Friday, February 20, 2015

It's Just About Time For Spring Training

I haven't talked about the current St. Louis Cardinals since mid-November, so let's look in on their off-season. Last time we checked in, they'd only made two moves. One was signing Dean Anna as  a probable utility infielder. The other was the big trade with Atlanta that sent out Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins in exchange for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden.

So what's happened since then? Carlos Martinez, contrary to my initial impressions, appears to have the inside track on the 5th starter spot Miller vacated. The team bought out Lance Lynn's arbitration years with a 3 year contract totaling about $22 million. Assuming he can at least maintain his production of the last two seasons, that seems like a good deal for the Cardinals. Not so sure for Lynn. It provides more long-term security than a one year arb contract would, but it puts him back on the free agent market at 31, which would likely make a few teams nervous even if he stays healthy over the next 3 years. But there'll probably be at least one team that would spend big for him if he's been productive.

In the bullpen, they signed Matt Belisle to a one year contract. He's spent the previous 6 seasons in Colorado, but last year was the first time it seemed to really hurt his numbers. Not only was his ERA below league average, his FIP of 3.74 was his worst since 2009's 4.77. He hadn't had a FIP worse than 3.07 in between '09 and 2014. Looking at his numbers, the main issue is his walk rate climbed to 2.6 batters per 9 innings (when it hadn't been worse than 2 since 2007, and his K rate was down to 6 per 9, which is his worst since 2008, and over 1.5 Ks less than he'd had the previous two years. He also pitched in fewer games (66, down from 72 in 2013, and 80 in 2012), but I don't know if that was because he was less effective, so they used him less, or if he was hurt, and that's why he didn't pitch as often. The Cardinals already have a fair number of righthanders, but maybe it doesn't hurt to buy low on one and hope he can be this year's Neshek.

They also signed Carlos Villanueva and his awesome mustache to a minor league contract. He's able to start or work out of the bullpen, which could be handy, given there have to be concerns about Wainwright's elbow, Wacha's shoulder, and Martinez' general ability to hold up for an entire season. Villanueva's coming off a pretty good year with the Cubs, though his ERA doesn't really reflect it. But he did get his HR rate to drop by about 0.5 per 9, and posted better than average walk and strikeout numbers, based on his career stats. Hard to say if that offers any predictive power for this year. His K rate fluctuates a lot. The last 5 years have gone: 8.3, 7.2, 8.8, 5.7, 11.4, the 5.7 and 8.8 were both with Toronto, so it isn't strictly a matter of it dropping when he went to the American League. But the Cardinals also have Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales to fill in as starters if needed, so Villanueva's hopefully not the piece the whole season hinges on.

On the position player side of things, the team seems content behind the plate and in the outfield. Turns out most free agent catchers don't want to sign with a team that won't ever use them, because the have Yadier Molina. I thought they'd enjoy a cushy job, but I guess it would limit their stats, which would hurt their earning potential, and I suppose just sitting on the bench can't be much fun. They did non-tender Shane Robinson early in the offseason, so he had more time to find a new team, and they eventually came to an agreement with Jon Jay on a two year deal worth about $11 million total. They also opted not to try and re-sign Descalso, who somehow got a 2-year deal from the Rockies.

They did make a couple of signings that could impact the bench. One was to sign Mark Reynolds to a one year contract. Reynolds will presumably spell Matt Adams at first, and provide another righthanded power bat off the bench, alongside Grichuk. Reynolds is very much a low-average, moderate to low OBP, high slugging guy, in theory. His ISO last year was 198, which would have easily topped the Cardinals, but his .287 OBP was almost 40 points below even his career average. His Baseball-Reference page lists him as a first and third baseman, but he's below average at first, and a train wreck at 3rd, so better to use someone else to back up Matt Carpenter.

Reynolds, at least offensively, is like Randal Grichuk: He can probably be a useful player, used in the right role. The Cardinals will hopefully not have to start him often, and can use him in situations that best suit his strengths. Though looking at his splits over the last 3 years, I'm not sure what those are. For his career, his batting average and slugging against righties are almost identical to his work against lefties. He walks a lot more against LHP, though. The last 3 years have gone back and forth. In 2012 and 2014, he was better against RHP, in 2013 against LHP. He still tends to walk more against lefties, though his batting average is so low it can only help his OBP so much, but his power numbers are fluctuating a lot.

The other potentially interesting acquisition was the minor league trade with Seattle for Ty Kelly. Kelly can't play SS like Anna, Kozma, or Greg Garcia, but he can play all the other infield spots, as well as some corner outfield (though the Cards are likely covered there). More importantly, his offensive approach and numbers are reminiscent of Matt Carpenter's (who is one of the guys Kell says he tries to emulate). Not exactly impressive power numbers, but he walks a lot. His career minor league slash line is .282/.387/.386, though his slugging was over .400 his two years at AAA Tacoma. Whether that's a result of his entering his mid-20s, or that being more of a hitter's park, I couldn't say. But his offensive profile would make for an interesting addition to the Cardinals bench.

As it stands now, I'd expect the five bench guys to be Tony Cruz, Reynolds, Grichuk, Bourjos, and probably Anna. None of those guys are exactly good at getting on base. Cruz really can't hit at all, and the next 3 are no strangers to sub-.300 OBPs. Anna doesn't have enough of a major league track record for me to say much of anything. Kelly would at least bring some different skills to the table, but unless they gave up on Reynolds, or Kelly demonstrated greater defensive chops than he has so far, I think they'll want someone who can back up Peralta. Still, Kelly might make an interesting guy to bring up in event of an injury, or just to see if he can help at some point midseason.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Return to the Team-Building Exercise - The Starting Lineup

I know, it's been 5 months. I was focused on football. But with Arizona's season over, and the majority of the team left in the playoffs being ones I either despise (New England, Seattle), or figure are doomed (Indy), I'm tuning out on that. So time to wrap this up. I think for the starting position players we'll ditch chronological order and go through in in order of the positions.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, 2012 - 138 games, 563 PAs, 505 at-bats, 65 runs, 159 hits, 28 2Bs, 22 HRs, 76 RBIs, 12 SBs, 45 BB, 55 Ks, .315 AVG/.373 OBP/.501 SLG/.874 OPS, 137 OPS+, 6.9 WAR

Molina's always had the defensive chops, he's generally been regarded as a fine handler of pitchers, and the data they're starting to collect now suggests he's quite good at pitch framing, though one of his brothers is supposed to be a real whiz at it. So in that regard, almost any of his 9 years (at the end of 2013) as a starter would have worked. 2012 is the obvious choice though, because it's his best offensive season. He set career highs (so far) in plate appearances, at-bats, homers, stolen bases, on-base and slugging percentage, and isolated power. It's his second best year for runs, hits, walks, batting average, and RBIs. 2013 is the lead year for most of those, but he's not quite as spectacular a player overall that season, and besides, there's a better option at a position with fewer of those in 2013 as well.

