Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Close Wins Over Good Teams Are Still Wins

Arizona beat the Bengals 34-31, on a last second field goal by Catanzaro. Said field goal was aided by the refs calling a Bengals' d-lineman for barking out signals to try and get the Cards' to false start, which is a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, apparently. It doesn't get called much, but it got called here, to the Bengals' displeasure. Is the Ravens' tendency to whine about the refs screwing them infecting the rest of the AFC North? I would agree 15 yards seems excessive, and like holding (and most other penalties) the refs probably miss/ignore it multiple times a game. But it is a rule, and you got caught, so suck it up and quit bitching. Marvin Lewis is trying to argue his guy was just trying to get the defense set for a run play. Right, the Cards were going to run the football from the 40, with 6 seconds left in the game. How are you going to beat the Patriots if your coach can't lie any better than that? At least learn to deflect with angry sarcasm like Belichek!

Anyway, Palmer played like garbage in the first half, which helped put the Cards behind 14-7. Then he found a groove in the third quarter, and Arizona went up 28-14. Then the Bengals came charging back, and they could have won, if Dalton didn't underthrow A.J. Green on a third down play, forcing Cincy to settle for a tying field goal with a minute left. Arizona got the ball, moved down the field (thanks, prevent defense!), got the helpful penalty, and kicked the field goal. Hooray!

The Cards had three fumbles, but didn't lose any of them. They even managed to recover a fumble by the Bengals. They didn't intercept Dalton, though, which combined with Palmer's 2 INTs, means they lost the turnover battle. But they still won, which is nice. It could have gone either way clearly, but it's nice to see them continue to win some of these close games. Though I wouldn't object if they went back to crushing teams the way they were earlier in the season.

Neither team ran well. The Bengals had 99 yards on 28 carries, the Cards just 82 on 25 carries. Credit to the defenses, although both allowed pretty big passing days for the opposing QBs. Dalton's QBR is 68.8, and Palmer's is 77.9. I mean, even with the two picks, he went 20-31 for over 300 yards and 4 TDs. I'll take that.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Lost Fumbles Are Starting To Annoy Me

I wouldn't have expected a 39-32 final score when I checked in with 12 minutes to go in the second quarter and it was 5-0, but there you go. Both offenses made some things happen. Or maybe Seattle's defense made some things happen.

The last time Arizona managed to beat the Seahawks, they won despite Carson Palmer throwing 4 INTs. He only threw one this time, but he also lost two fumbles. Still, they won, which is more than they could manage last year with Stanton or Lindley under center.

Multiple Turnovers Carson Palmer: Still much better than the other guys.

Chris Johnson was held to 58 yards on 25 carries, but Ellington went for 61 yards on 6 carries. Arizona's defense largely held Marshawn Lynch in check, though Wilson had some productive runs, and Seattle wound up with 118 yards on the ground overall. He did get picked off once by Mathieu, and had a pretty poor completion percentage (14 of 32, I think), though there are at least three 30+ yard receptions in there. No idea if that was a blown coverage thing or a bad tackling thing.

At any rate, the Cards are now 7-2, three games up on Seattle and the Rams in the division. Of course, they still have another game against each of those teams, plus the Bengals, Packers, and the Vikings, who may actually be good. Oh, and the Eagles and 49ers. I'd feel better about Arizona's situation if they hadn't had a 3-game lead on Seattle last year after 10 games, only to end up losing the division. And Mike Iupati suffered a scary collision last night. He's out of the hospital, but I'd imagine they'll be careful getting him back on the field. We'll see if their offensive line can continue to hold up without him.

On the baseball side, a bunch of Cardinals filed for free agency. Belisle, Broxton, Choate, Heyward, Lackey, Reynolds, and Villaneuva. The Cards made qualifying offers to Heyward and Lackey, both of whom, I assume, turned them down. As well they should, considering people are pegging Heyward for possibly $200 million deals, and Lackey supposedly thinks he can get 3 years and like $40 million.

