Sunday, October 04, 2015

Not The Best Weekend

I probably should have been more concerned about the Rams. To be honest, though, I'm paying little enough attention I didn't even know who Arizona was playing until Friday afternoon. They already beat Seattle, and they've been a tough team the last few years, even if they were usually finishing in fourth place. And I did expect their pass rush to be trouble, but I figured Arizona could squeak by.

So much for that. The Rams won 24-22. Arizona lost the ball 3 times, the Rams had no turnovers. The Rams held Arizona to 5 field goals until a late touchdown, and they got 146 yards on the ground from Todd Gurley. Nick Foles has a quiet but efficient day, throwing 3 TDs on 16 of 24 passing. Oh well, 3-1 is still a good first month. If they keep that up, they'll have a fine season.

As for the baseball Cardinals, they took 2 of 3 from Pittsburgh, thus clinching the division. Then they dicked around and got swept by Atlanta. Not that it matters, but I'd have liked for them to win at least one of those games. I mean, I've seen them win a World Series in a season where they practically pissed away the division in September, and entered the playoffs so poorly regarded I was just hoping they didn't get swept. So I know that how they finish isn't the issue. If the Cardinals get knocked out in the NLDS by either the Cubs or Pirates, it won't be because of this 3-game set with Atlanta. It'll be because the starting pitching continued to struggle, the bullpen didn't hold up, the offense went to sleep, or Matheny made some poor decisions. Or some combination of above.

I don't know who will be on the roster. I don't know about Molina's availability, or Piscotty's. My guess is Bourjos is shit out of luck, and I'm deeply worried Matheny will start Jay in CF. If I was only going to take 5 outfielders, it'd be Grichuk, Heyward, Holliday, Pham, and Piscotty, and then maybe Moss. I don't really care for him much, but a lefty power bat off the bench might be useful. If I kept him, Adams might be left off, though. I'd definitely take Greg Garcia ahead of Kozma, and I'd really think about leaving Cishek and Broxton off the roster. I just have a hard time trusting either of those guys, and Lyons and Wainwright could probably handle any multiple inning stints that came up. Of course, I don't know how the rotation should go after Lackey and Garcia, since neither Lynn nor Wacha have impressed in the last few months.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm Both Excited and Terrified

The thing for me is that, even after two good years for the Cardinals under Bruce Arians (excepting the Ryan Lindley parts), I'm still conditioned to expect it to go bad. Heck, Ryan Lindley's presence last year was a perfect example of something good going horribly wrong remarkably fast.

So when Arizona starts 2-0 and gets a home game against a seemingly lousy 49ers team, I get a little leery. It's that kind of winnable game I fret they'll blow. So much for that. 47-7. I have no idea the last time Arizona won a game by 40 points. It's never occurred that I remember. The defense intercepted Kaepernick 4 times, returning 2 of those for TDs. They held him to 67 yards through the air. The 46 yards he had on 7 carries are basically irrelevant. Palmer threw for 311 yards and another two touchdowns. He did have one INT, and at least another likely one saved by his receiver committing offensive pass interference, but even that isn't so bad. The team is still winning huge even with Palmer making a few mistakes, which it has to be able to do. He isn't going to play error-free forever.

Chris Johnson continued his strong start to the season with 110 yards on the ground, and added a 40 yard reception. Fitzgerald caught another 9 passes for 134 yards and 2 TDs. Bill Barnwell mentioned on Twitter during the game that San Francisco should just trade Anquan Boldin to Arizona and make everyone happier. I don't know that the Cardinals need Boldin, but I've always liked him, so I wouldn't mind. Anyway, the Cardinals need to bank all the wins they can, since they're supposed to have a tough schedule again this year, and Seattle curb-stomped the Bears over the weekend (and got Kam Chancellor back, so we'll see how much he helps). I'd really prefer Arizona hold the division lead the entire season, not just for the first 85% of it.

On the baseball side of it, the Cardinals split a set with the Brewers, and now the Pirates are only 3 games back as they kick off a 3-game series with the Cardinals that's begun as I type. So if Pittsburgh sweeps, they're tied for the division lead. Swell. Of greater concern, Molina's out for who knows how long with a torn ligament in his thumb, which has prompted much debate about how valuable he really is. I feel as though the people downplaying his loss haven't bothered to look at just how awful Tony Cruz is. I've been joking all week, as he generally manages to go 1-for-4, that if he keeps it up, he might get his average above .200 by the end of the season. Probably won't get his OBP or SLG above .300 either way. On top of the, Carlos Martinez was shut down for the rest of the season with shoulder problems. At this point, Martinez was the starter I had the most confidence in, except possibly for Lackey. And I probably trusted El Gallo more because with his 4 high-quality pitches, it was a lot easier to understand why he was pitching well, as opposed to Lackey, who is kind of confounding me.

Losing Martinez for the regular season may not be too dire. The team really ought to be able to maintain the lead for 6 more games without him. And there was every possibility Martinez would have been relegated to the bullpen by Matheny come the playoffs, since he's the one with the most experience pitching there (and it's a safe bet Matheny wouldn't relegate any of his trusted veterans like Lynn or Lackey to the 'pen, and probably not Wacha, either). Which would have limited Martinez' impact as well. Even so, at least he would have been available if Matheny had a change of heart if Lynn continued to pitch poorly.

