The greatest comedian on the planet, Dane Cook, said it best: There's only ONE Octoooober!
Okay, yes I know, I'm wrong. It's the greatest comedian in the galaxy.
Lame attempts at jokes aside, I'm just trying to cliche about staying loose amidst the approaching tension of the first-ever, winner-take-all Wild Card game between the Braves and the Cards. Because after today, the season is over, just like that! Crazy how things work out.
Anyway, I took a little bit of time after the Cardinals clinched their spot as the Braves' opponents in the Wild Card game, to get in touch with Dan Moore, the manager of Viva El Birdos, to do a friendly Q&A with the upcoming opposition. He graciously took the time to answer five questions for me, to which I express my gratitude for, so much thanks Dan. I tried my best to answer a few questions for him as well, which he'll hopefully post over at VEB.
1. Pete Kozma - is he for real? Thrust into duty after the unfortunate elbow injury to Rafael Furcal, Kozma obliterated the opposition since arriving on August 31st. He's been an extra-base hitting machine, and has looked very impressive in just over one entire calendar month. Is he the real deal, or has he been really lucky (possibly indicative by .420 BABIP)?
Kozma could not be any less real if he were turned into gold by an alchemist. He was among the worst hitters in the PCL this year, and he was even worse the year before that. He is a legitimately above-average shortstop, with a great arm and good range, but his success with the bat is unfathomable.
(One post-success rationalization floated on occasion, on VEB and elsewhere-his minor league BAbip has been remarkably low, .250-ish, even though the PCL's BAbip is up around .330. For a fast guy who hits his share of doubles and home runs that's strange, but I'm not sure I'm willing to bet many at-bats on it.)
2. Kozma aside, the Cardinals lineup is stacked with talented hitters, with many of them enjoying excellent slash lines on the season as a whole, as well as some hot Septembers. Which player(s) should Braves fans keep their eye out on as potentially the biggest troublemakers? Will it be playoff-tested veterans like Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, the damage dealers of last year's playoffs in David Freese and Allen Craig, or should we just chalk it up and just say the seemingly-always-clutch Yadier Molina?
In one game, of course, you might as well worry about Pete Kozma. But Yadier Molina and Allen Craig are probably the hitters to watch out for; Molina's in the middle of a very surprising Brian McCann-style season, and Craig (we call him "Wrench") hasn't looked any worse for taking Lance Berkman's full-time job.
Beltran's had a weird second half and Holliday has looked less-than-healthy over the last few weeks, but when you can slump your way to an OPS+ around 130 you're probably still worth the pitcher's caution.
3. According to MLB, Mike Matheny has named Kyle Lohse to start the one-game playoff. Despite Lohse's impressive traditional lines throughout 2012, he's a guy not often favored by the statgeek crowd, due to his low strikeout rates and sub-90s fastball. Whereas Lance Lynn is riding a hot September where his K/BB has been over five, he's been striking out over 10 per nine, and Friday would put him on normal rest. Do you think Matheny has made the right call? If not, who does VEB think should be starting?
Predictably, I (and most of VEB, I think) would have preferred Adam Wainwright, who's looked like an average pitcher this year but put up peripherals that are difficult to distinguish from his pre-elbow-surgery years. Lynn was always a non-starter; he's been great this year, but in the course of losing his starting job in August he developed a reputation as an unpredictable youngster with first-inning problems.
Lohse has been really good, if not as great as 16-3 looks, so I'm not crushed by Matheny's move. But I think it was the wrong one.
4. For the second year in a row, the Cardinals have arrived to the party last, and once again, the last hurdle to the NLDS is the Braves. It worked out pretty good for the team last year, but this time, the Cards will have to deal with the Braves personally. What's the general consensus on the Cardinals' overall playoff chances this year? Does the populous generally feel that this is a more or less-talented team than the championship squad from a year ago?
This is a very weird team, and the Cardinals have been on a very strange run over the last decade or so, so it's hard to say. The two best teams since the Cardinals started competing yearly in 2000 were easily the 2004 and 2005 Cardinals; the worst one won the World Series in 2006.
These last two teams seem pretty equally matched to me. The 2011 team finished with a better record, and was, by October, very different from the one that played the first half. The 2012 team has a better run differential, but it's also going into the postseason with Pete Kozma as its starting shortstop.
5. And of course, we can't not address this little spark: Adam Wainwright made a presumptuous statement a week ago that Braves Country generally felt was quite bold, along the lines of how celebrations should be held off until when the Cardinals defeated the Braves. How do Cardinals fans generally feel about this kind of remark? Anyone superstitious and wish he hadn't said it, concerned about igniting a fire, or do Cards fans just not really care?
I had no idea this happened, which is probably representative of the splash it made in St. Louis. The way you've worded it makes it sound pretty innocuous, but in general that kind of locker-room-material exchange doesn't appeal to me no matter who's doing it. Last year the Cardinals dealt with a very particular version, in which Nyjer Morgan called Albert Pujols "Alberta," declared the Cardinals eliminated, and demonstrated himself to be illiterate.
Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!— Nyjer Morgan - T Dot (@TheRealTPlush) September 8, 2011
But it didn't really become a story until after the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the NLCS; it's been retweeted ever since. (I asked for the URL on Twitter, so I could include it in this Q&A, and I got three responses from Cardinals fans who had it bookmarked in the first five minutes.)
Once again, I want to thank Dan Moore for taking the time to answer these questions for myself and inquiring Braves fans everywhere. VEB runs a pretty fine community in their own right, I'll gladly add. May the best team win tonight!