggled a bit at the plate but has shown solid outfield defense and plenty of potential with the bat. Mitchell Boggs gave the Cards some much needed innings, keeping us all safe from another Mike Maroth-type experiment. Brian Barton has brought speed, excitement, and an understanding of advanced aeronautical principles to the team. Even if this year still turns out to be strictly a transition season, and there is no playoff berth in the Cards' immediate future, this team has been unbelievably fun to watch and follow, and the young 'uns are the biggest reason for that.
3. Kyle Lohse Did anyone see this coming? I didn't think so. After being spurned in the offseason, Lohse ended up signing with the Cardinals midway through spring training only because Joel Pineiro looked to begin the season on the DL.
What's strange about the whole thing is that you could almost feel a palpable difference the day that the Cardinals signed Lohse. When they managed to get him for one year and only $4.25 million, when he had previously been asking for 4/$40, it suddenly seemed as if the Cards just might have come up with a real steal. There was no longer a cloud hanging over camp. Still, though, if you had told me that Lohse would win eleven games before the break and have an ERA well under four, I likely would have called you a liar and considered punching you in the face for trying to spread false hope to people.
I don't know if the Cardinals should sign him to an extension. Lohse is represented by Scott Boras, so I can't imagine his services will be even halfway affordable after the year he's having. But Kyle Lohse is a huge part of the reason why the Cards are leading in the wild card race, and that certainly does make him the steal of the offseason.
4. The Outfield of Dreams Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker and Rick Ankiel. As strange as it seems to even think it, that may be one of the top three or four outfields in all of baseball. In a season full of surprises, the performance of the Cards' flycatchers has to be the biggest. Ankiel looks like a young Jim Edmonds, both with the glove and when he swings through a high fastball. Ludwick looks as if he may have finally gotten past his injuries to become the player he was long projected to be. And Schumaker, whom I admit I never saw as any better than a fourth outfielder, has somehow grown into a competent ML starter.
All of them have good gloves. All have good arms, with the exception of Ankiel, who has some sort of laser cannon on his arm, sort of like Mega Man. All can handle the bat just fine, thank you very much. And all of them have something to teach us about persistence, and hard work, and the grace of the game of baseball.