Ted Simmons had been regarded as the clear cut best catcher in franchise history, and I wonder sometimes whether that's changed yet, or if it will. Simmons was a better defensive catcher than his general reputation, but he was essentially average. Baseball-Reference's two defensive stats - Total Zone and BIS Defensive Runs Saved - list him as being at 0 and 1 runs above average, respectively, across his 10 years at starter. Molina was at 9 years after 2013, and he scored +104 and +98, respectively. But SImmons was a vastly superior hitter. The stretch Molina's had from 2011-2013, where he posted OPS+ of 124, 137, and 129? That's basically what Simmons did for a solid decade. All 10 of his years are between 114 and 148, and his WAR stays solidly between 3 and 5. When Molina can hit like Simmons, he's a much better player, owing to his defensive value. When he hits as he did for most of his career, he doesn't appear to be (acknowledging how little we know about their respective pitching framing abilities), and it isn't close. I don't think 3 years are enough, but I'm hoping he'll bounce back in 2015 to make it an argument.

First Base: Albert Pujols, 2008 - 148 games, 641 PAs, 524 at-bats, 100 runs, 187 hits, 44 2Bs, 37 HRs, 116 RBIs, 7 SBs, 104 BBs, 54 Ks, .357/.462/.653/1.114, 192 OPS+, 9.2 WAR

There really wasn't another player in the running. He's too good. McGwire's best years would be some of Albert's worst as Cardinal. This was the year of his second MVP award (with a third to follow in '09), and it was after this season he had a minor surgery on his elbow to move a nerve that was periodically getting pinched and going numb. As I noted at the time, this meant he posted a 192 OPS+, while playing with essentially one arm part of the time. Which is ridiculous. 2008 was still in the time period when the Cards were transitioning from the MV3 of Albert/Edmonds/Rolen, and were not always able to put sufficient protection around him. Which is part of why this was his first season with over 100 walks (though he'd topped 90 each of the 3 previous years). It's not his best year on the basepaths (7 out of 10 on steals, so right at the break even), and 2009 was in some ways an even more prolific season (WAR of 9.7!). But again, there was a more pressing need that season could fill, and Albert's worth about 1 win on his defense alone in both years, which is a nice plus.

Second Base: Matt Carpenter, 2013 - 157 games, 717 PAs, 626 at-bats, 126 runs, 199 hits, 55 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 11 HRs, 78 RBIs, 3 SBs, 72 BBs, 98 Ks, .318/.392/.481/.873, 140 OPS+, 6 WAR

And this is part of the reason 2013 Molina was never in serious consideration. The Cards haven't exactly had a lot of great seasons out of second basemen over this stretch, and so the only other candidate was Oquendo in '89. But a) there was another player who was over a win better from that season, and b) Carp still beat the Secret Weapon by half a win, anyway.

It remains to be seen whether the power Carpenter demonstrated in 2013 was a fluke or not. The 7 triples probably were to a certain extent, but I'd like to think the doubles power and low double digit home run totals are legit. But since we're going to be using 2013 Carpenter, it's there for the purposes of this exercise. I figure Matt's going to be leading off, anyway, so the OBP is the most critical part. I would hope this lineup would be able to drive him in from first if need be. Matt's not exactly likely to excel defensively (though B-R has him at 0.3 defensive WAR), but with the other guys I'm putting in the infield, it shouldn't matter.

Third Base: Scott Rolen, 2004 - 142 games, 593 PAs, 500 at-bats,109 runs, 157 hits, 32 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 34 HRs, 124 RBIs, 4 SBs, 72 BBs, 92 Ks, .314/.409/.598/1.007, 158 OPS+, 9.1 WAR

Holy crap. Rolen doesn't have another season within 3 wins of this one. Probably because of his crazy defensive numbers. Don't get me wrong, the hitting is good (his 2nd best OPS+ is 139 in '98), but he had other years where his offensive WAR is close to '04's numbers. But in 2004, his defense was worth 3.3 wins all by itself, and there's no other season where it's above 2 (which is still damn good).

Anyway, this was the height of the MV3, and for this year, Rolen was the best of the 3. So naturally he finished 4th in MVP voting, because the voters penalized him (and Albert and Edmonds) for having each other as teammates. Also for winning their division by like 15 games, so they didn't play meaningful September games. Because sportswriters are idiots. Anyway, this was about as good as it got for Scotty. The next year he collided with Hee-Seop Choi and injured his other shoulder. In '06, he and LaRussa started to have problems when Tony benched him during the NLCS for Spiezio. In '07 his power evaporated, and then he was traded for Troy Glaus. But 2004, what a season.

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith, 1989 - 155 games, 664 PAs, 593 at-bats, 82 runs, 162 hits, 30 2Bs, 8 3Bs, 2 HRs, 50 RBIs, 29 SBs, 55 BBs, 37 Ks, .273/.335/.361/.696, 97 OPS+, 7.3 WAR

Like it was going to be anyone else. The odd thing is that, like Rolen, this is graded as an unusually good year for Ozzie defensively, rather than offensively. He's rated at 3.5 oWAR, but that's worse than each of his previous 4 seasons, and his 1991 year. But his dWAR is a ludicrous 4.7, which is over a win better than any other year. And he did this in his age-34 season.

It is a bit of a strange season at the plate for Ozzie, though. His batting average is almost dead on for his Cardinals' career (.272), but his OBP is 15 points lower, and his slugging is 17 points higher, I'm guessing because of the 8 triples (he never had more than 6 in any other season). Between his 25 steals in 1982, and his 21 in 1993, the 29 he had in 1989 is his lowest total, though admittedly it's very close to his 31 in '85 and '86.

Left field: Matt Holliday, 2010 - 158 games, 675 PAs, 596 at-bats, 95 runs, 186 hits, 45 2Bs, 1 3Bs, 28 HRs, 103 RBIs, 9 SBs, 69 BBs, 93 Ks, .312/.390/.532/.922, 149 OPS+, 5.9 WAR

The Cardinals haven't had a lot of standouts at left field over the previous 25 years. Coleman was kind of a limited player, Gilkey had his best years after he left, Lankford was in decline by the time he moved to left. This was Holliday's first full season here, and far and away his best so far. Best batting average, best on-base and slugging (though not best OPS+), most steals, most homers, most doubles. Matt's not going to be winning any Gold Gloves, but as with the other Matt, I expect Holliday's outfield cohorts to more than pick up the slack there.

