You have the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols.  You bat him third in the order.  How do you make sure he gets the chance to drive in the most runs for your team?  If you’re Tony LaRussa, you bat the pitcher eighth.

In 2008, a Cardinal fan adopted the name “Pitchers Hit Eighth” for his blog site.  Nick had recently relocated north to Cubbyland and found himself losing track of his  hometown Cardinals. It was a bleak time in his life, having to live outside of the Cardinal television broadcast area.  So hoping to re-connect to Cardinal baseball, he first of all purchased a MLB.tv subscription. And then, to re-immerse himself in the Cardinal Way, he started up the Pitchers Hit Eighth website -- http://www.pitchershiteighth.com/.

After he found out that his site was to be featured this week at Sports Hot Corner, Nick said, “PH8 has certainly grown beyond my wildest dreams.  We have had the opportunity to interview Cardinal players, executives, and other assorted personalities for the site and the United Cardinals Bloggers podcast, which we help host in a rotation.  Add to that the interaction with other Cardinal bloggers and fans via assorted venues, and the site has given back to me far more than just being able to keep up with the team and stay attached to the national pastime.”

Soon, Nick brought on Josh and Andrew to help with the writing.  Josh was working with the   UCB and had his own blog.  Andrew was putting great ideas into 140 characters on Twitter.  Nick invited Andrew to “have a platform for 10 times the characters.”

Nick says of his writing team, “At the core, we're just fans - I still wish to learn much more about sabermetrics and statistical analysis, but more often than not, numbers go out the window and I convince myself of an irrational, purely fan-based obsession.  I have no doubt Josh and Andrew would say the same.  That's what it's all about, right?”  
 
Sports Hot Corner congratulates the writing team -- Nick, Josh, and Andrew at  Pitchers Hit Eighth  -- for being this week’s “Cardinal Blogger of the Week.”

You can find out more about Nick, Josh, and Andrew by checking out their bio page.

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Q&A with Nick:

- How did you arrive at naming your site “Pitchers Hit Eighth”?
It’s a play on Tony LaRussa’s decision to bat his pitchers in the eighth position in his hitting lineup.  At the time that the site started, the Cardinals struggled mightily to produce runs, and TLR was willing to try seemingly radical tactics to jostle the hitters.  We’ve got a manifesto of sorts posted at the site that explains further the theory behind the pitcher in the eighth spot.  The arrival of Matt Holliday has eliminated Tony’s use of the tactic, but we’re still going strong.

- Besides Stan Musial & Albert Pujols, who is your next favorite all-time Cardinal player?
I’m sure most would pull another name from Cardinal lore here, a sure-fire Hall of Famer or Cardinal lifer, but my answer is Scott Rolen.  I admired Scotty during the Philly years, before his arrival in St. Louis.  I have a special appreciation for the way he played/plays the game, his slick glove at third base, and his workmanlike approach to hitting and the game in general.  I’m obviously saddened at the way his tenure with the Redbirds ended, but I’m glad he has gotten on with his career serviceably despite the injury setbacks.  I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve got a home white Scott Rolen jersey, complete with the Busch III Inaugural Season patch from 2006, that I wear still proudly every summer.

- Being in the Chicagoland area, do you make it out to the games when the Cards-Cubs renew their rivalry every year at Wrigley Field?
I do.  It’s usually a great experience, since the Cardinals have won there more often than not.  I have plenty of friends who are Cubs fans, so we usually go together and engage in some good-natured ribbing.  Despite my allegiances team-wise, my appreciation for the game of baseball allows me to really enjoy that park.  I’m interested to see what the new owners have in store to fix the place up.

- Where do you see the Cards finishing in 2010? 
I expect them to win the division, but perhaps more importantly than that, if they do not make the playoffs in some form in 2010 the season should be considered a failure.  The division just isn’t strong enough to be an excuse for not winning another NL Central title or Wild Card.  As it seems is the case with the Cardinals every season, health of the team they take north from Jupiter will be the key.

