Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Set Of Cardinals Got Lucky, And One Set Could Use Some

Arizona improved their record to 2-2 today. They managed it despite totaling less than 300 yards of total offense, despite 3 or 4 turnovers, and losing time of possession by 8 minutes. It helps they played Tampa. the only way the Buccaneers could be making a stronger push for their coach to get fired was if they planted drugs in his office.

Anyway, the Cards failed to run the ball successfully for the 4th straight game, and Palmer threw two picks, but he's still a considerable upgrade on last year's QB situation. The defense did a fair job shutting down Tampa's primary running game, though they were burned by a couple of random runs. The offense is still a mess. Only one touchdown, obviously, but 1-for-11 on third downs. Jeez, are they ever gonna get things together?

On the baseball front, St. Louis followed up a sweep of the Nationals with a sweep of the Cubs. They not only clinched the division, but also homefield through the NL playoffs, for what that's worth. They'll face whoever wins the Pittsburgh/Cincy play-in game. The Cards have done a lot better against the Reds than the Pirates this year, but in a five-game series, I'm not sure it matters. That's the thing, for all that I might worry about the rotation or the bats going dead suddenly, in a short series anything could happen. And it's just as likely to be something I wouldn't expect that serves as the turning point. Last year Pete Kozma hit like Honus Wagner for a month. We've seen Anthony Reyes outpitch Justin Verlander, and Rick Ankiel spontaneously lose the ability to throw strikes. Weird shit happens in small samples is what I'm saying.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

One Cardinal Dies Predictably, Another Stays Aloft

Well, Arizona lost to New Orleans 31-7. I figured Arizona's odds of winning in the Big Easy were pretty slim, but I expected it to be closer than that. The Saints held the Cards to less than 250 yards total offense. Swell, now the Saints have a defense. Who the hell told them that was OK?

The Cardinals did have some success running, 89 yards on 16 carries. So did New Orleans, though, and both teams collected 4 sacks. I'm impressed Arizona (mostly Darnell Dockett) could get to Brees so often. Too bad it didn't do them any good.

On the baseball front, the Cardinals won 2 of 3 from the Brewers, this after taking 2 of 4 against the Rockies. Not exactly the domination I would have preferred, but they still have a 2 game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincy, so that's encouraging. Of course, now the Cardinals have to play the Nationals, who need to win every game to keep any hope of the postseason alive. Meanwhile, the Pirates draw the suckass Cubs, and the Reds face the Mets. The Cardinals couldn't expect to have it easy forever, but they just have to do enough to keep ahead until the final series. Then the Cards get the Cubs, and the Pirates and Reds hopefully pummel each other.

It occurred to me this morning that at the beginning of the season, I mentioned I thought the Cards were a mid-80s win team. Or something like that. I felt sure they would have a winning record, but their chances of winning the postseason weren't fantastic. So they outperformed expectations. Even so, I can't help being concerned about them if they make the playoffs. The rotation worries me, between Miller and Wacha reaching uncharted territory in terms of innings, Kelly's vulnerability to the randomness of balls in play, and Lynn's results never seeming to match up with his peripherals. Don't even get me started on the terrifying possibility of Westbrook veteraning his way back into the rotation.

At the same time, I worry about the offense. This seems strange considering the Cards rank first in the NL in runs, but they don't hit for a lot of power, at least not in terms of home runs, and they have no speed whatsoever. Which means they aren't likely to score multiple runs by a walk and homer strategy, or by guys stretching singles into extra base hits, or scoring from first on doubles. I really feel like it's necessary for them to string together a lot of hits to score many runs. Which puts them at the mercy of the balls in play luck like Joe Kelly (cause sometimes all the squibbers find holes, and sometimes line drives smack right into gloves). Also, I'd expect it to be more difficult to rattle off a string of hits against better pitching, which they're likely to see more of in the postseason.

At the same time, recent postseasons have taught me anything can happen in the small samples, and what does happen will probably be something I would never expect. So maybe there's no point in worrying about it.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Good News On Both Cardinal Fronts

Arizona came back and beat Detroit 25-21, to win their home opener. They managed it with little to no Larry Fitzgerald, who had a hamstring injury. The offensive line only let Carson Palmer get sacked once, and the Cardinals almost rushed for 90 yards. Whoo! Hey, baby steps.

