Wednesday, October 13, 2010

That's One Way To Win

So Arizona did beat the Saints. I'm not sure their methods are repeatable, though. One touchdown off an interception, another off a fumble recovery by the defense, the third off a fumble by the QB that was recovered by an offensive lineman. The running game struggled (1.7 yards per carry), though they at least kept trying. They racked up less than 200 yards of offense, and fumbled four times without the Saints recovering a single one.

But, they won, so it's all good. Even though his numbers don't reflect it, Max Hall's teammates all insist he provided a boost, I assume with his attitude and toughness. I'd prefer he provide a boost by throwing some touchdowns, or at least not fumble so much, but whatever works. Now he has two weeks to prepare for Seattle, and try and work on his problem areas. His gonna need to, since the Seahawks have been good at home so far this year, and their crowd is notorious for being a presence.

It'll help if the defense can build off this last game, and continue to improve going forward. They might have Gerald Hayes ready to go, which should bolster the linebacking corps. Also, they hope to have Steve Breaston and Early Doucet back, which would give Hall his #2 and #3 receivers, to go along with Larry Fitzgerald. That would be an improvement over the "Fitzgerald and the rookies" act they had last week.


Friday, October 08, 2010

That Other Cardinals Team I Follow

The Arizona Cardinals are a quarter of the way through their season and they're 2-2. Which isn't too bad; I'm used to them being 1-3. But they've been more lucky than good, and more terrible than lucky. Their two wins were by a combined 4 points (and they only beat Oakland because Janikowski missed 3 field goals, when even 1 would have brought victory), while their losses were by 65 points. Ugh.

The team has multiple problems. The defense has been poor against the run and the pass. Some of that seems attributable to the defensive coordinator, Bill Davis. He seems to blitz too often, leaving opposing receivers in single coverage. Antonio Gates destroyed Arizona last week, though the Cardinals have had problems with TEs for years. Part of the struggle might be the switch to a 3-4 defense. It's a curious choice considering linebacker is the position the Cardinals are thinnest at, while they're supposed to have considerable depth on the defensive line.

The offensive line hasn't been anything to write home about, either. Their run blocking has been fair, but that's not much help when the team is losing by 3 touchdowns before halftime. That's when it's time to throw and unfortunately, this line couldn't form a stable pocket around their QB if they were being rushed by an old ladies' bridge club. I'm not certain what the answer to that problem is, beyond "Don't fall behind so much".

The quarterback position itself hasn't been worth a damn so far. Derek Anderson had one decent game against St. Louis in Week 1. Since then had had two consecutive games completing fewer than 50% of his passes, and last week, his QB rating was 22 before he was benched. Admittedly, he's taking a beating behind that line, but it doesn't help his accuracy is for shit. Larry Fitzgerald has been the target 46 times this season, and only 19 times has the pass been completed. Given Fitzgerald's size, speed, jumping ability, hands, and flexibility, that's pathetic. Anderson might do better if he was blindfolded and spun around three times before throwing. He couldn't do much worse.

It's a moot point for now, though. He's been benched in favor of rookie Max Hall. If it were me, I'd have given Anderson one more chance, rather than throw Hall in against the Saints' defense, which has been pretty solid. If Anderson crashed and burned again, then Hall has two weeks to get ready for Seattle, since Week 6 is the Cards' bye week. It could be though that Whisenhunt doesn't want to lose the fans' support by keeping Anderson starting, or that he figures it's better to let Hall make his first at home, rather than in Seattle, where the Seahawks have been tough this year.


Monday, October 04, 2010

That's Another Season Over

Well, the St. Louis Cardinals' 2010 season is over. At least they managed a winning record. I wasn't sure they'd pull that off, and I wasn't looking forward to fitting them into my "Worst Cards Team" list.

From a certain perspective, it's staggering the Cards were this bad. They had Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Holliday performing at a MVP or Cy Young level. Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Colby Rasmus also played well, potentially up to All-Star level. Yet they missed the playoffs. It seems that outside of those 6, there weren't any other difference makers, and too many lousy players, especially on offense. Says something about the value of depth.