Center Field: Jim Edmonds, 2000 - 152 games, 643 PAs, 525 at-bats, 129 runs, 155 hits, 25 2Bs, 42 HRs, 108 RBIs, 10 SBs, 103 BBs, 167 Ks, .295/.411/.583/.994, 147 OPS+, 6.2 WAR

The MV3 trifecta! '04 is actually a better year for Jim, but he was still worth 2 fewer wins than Rolen that year, so on to 2000. 25 doubles seems kind of low, and he did hit at least 30 each of the next 5 years, but his homer total also fell (2004 excepted), so maybe it was a case of some of those doubles traveling just that little extra distance. Or he had something to prove after having been traded for Adam Kennedy and Kent freaking Bottenfield. Ignore the fact stupid 2000 Calvin thought it was a bad trade for the Cards.

Look, I had reasonable concerns about the stability of the Cards' rotation, and thought Bottenfield was a valuable potential fallback.

This is a pretty standard Edmonds season, though. Lotta power, lotta walks, shit load of strikeouts, good defense. Jim will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. I have to think he's a longshot (he won't even be the best centerfielder in his first year on the ballot), though I hope he'll at least get enough votes to hang on the ballot for awhile, maybe build up some support. The Cards have had a lot of good centerfielders in my lifetime (Jon Jay, who is at least average is probably the worst, which is saying something), but Edmonds was easily the best.

Right Field: Brian Jordan, 1998 - 150 games, 617 PAs, 564 at-bats, 100 runs, 178 hits, 34 2Bs, 7 3Bs, 25 HRs, 91 RBIs, 17 SBs, 40 BBs, 66 Ks, .316/.368/.534/.902, 134 OPS+, 7.0 WAR

Right field has been an unstable position for the Cardinals over the last 25 years, or really, since the end of the George Hendrick era. The only guys to be the starter for even three seasons are Jordan (3), Ryan Ludwick (3), and J.D. Drew (4). Which isn't to say they haven't had good players. Those 3 were all good, not to mention Larry Walker, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, just that there hasn't been a good longterm solution. Jordan could have been that guy, but the Cardinals didn't want to give him a longterm, big money contract. Makes a certain amount of sense, considering Jordan's difficulties staying healthy, although then they turned the job over to Drew. At least Jordan missed time for legit injuries like separated shoulders, instead of turf toe or whatever. But they definitely would have been buying based on past production, rather than what he would do.

This is Jordan's best offensive year, and it's his second best defensive year (behind 1996), and they're close enough on that score that the offense makes a big difference. But that defense is pretty sweet. B-R's defensive stats rate him as 22 and 27 runs better than average in right field in 1998. Not quite up to the +27 and +31 from two season earlier, but, combined with Edmonds in center, I think they can compensate for Holliday being essentially average in left.

The biggest surprise here is how little speed is on this team. Other than Ozzie and Jordan, there's really no one who can run. I mean, Albert and Yadi will try, but neither of them has blazing speed. Of course, Ozzie is the only starter whose season isn't coming from the LaRussa era, which probably accounts for it. The Cards didn't exactly have a lot of runners during his tenure. Neither did baseball in general, though.

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

An End Both Depressing And Unsurprising

The first time I checked in on Cardinals-Panthers, Arizona was down 10-0. The next time, they were up 14-10. I was confused. As it turned out, the defense had forced two turnovers deep in Carolina territory, enabling Arizona to score two touchdowns while covering only 47 yards. Once Carolina stopped turning over the ball, things fell apart, and Carolina won, 27-16.

Arizona had 78 yards of offense. Seventy-eight. They had 8 first downs, and averaged 1.7 yards per play. Lindley threw two INTs, and went 16-28 for 82 yards. Oh, but then you subtract the 31 yards he lost on 4 sacks.

I don't even care about the defense's day. Yeah, they gave up a shitload of rushing yards, but I'm not surprised. The defense has to keep trotting out there basically every three plays, and the Panthers can stay balanced because there's no pressure to score. Arizona isn't going to pull away, not unless Carolina helps them immensely.

This is the first time I've seen Arizona make the playoffs and not win at least one game. Of course, I've only seen them make the playoffs three times previously, twice with Kurt Warner, once with Jake Plummer. Either of whom would be 20 times better than Ryan Lindley, and I mean as they are right now. Hopefully, this is the last we see of Ryan Lindley.

Unfortunately, it might also be the last we see of Larry Fitzgerald, since the Cards' front office is making rumblings that Larry needs to restructure his contract, or he'll get cut. I want Larry Fitzgerald to finish his career with the Cardinals, but he should not restructure his deal. The Cardinals have consistently failed to find good QBs, considering Palmer is easily the best non-Kurt Warner QB Fitz has played with, and Palmer a) missed two-thirds of this season, and b) was throwing 2 INTs a game for the first half of last season. The Cardinals have failed to build a running game, they haven't built a decent offensive line. All that is on the front office, not Larry Fitzgerald, and for me, it's on them to improve this team. Losing Larry Fitzgerald does not sound like a way to do that.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

I Have No Real Reaction To This Result

So Arizona lost to the 49ers, 20-17. It doesn't really matter. Seattle dicked around for the first 3 quarters, but ultimately beat the Rams going away. So that, combined with Green Bay beating Detroit (because that's what the Packers do), locked Arizona into the 5 seed regardless.

On the positive side, Ryan Lindley had, by his standards, a not horrible day. He completed 23 of 39 passes, threw for 316 yards, and yes, kickstarted the Apocalypse by throwing 2 TDs. It only took him 230+ pass attempts, but he finally threw a touchdown. Of course, he also threw 3 INTs, so he was hardly spectacular. Arizona's run game didn't help too much, 98 yards, at less than 4 yards a clip. But the real culprit was the defense. San Francisco ran for 206 yards, and they let Frank Gore average 5.8 yards per carry. Larry Foote missed the game, but I can't believe that alone was the problem. I don't know if all the injuries are finally catching up, the guys left are just gassed, offenses have figured out what to exploit, or if they've lost hope. It's got to be draining to know you have no margin for error, because if you give up more than 14 points - and hell, against a team with Seattle's D, it's more than 7 -, you're probably going to lose, because the offense is mostly garbage.

Arians had originally announced Logan Thomas as the starter, then changed his mind by Friday. I don't really understand it. Sure, there's a good chance Thomas will be an awful QB - the great majority of quarterbacks drafted in the NFL are - but there was at least the possibility he'd be good. This is far and away the best performance of Lindley's career, and it was mediocre at best. Why not take the chance on the rookie? I mean, he's supposedly been learning this offense since you drafted him, how does he not know it well enough by now to start in an essentially meaningless game (seeing as Arizona had no real shot at getting the division title)? Seems like either a damning indictment of Thomas, or the coaching staff, if he's so shitty they think Lindley is the better option.

