Sunday, November 30, 2014

Yes, I'm Worried Now

I said Arizona needed to beat Atlanta.

They did not. They didn't do anything well. Stanton threw 2 INTs, the entire team ran for 35 yards, and Andre Ellington left with a hip injury. Matt Ryan threw for over 360 yards, and completed 30 of 41 passes, though his one INT was returned for a TD (at which point the Cards were still down 17-7). Steven Jackson ran for over 100 yards against them. Yes, 55 of that came on one carry, but Arizona held DeMarco Murray under 100 yards, they can't contain what's left of Steven Jackson? Patrick Peterson said he wanted to match up with Julio Jones, then let Jones post career highs in receptions and yards. And yeah, one of those receptions shouldn't have counted, because Jones' second foot came down out of bounds, and Arians didn't challenge for some reason, but guess what? At most, that drops Jones' numbers to 9 catches and 148 yards, which is still really bad. Peterson, please, don't talk smack if you can't back it up, OK?

Maybe getting Larry Fitzgerald back will help, assuming that happens next week, but I don't see how that'll cure all ills. I guess if it keeps their defense on the sidelines so it can rest a little more, that would help. But the Cardinals have only scored three offensive touchdowns in the last 3 games, 1 in the last 11 quarters. They did sign Michael Bush as a backup running back. He didn't play this week, but if Ellington isn't ready to go next week, I'd say they've got nothing to lose throwing him in there. Grice and Stefan Taylor sure as hell aren't setting the world on fire.

And the lead over Seattle is down to one game.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

At Least I Can Say I Saw Arizona Have A 6-Game Winning Streak

Arizona lost to Seattle 19-3. So Arizona's lead is down to just 2 games. For the record, I want you to read that with me gasping in mock horror.

Look, there's 5 games left, so yeah, there's time for San Fran or Seattle to catch and pass the Cardinals for the division lead. But 2 games with just 5 to go is no small thing, so I'm just not that worried. Yet. Now, if Arizona loses to Atlanta next week, well. . . They need to win that game, it's the easiest game they have left. But at the moment, no, I'm not panicking.

Seattle's good, they were at home, a loss wasn't that big a surprise. The defense did it's best. Marshawn Lynch got just 39 yards on 15 carries. Russell Wilson was sacked 7 times, and once you factor that in, he only threw for about 170 yards. Wilson did run for 73 yards, but 40 of those were on one carry, so 9 carries for 33 yards isn't bad work.

The problem was, predictably, the offense. Arizona's D may have held Seattle to just one TD on 5 red zone trips, but that doesn't help much when their O only makes it into the red zone once. Fitzgerald didn't play. Stanton threw one pick, and was only 14 of 26 for 149 yards. They managed just 12 first downs, and only 64 yards rushing, 23 of those by Stanton on 4 scrambles. Ellington had his 3rd crappy game in a row. Arians said this week Ellington's foot injury keeping him out of Wednesday practices was hurting him, because he was missing key blocking assignment practice or something. I can't tell if he was trying to excuse Ellington, or if it was a jab for Ellington to try to practice through the foot issue. Hopefully NOT the latter (Forgot the "not" initially. Oops). It isn't like Arizona has anybody better to turn to, and I'm not convinced it isn't an issue of a) they're playing good defenses, and b) Arizona's o-line sucks.

I'm leaning towards the last one, because Arizona's offensive line always stinks. The Cardinals have ranked in the top half of the league in yards per carry just three times (2010, 2002, 1993) dating back to 1993. Their running game is never productive.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Look At The Baseball Cardinals' Offseason

I've been meaning to talk about the St. Louis Cardinals' offseason for a few weeks (also finish the 25-year roster thing), but kept putting it off. Mostly because I felt I'd have to address Oscar Taveras' death (and that of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo) in a car crash, and a) I wasn't sure what I could say about it, and b) it would kind of make everything else seem unimportant. I'm not sure I have any solutions, but we'll see.

It turns out Taveras was very intoxicated, which is what I was afraid of when I heard the news. Not because I knew anything about Taveras' habits, but he was a young athlete, in his offseason, and he was driving. It seemed a likely, if unfortunate, aspect. It makes it worse, because then you have to think that if he'd been sober, maybe they both make it where they were going alive. But Taveras isn't the first person in their early 20s to make a bad decision with regards to alcohol. My best friend has made similar bad decisions over the years, so have a lot of his other friends. But they were able to get away with it, and hopefully eventually learn better. Taveras and Arvelo just weren't some of the lucky ones.

