Major League Baseball | National Football League | St. Louis Cardinals

Rams-Packers Musings, Wong’s Arrival and More Quick Hits

Boy, what a week in sports…

Jo-Lonn Dunbar is suspended by the NFL for failing a PED test. It’s great to see the Rams be ahead of the curve in signing a guy like Will Witherspoon. Here’s hoping Alec Ogletree can figure out his new position by Sept. 8.

There are three things I’m looking for in the Rams’ preseason game with Green Bay, including how Joe Barksdale hold up against the Packers’ pass rush. He was great on the left side in last year’s regular season. Can he do the same on the right side? How will Ogletree do against Jermichael Finley, who Aaron Rodgers says is having a “phenomenal” camp? And will we get to see Tavon Austin return a punt? He is an electrifying player to watch in practice.

Please be realistic about the preseason. Jeff Fisher and his staff are saving all of their good stuff for the regular season. As Sam Bradford said, “I am very confident that those two are going to touch the ball plenty. So, it would be nice to get them some touches in the preseason just so they can get used to it, but I think they’re going to get their fair share of balls in the season.”

MLB managers will get a challenge during the first six innings and two more the rest of the game starting next year. This makes so much sense. I bet three challenges in a game will never be legitimately used (we may see some ridiculously used to give a reliever more time to warm up). I’m pleasantly surprised that Bud Selig and Joe Torre went for it – but it’s great for baseball. Wish we would have had this in 1985.

Matt Carpenter is 12 for his last 23. He’s worked through the dog days of August and is back on his perch as the best leadoff hitter in the National League.

Left fielder Alfonso Soriano of the Yankees has 14 RBIs in his last three games. Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday has one month this season – April – with more than 14 RBIs. Josh Hamilton of the Angels also has one month – July – with as many as 14 RBIs. Same with Justin Upton of Atlanta. The Yankees wanted a run producer – and they got one in Soriano.

If the Cardinals do wind up winning the NL Central, we’ll probably look back on this week, and to me Thursday’s comeback from a 4-0 deficit for a 6-5, 12-inning win, as a watershed point. There’s such a long way to go, and we never know what September will bring. But this club appeared dead in the water after Lance Lynn game up four runs in the fifth. To come back with five in the bottom of the inning was huge. I compare it, on a lesser scale, to the Saturday afternoon in late September of 2011 when Ryan Theriot drew a two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded walk from Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, and then Marmol threw a wild pitch to give the Cardinals a dramatic 2-1 win.

The addition of Kolten Wong should foreshadow a benching of David Freese. An all-time Cardinal hero, bigger than Darrell Porter, Willie McGee and David Eckstein in World Series lore, Freese has simply had a terrible year. He’s hitting .268 with six homers and 43 RBIs, along with a lowly .731 OPS. His .386 slugging percentage is eighth among National League third basemen, behind Martin Prado and Michael Young. He has only two homers in 103 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, which is what he should specialize in. Last year Freese hit 20 homers, and five of them came in his 137 plate appearances against lefties. The Cardinals may not enhance their home run power, but Wong is a guy with the capability to hit lots of doubles, and he runs better than Freese. Matt Carpenter is an excellent third baseman, so I’d expect he’d move back over there.

If I were Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist, I’d start Michael Wacha over Jake Westbrook. In 11 games covering 64 innings since returning from injury, Westbrook has allowed 72 hits and 40 earned runs, going 5-6 with a 5.62 ERA. He has 21 strikeouts, and 24 walks. Those numbers are even worse since the All-Star break, including 28 innings in which he has allowed 38 hits and 23 earned runs, a 7.39 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 13 walks. Wacha can’t be worse than that.

In six road starts since returning from his injury, Westbrook has delivered one quality start. In those games, the Cardinals are 1-5, and Westbrook has a 7.03 ERA.

Who are you rooting for in the Pittsburgh-Arizona series this weekend?  The Pirates lead the Cardinals by two in the National League Central, but the Cardinals are 6.5 up on Arizona in the Wild Card. If the Cardinals stumble, is it worse to fall further behind Pittsburgh, or risk a wild-card spot? This is what we call a quandary.

The Reds are at Milwaukee this weekend. Cincinnati may be the biggest threat in the Central. They’re now a half-game behind the Cardinals, and 2 1/2 out of the lead. Since losing two out of three to the Cardinals, the Reds have won eight of nine.

This will be a sea-change weekend in TV sports. I’m intrigued by what Fox is doing with FoxSports 1. We’re all going to be better served with alternatives. I hope you enjoy it.