- This could be the strongest, most balanced Cardinal club during the Tony LaRussa era. Is a 100 win season in the works?
Again, injuries will be the key.  While they employ a strong top of the pitching staff and a solid heart of the order, there are parts around them that must continue to improve for the Cardinals to be a 100-win team.  That said, their division is very weak – they should beat up on the teams in-division and have a strong advantage against the rest of the NL in that regard.

- Who do you see as the Cards biggest competitor in the NL Central in 2010?
Either the Cubs or the Cincinnati Reds.  Milwaukee just doesn’t have the pitching necessary to get it done, despite perhaps the best offense in the division.  Pittsburgh is well, Pittsburgh – and Houston might be worse than them.  The Cubs are really the wild card, in my opinion.  They still have the same talented players that they did in division winning seasons, but they are now older and recovering from various ailments.  If Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, et al can all put it together for a season, instead of missing time with injury or just otherwise declining skills, the Cubs could feasibly run away with the division.  Yes, I really believe that.  The Reds have a good young team--Walt Jocketty is at it again.  2010 may not be the year for them yet, but they won’t be easy to write off in future seasons.

- Jaime Garcia is making a strong run for the 5th starter’s spot. If he doesn’t win the spot, do you see him as a reliever, ala Adam Wainwright in 2006?
I sure hope not.  Garcia has been a starter his entire professional career, save for a few relief appearances in the bigs in 2008.  He is conditioned to be a starter, has a starter’s repertoire, a starter’s mindest, and is left-handed to boot.  Jaime has arguably been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the entire organization this spring, which would easily be enough to earn him the rotation spot were it not for the cloud of injury recovery hanging over his head.  I think he’s proven enough to enter the rotation right out of spring, but could understand if the team sent him to Memphis for the first month of the season to get him regular starts.  As I recall, the 5th slot only comes up twice during the month of April.  If the Cards jump to the top, I could see a scenario where they let someone else take those two starts while Garcia makes regular turns in Memphis.  The problem that creates is that Rich Hill doesn’t seem to be the guy to take those starts, and I believe Kyle McClellan is better served returning to his bullpen role.  So I guess in summary, I would like to see him in that fifth slot, whether out of camp or a month in – and I think it would be a horrible mistake to bring him to St. Louis in the bullpen.

- Who will be the first call up this season?
Tyler Greene.

- Do you think the “future” closer will come from within the organization or will we go the free agent/trade route?
I think the Cardinals have great options internally that will make a strong push for the job: Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Pete Parise, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Samuel, among others.  One thing to note with the Cardinals, and a Tony LaRussa team specifically, is that their closer doesn’t necessarily need to be a dominant strikeout guy.  Franklin succeeds on control and hitting spots, then letting his defense do the rest.  As we saw late last season, when his control faltered, so did his results.  If the Cards find a control freak somewhere in the minors without overpowering stuff, there could be a dark horse candidate involved.

- The Cardinal bench looks to be LaRue, Lugo, Lopez, Mather & Craig to begin the season. Do you see the Cardinals making a mid season trade to add a lefty power bat?
Hard to say.  Not sure where such a guy would fit in, other than just to hit.  They’ve got a guy in the minors that could be considered a left-handed power bat in Mark Hamilton, but he’s blocked by a certain current Cardinal first baseman.  John Mozeliak has apparently made comments about there being other teams in play for Allen Craig, so I guess I could see a situation where they maybe package Craig and Lugo for a lefty back-up first baseman/outfielder?  Then Greene comes up to fill the other infield role, or an extra pitcher, knowing Tony.  I’ve never been great at playing GM, but certainly they have options.  I might expect a trade for bullpen help first.

