Special Birthday Man and Other Things

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Our special birthday man, to quote one of his commercials “Must be in the front row.”  But I’ll move him to the back row in the upper tier in an obstructed view seat and listen to him say “He Missed the Tag._    Before we get to him, baseball is still at a standstill although some areas have dug themselves out following this weekend’s blizard.  So before we get to birthdays, let me present a piece by Aaron Gentle that I saw on truluvsports.com. It’s just too good not to share.

“The National League Central is a solid division, arguably the best in baseball. It features a charismatic Joe Maddon, an always scowling Mike Matheny, and the old school nature of Clint Hurdle. The scouting departments for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have developed some of the best young talent this game has seen (sorry Brewers and Reds fans, you guys do okay, too). Despite the surging Cubs and perennial Wild Card Bucs, the St. Louis Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central in 2016.

2015 was something of a crazy year in baseball. Bryce Harper finally broke out, hitting an impressive 42 homeruns, and posting a slash line of .330/.460/.649, while taking home the NL MVP. Jake Arrieta did his best Bob Gibson impression, and pitched the best second half in baseball history.  The Mets young triumvirate of arms terrorized the National League East. Lost in all of this were the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals won a Major League-leading 100 games in 2015.

Not only did they hit the century mark, they did so while being completely ravaged by injuries. Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles less than a month into the regular season, Matt Adams went down a month later, and multiple other players spent time on the disabled list over the course of the season. Despite these setbacks, manager Mike Matheny navigated the season with ease, that belies his relatively short tenure as the Redbirds skipper.

Basically, the Cardinals were so good that they were boring. Matt Carpenter was the only Cardinal to hit more than 25 homeruns, and only three players topped 15 dingers on the season. Compared to the Major League-leading Toronto Blue Jays, who hit 232 home-runs as a team, the power numbers for the Cardinals look pretty anemic.

Nonetheless, they won more games playing in a tougher division. That’s not conjecture, but a fact. If it wasn’t for their dominant pitching staff, they would not have won so many games. Their pitching, coupled with a blue collar offense, led to their success in 2015. Looking ahead to 2016, the Cardinals look to continue their winning ways.

Adam Wainwright has something to prove (especially after getting picked 22nd in a renowned fantasy baseball draft), the starting rotation proved their mettle by posting a combined 2.92 ERA, and the bullpen put up a combined 3.09 ERA. With the return of Wainwright in 2016 and a rotation that features a consistent Lance Lynn, the electric arm of Carlos Martinez, a blossoming Michael Wacha, and the newly inked Mike Leake, the Cards rotation looks to be one of the best yet again.

The offensive side of this ball club looks a little thin. Yadier Molina is a big question mark. He is heading into his age 33 year, coming off of thumb surgery, and his offense has been on the decline for three consecutive seasons. Granted, that decline has been due to injuries, however, he’s not getting any younger. With that being said, he is irreplaceable behind the plate.

The “experts” were harping on Molina’s ability, or lack thereof, to frame pitches in 2015. While Yadi’s ability to receive a pitch firmly, and steal a strike here and there may have declined (let’s be honest, pitch framing analytics are a soft science), his ability to win a game between his ears is what makes him special. If the Cardinals can keep Yadi healthy and behind the plate for at least 125 games this season, they will be in good shape. Further, the signing of catcher Brayan Pena is a nice piece to shore up the backstop position.

Matt Carpenter will resume his duties at third base, providing some good pop and extra-base power. He has been a model of consistency, helping the Cardinals win three consecutive NL Central crowns. Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong are expected to continue their duties at shortstop and second base, respectively. This duo up the middle is solid, even with Peralta’s shrinking range.

Expect a breakout season from Kolten Wong, with his bat doing a lot of the talking. A healthy Matt Adams manning first base will add another power bat, if he can put it all together. Despite his size and swing, he has only hit 39 homeruns in his four-year tenure with the Cards. The additions of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to the outfield lend a young athleticism, that should replace the exit of Jason Heyward to the Cubs. Along with Matt Holliday and Tommy Pham, the Cardinals outfield is good shape.

The St. Louis Cardinals roster does not have the star power of the Chicago Cubs. It does not feature a single player that has an Andrew McCutchen-type dynamic. The Cardinals will not have a player that hits over 40 home runs in 2016.

They do have a winning tradition, and one of the game’s best young managers in Mike Matheny, though. Regardless of any power rankings going into the season, the Cardinals still reign supreme as victors of the NL Central, and are the gatekeepers into the playoffs for the Cubs and the Pirates.”  That web site sends me many pieces, but this was the first of two I thought were excellent.

Now, for our birthdays.

Brandon Pinder is 27. He was a Yankees draftee in 2011 after playing for the 49Ers of long Beach State. He was up and down between the Yankees and AAA this season which was his first taste of the show. He’ll be competing for a spot in the Bronx Bombers’ bull pen.

From a hopeful prospect we go to a name well remembered by Yankees fans of a certain age-52.  Say Brian Doyle to a Yankee fan of that age and he’ll say “World Series, second base. Randolph was out.” Brian Reed Doyle hails from Glasgow, but he isn’t called “The Flying Scotsman,” because he’s from Glasgow, Kentucky.  The Rangers drafted him but traded him to the Yankees for Sandy Alomar. With Randolph injured Doyle had to play all 6 games of the World Series against the Dodgers, and this career .161 hitter batted .438 with 7 hits in 16 trips.

Now for our Hall of Famer. The voice of the 3 Major League movies and the longtime voice of the Brewers, Bob Uecker is 81 or 82 today depending on your source.  He’s in Cooperstown, not for his baseball playing which he did for his home town Braves and others,  but for his broadcasting for the Brewers.

Robert George Uecker was on the 1964 Cardinals who took the World Series from the Yankees, plunging them into their 11-year coma. He was Tim McCarver’s backup man, so he backed up another terrific future broadcaster. In the ’70s his voice was heard on ABC-TV games, and in the ’90s NBC employed him for postseason  games. He made numerous appearances on the Johnny Carson show, where the late king of late night nicknamed him Mr. Baseball. His exploits as a wrestling ring announcer and commentator once led him to be choked by one of my idols, Andre the Giant. He reached Cooperstown in 2003 winning the Ford C. Frick award for baseball broadcasters.  As any longtime fan would guess, his speech was the highlight of the ceremony. Since 2012 a monument to him has stood outside Miller Park. Since 1971 on radio and since the late ’90s on the Internet, fans have heard him holler “Get up, get up, get outa here,” on Brewer home runs.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes of his, on how to catch a knuckleball. “Wait ’till it stops rolling and pick it up.”


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