Monday, October 17, 2005

"It's just not our year"

Those are the exact words that my dad uttered last night after I called him to bitch about Jim Edmonds getting thrown out of a one run playoff game in the eighth inning, on a completely ridiculus call no less. I don’t think he had any idea that he had summed up my thoughts on the collective seasons of the teams that I follow with the most passion and have followed the longest, respectively. As anybody who reads this space with any regularity can guess, I’m referring to the Florida Gators and the St. Louis Cardinals. It was not a good weekend for either team.

The Cardinals have simply run into a seemingly endless barrage of injuries that has wreaked havoc on their lineup. This team was banged up coming into the playoffs and it’s only gotten worse as Reggie Sanders and Abraham Nunez’s injuries have not only come at inopportune times but also resulted in some key defensive errors. While those injuries have really hurt St. Louis, it is a couple of injuries that occurred during the regular season which have cost the Cardinals most dearly in this NLCS. I am referring to the injuries of Scott Rolen and Larry Walker. When both of these guys were healthy, the St. Louis lineup had Walker batting second and Rolen protecting Albert Pujols from the cleanup slot. Walker was the perfect #2 hitter because he does such a great job of making contact, taking pitches and generally just doing the little things that make a pitcher work. All of these things allow Pujols to come to the plate with a chance to make a difference with guys on base. On the flip side, Rolen kept pitchers honest in the #4 slot. When a team did decide to pitch around Pujols, Rolen often did a great job of making teams pay for this strategy. With Walker ailing and Rolen out, St. Louis was forced to re-work it’s lineup by placing Jim Edmonds in the #2 hole. Edmonds is NOT a natural #2 hitter. He strikes out far too much for that (over 150 times this year) and the results have been obvious during this NLCS. Edmonds has been retired to end the inning on at least four separate occasions with men on base during this series. Naturally, this has resulted in the Astros being able to pitch to the most dangerous hitter in baseball with the bases empty for much of these past four games. Furthermore, while Reggie Sanders has done a fantastic job in the cleanup spot for much of the playoffs, he is not the contact hitter that Rolen is and that has allowed opposing pitchers to be a little more careful with Pujols, thus further limiting his effectiveness.

The Cardinals have gotten very solid pitching from their starters and the bullpen has even managed to play well for the most part. The problem for St. Louis (other than Game 1) has been an inability to get a hit or two with runners in scoring position. In my opinion this can all be traced back to the health (or lack thereof) of Walker and Rolen. Add to that some key breaks that haven’t gone the Cardinals’ way, and it’s easy to see how St. Louis is down 3-1 and staring elimination in the face this evening in Houston. I won’t say I’ve lost all hope for a comeback but I did lose an awful lot of it when the Cards had Pujols and Walker on third and first, respectively, with nobody out and never even came close to scoring the tying run. You’re only going to get so many chances like that against Brad Lidge, if you don’t capitalize on them then you’re not going to beat the Astros very often. It’s tough to think that the Cardinals are going to fall short once again but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

As for the Florida Gators, I only wish that I could pinpoint one specific problem for a team that is quickly becoming the most frustrating that I’ve ever witnessed in all my years of watching Florida Football. I’m going to do a mid-season report card for the Gators later on this week so I won’t delve too deeply into the topic at hand. However, I will say that the offensive line is among the most disorganized that I’ve ever witnessed. This includes the 2001 edition which was so bad that it nearly ended Rex Grossman’s junior season on three separate occasions. All the blame cannot go to the big uglies though, as the defensive secondary, wide receivers, coaching and quarterback play have all been below par up to this point in the season. Florida goes into their bye week this week with a full list of things to improve on and a fan base whose gripes are increasing at an alarming rate. Urban Meyer wanted to coach at a big time program like Florida and in a big time conference like the SEC. Be careful what you wish for.

I’ve already written more than I really have time for today but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the USC-Notre Dame classic. I can’t recall a more exciting, high profile game since, maybe, the FSU-Notre Dame game in 1993. Great atmosphere from the opening kickoff until the final seconds when Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart into the endzone for the winning score. The action was so constant that I had the game going on my second TV constantly as I flipped back on forth between the Gator and Cardinal games. There was just too much action in the USC-Notre Dame game to risk missing out on something during the flips between channels. Here are a few of my thoughts regarding the game that will be saved on my Tivo for at least the next six months:

- I had not been on board the Reggie Bush for Heisman bandwagon up until Saturday. I agreed that he was the best player in the country, but I also felt like he didn’t see the ball enough to be considered a dominant presence the way a running back has to be to win the Heisman. Of course, I’m really damn stupid. Not only is he a dominant presence like few before him but he is also the guy that USC relies on whenever they need a big play. If USC wins out then he is guaranteed a Heisman. Vince Young will finish a distant second.

- Matt Leinart did not play very well. In fact, he looked downright shaky at moments. All of that was forgotten when he audibled into a new play on fourth and eight and threw a perfect strike to Dwayne Jarrett for a first down and a bunch more. Kudos to Jarrett as well for catching that ball after having an uncharacteristically tough day holding onto the ball.

- We should have all seen the green jerseys coming. It all made perfect sense. Undefeated defending National Champs coming to town. First big time home game of the Charlie Wies era. Alumni, student and fan excitement renewed over the “awakening of the echoes”. How did I (or anyone else for that matter) not predict green jerseys by Wednesday of last week?

- Tom Zbikowski’s punt return was electric. It was at that moment when I first realized that we were in for something truly special. I had wondered why the Irish had a safety returning punts all year long. That’s why I don’t coach football.

- How in the hell did none of the announcers not notice the ball flying out of Leinart’s hands as he dove for the goal line? It seemed pretty obvious to me while watching that the ball was dislodged right as Leinart came in contact with the second defender.

- USC may have won, but the decision to QB sneak was awfully stupid. Sure, it worked out but there is NO WAY that you should call a run play with seven seconds left in the game and no timeouts. If Reggie Bush doesn’t will his team (or cheat) to a victory then Pete Carroll (and Pete Carroll alone) is being lambasted for single handedly ending the longest win streak in college football.


CFunk28 said...

If LaRussa is on the bench in the 9th does he call the contact play with Pujols on 3rd? If he doesn't run on that play Ensberg doesn't have a shot at Walker at 2nd. So you'd at worst have 2nd and 3rd w/ one out, maybe even bases loaded if Sanders beats the throw to 1st.

As far as the horrible announcers during the ND/USC game, its NBC. But that has been an ongoing trend this year in college football. I yell at announcers regularly about plays they miss.

Zybikowski's (?) punt return was awesome, but what was he doing playing so shallow on the 4th down pass to Jarrett? I'm sure ND wanted to end it there, but you have to guard against the big play there as well.

TJ said...

You owe Mr. Pujols big time...