Monday, July 04, 2016

The Cardinals At The Midpoint

At the midpoint of the season, the Cardinals are 43-38, so just slightly ahead of their 22-20 pace at the one-quarter mark. They're an inconsistent, mediocre team. Look at roughly the last month: Won 7 of 9 from the Giants, Reds, and Pirates, then lost 5 in a row to Houston and the Rangers. Swept the Cubs. Lost 5 of 7 to Seattle and the Royals. Just finished sweeping the Brewers. In general, I'd say they're still a team good enough to mostly beat bad teams, but not good teams. They're in the hunt for the second wild card, with the Mets and Marlins, but unless they pick it up significantly, or the Dodgers slip badly, that's probably the best they can hope for right now.

The offense is still doing most of the heavy lifting. The Cards are 1st in runs scored, 2nd in doubles, 3rd in HRs, 4th in on-base percentage. 14th in steals, though, which considering their barely over 50% success rate, is probably about right. I guess Heyward took all the baserunning smarts with him when he left.

Molina has not sustained his .315 batting average from the early part of the season, and is currently sporting an OPS+ of 77. The Cardinals released Eric Fryer when Brayan Pena finished his rehab stint, though Pena has just 5 plate appearances in the week and a half or so since he was called up. The Cards really need to give Molina more days off, regardless of what he says. Who's the manager here?

Adams and Moss continue to form a mostly effective left-hitting first baseman. Adams has kept his average up enough his OBP is acceptable, and the power is there to some extent. Moss got his average up to about .250, which has boosted his OBp to almost .350, and 32 of his 54 hits this season are for extra bases. I admit I wasn't real high on keeping Moss, but he's certainly demonstrating why the Cardinals wanted him in the first place. On the other side of things, Wong is struggling badly. The team sent him to AAA, played him in CF for a week and a half, then called him up and are switching him between second base and the outfield. This doesn't really strike me as great strategy. I know playing Wong in CF lets Carpenter (who has an OPS of almost 1.000 and an OBP over .420) play second, and they can play Peralta at 3rd and Diaz at SS for more offense, but at a certain point, I wonder how much defense a team can sacrifice. Plus, Peralta hasn't lit things up so far, though his isolated power is about 170, which is roughly what it was 2 years ago. Diaz is still hitting pretty well, though he has cooled off from his torrid start, as you'd expect. Greg Garcia continues to crush the ball in his limited opportunities, and the team gut bait on Ruben Tejada quickly.

In the outfield, Holliday is showing the power (iso of 230), but the rest of his numbers are down. So, still the reverse of his offensive profile last year. I'm not sure what you'd attribute that to. His older, probably slowing down, but he's still able to make solid contact. Is he having to guess more, and can't correct to make decent contact when he's wrong? Piscotty is having pretty much the same season this year he had last year, which is fine. He's not going to be Heyward (and Matheny should definitely stop trying to play him in CF), but he's doing fine. The contact is there, the walks are there, the power is there to a certain extent, he plays a solid RF, he's a good player to have. Center field has been a mess, as evidenced by the fact they've actually tried playing Kolten Wong there. Hazelbaker kept slumping and the team finally sent him down. Grichuk never started hitting, and also got sent down. Not sure what his issue is. His K rate is down, actually, but so is his power. My dad said they'd been discussing during broadcasts the team telling Grichuk to not throw so hard or swing so hard to avoid messing up his back, but I'm not sure he can be successful that way. He probably needs to learn, so I guess it's good they send him back to the minors. And it got Tommy Pham called back up. It took a few games, but Matheny seems to be rediscovering confidence in playing Pham (or he figured out the Wong thing isn't working). And Pham's offensive numbers are slowly ticking up, albeit in an extremely limited sample size. He still has fewer plate appearances than Tejada on the season.

The pitching staff is a somewhat different matter. It's still sort of mediocre. 6th in runs allowed, 6th in walks, 11th in strikeouts, though second in HRs, so that's something. waino has supposedly been pitching much better over the last two months, and his FIP is around 3.60, although his ERA is lagging well behind. Strikeout rate is still down, although better than it was. Wacha actually has the best FIP in the rotation, I guess because he's considered to have bad luck on balls in play. He got a lot of good luck yesterday, given how much trouble he got into, so maybe it's evening out. Or maybe he was just lucky. The things I've heard, he's not getting good sink on his pitches, so he's giving up hard contact, which is a bad sign. Garcia's numbers have been drifting up, but his FIP and ERA roughly correspond. Martinez is apparently getting really lucky judging by the gap between FIP and ERA. His K rate is down too, but so are his walks, so I'll take that tradeoff. Mike Leake is. . . the 5th best pitcher in the rotation.

