Sunday, December 28, 2008

Well, That's Encouraging

Arizona actually managed to win a game. So they win the division at 9-7, rather than 8-8, which feels significant to me. Even more important, they actually rushed for 119 yards. Sure, that doesn't sound all that impressive, until you consider that Arizona hadn't rushed for 100 yards in a game since they beat the Rams in St. Louis. That put their record at 5-3. Yes, they went 7 games not rushing for 100 yards. Freaking embarrassing, you know?

What's interesting is that Edgerrin James got almost all the carries today, which hadn't happened since the 7th game of the season. Starting with the aforementioned Rams' game, Tim Hightower had been getting almost all the carries, and James had hardly even gotten on the field. Hightower ran for 134 yards in the Rams game, but he's still under 400 yards for the season. I'm not sure he made it over 50 yards in any other game this season. So, does this mean Whisenhunt has decided to go back to Edge? I hope so. I get the impression that Hightower was more of a shifty running back, which can get you tackled behind the line, whereas James is more inclined to charge into that line. While that may limit James' elusiveness, it usually guarantees he'll get at least a couple of yards, something the Cardinals' running game hasn't seemed capable of lately. Or maybe it's just a consequence of James being a seasoned vet, and Hightower being the rookie who's still learning about finding holes. All I know is Arizona had five games this season with 100 yards rushing or more. In 4 of those, Edge was the starter, Hightower was the starter in just one of those.

OK, maybe I'm getting too excited about a 100-yard running game against the Seahawks, but they'd been playing better lately, and the way Arizona had been going lately, anything positive is reason for cheer. Now I just have to hope Arizona can keep Michael Turner under wraps. Man can dream, right?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Well, How About That?

Your NFC West champions for 2008, the Arizona Cardinals! I'm happy, though that's really more about the fact they beat up on the Rams. After those last two losses I was getting a little worried, and the fact they beat up on a team they should beat up on was encouraging. Arizona isn't a great team, but they beat the teams they ought (read: bad teams), so they're at least good.

Truthfully, I'll be happier if they win the Minnesota game next week. Right now, they're only guaranteed a .500 record. Beating Minnesota would make them at least a 9 win team, and they'd still have a chance at 11 wins**. In my time as a Cardinals fan, I've seen two 8-8 teams, and one 9-7 (10-8 after their postseason ended) teams. A 10 or 11 win team would be nice, I think. Really, I just don't want them in the playoffs as an 8-8 team. I know, they're the Arizona Cardinals, I should take whatever I can get. Believe me, I know. I've been struggling all season with trying to be satisfied with whatever they do, and watching how well they play sometimes and expecting them to do more, do better.

Where was I? Oh right, wanting a victory over Minnesota. The Vikings are another team like Arizona, in that they're not great, but they're good, and it'd be nice to add another team to the list of not lousy teams the Birds have beaten this year*. I'm a little worried about Adrian Peterson, though he apparently had some fumble issues this week against Detroit, and if there's one thing Arizona' D knows how to do, it's force and recover fumbles***. It's purely selfish, and not sportsmanlike at all, but I kind of hope Goodell overrules that judge and the Vikes' Williams DT combo misses the game. It may be the only was Arizona can get any positive yardage on the ground.

Which brings us to the major concern with this team, that they can't (or won't) run the ball. The last time they played the Rams, they had over 134 yards on the ground. This time it was only 63, on 22 carries. I know a grind it out, between the tackles runner like Edge doesn't really fit Arizona's spread the field and air it out style, but I think a guy who can charge in their and at least gain a few yards each time would be a welcome change. Seems like everytime I actually see the Cards trying to run the ball, the runner (usually Mr. Hightower) is getting hit in the backfield. It's concerning, you know? Oh well, division champs, hoorah!

And I guess, congrats to the Giants and the Titans for clinching their divisions. I'm sure the Giants aren't being allowed to enjoy that, what with their losing and having Tom Coughlin for a coach all. That was a pretty impressive blocked FG returned for a TD they had though. Those special teams can pick you up, or drop you on your head, can't they?

* That list is currently comprised of Dallas, Miami, and Buffalo. Hey, the Bills were still good when they got crushed by Arizona!

** I know, slim chance of beating the Patriots in Foxboro, but if they play, then there is at least a chance of victory.

*** The broadcast team for yesterday's game mentioned Arizona is first in the NFL in those categories, and they got the ball away from Steven Jackson twice yesterday.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

More Personal Conundrums

So it's the Yuletide season, and you know what that means. Salvation Army volunteers outside stores, ringing their bells and looking for donations. This, strangely enough, presents me with a problem. See, I like to put something in their jar, bucket, can thing. Not a lot, because I usually don't have much on me I can spare, so we're talking 2, 3 bucks.