I have no interest in Lackey at those kinds of dollars, not even with Lance Lynn now done for 2016 with Tommy John surgery. Between Wainwright, Garcia, Wacha, Martinez, Lyons, Cooney, and Marco Gonzales, the Cards ought to be able to cobble together a solid starting rotation. It might not look as good as this year's did, given they aren't likely to match their success stranding runners, but it should still be fine. The offense is still the side that needs to start carrying its weight a little more.

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

For Once, The Turnovers Didn't Kill Them

Chris Johnson lost two fumbles. Larry Fitzgerald lost a fumble. Carson Palmer threw an interception. Even so, Arizona beat the Browns 34-20, and that's after being down 20-7 late in the first half. Thank goodness the Browns aren't very good.

Johnson had a pretty good game other than the fumbles, going over 100 yards rushing again. At this rate, he might already have more rushing yards than anybody the Cardinals have had in the previous 3 seasons. Let me check, no, not quite. Johnson is at 676 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall ran for 687 two years ago. Of course, that was over an entire season, whereas Johnson's only played 8 games so far. So that's a signing that's worked surprisingly well.

Cleveland didn't have much luck running the ball, being held to less than 40 yards on the ground on 20 carries. So outside of Todd Gurley, Arizona's defense has mostly held up against the run this season. It did that last year, too, until the end, but hopefully this year's defense won't be completely fatigued and demoralized by a worthless offense.

Oh, and Michael Floyd went for over 100 yards receiving, including a 60-yard reception. That may have been due to John Brown's absence from the lineup, but it's nice to see Floyd can be productive when given an opportunity.

Next up is Seattle, which is currently having trouble beating a Matt Cassell-led Cowboys' team. I want to take that as a good sign for Arizona's chances, but I can't shake the concern Seattle is still trying to figure out how some of the new pieces fit, and once they do, they'll be a serious problem. Of course, this isn't the NBA, where the Spurs can spend the first few months figuring out such things. If the Seahawks dick around too long, they might miss the postseason entirely. It's still too early to predict that, considering they were still floundering a bit 10 games into last year, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Although even if they falter, there's still the Rams to contend with. Plus the Packers and the Panthers, and whoever is actually good in the NFC East this year (the Giants?).


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

As Always, A Win's A Win

Arizona held on to beat Baltimore 26-18 last night. I would have preferred they go back to destroying crappy teams as they had been, but an 8 point win is still better than the result of their last primetime regular season game, that disastrous Ryan Lindley start against Seattle last year.

The Ravens may have been hosed by some bad refereeing, a claim that would hold more weight with me if Ravens' fans weren't eternally complaining about how the refs screwed them, and the league's out to get them, and blah-de blah-de blah. Cry me river. Like they're the only team ever to have calls go against them.

Chris Johnson continued his surprisingly good season with 122 yards, and the team ran for 150 yards overall. They might actually have a running game for the first time in years. More critically, the defense forced a couple of turnovers, and the offense managed to avoid them (despite fumbling a couple of times, as neither was recovered by Baltimore). That seems to be the key this year. When they lose, they're turning it over repeatedly. When they win, they don't, and usually force a few turnovers.

Next up is a trip to Cleveland, which will hopefully go well, although the Browns seem competitive, if not actually good. The Cardinals need to win it regardless, because the Rams and Seahawks aren't going away.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not A Good Weekend

Not for me, not for my sports teams. Arizona lost to Pittsburgh, 25-13. No Big Ben, and Vick got knocked out partway through the game, and Arizona still lost because they couldn't hold onto the fucking ball. So much for spending the week in West Virginia to stay on Eastern time.

Look, it's all well and good to beat the everlovin' shit out of crappy teams, but at some point they will need to actually beat some teams that aren't inept. But this week they play the Ravens, so maybe they can wait another week or two until facing that challenge again. Thankfully the Rams didn't play, and the Seahawks lost to Carolina, so Arizona's still in first place. For now.

