Sunday, December 25, 2011

Back To The Other Cardinals

Since the last time I discussed the St. Louis Cardinals, they signed J.C. Romero and, more impressively, Carlos Beltran.

Romero might be OK, as long as they keep him away from right-handed batters. His career OPS against righties is .812, and it's been getting worse as his career progresses. Something I didn't know is that Kyle McClellan is also much more effective against lefties. Their career OPS is .629, versus righties .749. His splits also appear to be growing more pronounced. Last year lefties were .638, righties .827.

With Beltran, I'm curious whether he can still play a competent centerfield. In the short term, that isn't hugely critical, since Allen Craig isn't going to be ready to go until probably at least May, and it's doubtful he'll come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. That'll leave Beltran plenty of opportunities to play in right. But in theory, Craig will eventually be ready to play regularly. Now, he could spell Holliday in left and Berkman at first, in addition to playing right field. I doubt they'll use him at second; it just seems like too much stress on a surgically repaired knee. It would help if Beltran can spell Jay in center without it being too much of a defensive disaster. Holliday and Craig are both average or better in the corner spots, but it'd be best if Beltran isn't the equivalent of Right Fielder Lance Berkman in center. Beltran didn't play in center at all last year, and he's a year older, but he's also another year removed from knee surgery, so maybe those things offset. He doesn't have to be peak Jim Edmonds; roughly average would more than suffice, assuming his hitting holds up.

At any rate, the Cardinals seem to have mostly filled their roster, barring trading some projected starters away.

Rotation - Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, Wainwright, Westbrook
Bullpen - McClellan, Motte, Romero, Rzepczynski, Salas
Catcher - Molina
Infield - Berkman, Descalso, Freese, Furcal, Schumaker
Outfield - Beltran, Craig, Holliday, Jay, Komatsu

That's 21, which leaves 4 spots. I figure the last two bullpen spots will go to some combo of Boggs, Lynn, and Sanchez. I'm partial to Boggs and Sanchez, not because of anything against Lynn. I'd prefer him in the AAA rotation as insurance against the inevitable injury.

Back-up catcher seems like it'll come down to either Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson. They have roughly equivalent major league experience (slight edge to Cruz), and Cruz was clearly preferred by LaRussa, who is gone, so fuck his preferences. Anderson has worked with Matheny to improve his defense, so maybe that gives him an in with the new coach. Plus he's a lefty, so maybe that offers some platoon split opportunities.

That leaves a spot for a utility infielder. Tyler Greene might have the edge since he can play second or short, or theoretically third base. But a bench of Greene, Cruz/Anderson, Schumaker, Komatsu, and Craig is pretty lacking in power. And Craig won't be ready at season's start. They could add Matt Carpenter until Craig is ready. He's an actual 3rd baseman, rather than a middle infielder playing there, and he has a little power. Not as much as Craig, but more than any of those other guys. He's insurance against what's likely to be an inevitable Freese injury.

I don't quite follow the reason for having Skip and Komatsu. Offensively they're fairly similar, with not much power or ability to draw walks. I suppose they're still thinking of using Skip at second. Ugh. I'd rather have Punto. He even signed with Boston for the same contract Skip got. Oh well, too late now.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Week 16 Marks The End Of The Dream

Arizona lost to the Bengals 23-16, which officially ends the Cards' chances of making the playoffs. Sure, they were a long shot to begin with, but it would have been cool if they could make it in after their horrible start.

The Cardinals followed their recent strategy of doing very little offensively the first 3 quarters, then trying to come back in the fourth. Problem being they fell behind 23-0 to a team that's a little too good to blow that big a lead. Skelton didn't help matters by throwing 3 INTs before rallying with 2 TDs in the 4th. He once again got no help from the running game, as Wells had only 53 yards on 14 carries. The Bengals meanwhile, had 165 yards on 34 carries as a team.

There's not a lot else to say. The Cards did have a chance to tie or win (if they went for 2), but Early Doucet fell down for some reason, so the pass went incomplete.

I'm curious now whether the Cardinals will start Kolb against Seattle in Week 17. On the one hand, the Cards will be playing for nothing more than pride and a chance to finish .500. That would suggest there's no reason to risk Kolb getting another concussion. At the same time, Kolb still needs to prove something. Yes, Skelton has largely failed to demonstrate he should be the longterm starter. He has 10 TDs and 13 INTs, which is only acceptable if you're the Raiders and you really like Carson Palmer. But he has showed some skill at the end of games, and unlike Kolb, he actually makes it through games without getting injured. It doesn't much matter if Kolb is better if he can't stay on the field. And Kolb hasn't been all that great himself. So coming back and leading the team to a .500 record at home to close out the season wouldn't hurt his standing with the fans.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Week 15 Keeps The Playoff Dream Alive

With another narrow victory naturally. Arizona triumphed over Cleveland 20-17 in overtime. John Skelton lead his fourth 4th quarter comeback of the season, throwing for over 300 yards and a TD. He was also intercepted once, and sacked 4 times, but take the bad with the good.