As to the offseason, my personal hope had been the Cardinals would upgrade the bench. Get a catcher Matheny will be willing to start 50 times a year. Either promote someone from within, or find a free agent, or trade for somebody. Get a righthanded guy who can play first and 3rd, to platoon with Adams and to just give Carpenter the occasional day off (he played in 158 games this year). Find a competent middle infielder, one who can play at least a mediocre second and shortstop, and hit well enough Matheny will be willing to use him to give Peralta the occasional day off. Descalso isn't actually a SS (or a second baseman for that matter), and Kozma's hitting is so bad, the Cardinals won't use him if they don't absolutely have to. And I don't know that the coaching staff has any confidence in Greg Garcia.

I also hoped the team would look into trading John Lackey. I figured given how cheap his contract is - one year at 500 grand - there has to be some team out there looking to compete that would take a chance on him as a stabilizing veteran presence. Sort of a low-rent James Shields. Not as good, or signed for as long, true, but a hell of a lot cheaper. Which would open a spot in the rotation that would hopefully be filled by a Carlos Martinez who spent the entire offseason preparing to be a starter. I know the odds that El Gallo can be the next Pedro Martinez are really small, but if he can be even half of Pedro, that's someone you give every opportunity to succeed. I don't want it to be another situation like Rosenthal, where the team says they haven't ruled him out as a starter, but really, they've ruled him out as a starter.

Anyway, Mozeliak held a press conference right after the NLCS where he said several things. One was that Wainwright's elbow was structurally fine, as was Wacha's shoulder (outside of the stress reaction thing he has, which is always going to be a problem). Of course, Mozeliak said that on a Monday, and by that Friday, Wainwright was having a procedure on his elbow to remove bone spurs and "scrape" the ligament. Apparently he didn't trust the team doctors and got a second opinion. The team medical staff are, after all, paying to be the Cards' medical staff, and so the question of whose best interests they're looking out for, the player or the team's, is a valid one. No word of if Wacha's looked into a second opinion, though I'm not sure there's anything to be done on his shoulder.

Mo said Martinez and Marco Gonzales would be stretched out in spring training, but Martinez would still most likely be in the bullpen, and Gonzales in the AAA rotation. This may have changed recently. Stephen Piscotty would be in a competition with Grichuk and Taveras for the RF spot. No word on whether it would be a real competition, or a LaRussa style, bullshit, "open competition", where Matheny already has a winner in mind. This one was rendered moot, first by Taveras' death, then by other actions that we'll get to. Jon Jay was named starting centerfielder next year, which may not bode well for Bourjos, and certainly doesn't make me happy. I still think Bourjos' ceiling is much higher than Jay's, and Jay's moving into his 30s, so I expect he may begin to decline. His power has already evaporated completely.

Mozeliak also said the team didn't plan to resign any of their free agents. Not a big deal, given who we're talking about, other than Neshek. And the impression was the Cardinals certainly would like for Neshek to return, but his excellent season would price him out of their range, which is true and a wise decision on the team's part. The last two multi-year contracts they handed to relievers were to Motte and Choate, neither of which has worked out fabulously. Mozeliak added that the team would offer arbitration to all their eligible players (Lynn, Jay, Tony Cruz, Shane Robinson, Descalso, maybe Bourjos).

The first two and Bourjos are fine, though Jay's likely to see a considerable spike, from a little over 3 million to closer to 6. But Cruz, Robinson, and Descalso are less necessary. The Cardinals need a catcher Matheny trusts enough to use to give Molina days off. My personal preference would be for Yadier to not start more than 110 games behind the plate this year. He could still play first against tough lefties in place of Adams, or DH when they play in AL stadiums, but just get him less wear and tear on his knees. The team says all the right things about trusting Cruz, but they clearly don't, or they'd get Yadi more days off. Also, they probably wouldn't have signed Pierzynski this season if they really trusted Cruz. As for Robinson, there's not really anything he does that either Jay, Bourjos, or someone from the minors (Tommy Pham?) can't do better. In a limited role (spot starter/5th outfielder/defensive sub/pinch-runner), Robinson can be a useful player, but I don't think the Cardinals need him.