Anyway, it's off to Carolina, who absolutely trucked the Falcons in Atlanta to win the NFC South. The Panthers are on a 4-game win streak, but I don't know quite what their strategy is. Run a lot and trust the defense, I guess. Their defense returned two Matt Ryan INTs for touchdowns, and recovered a fumble. The Panthers had no defensive return TDs before this game, so they can't necessarily count on that helping them against Arizona. But if Arizona's run defense doesn't get back on track, it won't matter, because Carolina will just run all over them.

The Cardinals are going to be the underdog, and they're certainly capable of losing. They've done it 4 out of their last 6 games. But Carolina's hardly an unstoppable juggernaut. If Lindley (who I assume will still be starting) can replicate whatever produced the TDs, and eliminate whatever is the cause of his interceptions, Arizona might have a chance. I don't have the ranks updated for this week's games, but Carolina's was ranked 8th in rushing yards and 16th in yards per carry on offense, their defense is 19th and 28th, respectively in those categories. So maybe a lot of Kerwynn Williams (assuming Ellington isn't going to be ready). Carolina's pass defense is only 9th in yards allowed, and 18th in passing TDs allowed, so yeah, not sure I love Lindley's chances against that. But I wouldn't love his odds against a college defense. Oh, and tight end Greg Olsen is one of Carolina's two top pass catchers (the other being Kelvin Benjamin), and we all know how much trouble tight ends give Arizona's defense. We'll see if I'm pleasantly surprised.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Well That Sucked

I felt Arizona could win last night's game against Seattle, but to do so, they would probably need to replicate the formula they used in last year's Week 16 win over the Seahawks. Meaning the defense and special teams would need to make some big plays, the running game would need to be productive enough to control the clock, and there would have to be a couple of big (positive) plays in the passing game. Yes, the Cards had Palmer for that game last year, but he threw 4 INTs, and I was really only asking Lindley/Thomas to make a couple of good passes.

As it turns out, none of that happened. The defense got torched, the special teams did nothing special, the running game was non-existent, and Lindley made no plays, and was so bad people were joking he was too inaccurate to even be intercepted.

A blowout loss to a good team probably shouldn't be as depressing as it is, but it is. For one thing, I've been increasingly irritated by Seahawks' fans who were treating it as a given their team was going to win the division. It's actually impressive that it only took one championship for them to become as arrogant, entitled, and generally a bunch of dipshits as Patriots' fans. But now they probably are going to win the division, unless Arizona can beat a 49ers team that has largely rolled up its tents, and Seattle somehow loses at home to the Rams. I suppose the Rams could always replicate their dirty play from yesterday's game against the Giants. Maybe if they injure enough Seattle players, they could win. One can always hope, and yes, I've officially reached the point where I hate Seahawks' fans enough to want their players to get hurt, just to make them sad. Which isn't quite the level of hate I had for Dallas back in the '90s, since I actually disliked their players and coaches, but it's closer than I expected the Seahawks to get.

I really hate the bad timing. Why did this Arizona defense get saddled with this offense? Why couldn't their defense have been this good when they had the Warner/Fitzgerald/Boldin squad? This defense combined with that passing game would have obliterated that stumbling manchild mental defective/serial sexual assaulter that plays QB for the Steelers. But no, it's 2012 all over again, right down to Ryan Lindley's ineptitude. Bill Barnwell was suggesting the Cards might as well throw Logan Thomas in against San Francisco this week, just to get him ready, because at least Thomas has the arm to make the deep passes Arians' offense run on. Sure what the hell. He can't be any worse than Lindley, right?

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

This Is Starting To Feel Like A Bad Joke

Good news, Arizona beat the Rams, 12-6. Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor combined for 29 carries and 136 yards. The Cards didn't turn the ball over, and forced 2 turnovers (though the second one was an INT on the final play of the game). Chandler Catazaro rebounded from missing two field goals last week, to make all 4 attempts this week. The defense held the Rams to 280 yards, 13 1st downs, and just four conversions on 15 3rd downs.

Bad news, Drew Stanton partially tore his ACL and MCL, so he's out for at least a month. And thus, the Lindley Signal went up! All other bad news is irrelevant next to that nightmare. The return of the guy I think is the worst Cardinals' starting QB of the last 22 seasons. Maybe that's an exaggeration, Arizona has had a lot of bad QBs. Max Hall, Horse Balls Anderson, John Navarre, Stoney Case, Shaun King, the dessicated remains of Jim McMahon. But at least those guys all managed to throw a TD pass occasionally, which is still not something Lindley can say.

I never wanted to see him on the field in a Cardinals' uniform again, but here we are. It's him or Logan Thomas. The kick in the nuts with a steel-toed boot, or the stomp on the nuts with golf cleats. Neither of those are very appealing options to face Seattle with next week, let alone lead them into the playoffs, but it's what they have. Thanks to the 49ers' inability to actually beat the Seahawks, the Cardinals' division lead is still only one game. The Cards understandably want homefield, and that bye week. The only way they get either is if they win next week, since a loss gives Seattle the tiebreaker over Arizona.

I guess technically Arizona could still pull it off if they went to San Francisco and won in Week 17, and Seattle lost at home to the Rams that week. Which. . . does not seem like the kind of series of events you want to bank on. I mean, San Francisco might roll up their tents by then, and the Rams will certainly play hard, but it's not optimal. So a must-win against the team playing better than anyone else in the NFC right now. No pressure or anything defense, but you really need to beat Russell Wilson to a pulp. Even more than you did a month ago.

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Slightly Less Worried Now

OK, Seattle won, pretty easily in fact, but Arizona maintained the one game lead in the division by beating Kansas City, 17-14. Not a pretty win, but it seems unlikely that winning pretty is in their forecast at this point.

Arizona still only scored one touchdown, their normally reliable field goal kicker Chandler Catazaro, missed two field goals. They ultimately only held on because the refs said on review, that Travis Kelce fumbled before scoring a touchdown, and Arizona recovered the ball. Whatever works, though, right? The Chiefs did run for 126 yards, but 63 of those were on one Jamaal Charles touchdown run. Which means the Chiefs still averaged about 4 yards a rush on their other 16 carries. The run defense is starting to worry me a little. Maybe guys are tired, or the injuries are becoming too much. Or maybe it's just the quality of backs they're facing lately. The defense did pick off Alex Smith once, and sacked him 5 times, and they did not become the first team to let a Chiefs wideout score a touchdown this year.

Stanton, well, he only completed half of his passes, but he threw for over 200 yards, so the Cards remain committed to chucking the ball downfield. Too late to change even if they wanted to, I guess. The real good news offensively was they ran for 141 yards. Kerwynn Williams ran for exactly 100 yards on 19 carries, which isn't something I expected, to put it lightly. We'll find out shortly whether that was a fluke, because they face the Rams in St. Louis on Thursday night. The Rams are doing quite well, and Arizona barely beat them last time (score to the contrary), so this could be rough.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Yes, I'm Worried Now

I said Arizona needed to beat Atlanta.