Oh well, when have the Cardinals entered the postseason healthy? They lost Matheny to his birthday gift in 2000, Rolen in the NLDS in 2002, Carpenter in '04, Rolen again in '05 (and he wasn't totally healthy in '06 either). DeRosa had a bum wrist in '09, they were missing Wainwright for all of 2011, Craig was hurt in 2013, Garcia and Westbrook were both banged up in 2012 (and Carp was trying to pitch minus a rib), Wacha was mostly impaired last year, on and on. Sometimes they overcome it, sometimes they don't.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

OK, That Was Pretty Good

Arizona crushed the Bears 48-23. I had felt reasonably confident they could beat Chicago, because I didn't think the Bears were very good, but I wasn't expecting a 25-point shellacking. It's their biggest win since they crushed the Colts by 30 two years ago.

David Johnson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game trying to prevent a pick-six. Well, credit for effort Catler. Chris Johnson ran for 72 yards in relief of the injured - what, again? - Andre Ellington, and Palmer threw for 4 TDs in only 24 passes.Fitzgerald caught 4 of the touchdowns, and 8 passes overall, for 112 yards.

I hadn't realized until I read something about it recently that Michael Floyd seemed to be falling out of favor, but it's starting to look credible. He had no receptions, and was only targeted once. I don't know if he's hurt, disinterested, or Palmer simply doesn't trust him, but it's not looking good for him.

The game seems like it could have gone either way. Cutler was 8-for-9 for 120 yards and a TD before the interception. Him getting knocked out meant the Cards got to feast on Jimmy Clausen, who was predictably poor, and load up to keep Forte under wraps (61 yards, 27 of those on one carry). On the other hand, the Bears fumbled three times and recovered all of them, which is a little lucky. So it could have been even worse.

Thanks to the Niners, Seahawks and Rams all losing, the Cardinals sit alone in first place, a feat that would be much more impressive if it weren't Week 2. Wait, The Rams lost to Washington? Jeff Fisher must truly want to troll the Washington fans by letting them talk themselves into Kirk Cousins.

As for baseball, the Cardinals have clinched at least a playoff spot. They swept the Brewers, with Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham doing almost all the hitting, and John Lackey and especially Carlos Martinez looking dominant. Then they promptly lost 2 of 3 to the Cubs again. This is starting to get concerning. Lynn hasn't looked good since at least when he sprained his ankle against the Giants, and Wacha's pitched poorly against the Cubs the last two tries. The essential problems are, one, the Cubs have enough good players Maddon can adjust his lineups to play matchups against starting pitchers with platoon splits, two, Joe Maddon is smart enough to actual do that, and three, the Cardinals' offense lacks the firepower necessary to compensate when their pitchers get hammered. It isn't even a matter of the Cubs having Arrietta and Lester, though those two are concerning. The Cubs went with a bullpen start on Saturday, and still won, because the Cubs got to Wacha, who walked too damn many guys.

I had told myself I wouldn't worry about the Cubs until/unless they passed the Pirates, and they still haven't done that. But the Cards have played Chicago more recently, so it seemed worth discussing. At this point, Pittsburgh is still the primary external concern, since they're the one with the best chance of actually taking the division away from St. Louis at the moment.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

I'm Not Quite Jaded Enough to Dismiss A Week One WIn

Arizona beat the Saints 31-19. Carson Palmer threw 3 TDs, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson (so glad the team signed Johnson, which presumably means they won't sign Ray Rice) combined for 106 yards on 22 carries. The defense intercepted Brees once, and held the Saints to 54 yards on the ground. New Orleans did have a number of long receptions (Mark Ingram had a 54 yard catch, Willie Snead's once catch was for 63 yards, Brandin Cooks had one for 30), but hell, it's the Saints. They're going to go downfield, especially when they're losing, which they were doing for much of the game.

It's hard to know what to take from this, though. The offense did pretty well, but it's the Saints. Their defense was garbage last year, and what little I know about their offseason didn't give me any reason to expect they'd be better this year. The defense did well, all things considered. Brees threw for 355, but only found the end zone once, and his QBR is 51.7, which suggests a mediocre game (Palmer's was 82.6). After the way their run defense disintegrated late last season, it's encouraging to see it pick back up. Maybe having an actual, competent QB running the offense helped. I've said this before, and so have others, it had to be killing the defense to know that if they gave up more than 10 points, they were going to lose with Lindley under center. I'm going to be worried about Palmer's health all year, especially since I read that Barnwell post that predicted the team would decline, and listed all the problems the o-line had. Maybe they should let Stanton or Matt Barkley play against the Rams, to keep Palmer alive.

I feel kind of distant from the NFL right now. I tried reading some pieces on it this morning, and my eyes just glazed over. I couldn't bring myself to care about Eli and Coughlin's bad clock management, or whatever. I don't pay nearly as much attention to free agency and the draft as I did 15 years ago, by which I mean I pay no attention now. I was away from TV for 4 months over the summer, and only on the Internet once every few days, so I spent my time reading other things. Plus, I'm just kind of fed up with football's need to demand my attention all the fucking time. And there's baseball to watch - even if the Cardinals are making me nervous with their recent swoon - just as there was basketball in the spring and summer. I'd much rather pay attention to actual game than theoretical hype and bullshit.

All that aside, a win is a win, and starting the season 1-0 is better than 0-1. Except it looks like I need to be seriously worried about the Rams, besides hoping Kam Chancellor holds out for months.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Return to the Team-Building Exercise - The Starting Lineup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

An End Both Depressing And Unsurprising

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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?