Monday, July 03, 2017

Halfway to the End

The Cardinals had a chance to reach the halfway point of the season one game below .500, but Martinez laid an egg and the offense no-showed, so they're 39-42 instead. They are still in contention for a playoff spot, thanks to the NL Central being trash this year. They're coming off winning 4 of 6 from the Diamondbacks and Nationals, two of the actual good teams in the NL. Hard to tell what that means, if anything.

The rotation is inconsistent. Martinez has been good, last night being a notable exception. Mike Leake has rebounded in his last couple of starts after a rough prior month. Lynn's ERA has jumped to close to 4, but his FIP is still over a run and a half higher than that. If he doesn't get the walks and homers under control, I'd expect things to keep getting worse. Wainwright, for the second consecutive year, has an ERA way above his FIP, which makes me suspect it isn't simply bad luck. When he gets hit, he gets hit hard. I'd put Wacha in the same boat. His FIP is equal to Leake's, but his ERA is over a run higher (4.16 to 2.97). Although I'm surprised their FIPs are that close. Leake has a slightly better HR rate (he allows one roughly every 12 innings, Wacha one every 10), and his walk rate is vastly better (about 5.5% vs. 8.4%). Wacha strikes out more guys, which I guess is the difference, the numbers figure Leake should be giving up a lot more hits. Which is fair, but my guess is Leake avoids hard contact better than Wacha. Marco Gonzales made the only start by someone outside those 5, and was hammered.

The bullpen has gone through a lot of turnover, but is still garbage. Socolovich was outrighted to the minors, Broxton was released. Siegrist is thankfully on the DL right now. No one can be trusted to get outs on a consistent basis. In Martinez' previous start, against Arizona, he gave up 2 runs through 6 innings, and the team scored 5 runs, which should have been enough. But Rosenthal, Oh, and Bowman, who are in theory the good relievers, combined to surrender 4 runs in a little over 2 innings and lose the game. Oh, looking at ERA vs. FIP, is getting lucky, because he's surrendering a homer every 6 innings. Rosenthal and Bowman are supposedly getting unlucky, although Rosie's walk rate is back up to a batter every other inning (12%), so it's hard not to see it as him doing it to himself. On the plus side, Cecil has stabilized. His ERA is down to 3.69, which is only a little better than his FIP (3.87). If he's going to be here 4 years, it would be best if he didn't suck the whole time.

Lyons has been useful in long relief when Waino or someone else gets hammered. Brebbia and Tuivailala have both been mostly effective in mop-up work, though FIP suggests both are getting really lucky. Tui could stand to cut down on the walks, and Brebbia should probably stop hitting guys every 5 innings. Mike Mayers still gives up too many home runs, John Gant made one appearance and didn't impress.

The offense is nothing special. While the team is 5th in OBP, they're unfortunately 10th in slugging, so they aren't doing so hot at getting those runners home. Matt Adams was traded to Atlanta, Jhonny Peralta was released, Kolten Wong can't stay healthy, Grichuk was sent all the way to A-ball, worked back up, and is back in the majors. Aledmys Diaz appears to be taking his turn down there now. Fowler is currently on the DL. They've called up Paul Dejong, Chad Huffman, Alex Meija, and Luke Voit at different times. All of which has the feel of a team trying desperately to find a spark that will get them going consistently.

Molina is 5th on the team in HRs, and tied for second in SBs. Great, we're back in 2007, only with no Albert Pujols. Yadi's OBP is hovering around .300, but his ISO is around .145, which is pretty good for him. Fryer has managed 3 extra-base hits in 75 PAs, and his OPS is below .500, even with an uptick in playing time recently.

Matt Carpenter's batting average is sitting steadily between .210 and .250. His OBP is still .370, which is behind only Wong and Pham among regulars, and an ISO of .224. He leads the team in HRs with 14, and is tied with a couple of guys for second in doubles with 15. He seems to be grading out as about an average first baseman defensively. Wong is having his best offensive season by far, if he could just stay on the damn field. OBP of .390, ISO of .143, defensive stats don't love him this year, but could be small sample size noise. Diaz still isn't getting on base, and isn't hitting for nearly enough power to make up for it (ISO of .136). Gyorko's been the best hitter on the team overall. Drawing a surprising number of walks for him, and an ISO of about .220. Not as much power as last year, but a much more well-rounded game. Defensive stats like him, and he seems to be a runner who knows when to pick his spots.

In the outfield, Fowler was steadily bringing up his numbers. The power has been there most of the season - his ISO is .236 -  but his OBP was starting to climb as well. Piscotty's still getting on base at a decent rate, with a .365 OBP, and the power is starting to come back. The ISO is still only .156, but it's better than it was earlier in the year. Grichuk still isn't hitting for nearly enough power to compensate for his abysmal OBP. His ISO is .183, which isn't gonna cut it with a .275 OBP. He's struck out as many times as Carpenter (66) in 110 fewer PAs, while walking one-quarter as many times (14 vs. 56).

Among the reserves, it's a mixed bag. Greg Garcia still gets on base, but his average has tanked enough that's it's dragged his slugging well below .300. If you could combine his and Grichuk's batting lines, you might have something. DeJong has walked twice in 107 PAs, putting even Grichuk's free-swinging to shame. He's just getting away with it a little more, since he's hitting .269. He even manages to strike out slightly more often than Randal, 30.8% versus 30.4%. Jose Martinez is not proving so useful now that he's not hitting .390. His average and OBP are even with Yadi's, but he's hitting for more power, with an ISO of .199. Which still only makes him a basically average hitter.

Tommy Pham is the real standout of the bench guys, and it's questionable how accurate it is to describe him that way. He was in the lead in innings played in left field until recently, and with Fowler out, he's taking a lot of the starts in center lately. Pham strikes out a bit himself - although 24.9% is still a lot better than 30+% - but is walking a fair amount, giving himself a .373 OBP. The power comes and goes, but the ISO is still at .200 right now, and he already has 9 stolen bases, with only two caught stealings, and most of the numbers like his defense. As always with Pham, the question is how long he can stay healthy, but hopefully he's earned Matheny's trust to the point he'll get regular playing time until he gets hurt. He's been the best outfielder on the team this year, by a country mile.

Huffman, Voit, and Meija has 36 PAs between them, with 10 hits, including 2 doubles (Voit), a triple (Huffman), and a homer (Meija).

The offense's problem seems to be too many unbalanced hitters. Too many guys with power, but no capacity to get on-base. Molina, Diaz, Grichuk, DeJong, maybe Jose Martinez. Which might explain all the solo home runs they seem to hit. But then you have the guys like Garcia and Piscotty who can get on base, but aren't driving the ball much. This team is not built for small ball, no matter how hard their manager pushes for it, or how much I might enjoy watching them do it (if they could do it successfully).

There's a month to the trade deadline. I don't know if they'll be buyers or sellers. I suspect buyers, in the typical patch job bullpen acquisition Mozeliak tends to favor, simply because it's going to be hard to land a substantive upgrade to most of their positions. Except maybe shortstop, and there aren't a lot of available options there. If the Angels would fall back, maybe Andrelton Simmons would become available. I'd be fine with them trading some of the relievers - Oh, Rosenthal, Bowman if he can get you something - for a highly regarded position prospect. But that would require those guys to pitch well enough to make someone want them. I suspect Wacha's not an attractive target, and ditto for Lynn and Wainwright. Plus, trading Wainwright might look bad to the fanbase. He's the second-longest tenured guy next to Yadi. Leake has a no-trade clause, but he supposedly wanted to play for the Diamondbacks at one point. They're in contention in a loaded NL West, would they consider trading for him, and what could you get?

The Cardinals really need a position player who can move the needle, that big star to slot in with their legion of solid players. Not a lot of those guys in the majors that are available, but maybe they can get themselves a potential future star from a team trying to win right this second.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

The Cardinals At The Quarter Mark

This post might have been a fair bit more positive a week ago. At that point, the Cardinals were 21-15, coming off taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs, having recovered nicely from an abysmal 3-9 start. Then they lost 4 of 5 to the Red Sox and the Giants through the usual combination of bullpen incompetence, garbage baserunning, and abrupt silence from the bats.

So the team is 22-19, about where they were last season at this time. Of course, last year's team was underperforming according to run differential by 5 games, while this one is right on track. The team doesn't seem too different from last year, hardly a surprise given the limited number of roster moves. Inconsistent pitching, bad defense, bad baserunning.

The rotation seems a bit more solid than last year's although that could be an illusion. Last season, everyone except Carlos Martinez was considered unlucky when comparing their ERA to the FIP. This year, everyone except Wainwright has been lucky so far. Lance Lynn's ERA is 2.78, but his FIP is 5.02 (I'm guessing it's the 8 HRs surrendered in 45 innings that has his FIP so high). Leake has a 2.03 ERA, and 3.19 FIP (which is still the best in the rotation, but that's a not inconsiderable gap). Martinez has struck out 62 batters in 57 innings, far and away leading the team (by 20 Ks), but also has 22 BBs (8 of those in that one awful start against the Yankees). Wacha has a 3.34 FIP to his 2.74 ERA, but Matheny is holding him pretty steadily to six innings so far, which seems smart.

The bullpen has been more of a disaster. Oh has a 3.32 ERA, but a 4.88 FIP. They've already had him intentionally walk 5 guys this year, which seems like a lot in 21.67 innings for the person who is supposed to be your closer. What worries me is he can't seem to put hitters away. He can get two strikes, but that final swing and a miss doesn't materialize. But he has 16 Ks, so maybe I'm overreacting. Siegrist has been garbage. His velocity is gone, he's walked 11 batters in 17 innings, his ERA is 5.29 and his FIP is 4.80. Cecil has an ERA and FIP both over 5, he's given us 3 home runs in 15 innings, walked 9 batters in that time. Broxton's ERA is over 6, he's walked 9 and struck out 10 in 12 innings. Socolovich, to my dismay, has been even worse. His ERA is 6.75, his FIP is 5.69 (Broxton's is only 5.64). The one thing I can say for Socolovich is he isn't walking guys - 4 in 17 innings -  but I strongly believed he should have been in the bullpen last year, and this is disheartening.

The useful relievers essentially come down to Bowman (2.79 ERA, 3.09 FIP, only 5 BBs and 1 HR in 19 innings), and Rosenthal (2.76 ERA, 1.14 FIP, 28 Ks, 4 BBs in 16 innings). Tuivailala hasn't been bad in limited stints. Tyler Lyons spent the first month on the DL, came back, hurt something else almost immediately.

On the position player side, Molina's not really hitting much. OBP of .307, .384 SLG. Actually, that amount of power isn't bad for him, it's an Isolated Power of .123, it's the OBP that's killing his numbers. Still, with Eric Fryer's numbers having crashed back to earth hard this season (OPS of .526 in 27 PAs), I'm surprised Molina's had as many days off as he has. There have been five whole games he didn't play in this year!

Matt Carpenter's one of the best hitters on the team, despite his .235 batting average. He has 32 walks; the highest combined total between any two of his teammates is 35 (Fowler + Piscotty). His ISO is .257, with 5 doubles, 9 HRs, and a triple. Unfortunately, switching to first base has not produced an upswing in his defensive value, and he's a lousy combination of slow and aggressive on the basepaths (traits he shares with several of his teammates). Matt Adams was actually playing more in the outfield, because Matheny's brain is actually a tire fire, and was producing an almost league-average batting line by hitting .296, which was keeping up his OBP and lackluster slugging (ISO of .096). Now he's been traded to Atlanta for a first base prospect in A ball. Well, until Freddie Freeman returns from injury, Adams will presumably gets lots of playing time, so one last chance to earn himself a big contract.

Kolten Wong is having one of the better seasons hitting of his career. He's hitting for average (.282), power (ISO of .145), and getting on-base at a .375 clip. He's 3 out of 4 stealing bases, although some of the defensive stats don't love him so far. Still, this is as close as I've seen to him putting all his various skills together. It hasn't really translated into the value I thought it would, though. Maybe if he maintains it for the full season. Gyorko is second on the team in HRs, is hitting .331, and has an ISO of .260. He's already hit almost as many doubles as he did all last season, and played solid infield defense. Aledmys Diaz is hitting for some power, but walked all of once the first month of the season, which is why his OBP is .289.

AS for the bench infielders, Greg Garcia is hitting for next to no power (ISO of .069), but is getting on-base at a .406 clip. So hitting as advertised, basically. Jhonny Peralta played horribly for the first few weeks of the season, got injured (and the team took off), and is now back. His OPS is .536, so 10 points better than Fryer's, and he hasn't had an extra-base hit yet. At this stage, the Cardinals should either cut bait or trade him and send some cash along to get whatever they can. Just get him out of the way and if you need another infielder call up Paul DeJong or Luke Voit for a bit.

Fowler seems to be coming along. The average isn't there, but his OBP is .318 in spite of it (and he's second on the team in walks behind Carpenter), and he has 6 HRs and 4 triples. Piscotty has been a little better than average hitting as well, thanks to his .381 OBP, because he's not hitting for any power (.129 ISO). He's alo a disaster on the bases, another guy who likes to run but has no clue what he's doing. He's been on the DL for awhile, and suffered a setback just as he was getting close to returning. Grichuk is what he usually is. His average is bad, his OBP is terrible, but he hits for some power, although not much compared to his teammates (ISO of .170). He does lead the team with 13 doubles, for what that's worth.

Jose Martinez was the 4th outfielder coming out of spring training, but often found himself playing first base on Carpenter's days off. Even though Matt Adams was on the roster. Martinez hit for a good average, drew three walks, and hit for a little power in limited chances before he got hurt. Once he did get hurt, the Cardinals called up Tommy Pham, and he did what he does about half the time he's in the majors: Crush the fucking ball (the other half of the time he just strikes out a lot, but the same is true of Grichuk). Pham is hitting .294 with 4 doubles and 3 HRs in just 60 plate appearances. He has struck out 18 times, which isn't great, but his OBP is still .367, so it isn't killing his value. When Piscotty also got hurt (and Fowler was hurt but not put on the DL), they called up Magneuris Sierra all the way from A-ball. Sierra played pretty much like the reports suggested he would: He swung at most everything, didn't drive the ball much, ran really fast (but with no clue how to steal bases), and played excellent defense in centerfield. He was exciting, if not ready for the majors. So it's understandable they sent him back to make room for Peralta, if a little disappointing. But He needs as much chance to work on his hitting as possible, as well as learning to harness his speed.

Going forward, it's hard to tell what to expect of this team. They aren't as bad as the 3-9 start, they aren't as good as 18-6 run that followed it. They're probably roughly the same as last year's team, amybe a little better in the field, but with less power. Bullpen seems worse, rotation is a little better. Probably end up between 82-90 wins, barring either catastrophe or trading for a major difference maker.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring Training Was Not Encouraging

The start of baseball games that actually matter is almost upon us, and since I am studiously avoiding the NFL offseason, and waiting for the NBA playoffs to start so I don't have to deal with all these shitass teams trying to lose, let's check back in on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Alex Reyes got hurt before Spring Training even started. He's out for the year. So welcome Michael Wacha back to the rotation! Wainwright's been trying to hone a changeup throughout the spring, and getting his ass beat, which doesn't exactly bode well for my hopes he'd rebound this year.

In the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal just went on the DL today basically. Tuivailala will be taking his spot in the 'pen, as the Cardinals answered one of my prayers by already including Socolovich on the roster. So it's Oh, Bowman, Cecil, Socolovich, Broxton (sigh), Tuivailala, and I don't know. Rosie's out now, Lyons isn't ready yet I don't think, maybe it's John Gant.

On the position player side of things, the team has supposedly worked out a contract extension with Molina for three more years at $55-65 million. Which would cover Yadi up through his age-38 season, and make him the highest paid catcher in baseball. And let's be honest, he probably won't be producing at the level of best catcher in baseball, it's unlikely he'll hold up, but I'm generally OK with this. It isn't my money, for one thing. There's no guarantee the Cardinals would spend that money somewhere else, or spend it intelligently, if they didn't spend it on Yadier. As profitable as this team is, this should not preclude them from signing some potential big name free agent, like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper (assuming either of those guys would be interested in coming to play for the Cardinals). I'm still surprised, though. I've grown to expect them to let the veteran guy walk in favor of the cheaper option.

Elsewhere on the diamond, Jhonny Peralta was named starting 3rd baseman, while the team has once again walked back from an earlier vote of confidence in Kolten Wong, with Matheny mentioning Kolten will possibly be platooned. Although based on Matheny's past history, he doesn't mean "platoon", where the lefthanded hitter plays against righties, and the righthander against lefties. He means he splits time up based on who happened to have a good game last week. Wong stated he wasn't happy and would rather be traded when informed of this by a media person, and much arguing commenced among the fans.

If Matheny did platoon Wong with Gyorko, the former against righties, the latter against lefties, that would be a reasonable and understandable decision. Wong could still be unhappy, but it wouldn't be a bad call. Like I said, though, Matheny hasn't shown any capacity to understand how to do that, so this will probably result in Kolten having a bad week, and finding himself glued to the bench as he reenters the Labyrinth of Working Through Adversity.

Interesting that Peralta, who has also sucked during Spring Training, and has one year left on his contract, is not facing any talk of being platooned.

In the outfield, Pham has looked unable to even see the ball in Spring Training, continuing an unsettling trend that started partway through last season. So he was left off the roster in favor of Jose Martinez. Oh boy. But don't worry about Martinez being the only backup outfielder, because the Cardinals are going to play Matt Adams out there as well. It pains me to type that. So much for giving a shit about defense this year. I'm sure the rotation can't wait to watch Adams flail around in left field like a slowly dying manatee.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Looking In On The Offseason

The offseason isn't over, so the St. Louis Cardinals could still do something else, but we might as well look at the roster changes they've made so far.

Rotation: The major change is that the Cards traded Jaime Garcia to Atlanta for John Gant, Chris Ellis, and Luke Dykstra. Gant's the only to play in the majors so far, with a fairly unimpressive 50 innings last year, though he may not have been fully healthy. It feels like a weak haul, since none of the three project as difference makers, but Garcia's coming off a season in which he did stay basically healthy, but didn't pitch well, and only has one year left on his contract. If Gant and Ellis can function as back of the rotation injury replacements or bullpen reinforcements, maybe that's not too bad.

Beyond that, they lost Tim Cooney as a possible rotation filler to the Rule 5 draft, but Marco Gonzales might be back and able to contribute. As it stands, though, it looks as if Lance Lynn and Alex Reyes are the early frontrunners to fill Garcia and Wacha's spots in the rotation. Wacha might still be a possibility if necessary, Tyler Lyons should be back, and Luke Weaver will get a chance to actually pitch in AAA for awhile. If Wainwright can bounce back, and if Reyes can throw more strikes (and if the Cardinals defense is better than atrocious), the rotation might not be too bad, if not overwhelming.

Bullpen: Seung-hwan Oh is still here, presumably he'll retain the closer role he took  over from Rosenthal. But Rosenthal seemed to find the ability to throw strikes after returning from injury, so hopefully he can be a major player again. Siegrist is here, as is Broxton (sigh). Seth Maness was non-tendered, not surprising given his Tommy John surgery. Likewise, Zach Duke is out for the year with TJ surgery. The big signing was Brett Cecil from Toronto, for 4 years and $30 million. Cecil struggled some last year, wasn't as effective against right-handed hitters as he had been in the past. Hopefully that was a one-year fluke, and not a trend. If he can pitch against batters from either side of the plate, that'd be handy.

Oh, Rosenthal, Siegrist, Cecil, Broxton makes five. The other two I would assume are going to be Wacha and Lyons, if they're healthy and ready to go. I'd guess Gant might be next man up, or Tuivailala. I'd go with Socolovich myself, who has done nothing but get outs everytime the Cards actually call him up, but they just don't seem high on him for some reason. So it'll be some guy who throws hard but can't find the plate with a road map, most likely.

Catcher: They cut Brayan Pena with a year left on his contract. They resigned Eric Fryer to a minor league deal. Of course, they wouldn't ever play Fryer when they had him last year, so hard to see what good he is. They have Carson Kelly, but he's supposed to start the year in AAA. It appears they've well and truly abandoned any pretense they're going to try and restrict Molina's innings behind the plate. And if you're going to let him play until he breaks down entirely, why bother to have a decent backup? He'd just sit on the bench. So presumably Fryer or someone similar will collect splinters in his butt until Molina gets hurt, at which point they'll bring up Kelly so he can play most every day. In theory.

Infield: Not much movement here. Matt Carpenter is supposed to be the regular first baseman now, which may not be much of a defense improvement at the position. I expect Carpenter will be better than Matt Adams, but not by much. Adams is a solid first baseman. Probably it's more about improving the defense at the positions Carpenter used to play. Kolten Wong will probably get the chance to be the starting second baseman, until Matheny loses confidence in him again. So, April 17th then. Aledmys Diaz is still the starting shortstop, so hopefully the improvement he showed at the position over the course of the season (when he went from "horrendous" to "below-average") was real. Peralta and Gyorko will probably split time at 3rd, assuming Peralta can bounce back enough to keep Gyorko from taking the job entirely. Greg Garcia and Matt Adams are still around, too, for now.

Outfield: Matt Holliday signed with the Yankees. Brandon Moss is still out there unsigned, as far as I know. The Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler as a free agent. So over the course of two offseasons, the Cards and the Cubs swapped outfielders. I'm inclined to think the Cubs got the better of that deal, even allowing for Fowler's deal being much cheaper, and the fact Heyward completely forgot how to hit last year. The fact Michael Wilbon is sure the Cards got the better end only further convinces me, because Wilbon's a dope.

Fowler's not a bad player by any stretch, he can hit some, draw some walks. I'm certainly looking forward to his generally good baserunning, after watching this team run around the bases like a bunch of kids at a laser tag place. But his defense isn't really anything to write home about, and he's on the wrong side of 30 already. Like with Heyward (who is at least a few years younger), I worry how Fowler's skills are going to age. The patience and plate discipline will presumably hold up, but I'd expect speed and defense to suffer.

At any rate, Fowler is the presumptive centerfielder, with Grichuk moving to left, and Piscotty remaining in right. The backup outfielder is probably Tommy Pham, although it's hard to be sure given Matheny doesn't seem much of a fan. That and Pham has trouble staying healthy. There is Jose Martinez, who played a little last season, and the Cardinals signed a Jordan Schaefer to a minor league contract last month, he's played some outfield in the majors, but after that, there ain't much.

And there's no room for them, anyway. If the Cardinals carry 7 relievers - and it's pretty likely they will because everyone does these days and the Cards seem unlikely to buck the norm in that regard - they have space for 5 bench players. One spot goes to the guy who sits on his butt watching Molina everyday, because you need someone who can competently catch just in case Yadi gets injured or ejected. Then there's Matt Adams and Greg Garcia, who is out of options, so he can't be sent to the minors without going through waivers. And I feel like a guy in his mid-to-late 20s who still hasn't hit arbitration, can play second base, third base and shortstop, all passably well, and is quite good at getting on-base, would draw interest from somebody. And the Cardinals need all the guys who can actually get on base they can get. So that's three guys, plus whichever of Gyorko and Peralta isn't starting. Which leaves one spot for an outfielder. At least Pham can, theoretically, play all three positions, though it's more likely Matheny would move Grichuk to CF to spell Fowler.

Anyway, overall, it doesn't feel like the Cardinals did much to change their level. They should still have a decent floor for their production, what with all the roughly average players. But their ceiling seems limited because there are so few real standouts. Maybe Carlos Martinez is a superstar, maybe Reyes can become one immediately, maybe Wainwright can dig deep and reach that level again. If he can stay healthy and hit like he has the last two years, I think Matt Carpenter can be a superstar, albeit a low-level one. Molina probably is, if he can hit like he did in 2016 and keep his defense from slipping much more (and if we decide there are all kinds of ways he adds value we can't measure in terms of influence on a pitching staff). I think if Diaz can be close to average defensively, and hit as he did last year, he could another lower-tier guy like Carpenter, but that's about it. The other guys are mostly just average. Nothing wrong with that; average guys are handy to have, and you never know when one is going to have a sudden freak year of being really great (although I suspect that was what last season was for Gyorko), but it tends to limit how far you can go with those guys.

Of course, if the bullpen can avoid shitting itself multiple times this season, that may be enough all on its own, at least to make the playoffs.

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Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Season Mercifully Ends

Arizona crushed the hapless Rams, 44-6. Which brings the Cardinals' final record to 7-8-1, their first losing season since 2012, although their +56 point differential is roughly what they had in their 10-6 2013 season. But that differential is boosted by this ass-whupping, plus the ones the laid on Tampa Bay and the Jets.

I expected a closer game, if only because the Rams' defense has typically given Arizona problems. But I guess they got tired of carrying the load for their useless offense. The Rams ran the ball 22 times, but only gained 52 yards. Arizona wasn't much better, at 84 yards on 24 carries, but still better. Kerwynn Williams got most of the carries, because David Johnson left early with a knee injury, which Bruce Arians insists is not serious. Well, he has the entire offseason to rest up, but hopefully Arians is correct. So Johnson remains at the 5th-best single season rushing total in franchise history, but hopefully he has many more productive years ahead.

Nice for Williams, though. He hasn't gotten much use this year, only 18 carries total, but he's still going to wind up second on the team in rushing yards, at 157. He got his greatest amount of playing in 2014, when Andre Ellington was hurt (and I have to wonder if this unproductive year marks the end of the line for Ellington's time with the team), and it's gone down the last two seasons. But when he gets to play, he seems to be productive, so maybe he should be the back-up going forward. And given the state of Arizona's receiving corps, and Johnson's skill as a receiver, maybe play Williams in the backfield sometimes and split Johnson out wide? Something for next year, maybe.

The Rams passing game completed 17 passes for 143 yards. But there were two interceptions, and once you subtract all the yardage Jared Goff lost on his 7 sacks, the Rams had a net 72 yards passing. Which again, makes the Cardinals' otherwise unspectacular 260 yards passing on 22 of 42, with 3 TDs and 2 INTs (one of them by Drew Stanton), look pretty damn good in comparison.

The game could have been a lot worse for the Rams, considering they had 5 fumbles but Arizona only recovered one of them. I don't know who they'll hire as head coach, but he's going to have his work cut out making them not suck. Because Goff plays like he's Ryan Lindley. And the 49ers have reportedly fired their GM, and while probably get rid of Chip Kelly, too. Which means 4 coaches in 4 years for them, so hopefully they have a few more years in the wilderness. That still leaves the Seahawks to contend with, but one good team is less of a problem than 2 or 3.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

I'll Take It

Arizona beat the hell out of Seattle's offense in the first half. That changed in the second half, and the Seahawks started scoring points. Enough points to erase a 13-point deficit in the 4th quarter. Fortunately, Hauschka shanked the extra point, leaving the game tied. Arizona was able to keep Carson Palmer upright long enough to complete some passes (including one big one to David Johnson down the sidelines), and Catanzaro hit a field goal right down the middle as time expired. Arizona wins, 34-31.

Fox switched over to this game with about 3 minutes left, as Arizona was conducting an idiotic offensive drive. They threw on second down, and Fitzgerald went out of bounds, stopping the clock. Then they threw on third down, incomplete, leaving Seattle a timeout. Then the punt was crap, and Arizona got called for holding, so Seattle was practically in the red zone already. Watching the Seahawks score and listening to the announcers slurp Seattle was enough to make me hand the remote to my mother so I didn't put it through her TV.

But Arizona won! Hooray! They went 1-3 against the AFC East. They went 1-3 against the NFC South. But they will manage at least a winning record in the division this year. 3-2-1 at worst, 4-1-1 if they can handle the Rams next week. And the Rams just lost to the fucking incompetent, shitass 49ers, so Arizona better handle them.

Nice to see Arizona win a close game, something they haven't done much lately. I remember, alst year I think, seeing Bill Barnwell write something about how well Arizona was doing in close games under Bruce Arians, and that while records in those sorts of games tended to not be repeatable, maybe Arians really did have a knack. The Cards were something like 16-7 in games decided by 8 points or less his first three years. They're 3-5-1 this year. I don't know if it's regression to the mean, or just a sign of how they aren't good this year because they can't pull these games out. Chicken or egg?

David Johnson ran for 95 yards on 28 carries, not terribly productive (especially with one 30 yard rush in there), but an encouraging commitment to the run. Shades of their 17-10 win in Seattle in 2013, when they ran the ball 43 times. Johnson added about 45 yards in receiving. He's up to the 5th best single-season rushing total in franchise history, moving ahead of both Edgerrin James' good seasons, and one of Ottis Anderson's. He's got a good chance to have the 4th best, and maybe the 3rd best, if he can get 120 yards next week. He's also up to 20 TDs on the season.

I noticed Larry Fitzgerald is over 100 receptions again, but is averaging less than 10 yards a catch. No wonder they don't throw to their tight ends, Fitz is taking all those passing routes. Well, I trust him to catch the ball more than Jermaine Gresham, and I guess they really can't trust Palmer's line to keep him upright for longer passes. Although J.J. Nelson had himself an 80-yard reception in the first quarter. that was encouraging. With Michael Floyd gone, and John Brown struggling with injuries (not mention Fitzgerald's advancing years), they need to find some other receivers.

Anyway, there's a chance to get to 7 wins next week, and all they have to do is beat the bejeezus out of Jared Goff, and keep the Rams' defense from breaking Palmer in half. Seems doable.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

No Defensive Players Survived. Or Showed Up

Arizona lost 48-41. Chandler Catanzaro sucks. He cost them the Miami game, the New England game, the Seattle game, and while technically his missed field and goal missed extra point (5th one of those this year) wouldn't have altered the outcome, losing 4 points didn't help matters.

Neither did the defense's complete inability to even slow the Saints down. They did manage to recover one fumble, and sacked Brees three times, but he threw for 389 yards and 4 TDs, so on the whole, you'd have to say he won that battle. The Saints also ran for 130 yards on 32 carries, and 2010 Arizona Cardinals' leading rusher Tim Hightower had two touchdowns.

On the offense side of things, Palmer had hs best game in a while, going 28-40 for 318 yards and two TDs. Kerwynn Williams added a 49 yard rushing TD, and David Johnson went over 100 total yards of offense for the 14th consecutive game. Which is an NFL record. And he holds the single season franchise mark for offensive yards, and touchdowns. He's going to have to pick it up running the ball if he's going to crack 1300 yards rushing, though.

The amazing thing is, thanks to blowing out the shitty Buccaneers and Jets earlier in the season, Arizona still has a positive point differential, despite their 5-8-1 record. Granted, it's down to +14 with two games to go, but that's better than they managed in their Super Bowl season, or two years ago, when Palmer and Drew Stanton blowing out their knees helped kill what had been a promising season.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Not Quite

Outside of a 56 yard run by J.J. Nelson, the Cardinals' offense was a trash fire in the first half of their loss to Miami. Palmer threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. The Dolphins got some touchdowns, but as much because Palmer kept gifting them a short field as anything else.

Than Tannehill hurt his knee near the end of the 3rd quarter, the Dolphins' offense was placed in the hands of Matt Moore, and Arizona clawed its way back in. The tied the game with about three minutes left, forced a three and out at about the two minute warning. So with the ball, Palmer promptly dropped the first down snap and had to fall on it. They picked a few of the yards up on a short pass to David Johnson, and then Palmer underthrew Fitzgerald on third down. They punted, their coverage teams completely failed to get their asses downfield and the Dolphins started near the Arizona 40. Then Moore repeatedly torched Justin Bethel by throwing to Kenny Stills, and despite the Dolphins' best efforts to fuck it up, they kicked the winning field goal as time expired.

So Arizona is 5-7-1. Seattle is losing to Green Bay as I type. If that holds, Seattle will not have clinched the division yet, but let's be real: Arizona isn't winning the division. There's nothing they've done this year to suggest they can play well enough for three weeks to pull that off. They might have won this game, but Palmer couldn't stop giving Miami the ball, and couldn't do anything to get the ball downfield when he could hold onto it. He finished with 145 yards on 18 completions, but he was at about 7 completions for less than 50 yards well into the 3rd quarter. Catanzaro had a crap day kicking. He missed a field goal and two extra points, one of which was blocked and returned for two points. But as I said after the Seattle tie, Arizona never seems to have good special teams.

David Johnson did run for 80 yards, so he's up to 1085 on the season, on pace for 1335 yards, and had his 13th consecutive game with at least 100 yards of total offense. Next up, the Saints.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Progress Of A Sorts

Arizona beat Washington 31-23. All right! Which pushes the Cardinals back up to 5-6-1, meaning they are still technically in the running for a wild card spot. More pertinently, it hurts Washington's chances for one of those same spots, and that's always good.

Arizona didn't run the ball effectively at all, needing 24 carries to gain 88 yards. But David Johnson's 84 yards were enough to get him over 1000 for the season, making him just the sixth Cardinals' running back I've seen reach that mark. How sad. With 4 games left, he's on pace for a little over 1330 yards, which would give him the 4th best single season total in franchise history (behind Ottis Anderson, who holds the top 4 spots currently). He already has the 15th best single season total, and he's 29th in total rushing yards.

Carson Palmer had a good game. 300 yards through the air, no turnovers, only sacked twice, 3 TDs. Don't know if the offensive line stepped up their game, Arians schemed with more emphasis on protection, or if Washington's pass rush and secondary just suck. David Johnson and Fitzgerald continue to be the primary targets, combining for 19 catches and 169 yards. Given Fitzgerald's 7.8 yards per catch, I'm guessing Arians isn't having Palmer attack downfield as much, because the line can't hold up. Jermaine Gresham had 5 catches for 52 yards, and JJ Nelson caught one 42 yard pass.

The defense allowed 87 yards on 18 carries, but other than one 59 yard reception by Desean Jackson, mostly kept Cousins from hurting them down the field. He got intercepted one in the end zone trying to throw the horrible fade route to Jackson, and Calais Campbell obliterated some chump of a lineman to sack Cousins and force a key fumble late.

Looking to the remaining four games, they have Miami, the Saints, then Seattle and the Rams to close things out. The Dolphins just got humiliated by the Ravens, which could be good if it makes them fold, but bad if it makes them pissed and desperate. The Saints, Arizona might be able to pull of the strategy I hoped they'd use against the Falcons. With the division games, who knows. The Rams game will be ugly, because games with the Rams always are, the Seahawks game could be close, could be a blowout. The Seahawks have looked extremely vulnerable at times - losing to Tampa, tying Arizona - but they just trucked the Panthers, so I'm not sure what they are.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Delusion Is Back In Style

Arizona's season has reached the point where I'm kidding myself with the rationales I come up with to explain how they might win. Against Atlanta, I convinced myself the Cardinals could control the clock against the Falcons' less-than-spectacular defense, giving their own defense enough of a breather to blunt the Falcons' offense.

Yeah, not so much. Falcons 38, Arizona 19.

It seems like it ought to have been closer. The Falcons did manage 116 yards on the ground, but it took 30 carries. Both teams had one turnover. Palmer was only sacked twice. And the game was close at halftime. But the Falcons won time of possession by about 9 minutes, they were a little better on 3rd down, and didn't kill themselves with as many penalties as the Cardinals did, and here we are. Not much else to say, really.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Another Opportunity Lost

Once again, Arizona had a chance to deal a serious blow to another team's hopes for the season. And once again, they screwed the pooch, losing to Minnesota 30-24. Minnesota's offense was mostly held in check, not that that's particularly difficult, with Sam Bradford throwing for less the 160 yards and the Vikings rushing for about 80 yards. And the Cardinals ran for over 130 yards themselves.

The problem was everything else. The Vikings led off the second half with a 104 yard kickoff return for a TD. Carson Palmer was beaten to a pulp behind a rapidly disintegrating offensive line, threw for fewer than 200 yard (and closer to 150 once you remove the yardage lost on sacks), and two INTs. Including one at the goal line that was returned 100 yards for another TD.

No wonder Bruce Arians was hospitalized for chest pains. I joke, hopefully he's doing OK, though I would imagine this season's string of screw-ups would take its toll. Especially after how successful the team has been his first three seasons.

It's funny, though, how frustrating this has been to watch. Because really, this is what watching them was like for the first 20 years. A team I could convince myself should be better, but that constantly lost games I felt they should win, usually because of stupid mistakes. The 2004 team that I could tell myself would have been 8-8 if they only hadn't lost twice to the 2-14 Niners, and who knows what could have happened if Denny Green didn't start John Navarre against Detroit in that one game? The ravings of a madman to be sure, but that was life. Strange how quickly I got used to Arizona winning close games and playing competently, to the point I almost forgot that wasn't the norm for the franchise.

Well, there's still time for them to reverse the slide into entropy.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

We're Back To Being Grateful For Narrow Wins

Arizona beat the suckass 49ers, 23-20, on a last second field goal by Catanzaro. The Cardinals probably would have won handily if Carson Palmer didn't turn the ball over three goddamn times. Tends to neutralize the nearly 400 yards of passing.

The defense mostly held the 49ers in check until a drive late in the 4th quarter tied the game.  The Niners held by getting flagged for 9 penalties, while Arizona was only called for two. At least that's something the Cardinals are doing well. They didn't run the ball terribly well, and there were the aforementioned turnovers. But whatever, they're at least back up to .500 and in second place in the NFC West. Given the sorry state of the conference this year, they at least have a shot at the playoffs. The Seahawks and Cowboys are good, which is about the worst possible combo from my perspective, and everyone else is a mess. The Falcons and Saints can't stop anyone, and possibly neither can Green Bay. Minnesota is falling apart. The Cardinals are mediocre. The Rams can't score. There's no way I'm trusting the Lions, Redskins, or Giants to have their shit together. Philly? Tampa Bay? Please.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Another Missed Opportunity

Arizona lost to Carolina 30-20. It wasn't that close. Carolina was up 24-0, and then 30-7 before the Cardinals decided to stop playing like shit (or the Panthers stopped caring). Carson Palmer threw for 363 yards, most of them after the game was out of reach. He also handed the Panthers their first points by fumbling to Thomas Davis, who ran it back 46 yards for the score. He also threw a pick to seal the loss late.

But it's not all on Palmer. The o-line let him get sacked 8 times, and utterly failed to open any holes for David Johnson (in the limited chances there were to run before the game got out of hand). Johnson gained a grand total of 24 yards on the ground on 10 carries. The defense, which mostly throttled Seattle last week*, gave up over 140 yards on the ground. Cam Newton had an unspectacular game, about 210 yards, no TDs, barely completed 50% of his passes, but with the Cards offense doing nothing much of the game, he didn't need to.

So once again the Cardinals had a chance to make a statement, and once again they blew it. They could have trounced Buffalo and probably got Rex Ryan fired. Instead they got their asses handed to them. They could have beat Seattle, offering at least some token opposition to the Seahawks for the division title. Instead their special teams bumbled them into a tie. They could have put a knife in the heart of Carolina's season, in some small way avenging the ass-whupping they received in the NFC Championship last seasons. Instead they let the Panthers dole out another beating. I don't know what's up with this team. Injured, old, starting to tune Arians out in Year 4, unlucky, stupid, I don't know. Regardless, they look more like the Cardinals I was used to seeing the first 20 years I watched them.

And that's not a happy thought. 

* Though considering the Seahawks barely broke 20 points against the fucking Saints, that may not be saying much.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

A Tie? Really? Wow, OK

When I saw headlines online about Bruce Arians being pissed about some no-call on a field goal, I figured Arizona lost a close game. I didn't envision Arizona and Seattle tied, and certainly not tied 6-6.

6-6, cripes.

Arizona's defense certainly came to play. Seattle only ran for 52 yards, and Russell Wilson threw for about 200, after removing sack yardage. Seattle also had 90 yards in penalties.

Carson Palmer threw for 342 yards, though it took him 49 attempts, and he was sacked 4 times. David Johnson ran for 113 yards, though it took him 33 carries, plus another 58 yards on 8 catches. Arizona dominated time of possession, for all the good it did them. Catanzaro missed two field goals, including a 24-yarder in overtime. And Arizona had a punt blocked. Fortunately, Seattle couldn't move the ball off that special teams gift, and then Hauschka shanked a kick as well.

I'm not sure the Cardinals have ever had good special teams. They've had individuals with good seasons, like Patrick Peterson's 2011 returning punts, or multiple punters ( must have been all the practice they were getting), but they never seem to be strong all around. Their kick coverage is shit, or they can't do anything in the return game themselves. You'd think they'd stumble into some good results on those areas once in awhile, and they probably have, but it sure doesn't feel that way.

Anyway, 3-3-1. Could be worse.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Nice Win Before The Big Showdown

Arizona trounced the hapless Jets 28-3. I feel bad for Todd Bowles, that he's stuck in a situation where Ryan Fitzpatrick is his best choice at QB. I said this when Fitzpatrick was with the Titans, he's good enough to get you close to win, but bad enough to fuck up and cost you the game. This season, he's only been the latter, not the former.

Anyway, Palmer was an economical 21 of 34, 213 yards and 1 TD. He left late in the game with some hip thing, but hopefully it's nothing serious. David Johnson had another excellent game, 3 TDs and 111 yards on the ground. Admittedly, 58 of those yards came on one rush, took 21 carries for the other 53 yards, which is, not great, but I appreciate the commitment to trying to run. Plus Andre Ellington, JJ Nelson, and Stefan Taylor combined for 62 yards on 9 carries, which is nice. I'd like to think Arians saw Palmer was getting pummeled and decided to go with shorter passes and more running, but who knows.

So Arizona is back to .500, but now come the Seahawks. They narrowly staved off the Falcons this week, but at least they beat a good team. Arizona hasn't had any success on that score so far this season. Blowing out crappy teams? Sure, they do that real well. But the good teams (plus the Rams) are handling them. Still, they've managed to split the season series with Seattle when they have Palmer, so there's hope.

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