I spent most of the recently completed Cubs series against the Cardinals watching the games on FSN Midwest, which carries all the Redbirds' games. That meant a healthy dose of play-by-play man Dan McLaughlin and analyst Tim McCarver, who used to call national games for Fox but now just makes occasional appearances on the Cardinals TV network.
McCarver has had his critics for years. I noticed he rarely shuts up, so that meant he had a lot to say about the Cubs over the three days. So did his partner. And for the most part, they were highly complimentary, especially of shortstop Addison Russell and catcher Willson Contreras. Also speaking highly of his former team was Jim Edmonds, a studio analyst (FSN offers more extensive pre- and post-game shows than the Cubs do). After the first game, Edmonds said: "You really have to give the Cubs credit. They knew what they were doing (in the rebuild)." He added: "I really believe Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in the league."
McCarver often references his playing days in the 1960s so that meant many mentions of Bob Gibson but also of Billy Williams and yes, Dick Selma. He made one error I caught, calling Travis Wood "Trevor," but otherwise is still a decent analyst (even if he overanalyzes).
Here's a rundown on some of the things McCarver ("Tim") and McLaughlin ("Dan") had to say that I thought Cub fans might find of interest.
Monday, June 20
Dan: "Cards are second in runs scored to — you know who — the Chicago Cubs."
Tim on Addison Russell: "great play by a fine young shortstop who can pick it."
The two talked about the Cubs free-agent acquisition of Jason Heyward with Dan saying he picked a team where he could "just can fit right in."
Tim: "He chose the best team in the major league to go badly on" — an apparent reference to Heyward's slow start at the plate.
Not sure there's a tougher right field to play anywhere — Dan and Tim agree.
At one point during the game, Dan recalled asking Tim, "Why, Tim, have the Cubs struggled all these years? You said the farm, player development. And now they have."
A graphic appeared showing head-to-head records favoring the Cardinals.
Dan (on Cubs): "A much different l-ooking lineup."
When Cub starter John Lackey hit Kolten Wong, McCarver said, "That has all the appearances of being intentional."
About the warning issued: "It affects their effectiveness," McCarver said of pitchers.
Bryant was then hit. "You got [Kris] Bryant but you didn't get Lackey," said Tim. "He's the main culprit — he's the one who started it."
On the prospects of the Cubs possibly trading for left-handed relief help from the Yankees (Chapman or Miller), Tim said, "And the Cubs have a bucket of cash, too. Pretty free with the dollar."
As Contreras throws out a runner at second base, from Dan: "Look at that arm — man oh man."
Tim: "That's why they made him a catcher."
When Albert Almora Jr. doubled in the ninth, McCarver suggested he should have tried for third: "Wong, who's got a second baseman's arm. I think you try for third base."
After Almora tries to advance on ball that got away from Molina, Tim: "Almora trying for third one pitch too late." He also criticized Chris Coghlan for not advancing to second on the throw.
Dan at game's end: "The Cardinals hold on, in what was a tremendous ballgame here tonight." (Well, maybe for the Redbirds it was.)
Tuesday, June 21
The pair wondered how Anthony Rizzo had so many RBI with a low BA and mentioned 30-something percent of the time during his at-bats there are runners on base: "They flood the bases before Rizzo comes up there.'
Tim: "Rizzo does have a good arm for a first baseman. Very alert player."
In a discussion about the Cubs possibly having five All-Star starters, McCarver said, "Their most valuable guy in uniform may be their pitching coach, Chris Bosio."
Dan: "This guy has got an absolute cannon for an arm." (referring to Contreras)
Tim: "It's ridiculous. It makes my arm hurt (just to think about it)."
Tim: "[Dexter] Fowler on the DL and the Cardinals are happy he's on the DL. He has killed the Cardinals." (Dan said Almora is likely to be the Cubs' starting center fielder in 2017.)
Dan: "Nice turn by Addison Russell. Boy, is he smooth."
With St. Louis leading 4-3 in the sixth, Tim called it "another good game between two good teams." (But are the Cardinals really that good?)
McCarver told a hard-to-believe tale about how Dick Selma in 1969 collected change tossed from bleachers. He supposedly collected a total of $1,000, according to McCarver (that's a lot of loose change, I found this one a stretch).
Tim: "Keep in mind Heyward (up with tying run on third base in the seventh) will chase upstairs and the Cardinals know that."
With Javier Baez up in the ninth with a chance to hit a walkoff home run, Tim said, "This guy with awesome power but so does that guy on your screen." (referring to Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal).