They did not. They didn't do anything well. Stanton threw 2 INTs, the entire team ran for 35 yards, and Andre Ellington left with a hip injury. Matt Ryan threw for over 360 yards, and completed 30 of 41 passes, though his one INT was returned for a TD (at which point the Cards were still down 17-7). Steven Jackson ran for over 100 yards against them. Yes, 55 of that came on one carry, but Arizona held DeMarco Murray under 100 yards, they can't contain what's left of Steven Jackson? Patrick Peterson said he wanted to match up with Julio Jones, then let Jones post career highs in receptions and yards. And yeah, one of those receptions shouldn't have counted, because Jones' second foot came down out of bounds, and Arians didn't challenge for some reason, but guess what? At most, that drops Jones' numbers to 9 catches and 148 yards, which is still really bad. Peterson, please, don't talk smack if you can't back it up, OK?

Maybe getting Larry Fitzgerald back will help, assuming that happens next week, but I don't see how that'll cure all ills. I guess if it keeps their defense on the sidelines so it can rest a little more, that would help. But the Cardinals have only scored three offensive touchdowns in the last 3 games, 1 in the last 11 quarters. They did sign Michael Bush as a backup running back. He didn't play this week, but if Ellington isn't ready to go next week, I'd say they've got nothing to lose throwing him in there. Grice and Stefan Taylor sure as hell aren't setting the world on fire.

And the lead over Seattle is down to one game.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

At Least I Can Say I Saw Arizona Have A 6-Game Winning Streak

Arizona lost to Seattle 19-3. So Arizona's lead is down to just 2 games. For the record, I want you to read that with me gasping in mock horror.

Look, there's 5 games left, so yeah, there's time for San Fran or Seattle to catch and pass the Cardinals for the division lead. But 2 games with just 5 to go is no small thing, so I'm just not that worried. Yet. Now, if Arizona loses to Atlanta next week, well. . . They need to win that game, it's the easiest game they have left. But at the moment, no, I'm not panicking.

Seattle's good, they were at home, a loss wasn't that big a surprise. The defense did it's best. Marshawn Lynch got just 39 yards on 15 carries. Russell Wilson was sacked 7 times, and once you factor that in, he only threw for about 170 yards. Wilson did run for 73 yards, but 40 of those were on one carry, so 9 carries for 33 yards isn't bad work.

The problem was, predictably, the offense. Arizona's D may have held Seattle to just one TD on 5 red zone trips, but that doesn't help much when their O only makes it into the red zone once. Fitzgerald didn't play. Stanton threw one pick, and was only 14 of 26 for 149 yards. They managed just 12 first downs, and only 64 yards rushing, 23 of those by Stanton on 4 scrambles. Ellington had his 3rd crappy game in a row. Arians said this week Ellington's foot injury keeping him out of Wednesday practices was hurting him, because he was missing key blocking assignment practice or something. I can't tell if he was trying to excuse Ellington, or if it was a jab for Ellington to try to practice through the foot issue. Hopefully NOT the latter (Forgot the "not" initially. Oops). It isn't like Arizona has anybody better to turn to, and I'm not convinced it isn't an issue of a) they're playing good defenses, and b) Arizona's o-line sucks.

I'm leaning towards the last one, because Arizona's offensive line always stinks. The Cardinals have ranked in the top half of the league in yards per carry just three times (2010, 2002, 1993) dating back to 1993. Their running game is never productive.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Look At The Baseball Cardinals' Offseason

I've been meaning to talk about the St. Louis Cardinals' offseason for a few weeks (also finish the 25-year roster thing), but kept putting it off. Mostly because I felt I'd have to address Oscar Taveras' death (and that of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo) in a car crash, and a) I wasn't sure what I could say about it, and b) it would kind of make everything else seem unimportant. I'm not sure I have any solutions, but we'll see.

It turns out Taveras was very intoxicated, which is what I was afraid of when I heard the news. Not because I knew anything about Taveras' habits, but he was a young athlete, in his offseason, and he was driving. It seemed a likely, if unfortunate, aspect. It makes it worse, because then you have to think that if he'd been sober, maybe they both make it where they were going alive. But Taveras isn't the first person in their early 20s to make a bad decision with regards to alcohol. My best friend has made similar bad decisions over the years, so have a lot of his other friends. But they were able to get away with it, and hopefully eventually learn better. Taveras and Arvelo just weren't some of the lucky ones.

As to the offseason, my personal hope had been the Cardinals would upgrade the bench. Get a catcher Matheny will be willing to start 50 times a year. Either promote someone from within, or find a free agent, or trade for somebody. Get a righthanded guy who can play first and 3rd, to platoon with Adams and to just give Carpenter the occasional day off (he played in 158 games this year). Find a competent middle infielder, one who can play at least a mediocre second and shortstop, and hit well enough Matheny will be willing to use him to give Peralta the occasional day off. Descalso isn't actually a SS (or a second baseman for that matter), and Kozma's hitting is so bad, the Cardinals won't use him if they don't absolutely have to. And I don't know that the coaching staff has any confidence in Greg Garcia.

I also hoped the team would look into trading John Lackey. I figured given how cheap his contract is - one year at 500 grand - there has to be some team out there looking to compete that would take a chance on him as a stabilizing veteran presence. Sort of a low-rent James Shields. Not as good, or signed for as long, true, but a hell of a lot cheaper. Which would open a spot in the rotation that would hopefully be filled by a Carlos Martinez who spent the entire offseason preparing to be a starter. I know the odds that El Gallo can be the next Pedro Martinez are really small, but if he can be even half of Pedro, that's someone you give every opportunity to succeed. I don't want it to be another situation like Rosenthal, where the team says they haven't ruled him out as a starter, but really, they've ruled him out as a starter.

Anyway, Mozeliak held a press conference right after the NLCS where he said several things. One was that Wainwright's elbow was structurally fine, as was Wacha's shoulder (outside of the stress reaction thing he has, which is always going to be a problem). Of course, Mozeliak said that on a Monday, and by that Friday, Wainwright was having a procedure on his elbow to remove bone spurs and "scrape" the ligament. Apparently he didn't trust the team doctors and got a second opinion. The team medical staff are, after all, paying to be the Cards' medical staff, and so the question of whose best interests they're looking out for, the player or the team's, is a valid one. No word of if Wacha's looked into a second opinion, though I'm not sure there's anything to be done on his shoulder.

Mo said Martinez and Marco Gonzales would be stretched out in spring training, but Martinez would still most likely be in the bullpen, and Gonzales in the AAA rotation. This may have changed recently. Stephen Piscotty would be in a competition with Grichuk and Taveras for the RF spot. No word on whether it would be a real competition, or a LaRussa style, bullshit, "open competition", where Matheny already has a winner in mind. This one was rendered moot, first by Taveras' death, then by other actions that we'll get to. Jon Jay was named starting centerfielder next year, which may not bode well for Bourjos, and certainly doesn't make me happy. I still think Bourjos' ceiling is much higher than Jay's, and Jay's moving into his 30s, so I expect he may begin to decline. His power has already evaporated completely.

