Sunday, August 23, 2015

40 Games To Go

This would have been a much more positive post if I'd done it two games ago. Since then, the Cards have disintegrated in consecutive games against the Padres. The defense has collapsed, the bullpen has scuffled, and the offense has been even more anemic than usual.

The offense is the real concern. The Cardinals have good pitching, but so does every other team with a chance to make the postseason. And the Cards have shown they can be shut down even by mediocre pitchers. You can't keep asking the pitchers to hold the other team scoreless every single game, they have to have some margin for error.

Anyway, injuries continue to be a problem. Wainwright's still absent, as is Jordan Walden. Belisle is still out. Adams isn't back yet, neither is Jay. Holliday came back briefly after the All-Star break, then reaggravated the quad injury almost immediately. By all accounts, he's further away from returning than Adams. Grichuk has some elbow strain that put him on DL, and he was apparently playing through some foot thing, so maybe this will that some time to clear up. Heyward pulled a hamstring, but that only kept him out for a game, though he's not running at full speed yet, which suggests to me they should have let him rest some more, until he felt confident in it.

Of course, it's hard to do that when your manager is insisting on carrying 8 relief pitchers for some reason. That leaves the bench with 4 guys, two of whom are Tony Cruz (useless), and Pete Kozma (almost as useless). Then one of the others is Peter Bourjos, who isn't having a good season, but could be useful in terms of his defense, except Matheny pretty much refuses to use him. Even with Heyward and Grichuk out, Matheny still wouldn't start Bourjos in CF, preferring Tommy Pham. And hey, I like Pham, his luck on balls in play seems to be starting to turn around, but I'm not sure he ought to be starting ahead of Bourjos. I still have some issues with Matheny.

Looking at the team overall, Molina's still not hitting terribly well, 2 HRs against the Giants aside. Neither is Reynolds. Wong's been in a slump since the end of June. Carpenter continues to get hosed by umpires who don't know the strike zone as well as he does. Peralta's power has evaporated. Piscotty's been a helpful addition. Shown a bit of power, but mostly just good at making contact and spraying the ball to all fields. Grichuk shown more power than I thought he had, and he's even walked a little more (6% BB rate). I still think striking out in 31% of his plate appearances isn't a viable long-term approach, but the Cards need him, which is a pretty good summation of how screwed they are. The big question with Heyward coming into this season was whether, on the cusp of free agency, he'd show that power he's hinted at. The answer is no. His ISO is 147, which isn't terrible, better than the 113 he had last year, but it's hardly impressive. Reynolds, Peralta, Carpenter, Piscotty, and Grichuk are all beating it, some of them by quite a bit. He'll still do well in free agency, he has the highest WAR on the team, but not as well as he could do.

On the pitching side, the starters' ERAs all exceed their FIPs by a fair amount, but oh well. I tend to wonder if Martinez and Wacha are going to start hitting a wall soon. They're both up near 150 innings, which is more than either of them have thrown at this level. It's why I was hoping the Cards could build up a comfortable division lead by the start of September. Then Matheny could use the expanded rosters to give some of their starts to Cooney or Lyons. Doesn't look as though that'll be an option now. Garcia's been pitching very well, his stuff is showing some nasty movement. Lackey had been doing well until Friday's game against San Diego. The defense didn't help him any there, but he lost composure, too.

Labels:

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Little Over Halfway Through The Season Post

I should have done this a couple of days ago, but I was a little swamped. Anyway, the Cardinals are still in first place in the NL Central, though after being swept in a doubleheader by the Cubs yesterday, their lead is down to 4.5 games on Pittsburgh. They still have a record of 54-30, and their Pythagorean matches that, which is the part that surprises me. Wainwright is still out, Lynn missed a couple of starts, Jaime Garcia came in and pitched well, like he usually does, then got hurt, which he also usually does. Except he only pulled a groin muscle instead of tearing up his shoulder. The coaching staff needs to tell their pitchers to stretch more on days off.

