Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm Both Excited and Terrified

The thing for me is that, even after two good years for the Cardinals under Bruce Arians (excepting the Ryan Lindley parts), I'm still conditioned to expect it to go bad. Heck, Ryan Lindley's presence last year was a perfect example of something good going horribly wrong remarkably fast.

So when Arizona starts 2-0 and gets a home game against a seemingly lousy 49ers team, I get a little leery. It's that kind of winnable game I fret they'll blow. So much for that. 47-7. I have no idea the last time Arizona won a game by 40 points. It's never occurred that I remember. The defense intercepted Kaepernick 4 times, returning 2 of those for TDs. They held him to 67 yards through the air. The 46 yards he had on 7 carries are basically irrelevant. Palmer threw for 311 yards and another two touchdowns. He did have one INT, and at least another likely one saved by his receiver committing offensive pass interference, but even that isn't so bad. The team is still winning huge even with Palmer making a few mistakes, which it has to be able to do. He isn't going to play error-free forever.

Chris Johnson continued his strong start to the season with 110 yards on the ground, and added a 40 yard reception. Fitzgerald caught another 9 passes for 134 yards and 2 TDs. Bill Barnwell mentioned on Twitter during the game that San Francisco should just trade Anquan Boldin to Arizona and make everyone happier. I don't know that the Cardinals need Boldin, but I've always liked him, so I wouldn't mind. Anyway, the Cardinals need to bank all the wins they can, since they're supposed to have a tough schedule again this year, and Seattle curb-stomped the Bears over the weekend (and got Kam Chancellor back, so we'll see how much he helps). I'd really prefer Arizona hold the division lead the entire season, not just for the first 85% of it.

On the baseball side of it, the Cardinals split a set with the Brewers, and now the Pirates are only 3 games back as they kick off a 3-game series with the Cardinals that's begun as I type. So if Pittsburgh sweeps, they're tied for the division lead. Swell. Of greater concern, Molina's out for who knows how long with a torn ligament in his thumb, which has prompted much debate about how valuable he really is. I feel as though the people downplaying his loss haven't bothered to look at just how awful Tony Cruz is. I've been joking all week, as he generally manages to go 1-for-4, that if he keeps it up, he might get his average above .200 by the end of the season. Probably won't get his OBP or SLG above .300 either way. On top of the, Carlos Martinez was shut down for the rest of the season with shoulder problems. At this point, Martinez was the starter I had the most confidence in, except possibly for Lackey. And I probably trusted El Gallo more because with his 4 high-quality pitches, it was a lot easier to understand why he was pitching well, as opposed to Lackey, who is kind of confounding me.

Losing Martinez for the regular season may not be too dire. The team really ought to be able to maintain the lead for 6 more games without him. And there was every possibility Martinez would have been relegated to the bullpen by Matheny come the playoffs, since he's the one with the most experience pitching there (and it's a safe bet Matheny wouldn't relegate any of his trusted veterans like Lynn or Lackey to the 'pen, and probably not Wacha, either). Which would have limited Martinez' impact as well. Even so, at least he would have been available if Matheny had a change of heart if Lynn continued to pitch poorly.

Oh well, when have the Cardinals entered the postseason healthy? They lost Matheny to his birthday gift in 2000, Rolen in the NLDS in 2002, Carpenter in '04, Rolen again in '05 (and he wasn't totally healthy in '06 either). DeRosa had a bum wrist in '09, they were missing Wainwright for all of 2011, Craig was hurt in 2013, Garcia and Westbrook were both banged up in 2012 (and Carp was trying to pitch minus a rib), Wacha was mostly impaired last year, on and on. Sometimes they overcome it, sometimes they don't.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

OK, That Was Pretty Good

Arizona crushed the Bears 48-23. I had felt reasonably confident they could beat Chicago, because I didn't think the Bears were very good, but I wasn't expecting a 25-point shellacking. It's their biggest win since they crushed the Colts by 30 two years ago.

David Johnson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game trying to prevent a pick-six. Well, credit for effort Catler. Chris Johnson ran for 72 yards in relief of the injured - what, again? - Andre Ellington, and Palmer threw for 4 TDs in only 24 passes.Fitzgerald caught 4 of the touchdowns, and 8 passes overall, for 112 yards.

