We've talked of the Mets ad nauseum this year, and leading up to their clash with the Cardinals in the NLCS there is a limit to how much new there is to say about our favorite team. To get an idea of what's going on in the mind of the Cardinals' fan I enlisted the services of Larry Borowsky of Viva El Birdos to take part in a quick Q&A about the boys in red.
Eric Simon: Why does Tony La Russa insist on starting Preston Wilson over Chris Duncan, even against righties? Duncan tore the cover off of the ball for much of the season and Wilson isn't appreciably above replacement level at anything. What gives, and will this trend continue into the LCS?
Larry Borowsky: Duncan's the everyday starter vs RHP. He did sit against Woody Williams in the clinching game of the NLDS, but that was an anomaly -- Williams has a longstanding reverse split (he's tougher on lefties than righties), so La Russa sat the left-swinging Duncan in favor of Wilson, who bats right. Duncan will start against Trachsel, Maine and El Duque (if he's healthy); Wilson will presumably go against Glavine and Oliver Perez (if he pitches). Scott Spiezio and (god forbid) So Taguchi also may get playing time vs LHP.
Eric: What is David Eckstein's most distinguishing characteristic as a ballplayer: his scrappiness, his hustle, or his can-do attitude?
Larry: Hah -- that's an amusing question. Eckstein surprised a lot of us Cardinal fans in 2005 by displaying some actual ball-playing ability -- posted a more than respectable (for a SS) .758 OPS last year and came up huge in the clutch, ranking among the league leaders in avg/RISP. He played just as well through the first ~70 games of 2006 -- .761 OPS as of June 15 -- when he suffered a concussion at Pittsburgh. He took 3 days off but didn't come back the same player, put up a sub-.600 OPS for the next six weeks and finally went back on the DL with a strained oblique. He had just 23 AB after his return but socked a homer and 4 doubles, which leaves some of us hopeful that the pre-concussion Eckstein is back. The kid's really more than a no-talent scrapper; he can actually play if he's healthy.
Eric: Everyone keeps saying that opposing teams should just walk Pujols and take their chances with the guys hitting around him (Edmonds, Rolen, etc.). What's your take?
Larry: I would avoid pitching to him whenever possible and make the other guys beat me. Teams do pitch to him sometimes because, unlike a lot of great hitters, Albert will expand his strike zone in key at-bats --- he wants to be THE guy in those situations, doesn't want to take a walk. A pitcher with great control (like Glavine, say) can exploit that trait and induce Pujols to get himself out on pitches just outside the zone. Chris Young did just that in Game 3.
Eric: The Cardinals have the best position player and best starting pitcher in this series, but aside from them, what are the real keys for St. Louis if they want to move on to their second World Series appearance in three years?
Larry: Mainly two things. First: The Cards have struggled to hit left-handed pitching all season. With Glavine and possibly Perez, the Mets are well equipped to exploit that weakness. If they're successful, St. Louis is toast. So one key for the Cards is to put up some runs vs the Mets' lefties.
Second: The Cardinal bullpen has been a mess all year, but Isringhausen's injury left La Russa with no choice but to improvise. It took him a while to sort through his choices, and as he did so the relievers blew a bunch of late leads; they took 5 losses during the Cardinals' 7-game losing streak in late September. Tony finally committed to 3 rookies as his late-inning guys: Josh Kinney and Tyler Johnson as set-up men (they have a combined career total of 60 innings pitched) and Adam Wainwright as the closer. These guys pitched beautifully vs the Pads; they'll have to keep it vs NYM up for the Cards to have a chance. Should be interesting to see how these kids fare vs a better lineup in front of a rabid Shea crowd. By the way, you'll be sorry to hear that Braden Looper no longer gets called into games that the Cardinals are leading; he's mainly on the roster to provide bulk innings.
I could list some other keys, but they're pretty boilerplate -- neutralize the Mets' running game, keep the DP in order, play airtight defense, win the HR battle, take patient at-bats . . . yadda yadda. In reality, it comes down to how you started the question: The Cards aren't going anywhere unless Pujols and Carpenter come up big. If that happens -- AND a bunch of other stuff goes right for us -- we could beat you.
Eric: Who is your favorite all-time Cardinal, and is there a story behind the choice?
Larry: I couldn't name you one, honestly. Lou Brock was my favorite in childhood (that tells you what a geezer I am); in the 1980s I admired Pendleton and McGee for their heads-up D and clutch play. On this team, who else? Carp and Pujols.
Eric: Thanks for taking the time, Larry. Good luck to you and your redbirds.
UPDATE: I answered five questions for Larry about the Mets, which you can read here.