The rotation's held up so far, though. Brief DL stint aside, Lynn's pitching very well, with a K/BB ratio over 3. Wacha and Carlos Martinez have pitched almost as well, though their FIPs suggest they're getting a little more help from good fortune than Lynn. Martinez is walking close to 4 batters per 9 innings, though his K rate is equal to Lynn's, at 9.5/9 innings. Tyler Lyons is the weak point, continuing to not have success at the major league level. 5 HRs in less than 30 innings will do that to you.

I do worry about the bullpen's load. The Cards' pitching staff has one complete game (thrown by Lackey, who is doing much better than he did last year for the Cardinals). Rosenthal and Siegrist are both having great years -they've allowed a combined 9 runs in 77.3, with a 92/25 K/BB ratio - but both are on pace for close to 80 innings. Maness (only 2 unintentional walks in 33 innings!) and Carlos Villanueva are both on pace for around 65 innings, Belisle was headed for 60 before he went on the DL, Jordan Walden has missed most of the season (he's still at 10 innings). I have to give Matheny some credit, because he seems to be willing to hand the 9th innings over to people other than Rosenthal sometimes. Not so much in save opportunities - Trevor has 24 of the 31 saves - but that's true of most managers. He has let almost every reliever finish at least one game, even back of the bullpen guys like Marcus Hatley and Sam Tuivailala. He really seems to like Villanueva for that role, since he's second to Rosenthal in games finished. Mr. Villaneuva's turned out to be a good signing. I'm honestly surprised a guy with his track record of versatility didn't garner more interest this off-season. Well, this year will hopefully help on that score.

The offense has done OK. They're middle of the pack in runs, 12th in HRs and SBs, 10th in triples. They're once again 1st in doubles, they seem to do that a lot these last few years, 4th in OBP, but only 8th in SLG. Still an improvement over last year. It's not a bad showing, considering Holliday's missed about 30 games and counting, and Adams closer to 40 (and not likely to return any time soon). Jay's had recurring wrist problems (which likely have something to do with his .576 OPS), and has been limited to the point Bourjos has actually passed him for the lead in innings played in center. Bourjos is having about the sort of offensive season I'd expect. His OBP isn't great (though better than I'd expect for having a .248 batting average), but his OPS+ is 97 because his has a decent slugging, thanks to legging out some extra-base hits (7 doubles and 3 triples to go with 2 HRs). Not doing so well stealing, though, not sure what happened there.

Molina's OPS has been gradually moving up, though his power has regressed to his 2007-2010 range. Mark Reynolds' number have slipped as he's assumed a greater role in Adams' absence, which I can't say is a surprise. He was signed as a bench guy, asking him to be your everyday first baseman is pushing it, but the other option is Xavier Scruggs, which is probably not going to do any better. Kolten Wong's posting a batting average and OBP more in-line with what I expected last year, but he's retained the power (his ISO is 161), which I didn't expect. Matt Carpenter's cooled off significantly after his hot start. I didn't expect him to his 30+ homers, but I'm a little concerned how fast his numbers are falling. I'd swear his OPS+ has dropped 10 points just since Monday. Jason Heyward's starting to come on after a slow start. He's up to 9 HRs, which ties him for second with Wong behind Jhonny Peralta, who's having another pretty good year for St. Louis. They frontloaded the contract they signed him to, and so far, it looks as though it's going to work out. His ISO is down a bit from last year's, but his average is up about 30 points, which helps compensate a bit.

I can't pass without mentioning Randal Grichuk. He's been pretty valuable as a starter in Holliday's absence. His OBP is miserable - .298 - which is no surprise, and he's struck out 57 times in only 181 plate appearance, also no surprise. But his slugging is over .500, he has 5 triples to go with 7 HRs, his defense is generally well-regarded. He's pretty much what I thought he was, but he's doing about the best I could have hoped within that. I still think my dad is way too high on him, and not high enough on Bourjos, but that's just one of those things we disagree on.

Labels:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It's Not All Basketball Here

I do talk baseball sometimes, and the Cardinals are 40 games into their season. They're sitting at 27-13, 4.5 games ahead of the Cubs, which isn't anything to complain about. Depending on how you look at it, they've either been lucky or unlucky. Unlucky, because they've had a host of injuries. Wainwright tore his Achilles, he's done for the year. Molina aggravated something, and Heyward had a groin pull for a few days. Matt Carpenter missed a couple of games with what they called extreme fatigue, which sounds like heat exhaustion, maybe. You could consider them lucky because these don't seem to have particularly slowed them down yet.