But there's a problem. For whatever reason, I feel self-conscious putting money in while the bell ringer is watching. I know, stupid. One of the times I was most eager to donate was when I stepped out of a store and saw the bell ringer conversing with someone, with their back to the bell. I deftly grabbed most of what was in my wallet ($5 tops), stuffed it in and hustled away.

The best explanation I can come up with is that the bell-ringer always thanks you when you put money in, and I feel embarassed being thanked for donating $2, so I prefer to skip all that. I have donated when the bell ringer was standing there, and I just feel awkward. I need to master ninja skills of invisibility it seems.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cardinals Trade For Khalil Greene

Well, I guess that answers the "Who's shortstop?" issue for another season. Greene had a lousy year last year, though. Even setting aside missing the last few months with a broken hand he got from punching something, he actually hit worse than Izturis. Yes, I'm serious. Green had a .599 OPS, while Izturis had a .628. Plus, Izturis was rated at 6 FRAA, and Greene was -2. And Greene's going to cost $6.5 million. And Green can't even blame his lousy hitting on Petco, because his OPS was actually better at home (.651) than on the road (.542).

So that's the bad news. Good news, offensively this year was unusually poor for Greene. Even counting 2008, his career road OPS is .802, versus a .658 home mark. In his four full seasons prior to this, his OPS sat between .727 and .795, though that high mark was 2004, so probably Khalil taking advantage of the league's relative unfamiliarity with him. But even if he puts up the .759 he had in 2007, that's a major improvement over Izturis. And in 2007, he was +8 FRAA, and +14 in 2006, so he can be at the very least, an average defensive shortstop.

Granted, he doesn't walk much. His highest OBP is .349 (2004), and the largest gap between OBP and batting average was the .076 he put up that season, though he had a .075 in 2006. But not walking just means he'll fit in with all the other middle infielders they have (Miles, Kennedy, maybe Lopez). On the plus side, he has some power. For his career, he averages 21 HRs every 162 games, which is nothing to scoff at. Before last season, his isolated power (slugging minus batting average) had risen each season from '04-'07 (.173, .181, .182, .214). So assuming last year was just a fluke, and not a sign that he's completely lost the ability to play baseball, he ought to rebound to be a decent enough player.

I can't speak to how much of a bargain it was. For one, the Pads are just trying to dump payroll, so that made things a little easier. Second, we don't know who the 2nd player the Cardinals gave up is yet. The first one is Mark Worrell, who had a brief callup with the team last year. He didn't have a lot of success on the mound, and the day of the trade, he had an interview where he repeatedly complained of how the Cardinals never gave him a fair shot. Normally, a kid who hasn't proven anything would be advised to shut his mouth, but given that Worrell was striking out 80 batters in 58 innings as AAA, but kept getting passed over for callups by Kelvim Jimenez, who has never done anything other than suck in the majors, he probably has a beef. But just based on Worrell, the Cards would have pulled off a steal.

But there's the catch, we don't know who the player to be named later is, except that he wasn't on the major league roster at the end of the season, and he's more highly touted than Worrell. I guess the Padres haven't decided yet, and apparently they don't have to until April 1st. Does that seem a little odd to anyone else? You can make a trade, and not decide which player you'll be receiving for four months? Well, hopefully it's nobody too highly touted, since Greene is likely a one-year rental*.

* I figure if he's bad, the Cards won't want him back. If he's excels, he'll get someone to give him big money, and it probably won't be the Cardinals. Though Glaus does come off the books after next year.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Cardinals Decline Arbitration On Looper And Springer

Springer I sort of understand. He's 39, his last two seasons are fairly unusual compared to the rest of his career, and the Cardinals have plenty of options for the right-handed side of the bullpen, so Springer would have been a luxury, I suppose.

Lopper is less sensible on the surface. The Cards' rotation is currently Wainwright, Lohse, Wellenmeyer, Piniero, and Boggs, or Carpenter if he gets healthy (don't bet on it). Wainwright had to miss over 2 months this year with an injury, Wellenmeyer is coming off a career high in innings, and Piniero is just not good. It doesn't seem like a bad idea to at least offer Loop arbitration. If he accepts, you sign him to a one-year deal for $6 million or so, and in theory he helps shore up the back half of your bullpen. If he declines, you get a draft pick when some other team signs him.

I'm really not sure what the thinking is here. The explanation I've heard most often is that the current economic situation has teams worried, so they're going to resist spending on free agents, the marginal ones at least. Perhaps the Cardinals expect that if they wait until Spring Training, they'll be able to make another Kyle Lohse-like signing. If every team opts for that strategy, I'm not sure it'll work, and I'm not certain how sound of a strategy for building a team it is anyway, but it makes more sense than anything else I can think of, as Looper doesn't seem like he would have been that costly.

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