Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cardinals 3/4ths Review

So after 122 games, three-fourths of their season, the Cardinals stand at 60-62, which puts them on pace for roughly 80 wins, so they've improved their pace by four games since the All-Star Break (when they were on pace for 76 wins). They're up to 9th in the league in runs scored per game, and 11th in both runs allowed per game, and team ERA. So they've moved up two spots in the offensive standings, and three spots in the pitching. Good times.

Rotation: Carpenter's had Tommy John, if we're lucky we'll see him this time next year. Mulder's making rehab starts, hopefully the Cards' braintrust won't make the mistake they did last year, and rush him up here if he's getting clobbered in the minors. Really, there's no hurry, let's try and get one productive season out of Mulder during this two-year deal. Wellenmeyer hasn't pitched since before the All-Star Break, so I guess that elbow problem has taken him out of the equation. Maroth has done nothing but stink since that first good start against the Mets, leading to his demotion to the bullpen, then the minors. Brad Thompson appears to have been relegated to mop-up duty since that poor start against the Brewers July 28th. So what's that leave?

Well, Wainwright has gotten his ERA below 4.00 after last night's start, which is nice. Until then, this was shaping up to be the first season since '94 where none of the Cards' top 5 starters (by innings pitched) had ERA's below 4 (that year the closest was Vincente Palacios with a 4.39 in his 17 starts). Joel Pinero has done more than I would have expected, but I guess if you keep picking up other people's junk, sooner or later you'll find something that actually works. Looper has done about as well as I think we could have hoped, given the circumstances. Kip Wells has actually gotten his ERA to within striking distance of 5.00. Which isn't to say I want him to come back next year, hell no. I just wanted to mention he's done better lately, kind of like Jeff Weaver in September and October last season. Since Anthony Reyes returned on July 28, he's lowered his ERA half a run. It was even better than that, but he got slapped around a little by the Cubs in his last start, and it went back up. I'm still hopeful he can get the ERA all the way under 4.50 by the end of the season. I think he's got about 8 starts left, plenty of time. And hey, he might even pick up a few more wins by then.

Bullpen - It's funny, I had thought that with the Cardinals getting blown out so much, it would have helped Izzy by keeping his inning count down, but he's still at 51 for the season, and he was at 52 IP after 122 games last year, so I guess it hasn't had much effect. Either way, he's been pretty good this year, so once again, I apologize for all the crap I gave him last year. Franklin's been good, except for that series against Washington. Percival and Springer have both done their jobs. We got Tyler Johnson back, which I think gives us a slightly better left-handed option than Randy Flores. Brad Thompson seems to be the one filling the role of "guy who pitches lots of innings when the Cards get blown out", though that hasn't happened since the 12-1 loss to the Nats on August 4th. Which is nice. I was tired of every other Cardinals' loss being a total ass-kicking.

Catcher - Attention: a Cardinals catcher has an OPS above .700 (Molina, .703). Remain calm, and do not tell Tony LaRussa, or he'll probably bench Molina for Gary Bennett (.573). For the record, the last time the Cardinals' primary catcher ended the season with an OPS above .700, was Tom Pagnozzi in 1996 (.734). Yeah, I was surprised too, who knew Pagnozzi could hit? As for Yadi, I'm just glad he got his slugging up some, he was at about .320 there for awhile, which is sub-Jose Oquendo level, which is just ugly.

Infield - Albert's been on a tear here the last few games, with a HR each of his last four, and a slugging of .958 during the Milwaukee/Chicago road trip, and it's bringing the numbers back up towards his career norms. Average (.321) is still ten points below norm, but OBP (.423) in right on the money, even if slugging (.573) is still sixty points below average. I'm pretty confident he'll bring the SLG over .600 by the end of the year. Adam Kennedy's been shut down, hopefully it'll fix whatever caused him to stink so badly this season, so he can be useful the remaining two years of his contract. In the meantime, maybe it'll keep Aaron Miles away from shortstop. Eckstein is playing about as you would expect, fielding anything he can get to, but not getting to as much as we might like. Rolen seems to alternate between looking good with the bat, and looking lost. He's still good with the glove though, and he did get his slugging above the Willie McGee level I mentioned at the ASB (he's up to .404 now).

Outfield - Duncan has been in a funk all month, and his slugging is down to .508, after sitting in the mid-500s most of the year. He just looks lost up there, whether it's against a righty or a lefty. I wonder, he's had a bit over one full season's worth of at-bats in the majors now. Could pitchers have figured him out, and if so, will we see a regression to what he did in the minors (I think his slugging was only about .470 there, presumably it would be worse at the majors, with better pitching and all)? I hope not, he needs to hit a ton to compensate for shaky defense, and I don't think Juan Encarnacion numbers would do it (he's not to that level yet, but he's falling towards it). Edmonds is like Rolen, good one day, crap the next. It's hell getting old, I guess.