The bullpen is kind of a mess. Rosenthal lost the closer job and can't even pitch successfully in mop-up situations right now. Siegrist is out with mono. Oh has taken over the closer role, to somewhat mixed results. I'd imagine it's mostly just the league starting to adjust to him, but it bears watching, especially given Matheny's tendency to run his closer into the ground. Maness is back off the DL and struggling. Lyons and Broxton are both, according to their FIPs, getting much luckier than they ought to be. Broxton's walking too many guys (more than a batter every other inning), and Lyons is surrendering a lot of HRs, still. On the positive side, Matt Bowman's been useful, and he's probably going to have to continue that trend, given the current state of things.

At the moment, the Cardinals are in the middle of a favorable stretch of games, playing the Brewers, the Pirates, and the Brewers again before the All-Star Break. If they're ever going to go on a sustained stretch of winning, this is the time.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Cards At The Quarter Mark

We're a little over 40 games into the baseball season, and the Cardinals are muddling along at 22-20. They haven't gone on any sustained runs of excellence, but also no sustained runs of lousy play. Win a couple, lose a couple. they don't seem like they can run with the good teams, but they can mostly handle the bad ones. Their Pythagorean says they should be 26-16, I guess because they're doing pretty well at scoring runs.

After two mediocre or worse seasons of offense, the Cards are actually first in the NL in runs scored. they're mashing quite a few home runs (second in the NL with 55). Some of that is likely to wear off; Jeremy Hazelbaker will probably not continue to OPS over .800 all season, and Aledmys Diaz is certainly not going to keep his OPS above 1.000. Of course, Grichuk might start to hit at some point, or Kolten Wong, and if Pham can get back on the roster, I remain confident he can do some damage.

So a couple of guys struggling, and a couple of guys surging who will likely fall back. Beyond that, Molina seems to have reverted to his slap-hitting style of 2007-2010, with an isolated slugging of .096, but he's hitting .315. I don't know that he can maintain that, but if Matheny will get him rest, he might be able to stay close. Adams is at least being league average, although the power isn't there. He and Moss seem to be forming an effective left-handed hitting combo, though. Adams is making contact, but with limited power and no walks. Moss is hitting homers, but not much else, and walking some.

Holliday's flipped the offensive script from last year. In 2015, he hit for high average and a high OBP, but didn't show much power. So far, his iso is 220, which is his best in about three or four years, but he's hitting .241 with and OBP below .320. We'll see if the power fades - his last few healthy years it actually increased as the weather warmed up - but either way, hopefully he can get the OBP up. Piscotty's hitting pretty much like he did last year, no complaints there. Ditto for Carpenter, except he's managed to crank his OBP up some more, and maintain the power, even increase it a bit, as his iso is close to .300. On the bench, Gyorko and Ruben Tejada aren't doing much, though the latter isn't much of a surprise. Eric Fryer has been productive in an extremely limited sample, and so has Greg Garcia. They have 15 hits and 6 walks in a combined 34 plate appearances, with 3 doubles and a homer. I know the Cards doubt Garcia's ability to play SS, but considering they were willing to play Gyorko there, not to mention Diaz' struggles, I think they ought to ditch Tejada and just use Garcia. They're going to have to win with offense, so they might as well get the guy who can actually hit on the bench.

'Cause the pitching is, not spectacular. They're 9th in ERA, 9th in strikeouts, 8th in walks, 6th in home runs allowed. They really aren't doing anything terribly well. The rotation is a mess. Wainwright's pitched about average by FIP, but been unlucky I guess But he can't strike anyone out, which isn't a good sign. Wacha's been a little unlucky based on FIP, while Martinez has been lucky. Garcia has been good, FIP and ERA agree, while they also agree Mike Leake has been bad. Of course, with Cooney and Marco Gonzales both injured, the team doesn't really have anyone to sub in, not that I expect Matheny will do that until someone gets hurt. Nobody is pitching deep into games, as Garcia is really the only one averaging over 6 innings a start (Leake and Martinez are right at 6, Wainwright and Wacha are both below it). But the way everyone is pitching, there's no reason to let them go deep into games.

Plus, the bullpen's doing better than the rotations, so better to lean on them anyway. Rosenthal's succeeding despite walking nearly a batter an inning. Seung-hwan Oh's doing pretty well in the majors so far. He's only allowed 17 baserunners in almost 22 innings so far. I don't know if that'll continue as the league grows more familiar, but it's nice while it lasts. Siegrist has a K-to-BB ratio of better than 8 to 1, which is encouraging. I was worried he might return to his control issues of two years ago, but so far, so good. Little bit of trouble with the longball, though. Matt Bowman's doing alright, since he's maybe the 4th or 5th option. Broxton is pitching badly, and Tyler Lyons has a 4.68 ERA and has actually been lucky. He's gone back to having trouble with home runs again, giving up 6 is 19 innings. Maness is on the DL, and Dean Kiekhefer has been useful in some limited use. It feels like Matheny is at least spreading the innings out among different guys so far. Rosenthal, Siegriest, Oh, Bowman, Broxton, and Lyons are all basically between 16 and 22 innings, and Maness was at 12 before he got hurt. So perhaps we won't get in a situation where relievers get gassed because Matheny's overuses them. Although if the starters don't start holding up their end better, there may still be too many innings to go around.