Their offense is ticking along. 2nd in OBP, 4th in slugging. They're 4th in runs, 1st in doubles, and all the way up to 8th in HRs. Which doesn't sound terribly impressive until you remember they were basically at the bottom of the NL last year. Molina, Adams, Jay, and Heyward are struggling to various degrees. Molina at least has a .345 on-base percentage, and Heyward has an isolated power of .146, which is hardly great, but a decent step up from last year's 113. The guys that are carrying the offense are Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, and Holliday. All of them have an OPS+ of at least 125 as I type this. Carpenter in particular has already hit 16 doubles (almost half of last year's total) and 7 HRs (one fewer than last year). Holliday's iso is only 135, but his OBP is .442, which works. Mark Reynolds has been useful (.779 OPS, 111 OPS+, 3 HRs in 95 PAs), and Peter Bourjos has, through 75 PAs, pretty much fulfilled my dreams for him when the Cards acquired him. .273 average, pumping up a .347 OBP, and his 3 triples go with the 3 doubles and one HR to give him a .455 slugging. And Grichuk has been a useful source of power in limited chances.

The pitching is a bit more suspect, what with Wainwright's absence. Martinez has struggled with control walking 22 guys in about 46 innings. He's also averaging fewer than 6 innings a start, which isn't surprising, given all the walks, but is disappointing. Tyler Lyons has continued to not have success in the majors, but Lackey, Lynn, and Wacha are all pitching well (though Wacha's FIP suggests he's getting pretty lucky).

In the bullpen, Rosenthal and Siegrist have given up 4 runs combined in 38 innings, which is probably unsustainably good, but it's encouraging. Siegrist's walk rate is just under 4 per 9 innings, which worries me a little. Belisle and Choate have both been fine so far, while Maness is scuffling a bit. Might just be misfortune, his ERA is 4.67, but his FIP is 2.9, and he hasn't walked anyone so far. Carlos Villanueva has done better than I expected, and appears to be Matheny's go-to guy in the 9th when it isn't a save situation, considering he's finished more games than anyone besides Rosenthal. Not sure what that means, possibly that Matheny's using him as an innings sponge for unimportant times, so he doesn't overwork his key guys. If true, it's not the worst idea I've heard. Jordan Walden was doing fine before he went on the DL, and it looks like Mitch Harris got all the good luck Maness is missing, as he's allowed 18 baserunners in 10 innings, but only 4 runs.

Overall, I'd say the season has gone as well as can be hoped, even without considering injuries. They've won two-thirds of their games so far, that's really good. It probably won't last (and I think they're something like 6-5 in their last 11 games), but those early wins don't stop counting in the standings just because a team doesn't maintain that pace. And I feel confident the Cubs aren't going away.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 18, 2015

All Bullshit Aside, It's Conference Finals Time

I think we've finally eliminated all the shit teams from the Eastern Conference. At least, I sure hope so. Let's see, I nailed Cavs/Bulls exactly, but the Hawks beat my prediction by a game, as did the Warriors. And the Rockets won when I picked them to lose, which is fine with me, because it meant death to the Clippers.

Atlanta/Cleveland: I've been on the Hawks' bandwagon since roughly mid-December, and all throughout that time, I have maintained they can beat Cleveland. Even when the Cavs were smoking hot after acquiring Mozgov, Smith, and Shumpert. Even as the Hawks scuffled a bit after the All-Star Break. I'm not changing my mind now. I still think the Hawks' offense can pick apart Cleveland's D. If Kyrie is still hobbled I don't know who he guards. Teague will torch him, and he sure as hell won't be chasing Korver around screens for 35 minutes. I'd assume Lebron will guard DeMarre Carroll, so he can potentially help more, and I'm not sure Kyrie could really bother Carroll's shot anyway, with the 5 inch height difference and all.

Also, I feel Horford's a bad matchup for Mozgov. He's a legit shooter out to 20 feet, which is going to draw Mozgov away from the basket, which either opens up lanes for other Hawks to cut to the basket, or for Horford to beat him off the dribble.