Mozeliak also said the team didn't plan to resign any of their free agents. Not a big deal, given who we're talking about, other than Neshek. And the impression was the Cardinals certainly would like for Neshek to return, but his excellent season would price him out of their range, which is true and a wise decision on the team's part. The last two multi-year contracts they handed to relievers were to Motte and Choate, neither of which has worked out fabulously. Mozeliak added that the team would offer arbitration to all their eligible players (Lynn, Jay, Tony Cruz, Shane Robinson, Descalso, maybe Bourjos).

The first two and Bourjos are fine, though Jay's likely to see a considerable spike, from a little over 3 million to closer to 6. But Cruz, Robinson, and Descalso are less necessary. The Cardinals need a catcher Matheny trusts enough to use to give Molina days off. My personal preference would be for Yadier to not start more than 110 games behind the plate this year. He could still play first against tough lefties in place of Adams, or DH when they play in AL stadiums, but just get him less wear and tear on his knees. The team says all the right things about trusting Cruz, but they clearly don't, or they'd get Yadi more days off. Also, they probably wouldn't have signed Pierzynski this season if they really trusted Cruz. As for Robinson, there's not really anything he does that either Jay, Bourjos, or someone from the minors (Tommy Pham?) can't do better. In a limited role (spot starter/5th outfielder/defensive sub/pinch-runner), Robinson can be a useful player, but I don't think the Cardinals need him.

As for Descalso, he's not good at any position defensively, and he's not a good enough hitter to compensate for this. Yet because Matheny seemingly has trust in him, he acts as this patch that keeps the Cardinals from bothering to upgrade their bench. They don't need a backup SS, they have Descalso. He can play there every so often, and Peralta will just play all the time, to heck with fatigue. Ditto Matt Carpenter.

So far, the team has made two moves. They signed a Dean Anna to the 40-man roster. Anna might be the middle infielder I was hoping for. He has just 25 PAs in the majors, from this season with the Yankees, and they didn't go well. But he's hit well in AAA in the past, and projects to be a slight upgrade over Descalso with the bat. More critically, he's regarded as competent at both 2nd base and SS. He's not going to supplant Wong or Peralta as starters, but he doesn't need to. He can give Wong the day off against the occasional lefty, and sub in for Peralta every so often. He's better offensively than Kozma, and better defensively than Descalso. He seems like he has the potential at least, to be a perfectly acceptable bench guy, which is what I wanted.

The other, much bigger move, happened yesterday. The Cards traded Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins for outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden of Atlanta. Heyward figures to take over rightfield, which is the other reason that Mozeliak comment about a competition is irrelevant. Heyward's power has fallen off the last two years, especially this year, when he had a slugging of just .384, and an ISO of 113. Which would still be better than most of the Cardinals (Yadi, Jay, and Matt Carp, to name 3). He still had an OBP of .351, and an OPS of 108, which isn't spectacular, but at least it would be another above-average bat in the lineup. The previous two years, his OPS+ were 117 and 114, which is in line with most of the Cards' lineup from last year.

Heyward's primary gift seems to be superb defense in right field (though he's also a fair baserunner). He might be even better in RF than Bourjos is in CF. If they played the two together, it might eliminate a lot of concerns about Holliday's worsening defense in LF. But Jay is starting supposedly, and there are questions as to whether Heyward has rendered Bourjos redundant. I'd argue no, because I don't Jay's longterm viability in center, but this hasn't been a good offseason for Cardinals' players I like, so Bourjos is probably screwed. Walden will apparently take Neshek's role as "reliever with strange delivery", and will hopefully also assume Neshek's role as "Reliever other than Maness who doesn't walk guys", though if Rosenthal wants to vie for that title, he's more than welcome.

Most Cardinals' fans I've seen online are excited about the trade. I'm less so. I still believed Shelby was going to put it together and become Wainwright's successor as staff ace (I feel Lynn is a step below Waino's level, and is already maxed out, and Wacha's shoulder makes it questionable he can handle the innings load I'd expect). And Shelby was still under team control for 4 years. Heyward is a free agent after this season, and there are at least some rumblings he was traded because he didn't want to resign with Atlanta (there are other rumblings Atlanta didn't want to cough up the cash it would take to resign him, so take your pick). Jenkins has had some shoulder issues, and has yet to consistently harness his stuff, or even make it into the high minors, so he's a lottery ticket of sorts. But if he does make it to the majors, Atlanta could have him for 7 seasons before he reaches free agency. Meanwhile, Heyward could be gone after 2015, leaving the Cardinals with a draft pick and one more season of Walden.

It feels like the J.D. Drew trade in reverse. Atlanta acquired Drew (and Eli Marrero) from the Cards with one season remaining on his contract, in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and a minor leaguer named Wainwright (who had struggled through some shoulder issues). The Cardinals didn't seem to really want to keep Drew (as he was not the sort of player Larussa was going to love), and they needed pitching, in both the rotation and bullpen. Atlanta figured they had things covered on the pitching front, but needed more hitting. They never had any intention of resigning Drew, so that was them going all in on 2004. As it turned out, while the Braves did win the NL East - again - they were knocked out in the first round, while St. Louis won 105 games and went to the World Series. Marquis and King were hardly the primary reason, but they both contributed, and did so again the next year (to a lesser extent).

So I worry the Cardinals gave up too much for what will be a one-year rental. And it seems strange to me, considering that the corner outfield was supposed to be one area the Cards' farm system was flush with prospects. Maybe they're saving those guys to take over for Holliday in a couple of years. Or they figure one more year of seasoning in the minors won't hurt. Or they plan to keep Heyward, and use those guys as trade fodder for filling in other holes down the line. Holliday is into his mid-30s, as are Molina and Peralta. Jay in around 30, and Carp is closing in. Those guys will start to decline eventually, and the team may not have replacements on hand.

At this point, the roster would look something like this:

Rotation: Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, Gonzales
Bullpen: Rosenthal, Walden, Choate, Maness, Freeman, Martinez, Siegrist(?)

I put Gonzales in the rotation and Martinez in the bullpen because the way Mozeliak described it initially, Gonzales sounded like he was going to be the first guy up, and Martinez would have to be stretched out again before he could start. But that was in the event of midseason injury. This may alter things, so maybe Martinez will be in the rotation, and Gonzales in AAA just in case. In which case, the pen may have Nick Greenwood, Tyler Lyons, maybe someone else. The Cardinals may be interested in reliever Andrew Miller, which is interesting. If you're going to get a free agent reliever, why not keep the one you've got? If Miller is good enough to be interesting, you'd figure that would net him a stupid, multi-year contract.