The defense has been a bit of a clown show from what I've heard. Diaz has struggled, Baseball-Reference's stats (for all that they're worth at this stage in the season, basically nothing) don't like Adams at first or Carpenter at third. Although they do like Diaz at short and Wong at second. Hazelbaker is scoring badly at all three outfield spots, and Holliday's not doing well in left (no surprise there). Piscotty and Grichuk are doing OK in right and center, though. Peralta will hopefully be back before too long, although it's a question whether we'll see the Peralta of 2014 defensively, 2015, or somewhere in between.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Damn It, The Playoffs Already Started?!

So, I'm a bit late with this. Screw it, no one's reading anyway. Playoff predictions, go!

Cleveland vs. Detroit: Cleveland in 6. I'm going to give the Pistons a chance to make it interesting on the grounds they do have some good players, Stan van Gundy is a good coach, and the Cavs seem like kind of a mess. I expect Lebron can keep them rolling until they find their stride, and I still expect Cleveland will win the East, if only because no team in that conference has proven it can beat Lebron in the last 5 years, but I doubt it'll be pretty.

Toronto vs. Indiana: Well shit, I was all ready to pick Toronto in 6, to give them some credit for finally being good enough to get out of the first round, and they go and blow Game 1. Eh, screw it. I'll stick with that prediction. I'm not convinced the Pacers can score enough to keep winning.

Miami vs. Charlotte: Charlotte in 7. I just think the Hornets are better, even though Nic Batum is hurt now. Chris Bosh isn't a full strength, and I don't feel like Miami's best players fit well together. Like, Wade and Dragic don't have styles that mesh. The Hornets have the defense, and they've found an offense, so go Hornets.

Atlanta vs. Boston: Atlanta in 6. Boston has a really good coach in Brad Stevens, and he seems to have gotten the maximum out of his players. Knowing what your players are good at and giving them the chance to do it is pretty key. But Budenholzer is no slouch, and I feel like Atlanta has the best players. Like, I feel as though Millsap and Horford ought to be able to do some damage against Boston's big men, who play hard but are by no stretch of the imagination dominant.

Golden State vs. Houston: I was actively pissed the Rockets made the postseason. They have just enough talent that if they actually play together - and actually play some defense - with a few breaks they could beat the Warriors. Which I do not want, because the Warriors are fun, and the Rockets would probably revert to a boring mess immediately afterward. But Golden State destroyed them in Game 1, so maybe that won't happen. Warriors in 5, figuring Harden goes nuclear at some point in the series.

San Antonio vs. Memphis: Spurs in 4. I give the Grizzlies credit for hanging in there with all the injuries, but they don't have the guys to run with the Spurs. Any team that is leaning heavily on Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson is hopelessly outgunned.

Oklahoma City vs. Dallas: Thunder in 5. The West was just full of blowouts  Like Memphis, the Mavericks are just too beat up to hang with OKC. But they're a little healthier, and Carlisle is a hell of a coach, so I figure they can steal a game.

Los Angeles vs. Portland: Clippers in 6. I have to pick at least one Western Conference series to be competitive, and this is the best option. I feel like Portland's backcourt defense is a weak point, which seems like a bad thing going up against Chris Paul and JJ Redick. It's not not like you can try to hide Lillard on Redick, because then he has to chase him around screens all day. And Portland is pretty banged up in the frontcourt, against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, so that likely won't end well either.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Cardinals Winter of Fan Discontent

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't exactly had the offseason a lot of their fans were expecting. Mozeliak talked big about having money to spend, then failed to land David Price, or retain Jason Heyward. The big acquisition was Mike Leake. There seems to be real concern the Cubs have surpassed the Cards as the best team in the division, which may be true, but I feel past history has demonstrated they just need to be good enough to make the playoffs, and hope they're healthier than everyone else at that point. Let's take a look at what's gone on this winter.

Rotation: John Lackey turned down the Cards' qualifying offer, then signed with the Cubs for twice the years and twice the money. I'm fine with that. Giving multiple years to a pitcher in his late 30s seemed unwise, and Lackey had some substantial home/road splits last year, enough I wonder how he'll do moving from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park.

Beyond that, Lance Lynn had Tommy John surgery, and is out for the year. Which is probably why the Cardinals signed Mike Leake. I understand the move, but still don't like it, for a myriad of reasons. I get that without Leake, the Cards as they stood at the moment, would be relying on some combination of Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, and Marco Gonzales to be the 5th starter, when none of those guys have managed a full year in the majors, let alone made 30 solid starts. Throw in there are legit concerns about the ability of the other 4 projected starters - Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez - to make it through an entire season unscathed, and I see the argument for bringing in a guy with at least a track record of giving you 30 solid, if unspectacular starts every year.