I hadn't realized until I read something about it recently that Michael Floyd seemed to be falling out of favor, but it's starting to look credible. He had no receptions, and was only targeted once. I don't know if he's hurt, disinterested, or Palmer simply doesn't trust him, but it's not looking good for him.

The game seems like it could have gone either way. Cutler was 8-for-9 for 120 yards and a TD before the interception. Him getting knocked out meant the Cards got to feast on Jimmy Clausen, who was predictably poor, and load up to keep Forte under wraps (61 yards, 27 of those on one carry). On the other hand, the Bears fumbled three times and recovered all of them, which is a little lucky. So it could have been even worse.

Thanks to the Niners, Seahawks and Rams all losing, the Cardinals sit alone in first place, a feat that would be much more impressive if it weren't Week 2. Wait, The Rams lost to Washington? Jeff Fisher must truly want to troll the Washington fans by letting them talk themselves into Kirk Cousins.

As for baseball, the Cardinals have clinched at least a playoff spot. They swept the Brewers, with Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham doing almost all the hitting, and John Lackey and especially Carlos Martinez looking dominant. Then they promptly lost 2 of 3 to the Cubs again. This is starting to get concerning. Lynn hasn't looked good since at least when he sprained his ankle against the Giants, and Wacha's pitched poorly against the Cubs the last two tries. The essential problems are, one, the Cubs have enough good players Maddon can adjust his lineups to play matchups against starting pitchers with platoon splits, two, Joe Maddon is smart enough to actual do that, and three, the Cardinals' offense lacks the firepower necessary to compensate when their pitchers get hammered. It isn't even a matter of the Cubs having Arrietta and Lester, though those two are concerning. The Cubs went with a bullpen start on Saturday, and still won, because the Cubs got to Wacha, who walked too damn many guys.

I had told myself I wouldn't worry about the Cubs until/unless they passed the Pirates, and they still haven't done that. But the Cards have played Chicago more recently, so it seemed worth discussing. At this point, Pittsburgh is still the primary external concern, since they're the one with the best chance of actually taking the division away from St. Louis at the moment.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

I'm Not Quite Jaded Enough to Dismiss A Week One WIn

Arizona beat the Saints 31-19. Carson Palmer threw 3 TDs, Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson (so glad the team signed Johnson, which presumably means they won't sign Ray Rice) combined for 106 yards on 22 carries. The defense intercepted Brees once, and held the Saints to 54 yards on the ground. New Orleans did have a number of long receptions (Mark Ingram had a 54 yard catch, Willie Snead's once catch was for 63 yards, Brandin Cooks had one for 30), but hell, it's the Saints. They're going to go downfield, especially when they're losing, which they were doing for much of the game.

It's hard to know what to take from this, though. The offense did pretty well, but it's the Saints. Their defense was garbage last year, and what little I know about their offseason didn't give me any reason to expect they'd be better this year. The defense did well, all things considered. Brees threw for 355, but only found the end zone once, and his QBR is 51.7, which suggests a mediocre game (Palmer's was 82.6). After the way their run defense disintegrated late last season, it's encouraging to see it pick back up. Maybe having an actual, competent QB running the offense helped. I've said this before, and so have others, it had to be killing the defense to know that if they gave up more than 10 points, they were going to lose with Lindley under center. I'm going to be worried about Palmer's health all year, especially since I read that Barnwell post that predicted the team would decline, and listed all the problems the o-line had. Maybe they should let Stanton or Matt Barkley play against the Rams, to keep Palmer alive.

I feel kind of distant from the NFL right now. I tried reading some pieces on it this morning, and my eyes just glazed over. I couldn't bring myself to care about Eli and Coughlin's bad clock management, or whatever. I don't pay nearly as much attention to free agency and the draft as I did 15 years ago, by which I mean I pay no attention now. I was away from TV for 4 months over the summer, and only on the Internet once every few days, so I spent my time reading other things. Plus, I'm just kind of fed up with football's need to demand my attention all the fucking time. And there's baseball to watch - even if the Cardinals are making me nervous with their recent swoon - just as there was basketball in the spring and summer. I'd much rather pay attention to actual game than theoretical hype and bullshit.

All that aside, a win is a win, and starting the season 1-0 is better than 0-1. Except it looks like I need to be seriously worried about the Rams, besides hoping Kam Chancellor holds out for months.