Catcher: Molina, Cruz

Until we hear something different, I assume they're rolling with Cruz as the backup. There are a whole mess of guys listed as being free agent catchers, though. Surely one would be an improvement on Cruz, and be willing to serve as a backup who gets to play about a third of the games, if the team will finally stick to their plan to reduce Molina's workload.

Infield: Adams, Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, Anna, Descalso/Kozma/Garcia/Scruggs

They could still sign someone to handle the backup duties at the corners. Scruggs is strictly a first baseman, and not much of a hitter apparently. Maybe the Cardinals eschew a corner infield guy, rely on Molina or an outfielder to sub for Adams sporadically, and focus on another infielder who can play all the other positions. Mozeliak confirmed more recently they might not offer all those guys arbitration, and noted Descalso might want more playing time than he can get here. So who the heck knows. Probably wind up finding someone during Spring Training. Two guys I'm sort of curious about are Chad Tracy and Jamey Carroll. OK, looked at both their numbers. Never mind. Better off taking their chances with Garcia.

Outfield: Holliday, Jay, Bourjos, Heyward, Grichuk

I think that's a workable outfield, though getting everyone enough playing time (especially Bourjos) might be tricky. We'll see where things go from here.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arizona Is Determined To Kill My Doubts

I saw a comment on the Internet earlier this week on a post about Carson Palmer's season-ending knee injury. The commenter said it was a rare case of Palmer Palmering, and the Cardinals Cardinalsing. I don't know if I would describe the starting QB going doing without being touched as Cardinalsing, but I guess there being a dark cloud hanging over going 8-1 would fit. I do wonder how many years Arizona would have to be good before "Cardinalsing" would stop referring to bad things. I mean, the Patriots used to be a joke, but nobody would use "Patriotsing", or "Patriotsed" to describe bad fortune or play.

Of course, it might help if the Cardinals' own fans, such as myself, were more confident. Arizona beat the Detroit Lions today, 14-6, in a game where there were only 3 points scored after the 1st quarter. Arizona jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but then I spent the rest of the game on edge. Every time I saw that Arizona had the ball (we were stuck with the Green Bay pummeling Philly), I was imploring them to score more points. At least a field goal, to get the lead up to 11 points. And every time I'd see that Detroit had the ball back without the Cardinals scoring any points, my heart rate would rise. I expected Arizona's defense to battle hard, they have all year. But with Stafford and Calvin Johnson, all it takes is one missed assignment, or one time where Patrick Peterson slips, and boom, touchdown.

I know I ought to trust them more, but I have seen Arizona lose so many games over the years where they have a lead against a good team for most of the game, only to lose it late, it's hard to shake that fear that every time they don't take the opportunity to bury the good team, it's going to haunt them. Plus, you can't keep asking your defense to do so much. The offense has to carry its fair share.

I'm not being fair to the offense there, though. They did win time of possession, narrowly. They did convert 8 of 14 3rd downs. Stanton did make some good passes early that helped stake them to that two touchdown lead. Both those scoring drives were over 75 yards, which is not shabby against Detroit's defense. They didn't run the football effectively - again - but they at least tried 22 times (I'm assuming Stanton's 4 carries were kneel downs or something similar), which can at least slow the pass rush a bit. And Detroit did not sack Stanton once, which was the thing I was most afraid of, Stanton taking loads of hits from Suh and the rest.

But the defense was the star. Detroit had just 262 yards of offense, and were just 5 of 15 on third down. Arizona sacked Stafford 4 times, which gives them 10 in the last two weeks, and they hit him 9 times total. They forced two fumbles, though the Lions recovered both, and picked Stafford off once. Stafford completed 18 passes, but for only 183 yards. Peterson held Megatron to just 5 catches (on 12 targets), and just 59 yards. Hell yes, Patrick Peterson. When Stanton was picked off late in the first half, and the ball was returned to Arizona's 20. The defense held Detroit to a field goal. The game this reminds me of is the win over Seattle last year, where Palmer kept throwing picks, but the defense kept holding firm, keeping Seattle from scoring until Palmer could make a big play at the end.

Which is an appropriate memory, since next week, Arizona travels to Seattle. The Seahawks have run the ball real well the last two weeks (over 500 yards), and Arizona did allow 98 yards rushing this week, at over 5 yards a carry. But 200+ yards on the ground didn't help Seattle beat the Chiefs, and Arizona still beat Detroit, so we'll see what happens. Arizona has a 3 game lead in the division now, so one loss to the Seahawks isn't going to kill them.

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Damn, I Love Arizona's Defense

The Rams led 14-10 from midway through the second quarter into the start of the 4th quarter. Then Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury that as I type this, hasn't been diagnosed (though the implication seems to be torn ACL, so crap). So Drew Stanton came in, and almost immediately uncorked a 48 yard pass to John Brown, and the Cardinals took the lead.

The defense took care of things from there. Austin Davis was intercepted twice, both by Patrick Peterson, one of which he returned for a TD. Then Kareem Martin I believe forced a fumble with a big hit on Davis, Cromartie picked it up, and returned it for a TD. Just like that, 31-14 Arizona, and it's the team's first 8-1 start since 1948. Criminy Pete.

I don't know that Arizona's had a game this year where everything has clicked. Certainly not for a full game. The run defense is almost always there - no 100-yard rushers this year, the Rams had just 70 yards on 22 catches. Though that's considerably better result the Arizona's rush offense today: 28 yards on 22 carries. The Rams did collect 3 sacks, and Palmer threw a pick, but Arizona sacked Davis 6 times, plus another 8 hits. So the pass rush produced tangible results in a way it hasn't managed most of this year (though the pressure does help even if they don't get sacks).

But Palmer was kind of up and down prior to his injury, and the offense in general only works in fits and starts. Typically it starts slow, then seems to pick up in the the second quarter. Other times it goes quiet late in the third quarter when they need to burn clock. Without Palmer, I'm not sure that's going to change. Stanton did alright the last time he stepped in as starter, but the remainder of the season is gonna be rough. Detroit, Kansas City, and Seattle are coming to town, and Arizona still has to visit Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Atlanta. OK, those last two might not sound so tough, but the Rams at least are a divisional game. They already beat the Seahawks and Niners this year, and they had Arizona on the ropes for 45 minutes, so take nothing for granted.

Plus, Stanton already went out with one concussion this year, which I imagine makes him more susceptible to subsequent concussions, and then you're down to Logan Thomas. Though if Palmer really has torn his ACL I would have to think they would get themselves a third QB, and hopefully he could learn the offense quickly enough to step in front of Thomas.

