Can the St. Louis Cardinals win it all again?

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Will the St. Louis Cardinals go all the way and win the World Series? Or will they get stopped along the way by the Washington Nationals? Here are a few reasons to believe that the redbirds will make it to the top, and win:

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THE CASE FOR LARRY ROTHSCHILD

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By George Ofman

There is a hue and cry around Clark and Addison these days and it has nothing to do with wanting more rum at Captain Morgan’s. Many displeased Cubs fans want Lou Piniella to take a hike. They also want to sleep with the enemy. They desperately want to embrace the men who have had far more success several hundred miles south than those who have commanded their franchise for low these many eons.

They want Tony Larussa and his band of not so merry men. Yes, they want him even after the Cardinals were stunningly swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers just the way their Cubs were the year before. Larussa may wind up staying put.  His pitching coach may have other ideas. Dave Duncan has been inexorably tied to Larussa like the far right is to Rush Limbaugh.

He’s been Larussa’s pitching coach since 1983 when they guided the White Sox to the playoffs. That’s 27 years though the count could end. Duncan is clearly miffed the Cardinals traded his son Chris to the Red Sox. Let’s assume Larussa stays and Duncan doesn’t. Should the Cubs go after him? He is considered one of the best in the business. The other question you must ask is; should the Cubs dump Larry Rothschild? I’ll ask this question; why would you want to fire Rothschild?cubs0814

Yes, he’s been a whipping boy of sorts particularly when he had his ailing pitchers whip a towel to get their act together. The infamous “towel drill” drew derision from skeptical fans and media alike. But take a closer look at Rothschild’s track record and you might determine he’s pretty good at what he does.

The Cubs pitching staff finished 5th in ERA in the majors for the second straight season. The fact they won 14 fewer games than last season is clearly based on their lack of hitting. They also had 93 quality starts, 2nd in the National League. Matter of fact, since Rothchild became the Cubs pitching coach in 2002, his staff has finished in the top 5 in ERA 5 times in 8 years! Duncan’s Cardinals have finished in the top 5 three times during that same span.

This doesn’t mean Rothschild is a better pitching coach. It doesn’t mean he’s worse, either. You could fault him for the antics displayed by Carlos Zambrano. Maybe Duncan could do a better job. Maybe a shrink could but you’d have to pay him overtime.
The last I looked, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster’s numbers have improved dramatically. Lilly is 18 games over with an ERA of 3.7 since joining the Cubs. Prior to that he was one game over with an ERA of 4.6
Dempster went from Cubs closer to starter and over the past 2 seasons is 28 and 15 with an ERA of 3.3. During his years as a starter with and Marlins and Reds, Dempster went 50 and 55 with a rather hefty ERA of 5.01. Does Larry Rothschild get credit for this?
Does Rothchild deserve blame after Mark  (made of glass) Prior physically and mentally disintegrated?

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Does Rothschild deserve blame because Kerry Wood embraced the disabled list the way an alcoholic craved his next drink?
Maybe we should give Rothschild credit for resurrecting Wood into a pretty good closer in 2008. Maybe, just maybe, Rothschild is one of the Cubs most valuable assets. Pitching staffs don’t finish in the top in ERA 5 of 8 years through slight of arm.
Maybe, just maybe, The Cubs need a better bullpen and a manager who uses it wisely.

Maybe just maybe, the Cubs are better off leaving Rothschild right where he is. They have far greater issues to deal with.

MLB division leaders pulling away early…but why?

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By Jake McCormick

Is it just me, or do this year’s MLB division leaders look pretty impressive? The only arguable exception to this would be the AL Central, as the Minnesota Twins continue their yearly routine of being that guy at a party that you think should be passed out as everyone is leaving at 3 a.m., but is still calling for the beer bong. But even in the Central, a division in both leagues that defies all expert predictions on a yearly basis, the Detroit Tigers manage to only let them get close enough to hope before extending the lead back to a comfortable margin.

In fact, the smallest lead, as of today, is Detroit’s 4.5 games on Minnesota. The closest in the National League is in the NL West, where the Los Angeles Dodgers are 5 up on the skidding Colorado Rockies. Every other divisional leader is at least 6 games above their closest competition. On this day last year, only the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels were sitting comfortably above a 4.5 game lead. In 2007, only the Angels were more than 4.5 up in the AL West. Given that the Wild Card races are always a close bout (in the National League at least), there has to be a logical explanation to why we can already lock up the 2009 division champions with half a month left to play. After some research, I’ve concluded that yes, the 2009 playoffs have the potential to be the most exciting and evenly matched postseason in recent memory.

teixeira-sabathia-burnettSometimes teams are in the right financial place at the right time. I remember how awesome it was to hear that the economy was hurting every MLB team except for the Empire, who managed to land the far, far away best position and pitching free agents in CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera. Likewise, the Dodgers picked up three of the top 12 available in Manny Ramirez, without whom they managed to record the best record in the NL at the All-Star Break, Rafael Furcal, and Orlando Hudson.

Going into this season, the 2009 payroll rankings for the current divisional and Wild Card leaders are as follows:

Yankees – 1st
Red Sox – 4th
Tigers – 5th
Angels – 6th

Phillies – 7th
Dodgers – 9th
Cardinals – 13th
Rockies – 18th

Holliday/PujolsGranted one of the hottest teams in the league right now, the St. Louis Cardinals, are not extremely high on this list, but looking at the midseason spending of each of these clubs can also give an indication of why there is a bigger disparity between those at the top of the hill and those attempting to crest it:

Top trading deadline spenders for 2009 (prominent acquisitions listed):

Cardinals: $6.6 M – 1st, Mark DeRosa, Matt Holliday
Red Sox: $4.5 M – 2nd, Victor Martinez, Adam LaRoche
Tigers: $3.6 M – 3rd, Jarrod Washburn
Phillies: $2 M – 6th, Cliff Lee
Rockies: $1.9 M – 7th, Joe Beimel, Rafael Betancourt
Yankees: $1.1 M – 11th, Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr.
Dodgers: $1 M – 12th, George Sherrill

Cliff LeeEvery one of these teams went out and picked someone up at the trading deadline to fill a void. This pattern isn’t that surprising, as smaller markets and complete busts try to unload quality players with expensive salaries before they press the reset button. But it shows that each team in contention set out to get better, and for the most part, achieved that goal. Not every one of these players is making the impact of a Cliff Lee or Matt Holliday, but it just goes to show that if a team wants to contend they more than likely have to get a few ringers.

Unlike Charles Manson, each of the divisional leaders has a distinct team identity. The Yankees are a veteran team built like my middle school video game starting lineups. The Tigers can crush the ball and have a resurgent pitching staff with postseason experience. The Angels lead the Major League in batting average and are regaining full strength after multiple injuries. The Cardinals have three lights out pitchers and the best player on the planet backed up by the post-All-Star Break MVP. The Dodgers have a good mix of young and veteran players and a dominating late-inning bullpen. The Phillies won the World Series last year, and that’s enough of an argument for me. The bottom line is that you know exactly what you’re getting from each of these teams: consistency at their game.

Justin VerlanderIf the season ended today, all eight playoff teams would have prior postseason experience on their resume from the last three years. Sometimes just watching a team can give you a sense of whether their ready for the march into October, such as the Phillies and Brewers last year. The latter stumbled in, while the former cannonballed into the pool. The way things look this year, we’re in for some epic October showdowns. I really need to get cable by then.

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