There's a certain kind of symmetry in the Braves leaving and the Cardinals arriving. For years -- decades, even -- it was the Braves who stayed competitive, no matter what freaky roster changes they needed to make. My favorite Braves move was Brian McCann's call up. Oh, we'll just take this 22-year-old catcher with 165 at-bats in AA, where he hit .265 with decent-not-great plate discipline, and just plug him in as the starter. Oh, and he's the best hitting catcher in the game now. It seemed like the Braves were always doing that kind of stuff, and it happened too often to call it luck.
Now the Braves are a normal team again, missing on trades and player evaluations with the rest of the bunch. Well, good. But now it's the Cardinals who are driving me nuts. Do you realize they've had something called Skip Schumaker starting for them since last year? Kevin Frandsen leaves better minor league performances in his stool. But, nope, it's Schumaker who's doing the peak-year Mark Grudzielanek impersonation. Ryan Ludwick has more home runs in his Cardinals career than I expect the Giants to hit for this entire year. His success is the equivalent of Dallas McPherson hitting 30 homers, or Sergio Santos hitting .330 over two seasons. Of course, those two aren't even playing in the minors right now. The Giants can't luck into a minor-league free agent bonanza like Ludwick. Pfft. Take your Justin Miller and shut up, you greedy jerk.
We haven't even gotten to the best part: the Cardinals' pitching.
Dave Duncan: Looking good, Kyle. The thing abou...wait, is that your thumbnail extending 1/8th of an inch past your thumb?
Kyle Lohse: Uh, yeah. I play guitar, so it comes in handy when I'm fingerpicking.
Dave Duncan: Oh, no. That won't do.
Duncan clips 1/8th of an inch off Loshe's thumbnail
Note: Kyle Lohse is good now
Joel Pineiro: back from the Graveyard of Pitchers Past. Todd Wellemeyer: a) you just made that name up, and b) he had a lower ERA than Matt Cain last year. Everyone in the Cardinals bullpen has an ERA under 3.32 -- rookies, random veterans, whatever. I'd say this is a fluke, but it seems like the Cardinals contend every year. Well, not every year, but they're usually better than I give them credit for.
Hitter to watch:
Albert Pujols is only hitting .317, so the Giants should take advantage of this crippling slump. I used to secretly hope that Pujols was dirty, not because I'm an evil jerk, but because I wanted...I don't know...some sort of validation that everyone in baseball could be dirty. Then it wouldn't have been Bonds this and Bonds that. Bonds used to be the entire Nazi army in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he only deserved to be part of the rising CO2 in An Inconvenient Truth. If another big star got pinched, it might have changed the public perception of the problem.
It was a stupid hope. Pujols is one of the greatest hitters ever, and we're lucky to watch him for 157 or 158 games out of the year. For about six games, though, he's an evil, thoughtless man who likes to poke my soul with a stick. But what a treat it is to watch him hit in non-Giants games. It was pretty craven to hope he was part of baseball's larger problem; he's a part of why we should watch baseball.
Pitcher to watch:
Chris Carpenter is back, and he hasn't given up a run yet. On Saturday, he faces Barry Zito. If you want to find something else on TV for Saturday night, go for it. Carpenter has only pitched about 40 innings over the last three seasons, but I have no illusions that the Giants will score more than two runs off him, offensive explosion against Atlanta notwithstanding.
Ryan Ludwick hits a home run this series. Dallas McPherson does not. Joel Pineiro continues to make progress on the reclamation trail. Ramon Ortiz does not.