As for Descalso, he's not good at any position defensively, and he's not a good enough hitter to compensate for this. Yet because Matheny seemingly has trust in him, he acts as this patch that keeps the Cardinals from bothering to upgrade their bench. They don't need a backup SS, they have Descalso. He can play there every so often, and Peralta will just play all the time, to heck with fatigue. Ditto Matt Carpenter.

So far, the team has made two moves. They signed a Dean Anna to the 40-man roster. Anna might be the middle infielder I was hoping for. He has just 25 PAs in the majors, from this season with the Yankees, and they didn't go well. But he's hit well in AAA in the past, and projects to be a slight upgrade over Descalso with the bat. More critically, he's regarded as competent at both 2nd base and SS. He's not going to supplant Wong or Peralta as starters, but he doesn't need to. He can give Wong the day off against the occasional lefty, and sub in for Peralta every so often. He's better offensively than Kozma, and better defensively than Descalso. He seems like he has the potential at least, to be a perfectly acceptable bench guy, which is what I wanted.

The other, much bigger move, happened yesterday. The Cards traded Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins for outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden of Atlanta. Heyward figures to take over rightfield, which is the other reason that Mozeliak comment about a competition is irrelevant. Heyward's power has fallen off the last two years, especially this year, when he had a slugging of just .384, and an ISO of 113. Which would still be better than most of the Cardinals (Yadi, Jay, and Matt Carp, to name 3). He still had an OBP of .351, and an OPS of 108, which isn't spectacular, but at least it would be another above-average bat in the lineup. The previous two years, his OPS+ were 117 and 114, which is in line with most of the Cards' lineup from last year.

Heyward's primary gift seems to be superb defense in right field (though he's also a fair baserunner). He might be even better in RF than Bourjos is in CF. If they played the two together, it might eliminate a lot of concerns about Holliday's worsening defense in LF. But Jay is starting supposedly, and there are questions as to whether Heyward has rendered Bourjos redundant. I'd argue no, because I don't Jay's longterm viability in center, but this hasn't been a good offseason for Cardinals' players I like, so Bourjos is probably screwed. Walden will apparently take Neshek's role as "reliever with strange delivery", and will hopefully also assume Neshek's role as "Reliever other than Maness who doesn't walk guys", though if Rosenthal wants to vie for that title, he's more than welcome.

Most Cardinals' fans I've seen online are excited about the trade. I'm less so. I still believed Shelby was going to put it together and become Wainwright's successor as staff ace (I feel Lynn is a step below Waino's level, and is already maxed out, and Wacha's shoulder makes it questionable he can handle the innings load I'd expect). And Shelby was still under team control for 4 years. Heyward is a free agent after this season, and there are at least some rumblings he was traded because he didn't want to resign with Atlanta (there are other rumblings Atlanta didn't want to cough up the cash it would take to resign him, so take your pick). Jenkins has had some shoulder issues, and has yet to consistently harness his stuff, or even make it into the high minors, so he's a lottery ticket of sorts. But if he does make it to the majors, Atlanta could have him for 7 seasons before he reaches free agency. Meanwhile, Heyward could be gone after 2015, leaving the Cardinals with a draft pick and one more season of Walden.

It feels like the J.D. Drew trade in reverse. Atlanta acquired Drew (and Eli Marrero) from the Cards with one season remaining on his contract, in exchange for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and a minor leaguer named Wainwright (who had struggled through some shoulder issues). The Cardinals didn't seem to really want to keep Drew (as he was not the sort of player Larussa was going to love), and they needed pitching, in both the rotation and bullpen. Atlanta figured they had things covered on the pitching front, but needed more hitting. They never had any intention of resigning Drew, so that was them going all in on 2004. As it turned out, while the Braves did win the NL East - again - they were knocked out in the first round, while St. Louis won 105 games and went to the World Series. Marquis and King were hardly the primary reason, but they both contributed, and did so again the next year (to a lesser extent).

So I worry the Cardinals gave up too much for what will be a one-year rental. And it seems strange to me, considering that the corner outfield was supposed to be one area the Cards' farm system was flush with prospects. Maybe they're saving those guys to take over for Holliday in a couple of years. Or they figure one more year of seasoning in the minors won't hurt. Or they plan to keep Heyward, and use those guys as trade fodder for filling in other holes down the line. Holliday is into his mid-30s, as are Molina and Peralta. Jay in around 30, and Carp is closing in. Those guys will start to decline eventually, and the team may not have replacements on hand.