I don't expect it to be easy. It's Lebron James, no Eastern Conference team has beaten him in the playoffs since 2010. But I believe the Hawks can do it. They don't have to win by a ton, the way the Spurs did last year. They just have to win 4 games by any margin of victory they can manage. A 1-point win counts as much as a 30-point win. Hawks in 7.

Golden State/Houston: So Golden State was able to handle Memphis' dual big man attack, and now they get Dwight Howard. Well, it shouldn't be any harder of a challenge down low, though the Rockets don't play nearly as many offensive zeroes as the Grizzlies.

Still, only one of these two teams was historically great all season, and that's Golden State. They were better on offense and defense than Houston. I think Klay Thompson's going to make Harden's life difficult, and I don't see the Warriors' defense letting the other guys - Terry, Prigioni, Josh Smith - go off against them the way the Clippers did. I don't have any real fancy insights or reasons for this pick. The Warriors have been better than Houston all year, and they haven't lost anybody critical to injury thus far to make me think that's changed. Warriors in 6.

Labels:

Monday, May 04, 2015

Rushing To Beat Round 2

Able to get back to Internet access just in time for the start of the conference semifinals. So let's take stock of the first round. In the East, Atlanta had much more trouble with Brooklyn than I expected/hoped, while Cleveland had less with Boston, even if the Cavs were on cruise control for much of the series. I nailed Bulls/Bucks exactly, and for the second year in a row, pessimistic Wizards' fans made me pick against them, only for them turn around and roll over their first round opponent.

In the West, Golden State beat my prediction by one game, mostly by overcoming a huge deficit in Game 3. The Rockets won in 5 as Rondo self-destructed for Dallas, and the Grizzlies beat Portland one game sooner than I thought they would. On the downside, the fucking Clippers beat San Antonio. So that's no good.

Cleveland/Chicago: Kevin Love's out for the remainder of the playoffs with an injury, supposedly. Players have surprised and returned in the past. J.R. Smith is out for the first two games of this series, because he's a dumbass sometimes. On the other side, the Bulls don't seem quite right. Noah is either gassed, or hurt, and Taj Gibson doesn't seem like his usual force.

Love being out probably hurts Cleveland's spacing, since they lose his 3-point shooting, but Tristan Thompson is an upgrade defensively and on the boards. Historically, the Bulls have been sound enough defensively to take advantage of any edge they can get, but I'm not sure that's the case here. Their defense is a little more spotty, maybe because of a reliance on weaker defensive players like Gasol and Mirotic, or the decline in some of the other key guys. Regardless, I'm inclined to pick Cleveland. The Bulls did not impress in Round 1, and they've never had much luck actually beating Lebron, anyway. Cavs in 6.

Atlanta/Washington: So the Wizards won handily, but how much of that was them getting their acts together, and how much was Toronto being a complete mess that's about to be dismantled? the Hawks struggled against the freaking Nets, but I'm going to try and chalk that up to them being unfamiliar with being the favorite in a playoff series. It's a learning curve. Title-winning teams have struggled in the early rounds before. Look at the Spurs last year, or Boston the last time they won the title. The Wizards have some size with Nene and Gortat, but got a lot of mileage out of playing Paul Pierce at power forward. My guess is the Hawks will handle the Wizards generally trash fire of an offense better than the Raptors regardless, just by virtue of having better defenders and a better scheme. At the same time, it would be nice if Atlanta could take away the Wizards' new favorite toy by punishing Pierce on the low block, but I'm not sure Paul Milsap can do that. He's a good player, but he's not a low-post brute on the scale of Zach Randolph. Even so, I'm picking Atlanta. I've believed in them since about the start of the year, I'm not stopping now because Washington played well for 4 consecutive games. Hawks in 7.