The sacks might be on the offensive line, since the running game failed to engage for the second consecutive week. Beanie Wells had 51 yards on 15 carries, and the team as a whole had just 74 yards, at 3.1 ypc. For the Browns, Peyton Hillis ran for 91 yards, and they averaged 4.1 ypc. However, O'Brien Schofield had sacks on consecutive plays, and thanks to a Whisenhunt challenge, the second one produced a fumble the Cards recovered and turned into the tying points. Let's hear it for the young linebacking corps! Whoo! This 3-4 defense thing might not be such a stupid idea after all, now that they have personnel fit to run it.

I suppose I shouldn't be so excited about a narrow victory over a team that's now 4-10. But it was so easy to see Arizona losing this game. They're on a bit of a roll. Analysts are praising their defense, they're in the wild card hunt, and they just beat the big, bad division leader. And here come the suckass Browns into town, with their backup QB under center. That's a game ripe for the Cards to blow, and they nearly did. They had to overcome a 10-point deficit in the 4th quarter, after all. But overcome it they did.

I can't quite figure this team out. Their defense is good. Not great, and it has its bad moments, but those are to be expected with the number of young guys they're starting. Their offense shows flashes, mostly with Kolb as QB, but the pass blocking and run blocking are so spotty. Sometimes they're good, frequently (especially the pass blocking) they aren't. I don't know if that's a talent issue, or a coaching one. The complaints I see online about Levi Brown suggest he, at least, is a talent issue, but who knows.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Series Of Lukewarm Moves

In the absence of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals have gone on trying to put together their team. First they resigned Rafael Furcal at 14 million over 2 seasons. That's OK, I suppose. Furcal's probably the best value left at SS after Reyes signed with the Marlins. Jimmy Rollins is better, younger, and has fewer chronic injury problems. But he also wants a 4 year contract, at likely more than 7 million a year, and I'm not keen on being locked in with a SS until he's 37.

Still, I find myself less than excited with Furcal. I guess I doubt he'll stay healthy, and I'm not convinced about his defense, which is something I prize in a SS. I hope he rediscovers his speed; it'd be nice to have a leadoff man who can steal some bases. While I was intrigued by the prospect of Tyler Greene getting the starting job and unleashing his full potential in a devastating display speed and power, Furcal's a much safer bet.

On the negative side of ledger, they're bringing back Schumaker on a two-year contract as well. It only pays something like 3 million total, but cripes, what do they need him for? His offense is declining steadily, with less power and a lowering walk rate, and his defense isn't strong enough to compensate for that. He's a lousy second baseman, and since he's a lefthanded hitter, he can't even be a centerfield platoon with Jay, who is also a lefty.

They also tendered a deal to Kyle McClellan, which I don't really see the need for. One thing the Cardinals don't lack for is righthanded relief pitching. I guess Kyle could serve as the stopgap starter when one of the rotation guys gets hurts, but I'd rather see Lynn, Dickson, or Broderick from AAA. At the end of the day, he and Schumaker aren't big investments for the team, certainly nothing that should keep them from making a deal for Carlos Beltran, but they just don't seem like they're worth it. I do hope the Schumaker signing isn't going to mean farewell to Punto. I'd rather have a utility infielder who is actually a good infielder. I don't expect he'll maintain the offensive production we saw this year, but he does draw walks, and if he can hit for a decent average he'll be good for getting on base.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Week 14 Brings Victory Over a Good Team

Considering how badly Dallas lost last night against the Giants, I'm not sure they qualify. But the 49ers, for all their recent struggles, are still 10-3, thanks to Arizona beating them 21-19.

The Cardinals won despite Kolb getting a concussion from an inadverdent knee to the head on the first drive. Despite Skelton coming in and throwing two picks, plus losing a fumble on a scramble. Despite forcing no turnovers of their own. Despite Beanie Well gaining only 27 yards on 15 carries. Despite losing time of possession in the first half 22 minutes to 8, which put them on pace for a near repeat of the last go-round, when the Niners held the ball over 44 minutes.