Encarnacion seems to be the odd man out, with all the young guys (and Edmonds and Taguchi) getting time, Juan's has been reduced, much to the joy of several Cardinals fans. I'm not a big fan of Juan's, but I still think he gets a raw deal. He's done exactly what his career numbers said he would. I don't know if fans were expecting Larry Walker or what, but they clearly over-estimated him. I just don't get all the hate directed his way. Yes he makes mistakes. Everyone does. I hear that he doesn't hustle, but that's a perception thing. How do you know someone isn't hustling? Besides, how easy would it be to hustle for fans who seem to hate your guts? Why would you bust your ass for them? But whatever. I'm not the one getting an ulcer or high blood pressure by hating him, so it's no skin off my nose. I save my hatred for the truly crappy Cardinals, like Jeff Brantley, or Tino Martinez.

Bench - I can't actually recall seeing Bennett much recently, which may be because he hasn't played in ten days, and only has 14 at-bats this month. Either way, it's fine with me. Spiezio is out of the picture for awhile, what with his personal issues. Miles is more tolerable to me when he only plays sometimes, and with Kennedy gone, and Eckstein healthy, most of his PT is coming at second, where he isn't quite as bad defensively as he is at short. He's another of those guys I don't think could give much more than he has. Brendan Ryan, though it's only 86 at-bats, has continued to hit, and show more range than any of the other middle infielders on the team. I'm really leaning towards letting him try and take the SS job next year, and let Eck walk (actually, I'm in favor of Eck walking no matter what, but that's a later discussion). Ludwick is third on the team in homers, shows some versatility in the outfield, and gives the team some power from the right side (besides Albert, that is). Taguchi is well, Taguchi. His slugging is down from his career average, but he's getting on base more, so I guess it offsets. It isn't like they're paying So for his HR-hitting ability.

Then, of course, there is Ankiel. He's a more physically-gifted version of Ludwick, I'd say. Hits for a little better average, doesn't really walk (at least not historically), can crush the ball if he makes contact, can play most anywhere in the outfield. Maybe those two can combine to handle an outfield spot next season? But for that to happen, Rick has to agree to sport the knee-high socks like he used to, then he and Brendan Ryan, and Anthony Reyes can be some sort of High-Sock Wearing Trio (there's got to be a catchier name, but I can't think of one).

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Three-Quarter Point MLB Review

We're at the point in the baseball season where every team has 40 games or less to go, so I wanted to look at the league as a whole, before I start looking in-depth at St. Louis (which I'll post later today).

So Boston is up six games on the Yankees, which has my friend Ken pretty disgusted. I'd feel bad for him, but I don't want both the Red Sox and the Yankees in the postseason, so I'm not too troubled by it. The Tigers and the Indians keep trading off the Al Central division lead, as neither one seems to able to play well enough to knock the other one out. Meanwhile, the Angels can't quite shake the Mariners, as Seattle sits two games back, and in control of the wild card. I like it when the playoffs introduce me to teams I haven't seen much of like (like the Raptors in the NBA playoffs this last spring), so I'd like to see Seattle hang on to the wild card, with Anaheim, Cleveland, and either the Red Sox or the Yankees (I'd like for Ken to be able to root for the Yankees, but if Boston blew their divisional lead, the rest of the country would never hear the end of their bitching and self-flagellating.

In the National League, you've got the Mets continuing to hold, apparently out of a rough patch I thought they were having a while back. The Diamondbacks continue to hold the NL West lead, despite all predictions that they'll fall back to earth, but I have to wonder who would catch them? San Diego can't hit, about half the Dodgers are on the DL, and the Rockies are, well, the Rockies. I have a hard time believing in them (which should probably be true of Arizona as well, but they've got the lead, so their job is easier). And then there's the NL Central, where the Cards are in it, in large part because Milwaukee and Chicago couldn't be bothered to play well the last month or so. Despite their being in third, the Cards aren't all that bad off. Nobody really expects them to win the division (except terrified Brewer and Cub fans). Meanwhile, the Brewers have to deal with talk of them choking their huge divisional lead away (they were on pace for 94 wins after 81 games; after 122 they were only on pace for 82), and the Cubs have to grapple with the fact they really are the most talented team in the division, so why aren't they running away with the Central again?

Playoff picks:

AL: Boston, Cleveland, Anaheim, Seattle (wild card)
NL: New York, St. Louis (what the hell, why not?), Arizona, Colorado (wild card)