As the Cardinals get ready to face a potential sweep at the hands of Los Angeles Dodgers, Cardinal fans as usual are distracted by the symptoms of the disease rather than the cause.
What’s the matter with Ryan Franklin?
How could Matt Holliday drop that ball?
Why can’t we score any stinking runs?
As usual, none of the criticism has been directed toward Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. In fact, aside from the “The Kevin Slaten Show” aired weekdays at 2 p.m. on KSLG 1380 AM in St. Louis (which we highly recommend by the way), Grubb Hub is one of the few media outlets that actually puts Tony La Russa’s feet to the fire.
I can’t believe I just referred to my crappy blog as a “media outlet”. Maybe Buzz Bissinger was right.
Anyway, it’s not that Tony La Russa has done anything particularly wrong or bad in the first two games against the Dodgers. He hasn’t. So far, he’s been nice and normal.
The real issue is everything that La Russa did wrong in the 162 games leading up to the postseason.
For starters, why were the Cardinals first two games of the NLDS played in Los Angeles? Oh that’s right, because they didn’t get any type of home field advantage.
How could that be La Russa’s fault? That’s not fair, you might say.
Is it really? How many games did the Cardinals throw away this season playing turds like…Chris Duncan, for example?
Here’s a guy that couldn’t last two weeks at AAA Pawtucket. And yet he spent much of the first half starting in the St. Louis Cardinals outfield. In fact, you and I both know he might be starting in the playoff game today if John Mozeliak hadn’t stepped in and stopped this running joke.
And then there’s Rick Ankiel. You know it’s eating at La Russa’s heart like a thousand starving dogs that he can’t put this guy in the lineup today. But how many games did Ryan Ludwick have to sit so the .230-hitting strikeout machine could play?
Ludwick still finished with 97 RBIs by the way, in only 139 games played (486 at bats). This was partly due to a stint on the disabled list, and partly because Tony La Russa was never short of excuses for benching him in favor of Ankiel and Duncan.
Let’s not forget about the Should Have Been Rookie of the Year Colby Rasmus. La Russa gave away plenty of Rasmus’s at bats to his two adopted sons.
And how many games did La Russa give away throwing Todd Wellemeyer out on the mound, when anyone could see that he had nothing left. La Russa was quoted as saying that, “There was no one in the organization that gave them a better chance to win.”
Really? No one in the whole organization could do better than a 5.89 ERA? What about Mitchell Boggs? His ERA was 4.19. What about Blake Hawksworth? His ERA was 2.02.
I’m no math major, but I believe Boggs 4.19 ERA is “better” than Wellemeyer’s 5.89.
Then there’s Joe Thurston. Did he really go hitless since April, or did it just seem that way? And yet, the guy somehow managed to get 267 at bats this year. And played pretty much every day at third base until mid-July, when Mark DeRosa came back from injury.
Which brings me to my second point: This is La Russa’s team. Not just by way of his job description, but this is the team he wanted.
La Russa clearly did not want to give the organizations top prospect Brett Wallace a shot at third base, no matter how terrible Joe Thurston was. He wanted Mark DeRosa, so Cards management went out and got him.
La Russa had been dreaming about Matt Holliday for almost two years, saying they needed a slugger to protect Albert Pujols (apparently the Silver Slugger Ludwick IS chopped liver). So the Cardinals got him.
And La Russa and Dave Duncan didn’t want any part of developing young closer candidates Chris Perez and Jason Motte. He was more than happy to put his faith (and a multi-year contract) in 36 year-old Ryan Franklin, who himself had never been a closer at the big league level either.
Which is why Tony La Russa has the cushiest job in all of professional sports: No matter what happens, it’s never Tony’s fault.
He’s gotten nearly everything he’s asked for from management: Holliday, DeRosa, John Smoltz, and a nice geezer closer in Franklin. He’s gotten rid of Wallace, Perez, and pitching prospect Clayton Mortenson.
Not to mention he already had two Cy Young award candidates, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and the best player in baseball at his disposal. How many great players does this guy need to win?
If management hadn’t went out and made all those moves, they would have been soundly criticized. If the Cardinals players don’t perform this postseason, they too will be soundly criticized.
But La Russa always finds a way to escape criticism from the local St. Louis media and many fans. Despite the fact that in 14 years, with all the great teams, all the great players, all the playoff appearances, the Cardinals have one World Series win to show for it. And we were damn lucky to have that.
My question to you, Cardinal fans, is will you criticize La Russa if – despite getting everything he wanted – the Cardinals still flame out before reaching the World Series, as they are oft to do during Tony’s tenure?
If the Cardinals don’t make it to the World Series, and Holliday is not resigned, then this summer’s blockbuster trade will be a total waste. Because the Cardinals could have won this mediocre division without trading away their best prospects, if only they had a manager that was smart enough not to play dead weight like Chris Duncan, Joe Thurston, Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer, and so on and so forth.
The good news is that with all the moves the Cardinals have made this summer, La Russa has no excuse for not winning the World Series. The bad news is that this is one of the few “media outlets” where you’ll actually hear that.