The Cardinals won because Skelton did manage to complete 19 of 28 passes for about 280 yards and 3 TDs. His receivers did a lot of the work after the catch, with Early Doucet getting a 60-yard reception, and Fitzgerald a 49-yarder, as part of his 7 catches, 149 yards. Skelton also managed 25 yards on 6 carries, easily the most productive Cards' runner. The defense may not have gotten any takeaways, but they did sack Alex Smith 5 times, and he completed less than half of his passes. The Cardinals also got lucky by calling a challenge right before the Niners ran a fake punt that looked like it would produce a huge gain, possibly a TD. The challenge never got going, because the replay equipment was messed up, but it killed the Niners element of surprise, and lead them to try a 50-yard field goal instead. The defense also held the Niners to field goals on three separate occasions when they were inside the 10, though to be fair,, san Fran has had that problem all season.

They also had some help from some curious Niners' play calling. San Francisco hasn't been as run heavy as the tebow-lead Broncos, but they do tend to minimize Smith's pass attempts. Yesterday he threw 37 times (completing 18), and Frank gore ran only 10 times, despite getting 72 yards and a TD on those carries. Well, having seen the Cardinals shoot themselves in the foot for not running enough when they're having success, I'm glad to see another team make the same mistake.

Now there are people discussing playoff scenarios for Arizona, which, let's not go nuts here. They'd have to get in as a wildcard, and currently Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, the Giants, and Dallas are all ahead of them, and Seattle will be if it beats the Rams tonight. I'm just enjoying the victories and the fact that in his fifth season, Whisenhunt might finally have put together a defense.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Albert Pujols Is Now A California Angel

That's what they were called when I started watching baseball, and it takes less space to type than the nonsense name they have now. They offered 10 years and $254 million, Albert accepted, legions of Cardinals fans went online to disavow ever liking Albert Pujols, ever being glad he was a Cardinal, to hope for his career to go into immediate decline, for him to be busted for PED use, to suffer a career-ending injury, or to demand to know how he could leave, so on and so forth. In other words, lose their shit.

Frankly, I'd like to meet all these Cardinals fans who are apparently so wealthy they could turn up their nose at an extra $34 million over ten years. They could loan me some money. I wouldn't ask for anywhere near that much, so clearly they'd never miss such an inconsequential sum.

Look, I'm probably the last person who should be telling people to calm the fuck down. I have railed against LaRussa and the Cardinals for trading Brendan Ryan and trying to feed us a line of bullshit about Ryan Theriot being a shortstop for about a year now. That being said, people need to calm the fuck down*.

Albert Pujols doesn't owe the Cardinals or the fans shit. Whatever he might have owed from them drafting him in the 13th round, or for giving him a spot on the Opening Day roster in 2001, or for his recently expired 8 year, $111 million contract, he more than repaid. They won 2 World Series titles with him, and wouldn't have won either without him. They went to another World Series. True, I'd just as soon forget that one ever happened, but it did and he was a major part of it. They had one losing season in his 11 years with the team**. The Cardinals may have given Albert the opportunity, but he's the one who made something of it.

By that same token, the Cardinals owe Albert nothing. They paid him in accordance with a contract he agreed to. Was that contract well below value for the production he offered? Hell yes, and maybe that's why he went for the biggest money contract this time. Imagine if he'd played through his 3 arbitration years (2004-2006) on one year contracts, then gone on the free agent market in an offseason when he was turning 27***, and had just won a World Series. Holy crap. The fact remains, he took the contract and as far as I know, the Cardinals didn't stiff him on a dime. Once the contract ended, they were under no obligation to offer him any more than they felt comfortable with. That comfort level apparently ended at 10 years and $220 million, which was insufficient for Albert.

So here we are. I'm in a middle ground. I don't blame either side for their decision. I would have liked for Albert to be a Cardinal his entire career, to chase Stan Musial for the franchise record in all sorts of offensive categories. I would not have liked for the Cardinals to be paying him $25 (or 22 for that matter) million a year for the next decade. Though I suppose that kind of payroll commitment would force them to build from within, as it would kind of limit their opportunities to chase free agents. At least, free agents that could have a large impact. I would have enjoyed that.

The years were really the hang up for me. Had it been my call, I'd have given him 25 million per for 7 years in a heartbeat, or even 30 million per for 5. But a 10-year contract? A bridge too far, but one Albert really wanted, and someone else was willing to give. It's disappointing, but the team will go on. My Cardinals fandom survived the strike, LaRussa alienating Ozzie, J.D. Drew's oft-injured presence, Ankiel's pitching flameout, losing to the Mets in the 2000 NLCS, the '04 World Series sweep, Anthony Reyes never putting it together (even on another team where he could spite LaRussa and Duncan), the presence of lousy veterans like Miles, Suppan, MacDougal, Feliz, and Winn on the 2010 team, the trade of Brendan Ryan, the presence of Ryan Theriot, all the stupid crap LaRussa did over the years.