That said. . .

Just because Leake has stayed healthy so far, is no guarantee he'll remain healthy. Lynn hadn't missed really significant time with injury either, until now. Two, the time table for recovery from Tommy John surgery is pretty standard. Miss a season, come back and pitch like crap for a half season, then regain form, pitch like they used to. So by mid-2017, Lynn is back to himself, but Leake is still signed for another 3.5 years, with an option for another year, and a no-trade clause. Yes, other pitchers will undoubtedly get hurt over that span of time, or leave in free agency, but the contract still seems excessive for a team that allegedly has pitching depth in their minor leagues (I am convinced Mike Leake is going to be constant thorn in my side, blocking younger pitchers I want to see in the rotation for the entirety of this contract). People compare this to the Kyle Lohse signing, but Lohse was originally signed for $4 million on a one-year deal in Spring training. Did the Cards need to sign Mike Leake in mid-December? Could they have waited a month or two, saved some money to spend somewhere else they could use it?

Leake doesn't really move the needle for the Cards much. He hopefully keeps their season from cratering if/when one of the other starters gets hurt, but he doesn't elevate the team's performance much if people stay healthy. He's the 5th starter, unless things go wrong. I was not a proponent of signing David Price, because $200+ million for a pitcher seems like a bad idea, but if they really wanted him, then spend the damn money to get the ace pitcher they want, rather than cheaping out and getting mediocre ass Mike Leake to shore up the back of the rotation.

Bullpen: Let Randy Choate, Steve Cishek, Matt Belisle, and Carlos Villaneuva go. I would have kept Villaneuva and used him as a possible 5th starter. He's been able to start 30 games in a season more than once before. Resigned Jonathon Broxton, came to terms on one-year deals with Rosenthal and Maness, signed Seung-hwan Oh from Korean leagues.

Tyler Lyons is probably in the bullpen until they need another starter. Siegrist is still around. Maybe Jordan Walden will be healthy enough to be useful. The bullpen is probably fine, as fine as these can be, given variance in relief pitcher performance from year-to-year. I've seen some suggestions the Cards should consider trading Rosenthal. I know the Padres got a good haul for Craig Kimbrel, but seriously, how many GMs are out there dumb enough to pay through the nose like that for relief pitchers?

Besides, the Cards already traded Jon Jay this offseason. I don't know what Matheny would do if they traded Rosenthal, also. I don't have much to say about the bullpen. Not really excited about Broxton coming back, have no idea what to expect from Oh. I'm glad they resigned Maness. I know he's always going to be walking the tightrope of needing those groundballs to find gloves, but I like pitchers like that, even if just as a change of pace from all the fireball-throwing strikeout artists.

Infield: Tony Cruz is gone. Despite having no baseball skills that are even above-average, the Royals actually traded something to get him. Yes, a 19-year old A ball shortstop who probably won't even have the amount of major league at-bats Cruz has managed, but still. The Cardinals replaced Cruz with Brayan Pena, who can actually hit a little. Maybe Molina will get some days off when he comes back from thumb surgery.

They appear content to address first base with in-house options, ranging from Matt Adams, Brandon Moss, Stephen Piscotty, and maybe Matt Holliday? Surely between that bunch they can get some production out of the position. I prefer that to giving Chris Davis $150 million. I know he hits for power, and the Cardinals are lacking in that area, but Davis strikes me as someone who's going to age quickly, and become a real albatross of a contract.

Jay was traded to San Diego for Jedd Gyorko, who is good at hitting lefthanded pitching, but not a lot else. He'll hopefully make a decent platoon partner for Kolten Wong, and maybe give Matt Carpenter some days off. Which is not good news for Greg Garcia, who was probably hoping to get those jobs. I have no idea who is backing up Jhonny Peralta. I doubt Gyorko can do it. There was an idea going around online, to move Carpenter to first, Peralta to 3rd, and add a shortstop. Improve 3 positions defensively at once. Of course, you have to find a shortstop. Asdrubal Cabrera was apparently available, but the Mets got him (and I'm kind of tired of the Cards trading with Cleveland, anyway, the trades never seem to work out).

Outfield: The Cardinals wouldn't give Jason Heyward opt-outs, so he signed with Cubs. They traded Jon Jay, and waived Peter Bourjos, who was immediately signed by the Phillies. At least he'll get to play. It stuns me that Bourjos, who at the least is an excellent center fielder, was simply released, because every team knew Matheny didn't want him around, but they got something for Tony Cruz.