The defense scuffled a bit. Calvin Johnson went over 100 yards receiving and two TDs, but he's Calvin Johnson, so that's not too bad. The defense did step up big time in the 3rd quarter, holding the Lions to 13 yards on 8 plays, which gave the Cardinals offense time to get into gear. Something not totally accomplished, since Arizona was 1 for 11 on 3rd down. Like I said, baby steps. The Cardinals did hold Detroit to less than 50 yards rushing, so the run defense was stout for two consecutive weeks. I'm less sold on the pass defense, which isn't surprising, since Arizona released three-quarters of the starting defensive backfield. If you were going to pick one aspect of defense to be good at, pass defense seems more important than run, given how much teams are throwing these days. They aren't bad on pass defense so far, but I feel less confident in them.

On the baseball front, St. Louis crushed the Mariners 12-2, taking two of three from them, after taking two of three from Milwaukee, and sweeping the Pirates before that. All of this good play has given the Cardinals exactly no lead over the Pirates, who have been playing their butts off and keeping pace with St. Louis. At this point, both team have 4 series remaining. This week, the Cardinals draw the Rockies and then the Brewers again. The Pirates get San Diego and then the first of two series with the Reds. Cincy is 3.5 games back in the Central, but pretty much has one of the two wild card spots locked up, barring a total collapse by them, or an insane hot streak by the Nationals.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

One Set Of Cardinals Start A Season, Another Tries To Extend Theirs

I've chosen to not pay much attention to the NFL offseason. All of it can sound good in theory, but it only matters what actually happens, so might as well focus on actual sports, right? Anyway, I knew the Cardinals had managed to upgrade their QB position with Carson Palmer. OK, it's more of an upgrade by default, since a blind man would be an upgrade on Lindley or Skelton.

And Palmer did play better. He threw for 300 yards, 2 TDs, the Cardinals scored 24 points. Too bad they still lost, in no small part because Levi Brown played the role of turnstile yesterday. He gave up three sacks, two of which resulted in fumbles, one of which the Rams recovered. So the offensive line is still a problem, and since that's going to affect Palmer's effectiveness, and the presence or absence of the running game (mostly absence yesterday), that's a real problem.

Oh well, I'm sure Larry Fitzgerald was glad to have a QB capable of getting the ball to him more than once a game.

The defense did fairly well. I'm not thrilled with Sam Bradford throwing for almost 300 yards, or the fact he wasn't sacked once. And Jared Cook going for over 100 yards receiving is not something I'm thrilled about, but the Cardinals have had trouble with guys who are built like tight ends by run like receivers for years. Anyway, they did force two turnovers, and held the Rams to an even worse rushing day than the Cardinals had. I feel like if this had been in Arizona, the Cardinals would have won. It was close enough.

Stepping over to baseball, the NL Central is a surprisingly interesting race considering it involved three teams that will almost certainly make it into the postseason. It's very back and forth. The Cardinals beat the Reds two out of three in St. Louis, then lost 2 of 3 in Pittsburgh, then 3 of 4 in Cincy. Then they went back home and swept the Pirates. And the Reds just finished sweeping the Dodgers, so everybody's within 1.5 games of each other.

The Reds and Pirates are going to hopefully beat the crap out of each other over the last 20 games, while the Cardinals mostly face off against lousy teams. Which guarantees nothing, but it's encouraging to me. Wainwright bounced back from consecutive starts where the Reds kicked his teeth in with 7 shutout innings against Pittsburgh. After him, though, the rotation's looking a little shaky. Miller's inconsistent, Lynn is consistently crap, which leaves Kelly and Wacha. Not sure how much they can be relied on in the postseason, and more critically, how much Matheny is willing to rely on either one. I'd definitely rather see them make important starts than Westbrook.

Allen Craig's out for the time being with an ankle sprain. Which means extended run for Matt Adams, unless Matheny does something stupid like start Brock Peterson a bunch. The middle infield is still a problem, since Kozma's not hitting, Kolten Wong isn't hitting, they won't use Ryan Jackson, and Descalso's not doing anything much. Well, it's been a problem all year, guess it's too late to fix it now.

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