Programming Note: CTB to become HardballTalk

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Remember how Philip Morris changed its name to Altria so people wouldn’t always be reminded of the fact that they sell things that give you cancer? And how ValueJet changed its name to AirTran so people wouldn’t always be reminded of all of those people who died in that crash?  And how Datsun changed its name to Nissan because, well, I’m not sure about why they did that one, but remember when it happened?

Well, we’re doing the opposite: we’re changing the name of this concern to foster some positive associations: some time this week we’ll be switching from Circling the Bases to HardballTalk.

I know there are a lot of people out there who hate change — I’m usually one of them — but we’re doing this for a couple of reasons. Most obviously — and I’m not going to b.s. you about it — is the branding thing. Our brother blog ProFootballTalk is one of the most popular and successful things going in sports media and we’d be nuts not to try and leach off of some of Florio’s redonkulous traffic.

Another reason: starting today the estimable Kurt Helin, late of Forum Blue and Gold joins the NBC Family to launch ProBasketballTalk (which I highly recommend that you start reading on a daily basis). By changing our name to HardballTalk we’re rocking the thematic consistency across the major sports.

Those of you who have read me for a long time have known me to snark about branding. And I’ll still snark at it because branding is kind of a silly concept on some level.  I mean, just because you give something a new name doesn’t change what it is.  This, however, is different.

Why? Because here the names flow from the concept, not vice-versa.  In launching CTB last April and bringing PFT over a month or two later, NBC really set out to change the way sports are done online.  On every other major media site the blogging and commentary takes backseat to the wire reports and the overpriced columnists and is buried in the mix.  Here the conversation — the “talk” if you will — is what leads.  Florio, Helin and all of the rest of us around here know that you’re big boys and girls and rather than have someone declare the news to you from on high, you can handle it being put out there and hashed through immediately. Which allows you to start hashing thorough it too, in as close to real time as possible.

Put differently, when Jon Heyman tells you something, he expects you to take his word for it. When I tell you something, I hope, and have come to expect, that you’ll tell me if I’m full of baloney within five minutes. If I am, I’ll rethink and then you will and then we’ll fight about it and then we’ll laugh about it and maybe we’ll all have learned a little bit or, at the very least wasted some time. It’s a conversation. We’re just talking here. About baseball. The name, in other words, fits.

If none of that convinces you just ask yourself: What’s “Circling the Bases?” It is nor hand nor foot nor arm nor face nor any other part belonging to a blog. That which we call CTB by any other name would smell as sweet.  The content isn’t changing. Just the name. And I think we can all deal with it.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

cardinals logo

The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.