At this point, the roster would look something like this:

Rotation: Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, Gonzales
Bullpen: Rosenthal, Walden, Choate, Maness, Freeman, Martinez, Siegrist(?)

I put Gonzales in the rotation and Martinez in the bullpen because the way Mozeliak described it initially, Gonzales sounded like he was going to be the first guy up, and Martinez would have to be stretched out again before he could start. But that was in the event of midseason injury. This may alter things, so maybe Martinez will be in the rotation, and Gonzales in AAA just in case. In which case, the pen may have Nick Greenwood, Tyler Lyons, maybe someone else. The Cardinals may be interested in reliever Andrew Miller, which is interesting. If you're going to get a free agent reliever, why not keep the one you've got? If Miller is good enough to be interesting, you'd figure that would net him a stupid, multi-year contract.

Catcher: Molina, Cruz

Until we hear something different, I assume they're rolling with Cruz as the backup. There are a whole mess of guys listed as being free agent catchers, though. Surely one would be an improvement on Cruz, and be willing to serve as a backup who gets to play about a third of the games, if the team will finally stick to their plan to reduce Molina's workload.

Infield: Adams, Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, Anna, Descalso/Kozma/Garcia/Scruggs

They could still sign someone to handle the backup duties at the corners. Scruggs is strictly a first baseman, and not much of a hitter apparently. Maybe the Cardinals eschew a corner infield guy, rely on Molina or an outfielder to sub for Adams sporadically, and focus on another infielder who can play all the other positions. Mozeliak confirmed more recently they might not offer all those guys arbitration, and noted Descalso might want more playing time than he can get here. So who the heck knows. Probably wind up finding someone during Spring Training. Two guys I'm sort of curious about are Chad Tracy and Jamey Carroll. OK, looked at both their numbers. Never mind. Better off taking their chances with Garcia.

Outfield: Holliday, Jay, Bourjos, Heyward, Grichuk

I think that's a workable outfield, though getting everyone enough playing time (especially Bourjos) might be tricky. We'll see where things go from here.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arizona Is Determined To Kill My Doubts

I saw a comment on the Internet earlier this week on a post about Carson Palmer's season-ending knee injury. The commenter said it was a rare case of Palmer Palmering, and the Cardinals Cardinalsing. I don't know if I would describe the starting QB going doing without being touched as Cardinalsing, but I guess there being a dark cloud hanging over going 8-1 would fit. I do wonder how many years Arizona would have to be good before "Cardinalsing" would stop referring to bad things. I mean, the Patriots used to be a joke, but nobody would use "Patriotsing", or "Patriotsed" to describe bad fortune or play.

Of course, it might help if the Cardinals' own fans, such as myself, were more confident. Arizona beat the Detroit Lions today, 14-6, in a game where there were only 3 points scored after the 1st quarter. Arizona jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but then I spent the rest of the game on edge. Every time I saw that Arizona had the ball (we were stuck with the Green Bay pummeling Philly), I was imploring them to score more points. At least a field goal, to get the lead up to 11 points. And every time I'd see that Detroit had the ball back without the Cardinals scoring any points, my heart rate would rise. I expected Arizona's defense to battle hard, they have all year. But with Stafford and Calvin Johnson, all it takes is one missed assignment, or one time where Patrick Peterson slips, and boom, touchdown.

I know I ought to trust them more, but I have seen Arizona lose so many games over the years where they have a lead against a good team for most of the game, only to lose it late, it's hard to shake that fear that every time they don't take the opportunity to bury the good team, it's going to haunt them. Plus, you can't keep asking your defense to do so much. The offense has to carry its fair share.

I'm not being fair to the offense there, though. They did win time of possession, narrowly. They did convert 8 of 14 3rd downs. Stanton did make some good passes early that helped stake them to that two touchdown lead. Both those scoring drives were over 75 yards, which is not shabby against Detroit's defense. They didn't run the football effectively - again - but they at least tried 22 times (I'm assuming Stanton's 4 carries were kneel downs or something similar), which can at least slow the pass rush a bit. And Detroit did not sack Stanton once, which was the thing I was most afraid of, Stanton taking loads of hits from Suh and the rest.