The other problem, and I don't know how to explain this, was how much they struggled against mediocre teams. You'd think with those six talented players, the lousy teams would be easier to handle than the better, presumably more talent-laden teams, but no. The Cardinals were 12-6 against NL Central winner Cincinnati, and 21-15 against the other winning clubs in the NL (Philly, Atlanta, San Diego, San Fran, and Colorado). The Reds were 11-21 against those same 5 teams. The difference was, the Reds took care of business against the dregs. The Brewers, Astros, and Cubs finished with 77, 76, and 75 wins, respectively. Cincy was 33-12 against them. St. Louis was 18-27. 9 games under .500 against teams that finished 10 games behind them in the standings. All the Cards had to do was be 23-22 against them, just barely a winning record against three sub-.500 teams, and the division is theirs. But they failed, and the Reds didn't, and here we are.

This season was a disappointment. Yeah, the Cardinals had injury problems. David Freese missed the last 3+ months, Brad Penny hit a grand slam in May and was never heard from again. Ludwick was hurt before he was traded, Franklin and Motte missed some time, Jason LaRue's career was ended by Johnny Cueto's flying feet of death, blah, blah. It happens, and the Cardinals have dealt with injury problems before and come through unscathed. LaRussa seemed to grow more crotchety and feuded with his potential All-Star CF, to the point the kid was supposedly requesting a trade. If LaRussa's jackassery had run Colby Rasmus off, that could have been the last straw for me with Tony, combined with the other disturbing trend this year.

What really bothered me this season was the Cardinals tendency to turn to proven veterans to fill gaps. It's not so much that the known quantity is always a bad thing, just that it seems like a mistake when they should know the known quantity sucks. When Freese was pronounced gone for the season, and it became clear Felipe Lopez wasn't getting it done, why trade for Pedro Feliz? Really, why trade for one of the few only position players in the NL who was a worse hitter than Brendan Ryan? Yes, Feliz was hitting worse than he previously had, but he hadn't been even an average hitter since 2004. Why bring up Mike MacDougal - who has already crapped out with the Royals, ChiSox and Nationals - before giving Fernado Salas a chance? Why Randy Winn? They had Jon Jay up, he does everything Winn does at least as well. You certainly don't need an old and new version of Randy Winn, so why not give Allan Craig more playing time? Before his concussion, LaRue had only started 15 games in over 4 months. If they aren't going to use him, what was the point of having a veteran backup catcher. Matt Pagnozzi could have sat on the bench being useless just as easily. And why the hell did they bring back Aaron Miles?

The Cards did give several younger guys some run this last month, and it didn't turn out too poorly, especially against the Pirates (who are practically a minor league team themselves) and the Rockies (who had folded their tents for the season). But I don't think they've learned much about most of those players. Can Tyler Greene be the utility infield guy next year, or maybe even take SS from Ryan? What about Daniel Descalso? Can either of them being the third basemen if Freese gets hurt or struggles again? For that matter, why not give Craig a little play at 3rd? Unlike Descalso, it's a position he played regularly in the minors until the team shifted him to the outfield. It couldn't hurt to see if he could at least stopgap there, perhaps turn himself into a Scott Spiezio "I play all the corner positions" guy. I tend to think Pagnozzi's numbers at the majors are a mirage, since his OPS there is over 200 points above his AAA numbers, but we didn't see enough of him to know for sure.

P.J. Walters supposedly doesn't have the stuff to get out major league hitters consistently. Well, neither does Jeff Suppan, but that didn't stop the team from giving him 13 starts. They can't think Suppan is a part of the team's future, so why not give some of this starts to Walters? Find out if he can get the job done or not. As it stands, P.J. had an OK start, then a bad one, was immediately bounced from the rotation, subsequently proved he's not cut out for mop-up reliever, then ended the year with a very good start against the Pirates. As far as whether he's a viable starting pitcher, we have no idea, because he didn't get the chance, because they were too busy throwing starts away on Suppan and Kyle Lohse. I get that they want to salvage something from the big contract they gave Lohse, but he's not good.

I'd say the Cards can have some confidence Freese can be their third baseman, if he can stay healthy. Also, Jay could be a useful reserve outfielder and Salas an aid in the bullpen. Other than that, the young guys are all still question marks. They didn't get sufficient run, and it's because the team insisted on playing washed-up guys who were definitely no better, and probably worse than the kids they were blocking. Hopefully that's an issue that'll be rectified next year. LaRue's retiring, and I'm hoping to never see Suppan, Miles, Feliz, or Winn in a Cardinals jersey again. Lopez pretty much guaranteed that when he played poorly enough they dumped him with two weeks to go in the season.