On the doorstep

It’s just about time for the playoffs. To compare this year’s Cardinals team to the only other playoff team I’ve been on, the 2007 Rockies, the clubhouse is similar. The guys get along similarly and the chemistry is similar. I think this team has stronger pitching, but we had a lot going for us that year as far as momentum. We basically played playoff games for the last two weeks of the regular season and that prepared us to play well in the first couple of rounds.

But overall I think this team is better. It just all depends once you get to those rounds, though, because everybody is playing well and whichever teams execute the best will move on. So thats our job, to try and execute and play well so we can move on.

It takes another step up when you go from the regular season to the playoffs. Every pitch is so extremely important to the outcome of the game. You can just feel the intensity and the speed of the game at such a high rate because everyone knows the importance of it. The players are more rested because weve had a few off days and everybody has the adrenaline going. Its a very high level of baseball.

It can be hard to sleep the night before the playoffs start. You want to get some rest but you also want to get out there and play. It can make for a little bit of restlessness, but I think we will be ready and prepared to play.
As the playoffs get closer, you will feel the excitement for playoff baseball and the opportunity to win a championship.

Im sure the fans will be excited, as will we, to see the kind of enthusiasm and intensity that the crowd will bring. It will hopefully be a big advantage for us. 

On a roll

It’s a lot of fun to come to the park when things are going like this. As the season gets long, near the end, it makes the last month go by a lot faster when you’re playing for something and the team is playing well. I’ve been on teams where you’re just kind of playing it out, and that’s not a whole lot of fun. It seems to take forever.

So it’s nice to come to the park in the middle of September knowing that you’re playing for something bigger. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing, and hopefully end up where we want to end up.

I was on a team in 2007 that had a great run, when the Rockies came on strong at the end of the year. I think the parallel between that team and this one is that we’re finding ways to win. It’s not always the same way. It’s not always the same guys. It’s a team effort. Good starting pitching, timely hitting and good defense. That’s the recipe for putting together nice months, nice weeks of winning games. It’s different, but those are similar traits that the two teams have.

Speaking of the Rockies, I do still follow the them and how they’re doing. I enjoy seeing them succeed. I have some really good friends there, and it’s fun to watch them do well.

We’ve got three good teams coming to town on this homestand, and that’s probably a good thing. I think you can’t underestimate any team, because even when you play teams that aren’t doing so well in the standings, you’re going to run into good pitching. You’re going to run into good hitters. Every team in the Major Leagues has good players. But Atlanta, their pitching is probably as good as it gets in the National League, so it will be a challenge for us. And then Florida is also playing well, and obviously the Cubs are capable. So it will be a good test for us.

The magic number is getting smaller, but I think until you get to where you’re one or two games away, it’s hard to do the math of how things have to shake out and when and where it will happen. So until it happens, until you get a chance to actually be a day or two away from it, I don’t think many guys are really thinking about when or where we’re going to clinch.

Heading West

We’re going back to some familiar places for me this week, to Los Angeles and San Diego.

We actually played at Dodger Stadium in Interleague Play this year when I was with Oakland. The Dodgers obviously have a great team, so it’s going to be a challenge, but I tend to hit pretty well at Dodger Stadium. PETCO Park is a very pitcher-friendly park, so that will be a challenge for us hitters. It’s all about winning games and finding ways to win but it will be two nice cities to go to. It probably won’t be too hot — we should have some nice and cool weather. That’s always nice in August to go out to some cool weather, so that should be good.
 
My family is still living at the hotel for now, but we are probably going to move into an apartment complex where some of the other guys live when we get back off this road trip. It’s been good. It’s been easy to get over here since the hotel is by the stadium. We’re going to go ahead and put my five-year-old in school here and finish out the year and go from there.

My family went to the St. Louis Zoo, they’ve done a few things like that, but we’ve pretty much been spending most of our time here at the park or just hanging out. Albert has a guy who lent us a car so we’ve had a car.

The trade was probably harder for my wife than for me. My wife has pretty much done everything. For me, I just picked up and moved on but she has had to go to California and pack up the house and get all of our stuff sent places. So she had the hard part of that. She’s done a great job of getting us all situated and now were in a pretty good now, most everything is done, and were just enjoying our time here.

It’s been a lot of fun lately. Obviously winning games is the most important thing. I was playing well before the trade so it was perfect timing. I was comfortable swinging the bat since the first day I got here so everything was just perfect timing, both personally and professionally.

New team, new town

The day that I was traded, we were in New York after coming in from the West Coast. So I got up pretty late because it was still pretty early on the West Coast. I got a text from my agent that said that it was getting close, that I was close to being traded to the Cardinals and he would let me know. He was about to get on a plane.

Not long after that, I got a text from Billy Beane to call him. So I called Billy Beane, and he informed me that they had traded me to the Cardinals and somebody from the Cardinals would be getting in touch with me about the logistics of getting to Philly that night. I was in the lineup and they were going to try to get me there as quickly as possible.

