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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Monday, October 13, 2014

A Little About Two Victorious Cardinals

Arizona defeated that football team from the nation's capitol, 30-20. Carson Palmer came back from his shoulder nerve thing to throw for 250 yards and 2 TDs. The defense forced 4 turnovers, which is good, because the Cardinals couldn't run the ball effectively at the end of the game to keep the opposition's offense on the sidelines. Andre Ellington had 67 yards on 19 carries, 93 yards on 25 touches overall. I can't say Bruce Arians isn't using Ellington a lot.

The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot frequently, committing 14 penalties, several of which extended the Washington team's drives. It's odd, considering they'd been the least-penalized team in the league prior to that. Hopefully this week was the fluke in that regard. At any rate, the Cowboys beat Seattle, so the Cardinals are once again in sole possession of first in the NFC West. Sure, the Niners could win tonight and go to 4-2, but Arizona already beat them once this year so, tiebreaker!

On the baseball side of things, the Cardinals managed to beat the Dodgers in 4, thanks to L.A.'s complete lack of a bullpen. Have to figure that's why Kershaw was still in there in the 7th when things went wrong, such as it is. I mean, Holliday and Peralta's hits only just missed being caught, and Adams' home run only cleared the fence by a couple of feet. I thought football was the game of inches.

The NLCS has already started, and the Cards lost Game 1 to a lockdown performance from Madison Bumgarner. I'm curious, if the series went 7, would Bochy use him there? Right now, he's scheduled for Game 5, so Game 7 would be on short rest. But I think he's clearly they best guy they've got. Then again, Bochy seems to have a better bullpen overall than Mattingly (not to mention Bochy generally seems smarter at deploying his), so he might be more willing to trust a lesser starter, but keep the quick hook. And the Cardinals' offense is capable of making any pitcher look great on any given night.

Wainwright pitched poorly, again. The elbow is becoming more concerning. Given he had a week between his bad Game 1 NLDS start and his bad Game 1 NLCS start, I don't think rest is going to do the job. At least, not the amount of rest you can get during playoff series. I can hope an offseason will do the trick, but that's not going to help now. So do they keep running him out there, or do they try Wacha or Gonzales? I'm not sure I trust any of them, really, certainly not to win a game where the opposing pitcher is Bumgarner. Gonzales walks too many guys, and Wacha didn't seem to have great stuff or command the last time he pitched. At least with those guys, you aren't risking further injury necessarily (well, maybe with Wacha, given the chronic nature of his shoulder condition). I don't know what the answer is.

In the meantime, I guess the Cardinals will just keep trying to hit homers. They hit 4in Game 2, all solo, but it was enough to help them win and even the series. Matt Carpenter hit his 4th of the postseason, Taveras hit one as a pinch-hitter to tie things up, Adams his his second to give them a lead, and after Rosenthal pitched like garbage again, Kolten Wong saved his bacon with another homer. That's 11 in 6 games, 9 of them by lefthanded hitters. Not sure if that means anything.

I do know the Cardinals are about to face righthanded pitchers the next two games, so maybe Matheny ought to consider benching Grichuk, who has historically not hit well against righties. There's next to no chance he'd start Taveras, but he could always go with Holliday-Bourjos-Jay. For all matheny's talk about winning games, that is the outfield best suited to win games, certainly when facing righthanded pitching, and playing in a park with an expansive outfield. Get the really fucking good centerfielder in centerfield. Odds of this happening are basically nil. Matheny made sure to single out Randal for praise for a couple of good plays he made in Game 2, so I'm pretty sure he's trying to lay groundwork for starting him again. Him and my dad, they both just love Grichuk. Me? I find him a useful player, but I'm pretty sure he's the second coming of Jim Lindeman offensively (while being more useful defensively and on the basepaths). Insert your preferred "promising prospect who flames out because he can't stop flailing at breaking pitches and stuff out of the strike zone". Well, my first goal for the Cardinals in any playoff series is to not get swept, and they have taken that off the table, so we'll see what they can manage from there.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Guess I'm Rooting For The Seahawks To Lose Tomorrow

Arizona lost to the Broncos 41-20. Ouch. I expected Arizona would lose, but not that badly. Maybe 28-20, something moderately respectable. Arizona's offense was completely shut down, managing only 215 yards and converting just 3 of 16 third downs. Oh, and 81 of Arizona's offensive yards came on one catch and run by Andre Ellington.

The sad/scary thing is that in some ways, Arizona didn't play that bad. Only 3 penalties, they held Denver to 7 of 16 on 3rd down, which isn't great, but not terrible. They held the Broncos to 92 yards rushing, though Ronnie Hillman averaged over 4 yards a carry on his 15 attempts. The defense even intercepted Peyton twice.