I was on record as being ambivalent about resigning Heyward. He's better than any of the remaining outfielders - Holliday, Grichuk, Moss, Pham, Piscotty - but also was going to be much more expensive. To the point I had to wonder if the difference in value was worth the difference in cost, if the Cardinals could use that money to patch some area of greater need. Of course they wound up spending some of the savings on Mike Leake soooooo, not optimal maneuvering there, guys.

I think the predicted outfield configuration right now is Holliday-Grichuk-Piscotty. I'd rather see more Pham in that, mostly because I remain unconvinced Grichuk will be able to remain a productive player with his total lack of plate discipline. Also, I think Pham has the widest array of skills out of all five of them. But I imagine there'll be playing time for him. I have nothing much to say about Moss. I didn't think he was worth trading for, and I don't expect him to be of much use this season.

It's hard to say how the season is going to go, because so much of it depends on key guys being healthier than last year. If Wainwright pitches like his usual self, the loss of John Lackey hardly matters. If Holliday and Adams can be productive, they can at least mitigate the loss of Heyward offensively (defensively, not so much). Peralta and Kolten Wong need to remember how to hit for more than half a season. Depending on how many of those things go well, the Cardinals should be able to at least contend for a wild card spot, and that's all they really need ultimately, is to get in the door. They haven't won the World Series in any of the seasons in the last 10 or so years where they had the best record (2004, 2005, 2013, 2015), so why worry about that? Let the Cubs have the pressure of being the team with all the expectations that everyone is gunning for.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

That Was An Anti-Climax

Arizona got destroyed by the Carolina Panthers. Carson Palmer went full Delhomme, fitting since the game was in Carolina, and outside of one INT, the Cards' defense couldn't do much to slow Cam Newton.

I don't want to say it's disappointing, because that feels like it slights the season at large. They won 13 games, they won the NFC West, they made it to an NFC Championship game for the second time in the Super Bowl era. It seems wrong to dismiss that. But it's still a downer for them to just get their doors blown off.

I don't know what they do in the offseason. They'll have to stay on top of the offensive line, keep it going well. Looking into some better pass-rushers would be nice. Then they wouldn't have to blitz so much to get pressure. They'll have to start looking for Palmer's replacement at some point. Not because he had a bad game against the Panthers. It's one game, it happens. But he's going into his late 30s, he will start to decline at some point. And I don't think Logan Thomas is the answer. Any guy that gets passed over in favor of Ryan Lindley is going to be a hard sell for me.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Holy Crap, That Was Close

Arizona narrowly escaped the Packers, 26-20 in OT. Rodgers threw another damn Hail Mary to make it 20-19, and then, thankfully, conservative Mike McCarthy kicked the extra point rather than go for two. Then the coin flip was redone, because on the first try, the coin didn't flip. It didn't matter much, since Arizona won both times (though that didn't stop Rodgers from whining about it afterwards), and Larry Fitzgerald promptly did some awesome stuff to help them score a touchdown and win the game.

Cardinals got more than a little lucky there, considering Palmer threw two INTs, and should have had a few more. But then again, the Packers needed a Hail Mary, and a 60-yard gain on 4th and 20 just to tie the game, so they got pretty damn lucky, too. I don't have a problem with Arians sending 7 guys at Rodgers on that pass, either. That's who Arizona is on defense. They don't have a dominant pass rusher, but they generate pressure by sending guys from all directions. They're aggressive, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I would rather the team try to make something happen to win, than sit back and play conservative and hope it works it out.

I really can't believe McCarthy didn't go for two. He has Aaron Rodgers, who is insanely good, and you're asking him to get two yards, when he just hit a freaking Hail Mary. If you believe in momentum at all, and I feel like a lot of coaches do, wouldn't the Packers have it at that moment? They'd be pumped, the Cardinals' defense would be deflated. Attack! Fortunately, McCarthy wasted his opportunity, and never got another one.

On the good news front, Seattle lost, as their desperate comeback attempt against Carolina fell short. So no more worrying about the Seahawks. Now all Arizona has to do is go on the road and beat a team that only lost once all season, and which has the probable MVP at quarterback. Palmer's going to have to play a lot better than he did, so hopefully this was just jitters and he got it out of system. Hopefully.

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Monday, January 04, 2016

This Did Not Assuage My Concerns

The Seahawks are the NFC team that scares me the most, as an Arizona fan. I know this isn't news; I've been saying it for weeks. Yesterday's 36-6 thumping at Seattle's hands did not help any.

When I saw they were losing badly at halftime, I hoped it meant Arians had chosen to sit his starters. Nope, his starters played, they just got creamed. Tyler Lockett torched them returning punts, they gave up 140 yards rushing, Palmer didn't play well (and then they eventually put in Drew Stanton, who did even worse. It was just a bad scene all around for Arizona.

On the plus side for the Cardinals, they have a bye week to get their heads straight. And Seattle is the 6 seed. Which means both teams would have to make the NFC Championship game for them to meet again. Which would require Seattle to go through Minnesota and Carolina first. Which they're capable of, but it wouldn't be easy. I'd just as soon they lose prior to then and render my concerns moot, but we'll see.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

First Round Bye Secured!