So from there, I basically went and said goodbye to some of the guys from the A’s and talked to the clubbies about how I was going to get some of my stuff there. They set me up on a train. So we packed all of our stuff and took a cab over to the train station and got on the train. A little over an hour later, we were in Philly. A car picked us up, took me right to the stadium and took my family to the hotel. I went straight in, got dressed, met with the media a little bit, went out and took batting practice, came in, got changed and played the game. So it was a little bit hectic. There was a lot going on. It was a full day.

After that, we came home to St. Louis, and being here has been fun. We’ve played two tough opponents so far in the Dodgers and Astros. We played four tight games against the Dodgers and won three of them, so it’s been fun. It’s been fun to go out and play at Busch Stadium. It’s been pretty exciting.

The fan reaction has been great. You never expect that kind of reception, but it doesn’t surprise me. The fans here are very knowledgeable about baseball and very into the game. It’s a great atmosphere here. Even when I was an opponent, the atmosphere here was great. It could be a regular-season midweek game against the Rockies, and there was still a great buzz around the field. So it’s been everything I thought it would be and more.

There’s no quit in this team

The only time I’ve been involved in a game like our comeback against the Twins on Monday night was last July 4, Rockies against the Marlins. We were down 13-4 going into the bottom of the fourth inning and came back to win, 18-17, so that was pretty similar. We were down a lot early and just kept at it.

This team, all season, has fought to the end. We haven’t played the best, and we obviously haven’t won as many games as we thought we would, but I don’t think I’ve ever sense any quit. Even in games we’ve been beaten badly, we still play hard, and we’ve still been able to scratch out some runs late in the game.

That’s just the sign of guys really caring about their craft and playing the game hard the whole nine innings — and being very serious about their jobs. It’s easy, when you’re down 10 runs, to shut it down and kind of coast through the rest of the game and think about getting home. But we fought back, and we eventually got a great result.

As a group, everyone was just kind of, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ We were swinging the bats well, we were scoring a few runs here and there, we got their starter out after five innings, got to their bullpen, and kept getting runners on base. And before you know it, we’re right back in it, and then we’re ahead, and then we win the game.

Personally, any time you’re able to have a game like that (two homers, two doubles, six RBIs) and it helps the team win, it’s that much more gratifying. Had we lost yesterday, yeah, having a big day feels great, but at the same time, winning is the most important thing. It’s more fun when you have a game like that and you win.

The last time I did a new entry, it was before the All-Star break and I wasn’t quite sure what we’d do as a family. Our time together is so important, and that’s what made the break so nice this year. We did the Monterey Bay Aquarium the first day, the second day we did Six Flags in Vallejo, and the third day we did the pool and dinner.

The Six Flags in Vallejo was really cool. They have a lot of activities for kids and a lot of animals. They had a tiger show, and a lot of games and rides for the boys. We really enjoyed that. We spent pretty much the whole day there.

It’s somewhat rejuventaing to be with my family all day and just do whatever they want to do, and just play with them. You don’t get to spend the whole day with them much during the season, except on the off days, and as fathers and husbands it’s good to take the focus off yourself. Everybody’s usually making plans around the game and what you do, so when you get some time off, you try to be the last thought of the family and do what everybody else wants to do. 

Of course I’ve been getting asked about the trade deadline a lot, but it’s one of those things — for me, at least — where the more energy I expend thinking or worrying about things like that, the less time and energy I can apply to other areas of my life. So I try to keep it simple and just come to the ballpark, play hard, then go home and be the best dad and husband I can be. As a family, we’ve just decided to enjoy every day we have and just enjoy each other and enjoy the time we spend together, whether something happens or it doesn’t.

–Matt

Staying away from trade talk

I’ve been asked about the possibility of being traded and whether I’m aware of whatever talk is going on out there about me, but I really try to avoid it.

I don’t really read the internet or newspapers, because that’s one of those things you can’t really control, so it doesn’t do any good to try to figure out what’s going on. I just try to stay in my little box, come to the field, try to play well, go home and spend time with my family.

As you know, the Rockies were in town recently, and it was good to see a lot of my former teammates. It’s been long enough since I’ve been out of Colorado, so  it wasn’t really that weird — probably because we played them at Spring Training — and it was good to spend some time with them.

They’re playing really well, and it’s fun to watch them play, but obviously I’d have rather we won all three games than lost all three.

What they’ve been doing is obviously impressive, and it does remind me a little bit of the run we went on in Colorado a couple years ago. Back then it was to get to the playoffs and during the playoffs, and they still have their work cut out for them to make it into the playoffs this year, but just to win like that against the competition we face here in the Major Leagues, day in and day out, it’s impressive.

To win that many games in a short period of time, you have to have different guys coming through every night, and that’s what we had going back then. 