You're right, I'm grasping at straws. The flimsiest of which is hoping the Seahawks lose to that football team in the nation's capitol so Arizona can maintain sole possession of first place.

So let's move to baseball. The playoffs are in full swing, though they aren't providing much suspense so far. The Orioles finished a sweep of Detroit this afternoon, and as I type, the Royals are leading Anaheim 5-2 in the top of the 4th with their own chance to sweep. After winning an 18 inning war of attrition on Saturday, the Giants are poised to sweep the Nationals.

The only series that has no chance of ending in a sweep in Dodgers/Cardinals, because they split the two games in L.A. St. Louis won the first game in a slugfest, hardly what anyone would expect from a game featuring Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw (not to mention the Cards' anemic offense), but there you are. The Dodgers won the second game behind a good start from Zack Greinke, and a timely 9th inning home run by Matt Kemp. Off Pat Neshek, who isn't exactly covering himself with glory in this postseason, having surrendered a run in each of the first two games.

Oh well, the Cardinals needed a split to wrest away home field in this match-up, and they got it. In about the most unlikely way possible - lighting up Kershaw for 8 runs in less than 7 innings - but it still counts. Now they're sending out John Lackey against Ryu, which is another pitching match-up that favors the Dodgers, unless Ryu's shoulder is still bothering him. Now would be a great time for Lackey to be what I thought he was going to be when the Cardinals acquired him: a really good starting pitcher. Certainly didn't do it much during the previous two months.

Also, what the hell is up with Matt Carpenter? Hits 8 home runs all season, and now 2 in two games? Could have used you driving the ball like this a little more this Matt 2. I don't think that's his actual nickname (there's not one listed on his Baseball-Reference page), but I figure Holliday would be Matt 1, and Adams would be Matt 3, based on when they made the big leagues.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Stepping Back To Baseball For A Moment

Arizona didn't play, so they're still in first in the NFC West. A trip to Denver - who are also coming off a bye week - awaits. But that's for next week.

In the meantime, the baseball season ended. The Cardinals managed to hold onto the NL Central, despite doing their level best to blow it against the Cubs and the Diamondbacks. Now they have to travel to Los Angeles and play the Dodgers, a team that won four more games than the Cardinals, scored 99 more runs, but allowed 14 more runs. L.A. has a run differential of +101 (suggesting they should only have won 92 games), the Cards +16 (suggesting they should only have won 83. Yipes).

I have no idea how much any of that matters in a 5-game series. 4 games difference across 162 games isn't very much at all, and plenty of teams have won playoff series against teams with better records. The major concern for the Cardinals should be the same one they've had all year: Can they score? You could tell me they were gonna get swept because they only score 4 runs in 3 games and I wouldn't be terribly surprised. I still can't figure it out. They have enough above-average hitters it seems like they ought to be able to score more consistently, but they can't ever get more than a couple guys on track at the same time.

One thing that might work in their advantage is the state of the Dodgers rotation. Kershaw and Greinke are going to be trouble, no doubt, but I've read a few things that make me wonder if Ryu is available, Josh Beckett definitely isn't, and Dan Haren hasn't pitched terribly well this year (though that would hardly preclude him from shutting down the Cardinals' offense). And outside of Kenley Jansen, Brandon League, and J.P. Howell, the Dodgers' bullpen doesn't look too imposing. And Howell walks a batter every other inning, so that makes me think he's vulnerable (though he barely allows any hits, so maybe not).

Of course, I don't know what the Cardinals are going to do with their rotation. Wainwright and Lynn are certainties, but between Lackey, Miller, and Wacha, I don't know who gets left out. Lackey's had only a couple of good starts out of the 10 he had for St. Louis. Miller pitched poorly for 4.5 months, then pitched well the last 6 weeks. Wacha's seems like he needs more rehab starts. I'd probably go with Miller and Lackey, but make sure to include Marco Gonzales in the 'pen to step in for long relief if either one struggles. I have my doubts Matheny will pass up Wacha, though. More likely it'll be Shelby getting left behind, given Matheny was willing to take Joe Kelly over Shelby last year, when Miller had pitched much better than he has this season. Beyond that, I'd have Rosenthal, Martinez, Maness, Choate, Neshek, and Freeman in the bullpen. 12 pitchers is excessive, 11 should be plenty.

Of course, the question is whether they have enough guys worth putting on the bench to bother carrying six bench guys. Figure Molina, Adams, Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, Holliday, and Jay are set. My guess is they take Pierzynski over Cruz for backup catcher, and Bourjos, Grichuk, and Taveras round out the outfield options. Then you can take Descalso, Ellis, Kozma, er maybe swap in Xavier Scruggs for Ellis, if they can do that. Or Greg Garcia. Like I said, they may not have a 6th bench guy worth having, but there has to be some way to leverage that spot. I don't want them to end up in a situation like last year, where Matheny carries 12 pitchers, but two of them just sit there taking up space (Miller and Mujica).