Golden State/Memphis: Warriors in 5. Let's just get that out of the way. The Warriors have been a great defensive team this year, and even if Mike Conley can play through his broken face, the Grizzlies are not a good enough offensive team for me to expect them to break Golden State's D. They need Tony Allen's defense on either Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, but then that gives the Warriors someone to ignore. Vince Carter's been a mess offensively all year, Jeff Green scares no one, Beno Udrih has a bum ankle, and is a huge defensive liability. Andrew Bogut can lock down either Marc Gasol or Z-Bo, and if not shut them down, at least make life difficult. Draymond Green would seem to be at a disadvantage guarding either of those guys, but I imagine he too, would make life very hard for them.

I fully expect Memphis' defense to at least slow the Warriors' scoring, but the Warriors have a lot more wiggle room on that score than the Grizzlies do.

Houston/Los Angeles: Jesus, this is going to be hideous. You have DeAndre Jordan on one side, and Houston's Legion of Shitty Foul Shooters on the other. Chris Paul and his flopping, versus James Harden and his constant attempts to get fouled. Couldn't we split these teams up and make them face Golden State or Memphis instead? No, I suppose then there would be the risk they'd meet in the Conference Finals anyway. At least this way we're rid of one of them now, and hopefully the other in the next round.

As for who's going to win, I'm guessing the Clippers. They don't have much depth, but my feeling is their best guys are overall better than Houston's best guys, and those are the ones you lean on most in the playoffs. If they win, they may not have much left for the next round, but I expect they have enough to get by Houston. Clippers in 6.

Labels:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs Are Here!

Which means it's time for my rarely accurate predictions. See how this goes. There's the potential for some matchups this year I'd really enjoy, but also a lot of teams I'd like to see eliminated quickly.

Atlanta vs. Brooklyn: The Nets gave it their best shot to miss the postseason, generally losing to Orlando for 3 quarters last night, but they eventually got it together enough to win. And it even slightly screws the Hawks, since they're swapping first round picks this year. The Hawks almost got a lottery pick. As for the Hawks themselves, they have some issues. I'm not sure how well Paul Millsap's shoulder is doing, and he's possibly their best player (it's him or Horford). Thabo Sefolosha is out with a fractured ankle, thanks to the NYPD. And in general, the Hawks haven't played well the last couple of months, though that could be disinterest as much as anything. They've had the #1 seed in the East locked up roughly since the finished that 19-game win streak. On the plus side, they're a 1 seed that can legitimately play the disrespect card. Jalen Rose has been saying for months the Bulls are the only team in the East with a chance to even slow down the Cavs, and he's not alone in this opinion. The Hawks aren't even treated as a potential speed bump for Cleveland.

I don't expect the Nets to present much of a problem, regardless. They were a sub-.500 team for a reason, and Atlanta didn't win 60 games by luck. Brook Lopez is moderately concerning for his offense, but he's not generally regarded as a great defender, so I expect the Hawks to pick the Nets apart on that end. The only thing is, I can't decide if the tendency I've seen out of Atlanta recently to let teams back into games in the 4th quarter is a real issue, or related to the fact they aren't going all out. I suspect the latter, because I remember plenty of games earlier in the year where they pulled away in the second half, so presumably that potential is sill there. Hawks in 5.

Cleveland vs. Boston: The Cavs helped Boston get this spot by playing them in back to back games and resting a lot of guys. I don't expect that to happen here, though this subplot about Kevin Love's back is interesting. His stats are much better when he gets 2 days off between games as opposed to 1, the latter scenario being more common in the postseason. It probably won't be a huge issue here. Even a Kevin Love who averages 16 points and 10 boards ought to be sufficient in a series where the Cavs could have the three best players, definitely the two best. The Celtics play hard, they're well coached, they defend fairly well, they spread the floor and try to shoot a lot. Except I expect Boston's lack of rim protection to be an issue. It's pretty hard to keep Lebron or Kyrie away from the rim once they start driving that way, and the Celtics don't have that shot blocker to stop them once they get there. Also, Boston may shoot a lot, but they aren't generally very good shooters. My guess is there will be a couple of blowouts in this series, and a couple of other games where Boston hangs close for 3 quarters, but Cleveland's talent takes over in the 4th and they pull away. I'm going to say Cavs in 5, because I figure there'll be one game where either a couple of guys on Boston - Olynyk? Crowder? - shoot lights out, and Kyrie has a bad game.