Arizona crushed Green Bay 38-8. It was 31-0 before the Packers finally got on the board. My concerns about what Aaron Rodgers might do against a secondary that is without Tyrann Mathieu until some time in 2016 were largely unfounded, because the defense sacked Rodgers 8 times, made him fumble three times, and intercepted him once. All told, he went 15 for 28 for 151 yards, and two of those fumbles were returned for TDs. Credit to Cory Redding, not only for the TD, not only for stiffarming Eddie Lacy with seemingly no effort, but doing a Rick Flair strut in the end zone. Outstanding.

Palmer went 18 for 27 for 265 yards and 2 TDs, with 1 INT. The Cardinals didn't have a prolific rushing game - 26 yards for 121 yards - but it was effective enough. Interestingly, no one back dominated the carries, since Andre Ellington, Kerwynn Williams, and David Johnson all had between 7 and 9 carries, and 39 and 44 yards. They also combined for 5 catches for 97 yards, though Johnson did most of that himself.

So Arizona has a first round bye now. There is a chance they could get the #1 seed, if Carolina loses at home to Tampa, and Arizona wins, but I'm not sure if that's worth going all out for. But I think Arizona will know how that game went by the time their game starts, so they could always take out their starters if they figure out it's a no go. I'm not sure what Seattle will do. I'd guess they would prefer the 5 seed - which lets them face Washington, rather than the NFC North winner - but I can't see them being horribly concerned either way. Even after getting smacked around by the Rams, the Seahawks seem like a team that's fairly confident in themselves (mostly justified).

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Division Champs!

Seattle didn't lose to Cleveland, which isn't much of a shock, but it doesn't matter, because Arizona trucked the Eagles, 40-17. It was tied at 10 at one point in the second quarter, but obviously Arizona rolled after that. The Eagles turned the ball over 4 times, and David Johnson ran for 187 yards and 3 TDs. Throw in another 34 yards from Kerwynn Williams, and 11 from Stefan Taylor, and Arizona ran for 230 yards. Arizona is (once again) not going to have anyone near the top of the league's rushing totals, what with the rotating cast of backs thanks to all the injuries, but that Arizona has still had a productive rushing game all season is really encouraging.

I'm not clear what the prognosis is on Mathieu's knee. He picked off Bradford with about 3 minutes left in the game to ice things, but as he started to run with it, it looked like the end of his right foot got caught on the back of his left calf, and maybe twisted the knee. It doesn't sound like it's a serious injury, but I'd prefer Arizona's secondary be healthy going into the postseason. The D doesn't get many sacks - Freeney leads the team with 4, and the team has 25 total - so there's a lot of pressure of the defensive backs. With some of the QBs they'll see in the playoffs, they need the best guys they have.

So Arizona locked up the NFC West, and there is still an (extremely slim) chance they could get the #1 seed. By the same token, they still haven't locked up the first round bye, since Oakland couldn't beat the Packers. So Arizona needs to down Green Bay this next week to take care of that, so it doesn't come down to beating Seattle in Week 17. I'm not sure the Seahawks would care - they're in the playoffs, but are stuck as a wild card, so Carroll might rest his guys. On the other hand, Seattle might enjoy ruining Arizona's chances of getting a bye. Better not to take chances. Just beat the Packers and we'll call it good.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Arizona's In The Playoffs

I didn't even know Arizona was playing Thursday night until the game was down to its last five minutes. Still hard to adjust to the idea the NFL actually wants Arizona on in prime time. The game was tied, then Arizona kicked a field goal, the Vikings drove to about the Arizona 30, and on 3rd down, Dwight Freeney strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater. Arizona 23, Minnesota 20. Playoff spot secured.

I can't fault the Vikings for trying for more yards. It was going to be a 47-yard field goal, no gimme. And Arizona had held the Vikings to 3 yards per carry exactly over the course of the game, so running wasn't the best bet. They just didn't pull it off. Arizona's secondary held up, and Bridgewater didn't throw it away.

It's hard to get too enthused over a 3-point win against a team that just finished getting obliterated by Seattle last weekend, but those Thursday games are frequently kind of screwy, so credit for not losing. I'm a little concerned about Bridgewater setting a career high in passing yards against them, especially with Blaine Gabbert having a 300 yard passing game against them a couple of weeks ago. Bridgewater isn't a bad QB, but Arizona's likely to face much better ones in the playoffs. Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson's been on fire lately. The positive thing to take away is that, like Gabbert, or even Drew Brees back in week 1, Bridgewater only threw one TD, and that's the most important thing. Giving up yards isn't ideal, but as long as they don't give up points, it isn't a deathblow.

David Johnson ran for 92 yards, following up a solid performance in the Rams' game. Mike Iupati caught a pass. Not sure what happened there, a deflection probably. Michael Floyd had a 100-yard receiving game. Tyrann Mathieu had 10 tackles, and the defense had three sacks and recovered three fumbles. Palmer had a 300-yard passing game of his own, with 2 TDs and no turnovers. Now Arizona gets a week and a half to prepare for the Eagles, and if they beat them, they clinch the NFC West. Which would be nice, with the Packers and Seahawks looming the final two weeks. Or Seattle could lose this weekend and speed the whole process up, that'd be fine, too.

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Comfortable Wins OVer Bad Teams Are Better, Though

Arizona hadn't done that in awhile, though, what wins narrow wins over the likes of San Francisco, Baltimore, and Cleveland. Well, the Cleveland win wound up being comfortable, but they were down by double digits at one point. No such troubles here, as Arizona pounded the Rams 27-3. Nick Foles went 15 of 35 for less than 150 and 1 INT. Palmer went 26 of 40 for over 350 yards and 2 TDs. Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington didn't play. No problem, David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams, and Stefan Taylor combined for 33 carries and 178 yards. The defense held Todd Gurley to 41 yards on 9 carries. I know he hasn't been too productive lately, but he torched Arizona's D for something like 140 yards the last time they played, so it's nice to see them not let that happen again. John Brown and Michael Floyd each went over 100 yards receiving.

So Arizona's 10-2. This is good. I'm less happy that Seattle is hanging around back there, stubbornly refusing to lose any games. Considering they're still 3 games back with 4 games to play, the odds they'd catch Arizona are slim, but still in play. But the fact they stomped the Vikings, in Minnesota, is troubling. It suggests to me the Seahawks are figuring things out again, like they did last year. Which could make them really dangerous come playoff time. I figure they're going to get in whether they win the division or not. It's them and whoever doesn't win the North out of Green Bay or the Vikings as the wild cards, most likely. The Buccaneers are coming on a little too late, I think, and the NFC East is still a mediocre shitshow.

Hopefully Arizona can make their own statement by crushing the Vikings this weekend. I'll settle for another close win, though.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

And Close Wins Over Bad Teams Are Still Wins, Too

Arizona beat the 49ers 19-13, which is not the beatdown I was hoping for, but considering I was worried this was going to be a trap game, where Arizona got cocky and ended up losing, I'll take this result. They let Blaine Gabbert throw for over 300 yards, which is not something I expected to happen. I don't know if it was shoddy tackling, poor coverage, or what. Blake Bell had a 48 yard reception, and Torrey Smith had a 41 yarder. But all that passing only resulted in one TD, which is the important thing.

Arizona didn't turn the ball over, which is good, although Palmer tried to spike it after running for the go-ahead TD, and faceplanted. As long as he didn't concuss himself, I don't really care, though. Chris Johnson had a rough game, only getting 17 yards on 12 carries. He's been slowed significantly in the past few weeks. I don't know if defenses have adjusted to what Arians was doing to try and help him be successful, if he's getting tired, if Iupati's injury has damaged the run blocking, or they're just running into good defenses lately.

It could just have been because it's a division game. Those are usually a little tougher, a little more tense. The Rams were crushed by the Bengals this week, but I doubt Arizona will be able to likewise stomp St. Louis this weekend. As long as they win, that'll be fine, because the Rams are one of the only remaining bad teams left on Arizona's schedule (along with the Eagles, who did a very convincing impression of a team that's packed it in against the Lions on Thanksgiving). And the Seahawks are still lurking 3 games back with 5 games to go.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Close Wins Over Good Teams Are Still Wins

Arizona beat the Bengals 34-31, on a last second field goal by Catanzaro. Said field goal was aided by the refs calling a Bengals' d-lineman for barking out signals to try and get the Cards' to false start, which is a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, apparently. It doesn't get called much, but it got called here, to the Bengals' displeasure. Is the Ravens' tendency to whine about the refs screwing them infecting the rest of the AFC North? I would agree 15 yards seems excessive, and like holding (and most other penalties) the refs probably miss/ignore it multiple times a game. But it is a rule, and you got caught, so suck it up and quit bitching. Marvin Lewis is trying to argue his guy was just trying to get the defense set for a run play. Right, the Cards were going to run the football from the 40, with 6 seconds left in the game. How are you going to beat the Patriots if your coach can't lie any better than that? At least learn to deflect with angry sarcasm like Belichek!

Anyway, Palmer played like garbage in the first half, which helped put the Cards behind 14-7. Then he found a groove in the third quarter, and Arizona went up 28-14. Then the Bengals came charging back, and they could have won, if Dalton didn't underthrow A.J. Green on a third down play, forcing Cincy to settle for a tying field goal with a minute left. Arizona got the ball, moved down the field (thanks, prevent defense!), got the helpful penalty, and kicked the field goal. Hooray!

The Cards had three fumbles, but didn't lose any of them. They even managed to recover a fumble by the Bengals. They didn't intercept Dalton, though, which combined with Palmer's 2 INTs, means they lost the turnover battle. But they still won, which is nice. It could have gone either way clearly, but it's nice to see them continue to win some of these close games. Though I wouldn't object if they went back to crushing teams the way they were earlier in the season.

Neither team ran well. The Bengals had 99 yards on 28 carries, the Cards just 82 on 25 carries. Credit to the defenses, although both allowed pretty big passing days for the opposing QBs. Dalton's QBR is 68.8, and Palmer's is 77.9. I mean, even with the two picks, he went 20-31 for over 300 yards and 4 TDs. I'll take that.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lost Fumbles Are Starting To Annoy Me

I wouldn't have expected a 39-32 final score when I checked in with 12 minutes to go in the second quarter and it was 5-0, but there you go. Both offenses made some things happen. Or maybe Seattle's defense made some things happen.

The last time Arizona managed to beat the Seahawks, they won despite Carson Palmer throwing 4 INTs. He only threw one this time, but he also lost two fumbles. Still, they won, which is more than they could manage last year with Stanton or Lindley under center.

Multiple Turnovers Carson Palmer: Still much better than the other guys.

Chris Johnson was held to 58 yards on 25 carries, but Ellington went for 61 yards on 6 carries. Arizona's defense largely held Marshawn Lynch in check, though Wilson had some productive runs, and Seattle wound up with 118 yards on the ground overall. He did get picked off once by Mathieu, and had a pretty poor completion percentage (14 of 32, I think), though there are at least three 30+ yard receptions in there. No idea if that was a blown coverage thing or a bad tackling thing.

At any rate, the Cards are now 7-2, three games up on Seattle and the Rams in the division. Of course, they still have another game against each of those teams, plus the Bengals, Packers, and the Vikings, who may actually be good. Oh, and the Eagles and 49ers. I'd feel better about Arizona's situation if they hadn't had a 3-game lead on Seattle last year after 10 games, only to end up losing the division. And Mike Iupati suffered a scary collision last night. He's out of the hospital, but I'd imagine they'll be careful getting him back on the field. We'll see if their offensive line can continue to hold up without him.

On the baseball side, a bunch of Cardinals filed for free agency. Belisle, Broxton, Choate, Heyward, Lackey, Reynolds, and Villaneuva. The Cards made qualifying offers to Heyward and Lackey, both of whom, I assume, turned them down. As well they should, considering people are pegging Heyward for possibly $200 million deals, and Lackey supposedly thinks he can get 3 years and like $40 million.

I have no interest in Lackey at those kinds of dollars, not even with Lance Lynn now done for 2016 with Tommy John surgery. Between Wainwright, Garcia, Wacha, Martinez, Lyons, Cooney, and Marco Gonzales, the Cards ought to be able to cobble together a solid starting rotation. It might not look as good as this year's did, given they aren't likely to match their success stranding runners, but it should still be fine. The offense is still the side that needs to start carrying its weight a little more.

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

For Once, The Turnovers Didn't Kill Them

Chris Johnson lost two fumbles. Larry Fitzgerald lost a fumble. Carson Palmer threw an interception. Even so, Arizona beat the Browns 34-20, and that's after being down 20-7 late in the first half. Thank goodness the Browns aren't very good.

Johnson had a pretty good game other than the fumbles, going over 100 yards rushing again. At this rate, he might already have more rushing yards than anybody the Cardinals have had in the previous 3 seasons. Let me check, no, not quite. Johnson is at 676 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall ran for 687 two years ago. Of course, that was over an entire season, whereas Johnson's only played 8 games so far. So that's a signing that's worked surprisingly well.

Cleveland didn't have much luck running the ball, being held to less than 40 yards on the ground on 20 carries. So outside of Todd Gurley, Arizona's defense has mostly held up against the run this season. It did that last year, too, until the end, but hopefully this year's defense won't be completely fatigued and demoralized by a worthless offense.

Oh, and Michael Floyd went for over 100 yards receiving, including a 60-yard reception. That may have been due to John Brown's absence from the lineup, but it's nice to see Floyd can be productive when given an opportunity.

Next up is Seattle, which is currently having trouble beating a Matt Cassell-led Cowboys' team. I want to take that as a good sign for Arizona's chances, but I can't shake the concern Seattle is still trying to figure out how some of the new pieces fit, and once they do, they'll be a serious problem. Of course, this isn't the NBA, where the Spurs can spend the first few months figuring out such things. If the Seahawks dick around too long, they might miss the postseason entirely. It's still too early to predict that, considering they were still floundering a bit 10 games into last year, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Although even if they falter, there's still the Rams to contend with. Plus the Packers and the Panthers, and whoever is actually good in the NFC East this year (the Giants?).

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