And the St. Louis Cardinals lost three in a row to the Cubs and were bounced from the playoffs. And now the Cubs are about to get swept by the fucking Mets. This postseason in general was going to be a disaster for me anyway, just because 75% of the teams in the LCS are ones I would be sad to see win a World Series. And Toronto's about to get bounced, so I'm better off just waiting for the offseason to start.

As for the Cardinals, there are decisions to be made. Jason Heyward is the big one, and I don't know what to do. The Cardinals have a ton of outfielders under contract next year - Grichuk, Holliday, Jay, Moss, Pham, Piscotty - but none of them are as good as Heyward (Pham is the one who comes closest to approximating Heyward's all around game, but not as good, and older). But is the gain in production they get from Heyward over say Piscotty, worth the 20 times more they'd be spending on him?

I guess the question is whether they can make an equally significant or greater improvement somewhere else with that money. A lot of Cardinals' fans are dreaming of a trade to acquire Paul Goldschmidt to play first, but a) I don't know if the Diamondbacks are even thinking of trading him, and b) what they'd demand if he is. It would take a move like that to compensate, but if you add Goldschmidt but Heyward walks and they had to trade Piscotty among who knows who else to get him, is it worth it? Holliday's on the downslope, so's Jay, I don't really care much for Moss, and I think Grichuk's lack of plate discipline is always going to limit him. But then again, so much of Heyward's value is tied up in his defense and speed, and I can't imagine he's going to maintain those as he ages.

Beyond that, there's the likelihood of Bourjos being gone, the question of what to do with Lackey, a farewell to Randy Choate, hopefully a search for someone they feel comfortable sitting Molina to play occasionally. There's probably some other things, so we'll see what pops up.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

A Positive Regular Season, A Less Positive Postseason

Bill Barnwell said on Twitter yesterday that we should come up with a way for Arizona to just play lousy teams every week, since they so enjoy destroying them. If we could contrive some method for that to carry through all the way through the Super Bowl, I'd be all for it. As it is, they will surely have to beat an actual good team at some point.

But not this weekend, as they laid waste to the Lions, 42-17. Detroit scored the first touchdown, then Arizona rattled off basically 42 unanswered points. One week after Arizona lost in part because the Rams took care of the ball while the Cardinals didn't, Detroit turned the ball over 6 times, between Ameer Abdullah's two lost fumbles, Matt Stafford's 3 INTs, and Dan Orlovsky's pick. Stafford played so badly he got himself benched partway into the third quarter. The o-line didn't help, as he and Orlovsky got knocked down 17 times combined, but being forced to drop back over 70 times because your team is getting its ass beat will contribute to a result like that.

Carson Palmer completed 11 of 14 passes for 161 yards and 3 TDs, which suits me fine. The less he passes, the less he gets hit. Chris Johnson went over 100 yards rushing again, and Andre Ellington got to play a little, including a 63 yard run. Larry Fitzgerald didn't break 100 yards receiving, but they didn't really need him to.

With the Rams and the Seahawks both losing (thanks, Green Bay and Cincy!), Arizona has a 2-game lead in the division. Which counts for essentially jack shit. They had a 3 game lead on Seattle last year around the 10-game mark, and still lost the division. They haven't played a team with a winning record yet, though I'm not sure how often it's going to happen. They play the Steelers, Ravens, and Browns the next 3 weeks, none of whom look real great right now. Two games with the Seahawks loom, plus another with the Rams, and Green Bay in Week 16. And there's no telling which teams look bad now that might be very different in a month or two. So takes the wins as the come, however they come, that's my motto.

As for the baseball Cardinals, they aren't in the best spot. The series with the Cubs is tied, but now they're facing Arrieta, who hasn't lost since mid-summer. Which means they're very likely to enter Game 4 on the verge of elimination. Which, granted, is where they were against Pittsburgh two years ago, and they got out of that, but it's not optimal. Though I suppose beating the seemingly unstoppable Arrieta would be a great example of that Devil Magic people attribute to that Cardinals. Of course, the Pirates were supposed to have some of that themselves, and it didn't save them against him. If the Cardinals could try not fielding like they were reenacting the 2006 Detroit Tigers' pitching staff, that might help.

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.