Chicago vs. Milwaukee: So on the one side, we have Chicago, loaded with veteran guys full of playoff experience, many of whom have played together for years at this point. There are some health questions with the Bulls, of course. Noah's had some knee issues this year, Hinrich is questionable for Game 1, Rose is always going to be a concern. Their defense hasn't been quite as strong this year, the injuries for one thing, and there's been some difficulty incorporating Pau Gasol into the lineups. But if everyone is healthy, their offense could be pretty good.

Which is good, because the Bucks have even better defensive numbers than Chicago, at least in terms of points allowed and most of the shooting stats. The Bucks are loaded with these young, long-limbed guys who can play (and guard) 3, or even 4 different positions. So there's no confusion about assignments, since a lot of them can just switch onto a different guy as needed, and it's hard for the other team to get a shot off among all these guys. Unfortunately, most of the guys on the Bucks can't shoot, outside of Jared Dudley, and maybe Khris Middleton. I guess the question is whether the Bucks can get out in transition. They've got the edge in terms of young guys who can run (I'm sure Gasol is going to love trying to chase some of these guys), probably be best to take advantage of that. Somehow, I can't see the Bulls letting that happen enough to swing the series in Milwaukee's favor, but I'm excited to get to see the Bucks. They seem like they're going to be a cool team to watch, even if these could be a lot of ugly, 85-82 games. Bulls in 6.

Toronto vs. Washington: Two teams that started well, then went in the crapper the last three months. Most Wizards' fans I see blame their problems on their coach and his awful offensive scheme, though these are the same people whose doom-n'-gloom last year convinced me Washington had no shot against Chicago. Then the Wizards won in 5. This is kind of an interesting matchup, because the Wizards have all those big men, from Nene and Gortat, to Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin. The Raptors don't seem to have a lot of real great bigs. Valanciunas is still a work in progress, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson have their weaknesses. Dwayne Casey's even been starting Tyler Hansbrough lately, which sounds like a cry for help.

I really don't know who to pick here. Toronto's mediocre to bad in most defensive categories, but the Wizards are mediocre to bad in most offensive categories, because they shoot so many midrange 2-point shots (which teams are happy to concede). Plus there are rumblings the Wizards' players aren't real happy with Randy Wittman, but who the hell knows if that'll mean anything. Presumably they still want to win games and advance at least as far into the postseason as they did last year. I guess I'll take Toronto. You'd think I'd learn my lesson from last year, but I'm going to listen to depressed Wiz fans again. Plus, that game Washington had against the Pacers a couple of nights ago was a goddamn disaster. 2 overtimes and neither team can break 100 points? Fuck, get these guys out of the playoffs before they drag everyone down with them. Toronto in 6.

Golden State vs. New Orleans: Credit to the Pelicans, they played a Spurs team that wanted to win, and beat those Spurs' assess for 3 quarters, then held on at the end to get in. Now they get to play the best team in the league this year. Of the Warriors two possible first round matchups, this is the one I wanted to see. I know it might have been fun to watch Westbrook nearly kill himself winning the series (some of the dunks he threw down against the T'wolves last night. I thought he was trying to destroy the whole arena and kill everyone in it so he could be declared winner by default), by the Thunder's defense is terrible. Calling Enes Kanter a turnstile would be an insult to actual turnstiles, which can present resistance on occasion. The Warriors would have averaged 135 points a game and cruised.

Don't get me wrong, I still expect the Warriors to win the series, but the Pelicans at least seem to have some familiarity with the concept of defense. And watching Anthony Davis do ridiculous should be a lot of fun, too. Unfortunately, I think even his ability to close out on open shooters is overmatched against Steph Curry. As long as whoever it was from Golden State doesn't decide to fire up the Pellies by telling them they're an easy win for the Warriors again. I don't have a lot to say. The Warriors were the best team all year, and I don't see any reason to pick against them when they're facing an inconsistent young team that barely made it in. Warriors in 5.