I don't know, Detroit's up next, and they look damn good, other than their kicking game. Matt Stafford isn't making stupid throws all the time any longer, and Suh isn't getting called for dumb penalties all the time. Given the pressure the Rams' defense was able to put on Palmer (not to mention how they bottled up Ellington, only 42 yards on 23 touches), I'm concerned what the Lions' D-line will do.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Arizona's Making Me Real Happy

Arizona beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-17. It wasn't really that close. Dallas did jump out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to Palmer throwing an INT that was returned for a touchdown. But Arizona retook the lead 14-10 in the 2nd quarter, and built it from there. It was 28-10 with less than 2 minutes left.

I know Dallas hasn't been more than mediocre for over 15 years, and they were starting Doopy Pants Weeden because Romo has two fractures in his back, and not even Jerry Jones' attempt to question his toughness could overcome that. Even so, it's nice to beat the Cowboys in Dallas.

Arizona held DeMarco Murray to 79 yards rushing, this first time this season he didn't run for 100 yards. It turns out Patrick Peterson left partway through last week's game with a concussion, and wasn't doing terribly well against Maclin last week. This week, he kept Dez Bryant from catching a pass until there were less than 2 minutes left in the game. Andre Ellington ran for 95 yards on 21 carries, which is probably his best game since maybe Week 2 against the Giants. He also had 4 catches for 39 yards, so good times. Palmer did throw 3 TDs against the one INT, so hard to argue with that. On the whole, a pretty dominating performance.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Cardinal Slew An Eagle

I'm not sure if Arizona's 24-20 victory of the Eagles is a good sign or a bad sign.

It's good they won, to be sure. It's good they surrendered no sacks of Palmer, and only 3 QB hits. The offense had 400 yards, and averaged 6.6 yards per play. Palmer did only go 20 of 42, but with 329 yards an 2 TDs, it's hard to complain. Andre Ellington only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, but did get 23 carries, so even if the o-line isn't opening a lot of holes, Arians is at least committed to trying to run, which probably helps keep Palmer on his feet. Larry Fitzgerald had 160 yards receiving, including an 80 yard TD, and John Brown had 119 yards, including the game-winning 75 yard TD reception. The defense held Philly 0-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. It also intercepted Nick Foles twice, and recovered a fumble. After watching him luck his was into that ridiculous TD/INT ratio last year, it's encouraging to see things reverting to a more normal state of affairs.

On the downside, those are about the only positives for Arizona's defense. The Eagles had 521 yards of offense. Lesean McCoy ran for 83 yards at 4.0 ypc, and the Eagles had 110 yards rushing overall. Jeremy Maclin had a ludicrous game, going for 187 yards and 2 TDs. Riley Cooper had a 50 yard reception. The Cardinals did not record a sack of Foles, though they at least hit him 8 times. At least Foles had to throw 62 times to get his 411 yards, completing 36.

I didn't get to see the game, so I don't know what happened. Breakdowns in coverage? Patrick Peterson was hurt? They picked on Cromartie (as most teams have done), and paid the price twice? I just worry that all the injuries the defense has sustained are starting to take their toll. "Next man up" is a good idea in theory, but at a certain point, the gap between the next man and the guy he's replacing in either talent or familiarity with the scheme is just too large.

Maybe I'm worrying over nothing. The Arizona Cardinals are 6-1. Yeah, Philly racked up 521 yards on offense, but it netted them all of 20 points, and three of those came on a 54-yard field goal on a drive that only covered 20 yards. So they moved it a lot, but it didn't get them much. And Arizona is 6-1. The Rams lost, the Niners are 4-3 and on their bye, and the Seahawks won, which makes them 4-3. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is for certain, especially with 5 division games remaining (including in San Francisco and Seattle) but for the moment, Arizona has a 2-game division lead.

Up next are, oh crap, the surprisingly good Dallas Cowboys, in Dallas. At least they're playing on Monday Night Football this week, so short week for them. Fingers cross Garrett runs DeMarco Murray into the ground against Washington.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

One Cardinal Holds Course, The Other Plummets

The St. Louis Cardinals lost three consecutive games to the Giants, and now their season is over. Matheny used Michael Wacha - who hadn't pitched in 3 weeks - in the 9th innings of a tie game that would end the Cards' season if a run scored. Maness, Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Randy Choate were all available at the time (though Choate would have also been a bad call, given he'd be facing mostly righthanders). Also, true to my guess last week, Matheny started Grichuk in Games 2-4, despite the Giants using righthanded starting pitchers in all 3 games. He was so disinclined to use Peter Bourjos, he pinch-hit Daniel Descalso and Tony Cruz ahead of Bourjos at different times. The fact Matheny apparently thinks either of those guys is a better hitter than Bourjos ought to be enough to get him fired, even if the blithering idiocy of the Wacha blunder isn't.

But it probably won't get him fired, what with 3 consecutive trips to an NLCS. Well, I guess a manager can only screw a team up so much over 162 games. At least Wainwright ended the season on a strong outing, and now he has 3 months to let his arm recuperate. They're probably going to have to dial his workload back some next year. Molina's too. Also might be a good idea for Matts Carpenter and Holliday, maybe also Peralta. So it might behoove Mozeliak to fix the damn bench, and make Matheny understand he better fuckin' use it. And stop starting Grichuk against righties. How many times does he have to fail before he gets benched like Taveras did?

Whatever, on to happier topics. Arizona just finished beating the Oakland Raiders 24-13. I know it isn't much of an accomplishment to beat an 0-5 (now 0-6) team, but 1) it was on the road, and 2) I'm always terrified when Arizona plays winless teams this far into the season. I worry they'll lose and be the only victory for that other, pitiful team. Before you scoff, recall the Jets went 1-15 in '96, and the 1 was Arizona. In 2004, the 49ers went 2-14, and both of the 2 were Arizona, which is even more embarrassing.

Plus, this is just the kind of game Arizona blows, historically, though they've done better these last few years. Having a solid defense helps, and the Raiders managed just 220 yards on just 48 plays (compared to Arizona's 365 on 69 plays). And 79 of Oakland's yards came on their lone touchdown drive. The Cardinals didn't record any turnovers, and only had one sack, but they held Oakland to less than 3 yards per carry on the ground, and Carr went just 16 of 28 for 164 yards. And it's good to see a strong defensive performance that doesn't rely on a bunch of takeaways. You can't always count on those, because sometimes the ball won't bounce right, so it's helpful to just stop drives, and the Raiders were just 4-12 on 3rd down.

The Cardinals didn't have a hugely successful day running, just 3.7 ypc, but they did run 37 times for 123 yards. Seems like they played one of those "Enough to Win" games people talk about with the Patriots. They knew they were better, they got a lead, and then they just did enough to hold on. Which is fine, they went 9 for 15 on 3rd down, Palmer was 22 of 31 for 242 yards and a TD. He did throw the Cardinals first interception of the season. I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that to my dad yesterday.

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