Know what’s even better than a red-hot Matt Adams, Allen Craig’s rising batting average or a bullpen that doesn’t cause fans to reach for Tums?
The Cards are finally playing like many expected they would back in spring training. The starting pitching has been unwavering since Day 1, but now the offense is coming around – thanks in large part to Adams, who must have helped some of the baseball gods lower the deductibles on their car insurance while he was on the DL because the dude’s on fire. Like 6-for-15 with three home runs, a triple and six RBIs on fire.
The key to the Cards’ recent success, though, is that they’ve finally found traction after it’s eluded them for much of the season. Some will cite the recent sweep of the Nationals as the potential turning point in the season, but you have to go back one week ago in Toronto to find when this team truly started to pivot. That’s when the Cardinals had lost seven of its previous nine games only to find a way to take two-of-three against a then scorching-hot Blue Jays squad. The pitching in that series was once again the catalyst, but the Cards had a different feel to them that weekend and, thankfully, they returned to St. Louis carrying that same mojo.
This past series against Washington was one of the Cards’ most complete efforts of the season. The pitching was excellent, the defense was the best we’ve seen all year and yes, the power finally made an appearance as well. Realizing that they now have honest-to-goodness momentum (which includes a victory over the Mets on Monday night), we’ll see if this team can continue to ascend.
+ What I loved most about Adams’ three home runs over the weekend is that he took a similar swing in all three plate appearances and yet, hit three different pitches. The home run he hit off Jordan Zimmermann on Friday night was a mistake changeup over the plate. The one he hit on Saturday off Stephen Strasburg was a fastball that caught the plate, but it wasn’t a bad pitch seeing as how it was down. The one he hit on Sunday was also a mistake by Doug Fister, whose cutter cut too much of the plate as well. In all three instances, Adams kept his weight and hands back, got full extension through the zone and barreled up each pitch. This is an easy statement to make after the guy just launched three home runs, but Adams looks locked in and his approach is fundamentally sound.
+ For over a decade, some fans have been turned off by the current NBA game and its “me-first” approach. And yet the Spurs, winners of their fifth title since 1999, are the most selfless, fundamentally sound team in the league – and I still don’t think they get their due. Consider this: They’ve never had a “dream team” offseason. They’ve always resisted splashy free-agent signings, and they’ve avoided roster-shaking trades that could affect team chemistry. Under Gregg Popovich, the whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts, and this past year’s team may have been the best squad we’ve seen in San Antonio. The ball movement the Spurs displayed throughout the postseason was remarkable, and the team’s depth was obviously too much for the Heat to handle. Every player who stepped on the court was a legitimate scoring threat, and that was some of the most seamless basketball I’ve seen in quite a while. But like most Spurs teams, they’ll fade as the attention turns to LeBron James’ next decision and Carmelo Anthony’s future home. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more underappreciated franchise in the past 15 years.
+ I’ve never had a problem with LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland in pursuit of a title. The guy wanted to make yearly runs at championships and saw an opportunity, so he pounced. Some will punish him for that choice until he finally decides to hang ’em up, which is unfortunate because those people are missing out on one of the best athletes we’ve seen come along in the past few decades. That said, I find it ironic that he escaped Cleveland, in part, because he didn’t want to bear the brunt of having to win on his own. And yet there he was, in this year’s NBA Finals, trying to win by himself. Dwyane Wade was a shell of his former self, Mario Chalmers was a corpse posing as a professional basketball player and while Chris Bosh has carved out a nice role for himself in Miami, he’s not a consistent difference-maker. In retrospect, the Heat didn’t have much of a chance to beat this year’s version of the Spurs. But had they found a way, I’m willing to bet we would have seen LeBron’s greatest efforts to date.
+ Here’s the scary part for the Blues now that the Kings have hoisted their second Cup in three years: L.A. is built for the long haul. Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Slava Voynov and Mike Richards are all signed for at least the next five seasons. Anze Kopitar is also signed for two more years, while Justin Williams, Alec Martinez and Jarret Stoll are all under contract through next season. While the Kings could lose Marian Gaborik, they won’t miss a beat because GM Dean Lombardi won’t allow the organization to get complacent. He has a knack for not only drafting well, but also inserting guys like Gaborik into the locker room without affecting team chemistry. The Blues are just going to have to learn how to beat the Kings (and the Hawks, for that matter, because Chicago isn’t going anywhere, either) in their present state.
+ It’s unfathomable to think about the Pittsburgh Steelers being anything less than a model franchise. But before Chuck Noll, they were a rudderless ship without a captain. The team made the playoffs just once before Noll’s arrival in 1969 and had just seven winning seasons in 34 years. There were no regular playoff appearances, no Super Bowl victories and no “Steel Curtains.” Noll changed all of that. He passed away last week at the age of 82 and remains the only head coach to win four career Super Bowls. He was at the helm of one of the most dominant six-year periods in NFL history and embodied what it meant to be a hard-nosed coach. It’s because of Noll and the Rooney family that we now view the Steelers as one of the most respected organizations in football.
+ Finally, Tony Gwynn was one of the best pure hitters I’ve ever watched. His plate approach was simple and flawless. He used the entire field better than most hitters in his era, and it was amazing to watch him wait until the ball entered the zone before he swung. He also had to be one of the more patient hitters I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t imagine what pitchers went through mentally in efforts to get him out. What made him even more special is that he posted video game numbers in the steroid era, presumably without taking performance-enhancers himself. RIP, Tony Gwynn. You were one of the players from a generation that made baseball pure.