But the defense was the star. Detroit had just 262 yards of offense, and were just 5 of 15 on third down. Arizona sacked Stafford 4 times, which gives them 10 in the last two weeks, and they hit him 9 times total. They forced two fumbles, though the Lions recovered both, and picked Stafford off once. Stafford completed 18 passes, but for only 183 yards. Peterson held Megatron to just 5 catches (on 12 targets), and just 59 yards. Hell yes, Patrick Peterson. When Stanton was picked off late in the first half, and the ball was returned to Arizona's 20. The defense held Detroit to a field goal. The game this reminds me of is the win over Seattle last year, where Palmer kept throwing picks, but the defense kept holding firm, keeping Seattle from scoring until Palmer could make a big play at the end.

Which is an appropriate memory, since next week, Arizona travels to Seattle. The Seahawks have run the ball real well the last two weeks (over 500 yards), and Arizona did allow 98 yards rushing this week, at over 5 yards a carry. But 200+ yards on the ground didn't help Seattle beat the Chiefs, and Arizona still beat Detroit, so we'll see what happens. Arizona has a 3 game lead in the division now, so one loss to the Seahawks isn't going to kill them.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Damn, I Love Arizona's Defense

The Rams led 14-10 from midway through the second quarter into the start of the 4th quarter. Then Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury that as I type this, hasn't been diagnosed (though the implication seems to be torn ACL, so crap). So Drew Stanton came in, and almost immediately uncorked a 48 yard pass to John Brown, and the Cardinals took the lead.

The defense took care of things from there. Austin Davis was intercepted twice, both by Patrick Peterson, one of which he returned for a TD. Then Kareem Martin I believe forced a fumble with a big hit on Davis, Cromartie picked it up, and returned it for a TD. Just like that, 31-14 Arizona, and it's the team's first 8-1 start since 1948. Criminy Pete.

I don't know that Arizona's had a game this year where everything has clicked. Certainly not for a full game. The run defense is almost always there - no 100-yard rushers this year, the Rams had just 70 yards on 22 catches. Though that's considerably better result the Arizona's rush offense today: 28 yards on 22 carries. The Rams did collect 3 sacks, and Palmer threw a pick, but Arizona sacked Davis 6 times, plus another 8 hits. So the pass rush produced tangible results in a way it hasn't managed most of this year (though the pressure does help even if they don't get sacks).

But Palmer was kind of up and down prior to his injury, and the offense in general only works in fits and starts. Typically it starts slow, then seems to pick up in the the second quarter. Other times it goes quiet late in the third quarter when they need to burn clock. Without Palmer, I'm not sure that's going to change. Stanton did alright the last time he stepped in as starter, but the remainder of the season is gonna be rough. Detroit, Kansas City, and Seattle are coming to town, and Arizona still has to visit Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Atlanta. OK, those last two might not sound so tough, but the Rams at least are a divisional game. They already beat the Seahawks and Niners this year, and they had Arizona on the ropes for 45 minutes, so take nothing for granted.

Plus, Stanton already went out with one concussion this year, which I imagine makes him more susceptible to subsequent concussions, and then you're down to Logan Thomas. Though if Palmer really has torn his ACL I would have to think they would get themselves a third QB, and hopefully he could learn the offense quickly enough to step in front of Thomas.

I don't know, Detroit's up next, and they look damn good, other than their kicking game. Matt Stafford isn't making stupid throws all the time any longer, and Suh isn't getting called for dumb penalties all the time. Given the pressure the Rams' defense was able to put on Palmer (not to mention how they bottled up Ellington, only 42 yards on 23 touches), I'm concerned what the Lions' D-line will do.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Arizona's Making Me Real Happy

Arizona beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-17. It wasn't really that close. Dallas did jump out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to Palmer throwing an INT that was returned for a touchdown. But Arizona retook the lead 14-10 in the 2nd quarter, and built it from there. It was 28-10 with less than 2 minutes left.

I know Dallas hasn't been more than mediocre for over 15 years, and they were starting Doopy Pants Weeden because Romo has two fractures in his back, and not even Jerry Jones' attempt to question his toughness could overcome that. Even so, it's nice to beat the Cowboys in Dallas.

Arizona held DeMarco Murray to 79 yards rushing, this first time this season he didn't run for 100 yards. It turns out Patrick Peterson left partway through last week's game with a concussion, and wasn't doing terribly well against Maclin last week. This week, he kept Dez Bryant from catching a pass until there were less than 2 minutes left in the game. Andre Ellington ran for 95 yards on 21 carries, which is probably his best game since maybe Week 2 against the Giants. He also had 4 catches for 39 yards, so good times. Palmer did throw 3 TDs against the one INT, so hard to argue with that. On the whole, a pretty dominating performance.