I'm not going to wish Albert ill. I expect his numbers will decline, because age always wins, but I hope he can maintain a high level for some time for the Angels. Maybe break some records. Sure, it'll be with the Angels, but he'll have started with the Cardinals, and that's not nothing. I'd like for him to be popular in Anaheim. Maybe he won't be for them what he could have been for St. Louis, but I don't buy some of this stuff I see about how he could have been a Musial-like figure for the franchise had he stayed. Fans today have short memories. The first time he really struggled, say lost a season to injury, or just had a bad year, there'd be fans who would turn on him. Fans are frequently "What have you done for me in the last five seconds?" Because we're lunatic assholes. I'm not going to boo him when the Cardinals play the Angels. I reserve my booing for players who sucked while they were Cardinals, like Jeff Brantley. I'm not saying I want the Angels to win 10 World Series with Albert. I'd rather the Cards win the next 10, or failing that, whatever team Brendan Ryan's playing for that year, since he missed out on this one. But if those options are a no-go, I wouldn't object to the Angels getting another championship.

I'm going to try and remember the good stuff about his eleven years here. The great spring training that got him on the Opening day roster his rookie year. The 3-HR game against the Cubs in '04. The 2004 NLCS, when he matched Beltran big hit for big hit. Crushing that Brad Lidge pitch in the '05 NLCS. Hitting a game-winning double off Lidge the next year (though I mostly remember Lidge dejectedly walking back to his dugout). His insane April and May in 2006. Scoring from second on a grounder to second against the Rockies. Being worth 25 runs above average at first in '07. Running with that gimpy stride, but trying to take the extra base like he was Vince Coleman. Coming back from a fractured wrist in less than 3 weeks. Playing with an elbow that needs Tommy John surgery for what, five years at least? The 3-HR game in the World Series. Playing second base in '08 because the team needed him to, or going back to third this year for the same reason.

People are saying his signing for the most money with the Angels proves he doesn't care about winning like he said. Bullshit. I don't believe for a second a guy who plays at positions more likely to cause him injury because it let the team put their best lineup out there doesn't care about winning. Maybe he did that for individual acclaim, but it helped the team, so it all leads to the same place. He was the best player the Cardinals have had in my lifetime. Even if he wasn't my favorite player ever, I'm still glad I got to see him play for the Cardinals for 11 years. if other people want to focus on the negative, that's their choice. I'm not going the bitter route, if for no other reason than I refuse to give the gloating fans of other teams the satisfaction.

* I don't think it's quite the same thing since in that case, Brendan still wanted to be here, and was traded due to some guys on the team being uptight jackasses, and then the team tried to sell us the notion they were better off with a clearly inferior ballplayer. In this case, Albert was free to go where he liked, the team made an offer, the Angels made one he liked better, and he went. Nobody was forced to leave.

** That was 2007, the year Carpenter's season ended on Opening Day, leaving Kip Wells as the No. 1 starter. The Cardinals had 3 relief pitchers who didn't suck (Izzy, Franklin, Russ Springer). Chris Duncan was the only guy to hit over 15 HRs besides Albert, and he didn't play the last month of the season. Scott Rolen slugged below .400. Juan Encarnacion's career was ended by a line drive to the face. Adam Kennedy was, before his season ending knee surgery, the worst starting 2nd baseman the team has had in my life. And still they won 78 games, in no small part because of Albert.

*** I know there's still rumors he's older than he says he is. Until someone shows me proof, I'll take him at his word. And no, Keith Law, Rob Neyer, and Dan LeBatard, "front office people around baseball believe it" isn't proof. Front office people can be dumbasses. If they weren't we wouldn't have nearly as many jokes about Barry Zito and Vernon Wells' ridiculous contracts.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's Hall Of Fame Voting Time

Not that I have a ballot, but let's pretend I did. Who am I voting for? Starting with returning candidates.

Barry Larkin: Yes. I'm always going to believe Ozzie was better, because even though Larkin was a much better hitter, Ozzie was so phenomenal at a critical defensive position that amplifies his value. But just because I don't think Larkin was as good as Ozzie Smith, doesn't mean Larkin shouldn't be in the Hall.

Jack Morris: I said No last year, with the understanding I wouldn't be angry if he was elected, as long as Blyleven got in first. Well, Blyleven's in, so if they want to vote Morris in that's fine.

Lee Smith: Still No.

Jeff Bagwell: I said Yes last year, I'm sticking with that.

Tim Raines: Yes.