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Pleasant Surprises Abound For Arizona

Arizona defeated the 49ers 23-14 yesterday, moving the Cardinals to 3-0, and keeping them in sole possession of first place in the NFC West. The Niners helped by declaring Vernon Davis and Ray McDonald inactive, but heck, Arizona didn't have Palmer or John Abraham either, so it evens out.

In the first half, the Niners came out with a lot of 5 wide receiver, quick route stuff, and Kaepernick torched Arizona's defense. Also, the Cardinals' offense consisted of telling Drew Stanton to throw the ball downfield and hope his receivers made a play. Or the Niners got called for pass interference, whichever. Hey, it worked for Peyton Manning, back when he could still throw downfield.

In the second half, Arizona adjusted to the Niners and contained their QB, and San Francisco opted not to go back to their power rushing attack for some reason. They only ran for 82 yards, and Kaepernick had 54 of those. Meanwhile, Arians realized that Stanton isn't Daryl Lamonica, and went to shorter passes. Along with some help from the Niners penalty happy defense, the Cardinals managed to score a couple of touchdowns and win the day.

The good news is Stanton again avoided turnovers. Larry Fitzgerald lost a fumble, but that's not on the QB. Stanton also wasn't sacked, though he took some hits. The defense stiffened up, holding the Niners to just over 100 yards in the second half and 0 points. Arizona's offense went 8-13 on 3rd down conversions, which is good. The Cardinals only ran for 84 yards, but the ran 27 times, so Arians is at least committed to keeping a balanced offense.

Now the Cardinals have a bye week, which seems like bad luck (it seems better to have them later in the season, after guys are more beat up), and then they have to play Denver. It's at Denver, which is going to make things tougher, but may work out in the long run. I figure beating Denver, even in Arizona, might be a tall order. But the other teams in the AFC West are the sort that might not be too difficult to host, but could be rough if you have travel to their stadium. So maybe it's better to face KC in Arizona. Although I think Arizona's defense ought to be able to do at least as good a job against Denver as Seattle did. May be a question of whether Arizona's offense can dial it up. They went 1-for-4 scoring touchdowns on red zone trips again yesterday. That has to improve, especially against better teams.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Who Is That Atop The NFC West?

Arizona, that's who.

Yes, I know it's only week 2. Yes, I know they could fall into a tie for first as soon as next week, when they play the 1-1 49ers, who will no doubt be pissed they blew a 17-point lead last night. Just let me enjoy the moment.

The Cardinals beat the New York Giants 25-14 yesterday. There were a lot of potential excuses if they lost. They were coming off a Monday night game that didn't even start until after 9 p.m., playing an early Sunday game, on the East Coast, minus both their starting QB (held out with a shoulder sprain), and their best remaining pass rusher (John Abraham, who suffered memory loss after his concussion in the Charger game).

Incidentally, I would totally understand if Abraham took that as a sign to retire. He's 35, probably made a pretty good chunk of change over the years. Take it home and enjoy remembering your family's names.

Besides the fact they won, there are several good things to take away from the game for Arizona. The team ran for 124 yards and 4 ypc, and the defense held the Giants to just 81 yards and 3 ypc. Andre Ellington had 91 yards on just 15 carries, and another 10 on his one catch, so 101 yards on 16 touches overall. The defense sacked Eli Manning twice, intercepted him twice (no great trick, admittedly), and recovered a fumble. Ted Ginn returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown, then the Cards' special teams forced and recovered another fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Backup QB Drew Stanton didn't turn the ball over. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro was 4-for-4 on field goals.

Still, there are concerns. The Giants outgained Arizona 341 yards to 266, and averaged 5 yards per play. Eli Manning completed 67% of his passes, and I get the feeling the defense still can't get consistent pressure on the QB. The Cardinals were whistled for 7 penalties (though New York got 9), and Patrick Peterson drew two on one drive. For the second week in a row, Arizona got an early lead, then lost it and had to stage a comeback. The lead was lost and regained a little earlier this week than last week, but I'm hoping to see a game where they take control early and maintain. Stanton was sacked 4 times, which solidifies my concerns about the offensive line's pass blocking abilities. Which could be critical if they want to keep Palmer upright against the Niners in Week 3. Stanton didn't really have a great game. I know he hasn't played in a game since 2010, but 14-29 for 167 yards isn't all that special. It might be good enough against a shitty NFC East team, but the offense will have to do better against their divisional foes.

But for now, as I said above, I'm just going to enjoy what they've got going in the moment.

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