- Now that Joe Mauer has had his contract extended by the Twins, speculation is that Albert Pujols will be the next big name to have his contract extended. Your estimate on the length/value of Pujols new contract?
I think the 8 years Mauer got is a good jumping off point, the real question is whether or not Albert is going to push to approach or top Alex Rodriguez’s contract.  He certainly has performed well enough to be the highest paid player in MLB, but I don’t know if the Cards are prepared to make that deal.  You could make the argument that Mauer is worth more defensively, making him a closer comparison to Pujols than most would think, and he’s undoubtedly as important to the Twins franchise as Albert is to the Cards.  Wildly speculating here, I’ll say they come to an agreement somewhere around 8 years, $200mm.  The last two of those years may be mutual options with buy-outs, and we could see a good chunk deferred.

- There’s been some talk that Boston might trade/waive 3B Mike Lowell. Should the Cards make a move for him and if so, under what circumstances? Or should the Cards ride it out with David Freese, Felix Lopez, Joe Mather and/or Allen Craig?
Ah yes, the Boston throwaway gravy train.  I don’t know that I would trade for him without Boston picking up his contract a la Julio Lugo, but certainly if he’s free, it’s worth a look.  The question is how he will hit, and just as importantly, field his position.  He seems like an ideal candidate to move to first base or DH at this stage in his career, and the Cards obviously don’t have any at-bats for him at those positions.  Ultimately, any possible decision on Lowell will likely depend on how Freese and others are holding down the fort at third when the time comes.

- Your Top 10 Cardinal Prospects?
After this spring, I’d list them something like this:
Shelby Miller
Jaime Garcia
Jon Jay
Daryl Jones
Lance Lynn
Allen Craig
Robert Stock
Tyler Greene
Pete Parise
Daniel Descalso

- Your pre-season pick for the minor league hitter and pitcher of the year?
Robert Stock and Shelby Miller.

- Your minor league candidate to have a break out year?
Well, I hope Jaime Garcia breaks into the bigs full-time and makes an impact.  Within the minor leagues, I think (catcher) Bryan Anderson might have a bounce-back year with the bat after missing most of last season with injury.

- Have you ever made the trip down to Jupiter for a spring training visit? If so, any tips for first time visitors?
I have not, unfortunately, so if anyone has those first-time tips for me, I’m all ears!

- What would be your “dream” baseball road trip?
I’ve long wanted to just hop in a car and drive to a different game every day – cross country, east or west coast swing, whatever.  I enjoy seeing ballparks, and have had the good fortune to see quite a few in my travels – but I’d like to just take two weeks and go cruising baseball games.  Of course, the trip would begin and end at Busch III.

- Any future projects in the works at Pitchers Hit Eighth?
I’m actually posting a big compilation/groupthink prediction that is a collaboration of a number of NL Central bloggers and writers very soon (perhaps by the time these answers go up).  Josh and I are rapidly trying to finish our ill-fated 2009 Cardinal Player Grades before the new season starts.  We always try to take part in every United Cardinals Bloggers  project and any Baseball Bloggers Alliance projects that may come up as well.  I expect we’ll do some live blogs at the site again this season, as well as continuing our participation with the UCB Radio Hour podcast.  Other than those?  Always open to suggestions…

Thanks for the invitation to do this, it was a lot of fun.

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I’d like to thank Nick for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions and to congratulate him on becoming our Sports Hot Corner “Cardinals Blogger of the Week.”

If you want to nominate a “Cardinals Blogger of the Week,” please submit your choice to BleacherBum593, ArRedbird or Tulcard via a PM on the Sports Hot Corner site or send an email to BleacherBum593@aol.com.   

Check back every Friday to see which blogger is featured. Hopefully, you’ll make a connection with one or more of the men/women who write about Cardinal baseball. 

Previous featured Cardinals Blogger of the Week:
03/12/10 - Stan Musial's Stance - Link to article
03/05/10 – Chirp Chatter - Link to article
02/26/10 – Cards Cove - Link to article
02/19/10 - Cardinals Best News Links – Link to article
02/12/10 - C70 at the Bat - Link to article


"Build it and they will come"
Edited 6 times by ArRedbird Mar 26 10 11:36 AM.