Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Concerns As The Cardinals Approach The Playoffs

The end of the season is nearly upon us, and barring an absolutely ridiculous collapse, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the postseason. Who they'll play to start off is up in the air. I'd like to avoid the Phillies for as long as possible, and hope for one of the other teams to take them out, which would seem to leave either the Dodgers or the Rockies. Regardless, there are a couple of things about the team that worry me as they move forward.

First, the righthanded relief pitching, because they don't have any I feel confident in. Franklin's regressing to his career norms. McClellan walks a batter every other innings, and doesn't strike out nearly enough to make up for that. Motte has only one reliable pitch, and yeah, it's a really nice fastball, but eventually, good major league hitters (like the one faced in the postseason) are going to time that fastball and send it flying. Brad Thompson's a mop-up duty pitcher. Mitch Boggs' control is too shaky. Supposedly, Smoltz will wind up in the 'pen in the playoffs (assuming Lohse can demonstrate sufficient competence to stick as the #4 starter), but I'm concerned about betting the farm on him, what with the age, and various repairs he's had on that arm over the years.

Then there's the streaky offense. Certainly the additions of Holliday, Lugo and DeRosa have helped. The upgrade from the Duncan/Ankiel debacle to Holliday is massive, and unlike Schumaker, Lugo can hit lefties a little, and DeRosa, well, he's better than Joe Thurston at least. Still, the lineup's not exactly fearsome. Amongst starters, they have one phenomenal hitter (Albert Pujols), one very good/great hitter (Holliday, cooling off from his torrid start), two slightly better than average hitters (Schumaker, Ludwick), and everyone else (DeRosa, Ryan, Rasmus, Molina) is slightly below average. They don't draw many walks, evidenced by their being 9th in OBP even though they're 5th in batting average. They don't have much speed, and power is restricted to a few hitters: Pujols, Holliday, maybe Ludwick, plus Rasmus and DeRosa if the last two can make contact.

Even with all the additions, the Cards have been shutout 5 times in the 55 games since Holliday arrived (they were only shutout 5 times in the first 98 games). They've scored one run twice in that span (and actually won one of those games). They've scored only two runs 6 times (and managed to win half of those). So even with an improved lineup, they've been held to fewer than 3 runs about every five games. For the record, they're 8-5 in that span when they score just 3 runs. So in 55 games, that's 26 where they couldn't plate four runs. Yes, during that time they've played two series against the Dodgers, they've played the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins, and those teams are all at least winning clubs. But they've also played plenty of games against poor teams like their NL Central rivals, and even those squads have been able to shut them down occasionally. I worry that the offense is too sporadic, and it's going to place too much pressure on the pitchers to be perfect.

But maybe the offense will go on an extended scoring binge once the playoffs start. Or maybe the starting pitching will be perfect, or nearly so. That'd be nice.