Houston vs. Dallas: Well, if you can shut down James Harden, you can probably stop the Rockets. I don't think the Mavericks are the team to do that. Maybe if Rondo really can find that playoff gear he used to bring out against the Heat, but I'll believe he still has it when I see it. Rick Carlisle's a good coach, and I'm sure he can come up with some schemes to slow down Houston. He did it last year against the Spurs, for awhile, but eventually the limitations of the roster came through. Having Tyson Chandler should help, assuming he can stay out of foul trouble, between guarding Dwight Howard and dealing with Harden's constant drives to the basket.

I'll be curious to see whether Houston, which focuses so much of their offense on free throws, can survive all the guys on their roster - Dwight, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones, Joey Dorsey - who are anywhere from poor free throw shooters, to godawful. You know if it's close late, the Mavericks will be trying to get those guys on the line. Even so, I'm picking the Rockets. They've demonstrated through the season they're better than Dallas. I don't necessarily like Houston's style of play, but I feel like they've constructed a roster where most of the pieces fit and compliment each other. Dallas feels a little mismatched, guys who need the ball but can't shoot, crossed with guys who also want the ball, but aren't good on defense. It just feels like all their lineups are weak in some critical area: rebounding, outside, shooting, defense, something. Rockets in 5.

Los Angeles vs. San Antonio: You think the Spurs feel pretty stupid, blowing that game to the Knicks a couple of weeks ago? If they win that one, they'd have finished with the same record as Houston, and gotten the 2 seed because they won the season series. Instead they're 6th, but eh, it's the Clippers. They have 3 really good players - Paul, Griffen, DeAndre Jordan - a couple other useful guys, and a bunch of crap. The Clippers will undoubtedly be playing Austin Rivers in playoff games, against the defending champs. I don't see any way that ends well for the Clippers. I am curious to see what San Antonio does with Kawhi Leonard on defense. Putting him on Matt Barnes or J.J. Redick is kind of a waste of his time, and I'm pretty sure Tony Parker can't handle Chris Paul. So do they throw him on Paul, let Parker chase J.J., and put Danny Green on Barnes? That seems doable, and shutting down Paul is the key. He makes everything go, sets up everyone else's shots. They need to wear him down and frustrate him, if possible. Maybe he'll get mad and nutpunch another guy, get suspended.

The Spurs are going to need Tiago Splitter, too. I don't think he can neutralize DeAndre Jordan, but if he can just slow him down some, get some points of his own, that ought to be enough. At any rate, I'm picking the Spurs in 5. I went against them last year in the Finals, even though I thought they were the better team, because picking against Lebron seemed foolish. Then the Spurs trucked Miami, so until the Spurs actually lose a series again, I'm not picking against them. Certainly not against a Clippers team I despise. The Clippers are like one of those yappy little dogs that circles around your ankles growling and nipping, but hightails it behind its owners' legs the moment you glance at it. The Clippers talk a bunch of junk, act tough, act like they're champions when they haven't won shit, but then spend all their time flopping and bitching at the refs for calls. They're good, but still, fuck those guys.

Portland vs. Memphis: The Grizzlies get home court, because they have the better record. Both these teams are beat to hell. Portlan doesn't have Wes Matthews, or Aaron Afflalo, and their 3rd string 2-guard, C.J. McCollum had an ankle sprain. Kaman has a back issue, and Nic Batum has a knee contusion. Aldridge is playing through a torn thumb ligament. Memphis, meanwhile, is hoping Mike Conley and Tony Allen are ready to go for game 1, which would be nice, seeing as that's 40% of their starting lineup.

I feel like this is Memphis' series to lose. They still have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, most of their key guys have played together for awhile. Portland is massively banged up, their defense is porous - though Memphis isn't necessarily the best team to take advantage of this - and they just seem to be much more in flux. But Memphis has seemed so out of it the last month or so, it worries me. It could be complacency, kind of like with Atlanta, but even banged up, the Blazers are a better team than the Nets, and the West is not the conference to drop your guard. Aldridge and Lillard can light things at any moment - just ask Houston - and Memphis is not a team that's terribly good at playing catch-up. I still expect them to win, though. Portland is going to have to lean too heavily on too many limited players. Grizzlies in 6.

Now we sit back and see how badly I did.

Labels:

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.

Labels:

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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels:

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.

Labels:

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?

Labels:

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.

Labels:

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.

Labels:

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.

Labels:

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.

Labels: