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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Sunday, October 09, 2016

At Least They Aren't In The Cellar

Arizona beat the 49ers 33-21 on Thursday night. Stanton only completed 11 of 28 passes for 124 yards, which is not encouraging. And 81 of those yards (and both TDs) were to Fitzgerald. Either the Niners have a great secondary which shut down the other receivers, or Stanton just can't get the ball to any of them. On the good news side, David Johnson ran for 157 yards. On the bad news side, Carlos Hyde and Blaine Gabbert ran for over 140 yards against their defense. I don't know what's wrong with their rush defense, unless they're just too small up front to avoid getting steamrolled. Well, they have a week and a half to figure it out

As an aside, I'm enjoying David Johnson's successful season. He's averaging almost 100 yards rushing a game. I know the running game is passe in the NFL now, but on a basic level it'd be nice to see Arizona have a real, productive running back for a whole season. Edgerrin James is the only Cardinals' running back I've seen go for over 1100 yards in one season. And he was usually averaging 3.5 yards a carry, which is awful. Of course, I was pretty excited about the same possibility with Andre Ellington last year, and now he's an afterthought. And there was Beanie Wells before him, Tim Hightower before that. Marcel Shipp, Thomas Jones, Michael Pittman, Garrison Hearst, and those are just the guys the Cardinals drafted. It doesn't even get into the Adrian Murrells and such.

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Mildly Disappointing

The Arizona Cardinals are 1-3, after losing to the St. Louis Rams 17-13. Which makes Arizona 1-2 at home so far this season. Carson Palmer was knocked out by taking enough hits to the head they put him into concussion protocol. Meanwhile, the defense was giving way at the worst moment, giving the lead back to the Rams. Then Drew Stanton came in and promptly threw an INT. Which was pretty funny, since the announcers were blathering on about how poor Stanton never seemed to be wanted by any of the teams that picked him up, and right as they're bemoaning his eternal bridesmaid fate, he kills any chance they had of winning.

The loss isn't necessarily a surprise. The Cardinals are out of sync, and Palmer got his ass beat by the Bills last week. Now he was facing the Rams and their pass rush, so him being pummeled was an unfortunately likely end result. Oh well, maybe the Cardinals are trying to wait until late in the season to hit their stride, like the Seahawks do sometimes.

On the baseball side of the ledger, the St. Louis Cardinals won their final four games, but did not make the playoffs, because the Giants finally got their act together. How much of san Francisco's success was them as opposed to the Dodgers not giving a shit I couldn't say. It's not as though the Cards didn't have every opportunity the last two months to seize one of the two wild cards. The Giants played like shit after the All-Star Break, but the Cardinals couldn't do better than stumbling along at slightly better than .500. Too many games against the Braves and Reds they let get away.

Hard to say what the offseason will bring. They're declining Holliday's option, though I'm not convinced they won't try to bring him back on a cheaper deal. I'm not sure if they'll make a qualifying offer to Moss, or if he'll accept if they do. He's been in a slump for the last month, probably cost himself millions. Will they pick up Garcia's option, what do they do with Wacha, or Rosenthal? Can they ship Peralta out for anything (as part of a package deal), do they even want to.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

That Didn't Go Well For Anyone

Arizona lost the Buffalo 33-18, which is what happens when you allow 150 yards rushing - in the first half. I had been hoping for a huge butt-whooping that got Rex Ryan (and most likely his brother as well) fired, as sort of a fuck you to their asshole dad, so much for that.

On the baseball side, the St. Louis Cardinals lost the last game of their series with the Rockies, then lost two of three to the Cubs. They aren't currently not in either Wild Card spot, despite half the Mets' roster being injured, and the entire Giants' roster being garbage. They have series with the Reds and Pirates left. That would seem like encouraging news, considering those teams aren't very good, but the Cards haven't exactly covered themselves in glory against either team this year. 15-16 combined. They're making basically the same screw-up Pittsburgh did last year, not beating up on the weaker teams in the division. That was why the Cardinals won the division ahead of the Pirates last season, Pittsburgh had losing records against every other team in the Central, and the Cards had winning records against all of them, especially the Reds and Brewers.

Anyway, I have to imagine both those teams would enjoy it a little bit if they could keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs with them, so we'll see if they succeed. I'm just ready for this frustrating mess of a season to be over.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

That's A Little Better, I Guess

Arizona trounced the Tampa Bay Bucs, 40-7. Jameis Winston got picked off 4 times, and Carson Palmer threw for over 300 yards and 3 TDs. It was 24-0 by halftime. It doesn't entirely wash away the unease of the Cardinals losing to the Patriots minus Brady and Gronk last week, but it's better than being 0-2. Especially since the Rams beat Seattle, and the 49ers were trounced by the Panthers, so everyone in the NFC West is 1-1.

On the baseball side of things, it looked as though the Cardinals were finally going to choose a direction for their season. They lost the last game of a series with the Brewers, then two of three to the Cubs, then the first two of a 4-game set with the Giants. But nope, they proceeded to win the final two games against the Giants, then the first game of a series with the Rockies. Combined with the Giants' continuing collapse, the Cards are back into the second Wild Card spot. So nothing's changed, except the pitching is being leaned on more heavily, because the offense has gone to sleep. They still have the rest of the series with Colorado, then the Reds and Pirates. The Cards have done OK against the Pirates, but if they end up missing the playoffs, a poor showing against the crapass Reds is going to be one of the many culprits.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Off To A Brilliant Start Here

Arizona lost to a New England Patriots team without Tom Brady, in Arizona on Sunday night. Excellent work guys, great hustle. Maybe they bought into the hype of all those different magazines picking them to win the Super Bowl. I'd love it Arizona actually did, as Sports Illustrated predicts, beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl this year, but I think they're nuts to predict it. Fine, the NFC East is still a trash fire, and I need to be convinced anyone other than Carolina is worth a damn in the South (and if the refs don't start calling roughing the passer penalties Cam Newton is dead and so are the Panthers), and the Packers barely beat fucking Jacksonville. But there's still Seattle. Narrowly defeating Miami, but still, when they needed a game winning drive, they got it, even though Russell Wilson was immobile.

As for baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals are still muddling along. Win a few, lose a few. They're behind the Giants and Mets in the wild card race now, and are almost certainly going to finish the season with a losing record at home. Of course, I fully expect them to win 3 out of 4, or 4 of 6 here soon, just to put themselves back in the conversation. I'd really like for their season to just be over already.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

40 Games To Go

The Cardinals stand at 65-57 at the three-quarters mark of the season. They're still hopelessly behind the Cubs in the division, but have the second wild card spot currently in their possession, and are two games behind the Dodgers for the first wild card spot, though L.A. is swapping the division lead back and forth with the currently bumblefuck Giants. Owing to doing much better in one-run games recently (and not blowing out nearly as many opponents), the Cards have almost caught up to their Pythagorean record of 68-54.

They're still an up-and-down mess. Win one or two series, then lose a couple. They have generally failed to build any sort of positive or negative momentum. Can't get on any sizable winning streaks, or go in the toilet. They did have a 5-game winning streak before yesterday's loss to the Phillies, but the course of this season suggests that loss will probably be the start of a 1-5 or 2-4 stretch that will largely cancel out the winning streak. Perhaps not, but that's been their operating procedure all season, regardless of who has been healthy or injured. When Carpenter, Moss, and Peralta were all hurt, it was like that, but it was also like that when they were all playing, both before and after the injuries. Who is available doesn't seem to matter. Currently, the unavailable include Wacha, Lyons, Maness, Rosenthal, Diaz, Adams, and Holliday.

The offense has slowed somewhat, down to third in runs, though second in doubles and first in HRs. Which is interesting considering the team has only one player with 20 or more homers currently, and that's Brandon Moss (22). But they do have 8 other players with at least 10 HRs, plus Pham has 9. They're dead last in stolen bases, unsurprisingly. Heyward really did take all the baserunning skill with him when he left.

Among the position players, Molina's hit well since the All-Star Break, and has his OPS+ up to 96, which is more than sufficient given his other benefits. Adams is down to a league-average OPS, with an OBP of .307. Wong still isn't really hitting, Diaz is hurt. Carpenter hasn't quite found his stride since returning from his oblique injury (and Matheny's batting him third instead of leadoff), but he's still the best hitter on the team and sporting and OBP over .400. Holliday's numbers were sinking before the injury, while Grichuk seems to have reverted to his old, all-or-nothing offensive approach. But hell, it got his OPS+ up to 95, so maybe that's how he has to be. Piscotty's numbers have fallen off, but are still solid.

As far as the bench, although that designation is pretty meaningless with the injuries and positional shuffle, Moss is the big bat, although Gyorko has been highly productive as well. Overall, his stat line isn't much different from Adams - even the same OBP - but Gyorko does have about an extra 30 points of slugging. Hazelbaker is doing better in a more limited role, and Pham, despite striking out at a Grichukian pace, has an OBP over .350, and an isolated power of over .250. It's nuts to me he's 14th on the team in plate appearances, considering there's only three guys (Carpenter, Moss, Diaz) I'd say have been definitively better hitters this season. I know, injuries, positional need, but still. On the bad news side, Diaz being out has apparently overexposed Greg Garcia, whose numbers have cratered, and Peralta still isn't really hitting (OBP of .282, OPS+ of 84, same as Garcia).

On the pitching side, the team is 7th in runs allowed, 10th in strikeouts, and 4th in walks. Seems the years of fireballing strikeout pitchers is over, we're back to the Duncan era of mediocre groundball pitchers. FIP insists Wainwright, Leake, and Wacha have all been unlucky. Waino especially so, since his FIP is over a run better than his ERA. But you know, it's been saying that most of the year, and things haven't really improved, so I have my doubts. FIP doesn't really account for the kind of contact being allowed, it just insists all non-HR contact is beyond the pitchers control, and thus not their fault, essentially. But if you're giving up a shitload of line drives, that's different than a bunch of squib grounders that find holes. I don't know which Waino is doing, but I suspect the former. I'm positive that was Wacha's problem. On the other side of the coin, Martinez has been a half-run lucky, and Garcia is basically exactly where he's supposed to be. Unfortunately, that's in a spot where he's basically league-average. Other than Martinez, there isn't a one of the five I'd have any confidence in for a do-or-die game. And even Martinez is fully capable of imploding.

Back in the bullpen, Rosenthal is still out, and now Maness and Lyons have joined him. The latter with knee problems, the former with Tommy John surgery, which is a bummer. Siegrist is having success despite having an ERA almost two runs better than his FIP. I guess the FIP is because of his HR rate (1.5 per 9 innings). His walk rate doesn't seem that bad. Broxton is garbage, and while Matheny seems to have recognized it enough not to leave him out there when floundering, I'm not sure he's realized he shouldn't use him in key spots in the first place. Bowman is continuing to hold down the fort as the second-most reliable reliever, behind the Final Boss himself, Oh. Oh has done pretty well as a closer, a few hiccups aside. His ERA is 1.82, and his FIP is 1.92, so he's basically as good as he looks. walks about one guy every 4 innings, gives up a homer about every 20 innings, pretty solid all around.

They've brought Jerome Williams up to eat innings, essentially. I wouldn't say he's done it particularly well, but he's mostly pitching when things are out of hand anyway, so whatever. Duke has been effective in the grand total of 8 innings he's pitched since arriving. Alex Reyes was called up and put in the 'pen, where he's demonstrated some overpowering stuff (thus 9 Ks in 7 innings), and some control issues (3 walks). Basically what everyone knew was the case already. Luke Weaver was put in Wacha's spot in the rotation, and hasn't wowed anyone so far, but for a guy who had made basically one start above AA, he's probably doing about as well as one could hope for under the circumstances.

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Monday, August 01, 2016

Trade Deadline Dullness

The Cardinals' only deadline deal was to acquire Zach Duke for Charlie Tilson from the White Sox. Tilson probably isn't an enormous loss, there were questions about whether his bat would play at the major league level, and while he has speed and defense chops to play centerfield, it wasn't to any sort of extraordinary degree. I saw him described as Peter Bourjos, but not as good, and we all saw how well things went for Bourjos in StL.

As for Duke, he probably slots into the Randy Choate LOOGY role. He's made over 50 appearances this year, but thrown fewer than 40 innings. One more good lefty out of the bullpen, though it's still contingent on Matheny knowing how to use his bullpen properly.

Not an exciting move, mostly the typical midseason move for the Cardinals. Burn a middling prospect acquiring a middle reliever. Whoo. To be fair, I can see what Mozeliak's reasoning is. The Cardinals' run differential says they should be much better than they are, because they've fucked up so many one-run games this year. And a major culprit in that has been the bullpen (or Rosenthal, specifically). The rotation seems OK (Matheny's idiotic decision to start Garcia on short rest when he had three other options available aside), the offense has remained productive despite injuries, the defense is. . . not atrocious. Shore up the 'pen, and maybe the close game luck swings the other way.

Plus, it's hard to see where you make a major upgrade. The Cards have average to above-average players at most every position, in some cases multiple players like that. So you can't simply get an average player and make a huge upgrade. You have to get someone really damn good, and then you have to clear out the logjam of other players for that position. With Carpenter, Moss, and Peralta all on their way back, just look at the options available:

First base - Adams, Moss, Carpenter, Holliday, Piscotty
Second base - Carpenter, Wong, Gyorko, Garcia
Third - Peralta, Carpenter, Gyorko, Garcia
Shortstop - Diaz (though now he's hurt possibly), peralta, Garcia
Centerfield - Pham, Grichuk, Hazelbaker, Wong (still think that's a stupid move)
Left and Right Field - Piscotty, Holliday, Moss, any of those CFers I listed

And the overall difference in production between a lot of these guys is pretty minimal. But you'd have to move some of them, just to clear space, along with some of the top prospects, to get anyone good enough to make a real difference.

My feeling this season has been for them to just make the playoffs and be healthy when they do, then hope for luck in matchups or other teams' health. I guess they should just keep rolling with that, then see where to go in the offseason.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

The Cardinals At The Midpoint

At the midpoint of the season, the Cardinals are 43-38, so just slightly ahead of their 22-20 pace at the one-quarter mark. They're an inconsistent, mediocre team. Look at roughly the last month: Won 7 of 9 from the Giants, Reds, and Pirates, then lost 5 in a row to Houston and the Rangers. Swept the Cubs. Lost 5 of 7 to Seattle and the Royals. Just finished sweeping the Brewers. In general, I'd say they're still a team good enough to mostly beat bad teams, but not good teams. They're in the hunt for the second wild card, with the Mets and Marlins, but unless they pick it up significantly, or the Dodgers slip badly, that's probably the best they can hope for right now.

The offense is still doing most of the heavy lifting. The Cards are 1st in runs scored, 2nd in doubles, 3rd in HRs, 4th in on-base percentage. 14th in steals, though, which considering their barely over 50% success rate, is probably about right. I guess Heyward took all the baserunning smarts with him when he left.

Molina has not sustained his .315 batting average from the early part of the season, and is currently sporting an OPS+ of 77. The Cardinals released Eric Fryer when Brayan Pena finished his rehab stint, though Pena has just 5 plate appearances in the week and a half or so since he was called up. The Cards really need to give Molina more days off, regardless of what he says. Who's the manager here?

Adams and Moss continue to form a mostly effective left-hitting first baseman. Adams has kept his average up enough his OBP is acceptable, and the power is there to some extent. Moss got his average up to about .250, which has boosted his OBp to almost .350, and 32 of his 54 hits this season are for extra bases. I admit I wasn't real high on keeping Moss, but he's certainly demonstrating why the Cardinals wanted him in the first place. On the other side of things, Wong is struggling badly. The team sent him to AAA, played him in CF for a week and a half, then called him up and are switching him between second base and the outfield. This doesn't really strike me as great strategy. I know playing Wong in CF lets Carpenter (who has an OPS of almost 1.000 and an OBP over .420) play second, and they can play Peralta at 3rd and Diaz at SS for more offense, but at a certain point, I wonder how much defense a team can sacrifice. Plus, Peralta hasn't lit things up so far, though his isolated power is about 170, which is roughly what it was 2 years ago. Diaz is still hitting pretty well, though he has cooled off from his torrid start, as you'd expect. Greg Garcia continues to crush the ball in his limited opportunities, and the team gut bait on Ruben Tejada quickly.

In the outfield, Holliday is showing the power (iso of 230), but the rest of his numbers are down. So, still the reverse of his offensive profile last year. I'm not sure what you'd attribute that to. His older, probably slowing down, but he's still able to make solid contact. Is he having to guess more, and can't correct to make decent contact when he's wrong? Piscotty is having pretty much the same season this year he had last year, which is fine. He's not going to be Heyward (and Matheny should definitely stop trying to play him in CF), but he's doing fine. The contact is there, the walks are there, the power is there to a certain extent, he plays a solid RF, he's a good player to have. Center field has been a mess, as evidenced by the fact they've actually tried playing Kolten Wong there. Hazelbaker kept slumping and the team finally sent him down. Grichuk never started hitting, and also got sent down. Not sure what his issue is. His K rate is down, actually, but so is his power. My dad said they'd been discussing during broadcasts the team telling Grichuk to not throw so hard or swing so hard to avoid messing up his back, but I'm not sure he can be successful that way. He probably needs to learn, so I guess it's good they send him back to the minors. And it got Tommy Pham called back up. It took a few games, but Matheny seems to be rediscovering confidence in playing Pham (or he figured out the Wong thing isn't working). And Pham's offensive numbers are slowly ticking up, albeit in an extremely limited sample size. He still has fewer plate appearances than Tejada on the season.

The pitching staff is a somewhat different matter. It's still sort of mediocre. 6th in runs allowed, 6th in walks, 11th in strikeouts, though second in HRs, so that's something. waino has supposedly been pitching much better over the last two months, and his FIP is around 3.60, although his ERA is lagging well behind. Strikeout rate is still down, although better than it was. Wacha actually has the best FIP in the rotation, I guess because he's considered to have bad luck on balls in play. He got a lot of good luck yesterday, given how much trouble he got into, so maybe it's evening out. Or maybe he was just lucky. The things I've heard, he's not getting good sink on his pitches, so he's giving up hard contact, which is a bad sign. Garcia's numbers have been drifting up, but his FIP and ERA roughly correspond. Martinez is apparently getting really lucky judging by the gap between FIP and ERA. His K rate is down too, but so are his walks, so I'll take that tradeoff. Mike Leake is. . . the 5th best pitcher in the rotation.

The bullpen is kind of a mess. Rosenthal lost the closer job and can't even pitch successfully in mop-up situations right now. Siegrist is out with mono. Oh has taken over the closer role, to somewhat mixed results. I'd imagine it's mostly just the league starting to adjust to him, but it bears watching, especially given Matheny's tendency to run his closer into the ground. Maness is back off the DL and struggling. Lyons and Broxton are both, according to their FIPs, getting much luckier than they ought to be. Broxton's walking too many guys (more than a batter every other inning), and Lyons is surrendering a lot of HRs, still. On the positive side, Matt Bowman's been useful, and he's probably going to have to continue that trend, given the current state of things.

At the moment, the Cardinals are in the middle of a favorable stretch of games, playing the Brewers, the Pirates, and the Brewers again before the All-Star Break. If they're ever going to go on a sustained stretch of winning, this is the time.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Cards At The Quarter Mark

We're a little over 40 games into the baseball season, and the Cardinals are muddling along at 22-20. They haven't gone on any sustained runs of excellence, but also no sustained runs of lousy play. Win a couple, lose a couple. they don't seem like they can run with the good teams, but they can mostly handle the bad ones. Their Pythagorean says they should be 26-16, I guess because they're doing pretty well at scoring runs.

After two mediocre or worse seasons of offense, the Cards are actually first in the NL in runs scored. they're mashing quite a few home runs (second in the NL with 55). Some of that is likely to wear off; Jeremy Hazelbaker will probably not continue to OPS over .800 all season, and Aledmys Diaz is certainly not going to keep his OPS above 1.000. Of course, Grichuk might start to hit at some point, or Kolten Wong, and if Pham can get back on the roster, I remain confident he can do some damage.

So a couple of guys struggling, and a couple of guys surging who will likely fall back. Beyond that, Molina seems to have reverted to his slap-hitting style of 2007-2010, with an isolated slugging of .096, but he's hitting .315. I don't know that he can maintain that, but if Matheny will get him rest, he might be able to stay close. Adams is at least being league average, although the power isn't there. He and Moss seem to be forming an effective left-handed hitting combo, though. Adams is making contact, but with limited power and no walks. Moss is hitting homers, but not much else, and walking some.

Holliday's flipped the offensive script from last year. In 2015, he hit for high average and a high OBP, but didn't show much power. So far, his iso is 220, which is his best in about three or four years, but he's hitting .241 with and OBP below .320. We'll see if the power fades - his last few healthy years it actually increased as the weather warmed up - but either way, hopefully he can get the OBP up. Piscotty's hitting pretty much like he did last year, no complaints there. Ditto for Carpenter, except he's managed to crank his OBP up some more, and maintain the power, even increase it a bit, as his iso is close to .300. On the bench, Gyorko and Ruben Tejada aren't doing much, though the latter isn't much of a surprise. Eric Fryer has been productive in an extremely limited sample, and so has Greg Garcia. They have 15 hits and 6 walks in a combined 34 plate appearances, with 3 doubles and a homer. I know the Cards doubt Garcia's ability to play SS, but considering they were willing to play Gyorko there, not to mention Diaz' struggles, I think they ought to ditch Tejada and just use Garcia. They're going to have to win with offense, so they might as well get the guy who can actually hit on the bench.

'Cause the pitching is, not spectacular. They're 9th in ERA, 9th in strikeouts, 8th in walks, 6th in home runs allowed. They really aren't doing anything terribly well. The rotation is a mess. Wainwright's pitched about average by FIP, but been unlucky I guess But he can't strike anyone out, which isn't a good sign. Wacha's been a little unlucky based on FIP, while Martinez has been lucky. Garcia has been good, FIP and ERA agree, while they also agree Mike Leake has been bad. Of course, with Cooney and Marco Gonzales both injured, the team doesn't really have anyone to sub in, not that I expect Matheny will do that until someone gets hurt. Nobody is pitching deep into games, as Garcia is really the only one averaging over 6 innings a start (Leake and Martinez are right at 6, Wainwright and Wacha are both below it). But the way everyone is pitching, there's no reason to let them go deep into games.

Plus, the bullpen's doing better than the rotations, so better to lean on them anyway. Rosenthal's succeeding despite walking nearly a batter an inning. Seung-hwan Oh's doing pretty well in the majors so far. He's only allowed 17 baserunners in almost 22 innings so far. I don't know if that'll continue as the league grows more familiar, but it's nice while it lasts. Siegrist has a K-to-BB ratio of better than 8 to 1, which is encouraging. I was worried he might return to his control issues of two years ago, but so far, so good. Little bit of trouble with the longball, though. Matt Bowman's doing alright, since he's maybe the 4th or 5th option. Broxton is pitching badly, and Tyler Lyons has a 4.68 ERA and has actually been lucky. He's gone back to having trouble with home runs again, giving up 6 is 19 innings. Maness is on the DL, and Dean Kiekhefer has been useful in some limited use. It feels like Matheny is at least spreading the innings out among different guys so far. Rosenthal, Siegriest, Oh, Bowman, Broxton, and Lyons are all basically between 16 and 22 innings, and Maness was at 12 before he got hurt. So perhaps we won't get in a situation where relievers get gassed because Matheny's overuses them. Although if the starters don't start holding up their end better, there may still be too many innings to go around.

The defense has been a bit of a clown show from what I've heard. Diaz has struggled, Baseball-Reference's stats (for all that they're worth at this stage in the season, basically nothing) don't like Adams at first or Carpenter at third. Although they do like Diaz at short and Wong at second. Hazelbaker is scoring badly at all three outfield spots, and Holliday's not doing well in left (no surprise there). Piscotty and Grichuk are doing OK in right and center, though. Peralta will hopefully be back before too long, although it's a question whether we'll see the Peralta of 2014 defensively, 2015, or somewhere in between.

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