Not satisfied with the current product, the Cardinals are trying to change center fielder Colby Rasmus

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A follow-up to this post can be found right HERE.

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The drama continues between the Cardinals’ coaching staff and young outfielder Colby Rasmus.

It was only six months ago that the now 24-year-old Rasmus requested a trade away from St. Louis because of a tarnished relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.  And it was only three months ago that Albert Pujols said the organization should “figure out a way to get him out of here.”

Colby didn’t feel that he was being treated like an everyday player and didn’t agree with La Russa’s philosophies on hitting.  Rasmus views himself as a power hitter — a 30-homer guy who just happens to steal bases.  La Russa, meanwhile, has preached that Rasmus try to become a more gap-to-gap type of batter and to use his legs to produce runs.

La Russa is apparently driving home that philosophy this winter with the help of an offseason program designed by Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire.  It calls for Rasmus to slim down, to stay off the weights, and to work on his quick-twitch leg muscles.

Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation Blog gathered a couple of revealing comments on the program Thursday from Tony Rasmus, father of Colby and highly successful high school baseball coach in Alabama:

“Colby has been working on spraying the ball around the field this offseason via the Big Mac approach. Hasn’t been lifting since the plan is to be a slap hitter so there is no need for the added muscle. The goal I hear is to hit .300 and hit more ground balls and line drives the other way.”

While it’s odd to discourage any young hitter from trying to drive the ball deep, Rasmus has struggled with high strikeout numbers and has posted some rather alarming flyball rates in his first two major league seasons.  In 2010, he had the 11th-highest flyball percentage in the game, lofting batted balls 48.6% of the time.  McGwire and La Russa are probably thinking that a more contact-minded approach at the plate will help Rasmus become a better all-around hitter.

Of course, there’s the other side.  The side suggesting that a flyball rate might not always be a bad thing.  Jose Bautista and Adam Dunn ranked in the Top 10 for flyball rates this past year and still had highly productive offensive seasons.  Pujols had a 44.5% flyball rate.  Jayson Werth clocked in at 45.4%.  Paul Konerko’s was 45.0%.

Those guys are bonafide sluggers, but they can also be defined simply as great hitters.  Rasmus isn’t quite to that level, but he’s moving in that direction.  Or, he was, until La Russa and Mac decided this winter — or probably this past summer — to make a change in the young man.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“[Colby] weighed in yesterday at 180 lbs and is running 5 miles a day trying to get quicker and lose a little more. Wants to be at 175 by spring training. He is working the abs but nothing else in the weight room. Gonna try to be a Brett Gardner slap it and run.

Gardner is a nice player.  He swiped 47 bases in 56 chances this year for the Yankees and made himself into an undeniable full-timer.  The Yanks barely looked at free agent outfielder Carl Crawford this winter because they’ve become so comfortable with Gardner’s contributions.

Rasmus, though, can be far better.  He can drive the ball out of the park with the best of baseball’s young outfielders and that’s an ability that should not be diminished.  The home run, after all, is the best outcome for a hitter in any plate appearance.  Yes, any plate appearance.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“I’m curious to see this new hitting style at work. What they’re telling me is Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks this year but will be more consistent. I’m told that he will look alot like Jon Jay without all the pre swing motion. More like the Skip Schumaker and Jay stuff to left field. IT will be curious to watch.”

Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks.”  It’s not too difficult to read through the lines on that remark and to recognize that the elder Rasmus does not agree with the the Cards’ new approach. Especially when he names a guy like Schumaker, one of the least productive regulars in baseball.

Tony Rasmus coached his son from birth until the draft, and probably even after draft.  He’s one of those all-in amateur baseball coaches who tight-ropes along the line of passion and over-involvement.  And the biggest prize of his coaching career — his son — is playing for the National League’s most successful franchise, and under a Hall of Fame manager with a reputation for high-strung hardheadedness.  That’s two hardheaded baseball men with two very different philosophies on what is best for young Colby.

La Russa might have the resume, but who knows Colby’s swing better than his father, a lifetime observer of his son’s flaws and fine points?

There might not be a great answer to that.  What is for certain is that the situation is sticky, maybe even awkward.  What if the elder Rasmus was the one behind that June trade request?  And what if that same request is made next summer, when the younger Rasmus is at single-digit “jacks” around the trade deadline?

It’s usually best to simply let the good ones play.

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UPDATE: Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested that Tony Rasmus’ comments were part of a “hoax” or meant as tongue-in-cheek.  In fact, Strauss told me that I should take this story down.

I can’t do that.  Strauss has confirmed that it was indeed Rasmus’ father who made those remarks.  Whether they were sincere and Colby is working on a new approach, or whether they were made in an entirely facetious manner, it’s all very toxic.

Either the Cardinals are really trying to change his son’s batting style or Tony Rasmus is publicly mocking La Russa and McGwire.  I might argue that the latter is worse, given that Colby requested a trade just last summer and his father has butted heads with Cardinals coaches in the past.

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UPDATE: Strauss says that Tony Rasmus’ comments were made in a completely tongue-in-cheek manner and that Rasmus isn’t actually being asked to become a slap hitter.  Still, this feels a bit strange.  As Strauss notes, the comments read like a “joke with teeth.”

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.