Edgar Martinez: Yes.

Alan Trammell: Yes. Seems like Trammell's campaign gained a little steam last year. Is the backlash against suspected PED users funneling more votes to players believed to be clean? Unfortunately, I think it may be happening a little late. Trammell's got a lot of ground to make up, and only a few years left to do it in.

Larry Walker: I'm a little shaky on this with the Coors-inflated stats, but Yes.

Mark McGwire: A conditional Yes. If I end up with too many options, I'm shuffling him off.

Fred McGriff: No.

Don Mattingly: No.

Dale Murphy: No.

Rafael Palmerio: Like McGwire, a conditional Yes. I want to see what happens to his vote percentage this year. McGwire's has declined slowly. Will Palmiero's do the same?

Juan Gonzalez: No.

Man, the crop of new players sucks.

Bernie Williams: I don't think his offensive statistics are that superb. Admittedly, he's a CFer, and like SS, I'll cut them some slack with the bat if they're great with the glove. Unfortunately for Bernie, Baseball-reference has him as -12 wins below average defensively for his career. That's only about a -0.75 per season, but that's definitely not "great". No.

Vinny Castilla: No, his stats are Coors inflated like Walker's, but the results aren't nearly as good.

Javy Lopez: No.

Ruben Sierra: No.

Jeff Nelson: Um, hang on, who? *looks up player page* OK, I vaguely remember him. No.

Jeromy Burnitz: That's a joke, right? No.

Tim Salmon: Angels Hall of Fame? Sure. MLB Hall of Fame? No.

Mike Matheny: A guy worth 2.6 WAR for his entire career? No.

Edgardo Alfonzo: No, sorry.

OK, shit, this is taking too long. Why the hell did they nominate so many new, mediocre players? Let's do this:

Danny Graves, Scott Erickson, Tony Womack, Jeff Fassero, Phil Nevin, Carl Everett, Eric Young, Tim Worrell, Bill Mueller, Joe Randa, Jose Lima, Matt Lawton, Terry Mulholland, Rick Helling, Mike Remlinger, Felix Rodriguez? No.

I have a certain soft spot for Brad Radke, and especially Brian Jordan, so if I had some open spots, I'd vote for them, just so they each got at least one vote, and I only voted for eight guys, so. Yes!


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Week 13 Is The Return Of The Kolb

I hadn't really thought of it a few minutes ago, but Arizona's now won 4 of their last 5, after beating the Dallas Cowboys 19-13 in overtime today. It doesn't make up for the 1-6 start, but it's a better stretch than I might have expected. There was some luck involved, since Dallas' kicker missed two field goals, when he'd hit 25 in a row or something. But they were like 53 and 49 yard tries, which are hardly chip shots. Of course, he hit the 49 yarder at the end of regulation to win it, but it wound up not counting because his own head coach called a time out. Then he missed the next try, allowing the game to go into overtime. Ha! I love that. Dallas shot itself in the foot. If I can't have Arizona whupping their asses, I'll take Dallas beating itself.

Patrick Peterson did not return a punt for a TD this week. He did get matched up against Dex Bryant, with mixed results. Bryant didn't have a big game, but he did have 86 yards on 8 receptions, with one TD. The Cardinals didn't force any turnovers, but neither did the Cowboys, which is a nice change of pace for the Cardinals offense. The Cardinals actually outrushed their opponents, getting over 100 yards, at a 4.1 ypc clip. The Cowboys mustered only 75 yards on the ground, at 3.8 ypc. Felix Jones had some good results, but the Cards' defense largely corraled recent rushing beast DeMarco Murray.

Kevin Kolb was back in the lineup, and he had a quietly effective game, kind of like the one Sam Bradford had against Arizona last week. 16 of 25 for 247 yards, with 1 TD. 52 of the yards came on the game-winning screen pass, so perhaps more credit there should go to LaRod Stephens-Howling and his legion of blockers on the play. Still, the QB has to get the ball there.

Both defenses collected 5 sacks. I'm not too surprised Kolb was sacked that often, since the Cowboys have a good pass rush (it's their secondary that blows), but I thought the Cowboys did a better job protecting Romo than that. So, credit to Arizona's pass rush.

Next up for the Cardinals are, aw crap. The 49ers?! Well, I guess this'll be a chance for Kolb to really prove something. Yeah, I know I pointed out the lack of turnovers, and Arizona won and all, but their offense is still hardly clicking on all cylinders. At least, I hope it isn't. 19 points would be a pretty lousy peak offensive performance. The Niners ate Skelton for lunch two games ago, so let's see what Kolb can manage against them. I certainly hope he can do better.