In the postgame show, Edmonds said the Cards' prescription for success was this: "Take care of their business, don't worry about the Cubs, just climb their way to the top."
Tim: "Never a comfortable time to face Jake Arrieta."
Edmonds: "No need to even discuss Jake Arrieta, as he's so dominant."
Wednesday, June 22
On the pregame show Edmonds said the answer against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is to "dial up the intensity. Go pitch to pitch. They know extra focus is needed against a pitcher like this."
During the game Dan talked about how Wrigley must stir a lot of memories for McCarver from his playing career. McCarver: "We talked about how sparse the crowds were in 1966."
Dan on Arrieta. "For whatever reason, the one team that's given him some fits here and there is the St. Louis Cardinals."
Tim talked about Arrieta's arsenal of pitches: "Choose your poison. This guy's been venomous to hitters in the National League this year."
When FSN put up a stat about Jake (1.20 ERA in last 34 start since June 21, 2015), Dan said, "It's hard not to think about Bob Gibson."
Dan then asked Tim what stood out about Gibson's dominant year of 1968. McCarver answered, "Control,'' especially with the slider and fastball to righthanded hitters.
McCarver praised Arrieta (before the Cards got to him) as being "such a great physical specimen. Does pushups before the game. I've never seen that."
Tim on Javier Baez: "Probably more than any other National League hitter, this guy does not get cheated."
When Dan mentioned the Cavaliers celebrating the NBA title and ending a long drought for the city of Cleveland, he couldn't help but add: "To remind you just how long it has been for the Chicago Cubs" — and then compared it to the Cardinals postseason success. He then added: "They've had teams here in Chicago that have been close." (Cubs fans don't need to be reminded.)
Dan on Heyward: "The best of the outfield arms is in right field. We saw that a bunch last year."
As the Cubs starter started to make mistakes Tim said: "You don't see too many fastballs thrown down the middle of the plate by Arrieta."
The Cardinals have had some pretty good at bats against Arrieta: Five 3-2 counts (in the fifth inning when they broke through).
When the Cards executed a hit-and-run, McCarver said, "Boy, was that pretty. Almost poetic."
McCarver termed it: "Uncharacteristically," when Rizzo didn't hustle after a relay throw that got past him, allowing the second St. Louis run to score. (Perhaps related to Rizzo's current back issues.)
Arrieta out after five: It was noted that was just the seventh time in his last 48 starts that has happened "and two of them have been against the Cardinals."
Contreras coming in for injured Miguel Montero. Dan says : "And he'll warm up throwing 200 miles per hour. This guy's got a cannon."
With the score 3-0 in the sixth, Dan said : "I'm sure these fans, and those who follow the Cubs on a regular basis, must be in a state of shock." (Pretty much!)
Tim added; "The only thing that can spoil this game from a Cardinal standpoint is rain. This game is not official yet." (Why not, in the sixth inning?)
With the Cards and Michael Wacha in command and St. Louis on the verge of a sweep, Tim said the first two games of the series "gave the Cardinals energy."
Dan: "Say the Cubs had swept (Cards be buried). Now this gives you life."
Tim: "It's a six-game swing."
With the score 7-0 in the sixth, my interest began to wane but I stayed with it. Dan talked about the "Sandberg game'' against St. Louis and related how Ryno told him the game put him on the map and might have helped put him in the Hall of Fame.
Tim: "The Cardinals have kept the ball in the ballpark in this series (no homers allowed). With few exceptions today the Cubs have not been able to center the ball against Michael Wacha."
Dan made a minor mistake when he said, "The Cubs have only three home games before the All-Star break." (He must have not been aware of the the July 7 makeup date against the Braves.)
Dan showed his St. Louis bias on a Seth Maness pitch on 3-2, saying he "doesn't get the call" (replays showed the pitch was clearly outside).
In the postgame show, Edmonds commented: "Today is what we expected to see coming out of spring training, a good Cardinals team. Didn't expect to sweep the Cubs."
A graphic appeared with the header "Work, work, work" over Arrieta's stats vs. the Cardinals: 10 of 23 batters took at least five pitches.
McCarver concluded: "They (Cardinals) came in here on Monday and did what Sinatra used to preach: pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again."
It was a tough series, made tougher by the fact that the Cubs got swept. While it is always interesting to listen to what the opponents broadcasters have to say about the Cubs, I look forward to hearing Len and JD again on the Cubs upcoming road trip.