I really do think this A’s team could do something like that, because we have a plenty of talent here. But obviously we can’t dig ourselves too big of a hole. In 2007 we just kind of hung around and hung around, then we started playing well in the second half, and then at the end we couldn’t be beat. We have to stay within reaching distance if we want to do something like that here.

I hope it does happen here, too, because it’s fun going to the ballpark expecting to win, and you never know how it’s going to happen. I think that’s a big part of what makes it do fun. It’s different guys in different situations, just finding ways to win, You can’t rely on one or two guys for a 30-game stretch, so when something like that happens, you know everybody on the team has played a role in it and feels a big part of it.

Obviously we don’t know anything about the All-Star teams right now, but I know we finish the first half in Tampa Bay, which isn’t necessarily the greatest place to be when the break starts if you live on the West Coast. I don’t have any real plans yet, but we might go down to Monterey and take the boys to the aquarium down there. We’ll probably stay in the area and just hang out around here and try to rest a little bit. Just be low-key and try to get ready for the second half.

–Matt

On the road again …

Playing the Giants was kind of a weird “road trip.” Everyone gets to sleep in their own beds, and it’s such a short drive over to San Francisco that it doesn’t feel like you’re on the road at all — except when you’re out in the field. 

They don’t seem to like me too much out there in left field. Not a lot of nice things being said. A few nice things, but not many. More heckling than anything. But I don’t think it’s personal or anything. I have a feeling they treat anyone from an opposing team the same way out there.

Coming back to all play in all these National League West ballparks that I’ve played in so many times with the Rockies — AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego — has been pretty interesting. There’s a certain level of comfort in being familiar with the field and the stadium, as well as with some of the pitchers. It’s not so comforting when you face the some of the better pitchers, but it’s definitely nice to play in some familiar places.

As for the cities themselves, it’s not that different for me than being somewhere I haven’t spent a lot of time before. I just don’t get out much, no matter where I am. I’m a homebody — at home and on the road. I hardly ever leave the hotel when we’re out on the road.

Being on the road, I think, is good for a team in terms of getting together and spending some time with each other away from the field. When we’re at home, everyone kind of goes their separate ways, but we’ve already have a couple of team-type dinners on the road this year, with quite a few guys. It seems like our schedule has been kind of weird so far this year, though, so there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities for stuff like that.

Overall, I think we’re coming together pretty well. The more time you spend together, the more you get to know each other, and that can only help you as a team. But the fact that we’ve had so many injuries, with guys going in and out, and guys from the Minors going up and down, it takes a little time. The guys are starting to come together and make some friendships, though.
 
I don’t know if that’s the reason we’ve been playing pretty well in June, but it can’t hurt. I do know we’re doing a better job with situational hitting, and that definitely helps. Batting averages don’t always tell the whole story, because if you’ve got a runner at second and you ground out to second base to move the guy over, you’re 0-for-1 and your average goes down. But you helped the team, and that’s good baseball. We’re doing more of that lately, for sure.
The pitching has been good, too. That’s a big part of it.

–Matt

Bright future for young rotation

Our starting rotation has been pitching really well lately, and it’s pretty amazing how young they are. It’s hard for me to imagine, especially at 21.

I was 24 when I got to the big leagues, and all five of these guys — Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson are 21, Vin Mazzaro is 22, Josh Outman is 24, and Dallas Braden is 25 – got to the big leagues before they were that old.

And as solid as they’ve been, they’re only going to get better, because you can see that the talent is there. Consistency is probably the next thing for them, but they’ve been impressive so far and they’ve got a bright future.

The thing for them is going to consistently figure out how to go out there every day and prepare to perform and know what it takes to go out there and get the job done every five days, to find that routine between starts that allows them to go out there and feel confident.

Maybe you’re not going to have your best stuff every time, so for them to find ways to get outs when they don’t have their best stuff, things like that are going to be important. I know that for me, once I found a routine and started going out there with the proper mind-set, I found that consistency.

It’s tough for position players to help a starting pitcher because we’re not around them a whole lot when they’re doing their work, but it can be done to a certain extent, especially the guys who are on the infield, like Jason Giambi. He can go out there when maybe they’re losing their command a little bit or maybe look like they’re trying a little bit too hard. It’s easier for an infielder to say something, but we can all kind of make sure they’re putting in their time and doing the things they need to do. That’s part of being a veteran, and if I can help, I will.

The best way I can help them is to produce where I can. I’d like to provide that for all of our pitchers, especially early in the game because that might allow them to relax a little bit and let them settle in and get them through another two or three innings. it’s important to score runs for young pitchers to give them a little breathing room.

The future’s really bright for these guys. You look at them, and they’re all a little bit different in their styles, which is good. Three of them are left-handed, but there’s a variety there in how they do what they do, and it’s a nice mixture — two righties and three lefties, all with high-end talent.

It should be fun to watch.

–Matt 

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