Sunday, August 21, 2016

40 Games To Go

The Cardinals stand at 65-57 at the three-quarters mark of the season. They're still hopelessly behind the Cubs in the division, but have the second wild card spot currently in their possession, and are two games behind the Dodgers for the first wild card spot, though L.A. is swapping the division lead back and forth with the currently bumblefuck Giants. Owing to doing much better in one-run games recently (and not blowing out nearly as many opponents), the Cards have almost caught up to their Pythagorean record of 68-54.

They're still an up-and-down mess. Win one or two series, then lose a couple. They have generally failed to build any sort of positive or negative momentum. Can't get on any sizable winning streaks, or go in the toilet. They did have a 5-game winning streak before yesterday's loss to the Phillies, but the course of this season suggests that loss will probably be the start of a 1-5 or 2-4 stretch that will largely cancel out the winning streak. Perhaps not, but that's been their operating procedure all season, regardless of who has been healthy or injured. When Carpenter, Moss, and Peralta were all hurt, it was like that, but it was also like that when they were all playing, both before and after the injuries. Who is available doesn't seem to matter. Currently, the unavailable include Wacha, Lyons, Maness, Rosenthal, Diaz, Adams, and Holliday.

The offense has slowed somewhat, down to third in runs, though second in doubles and first in HRs. Which is interesting considering the team has only one player with 20 or more homers currently, and that's Brandon Moss (22). But they do have 8 other players with at least 10 HRs, plus Pham has 9. They're dead last in stolen bases, unsurprisingly. Heyward really did take all the baserunning skill with him when he left.

Among the position players, Molina's hit well since the All-Star Break, and has his OPS+ up to 96, which is more than sufficient given his other benefits. Adams is down to a league-average OPS, with an OBP of .307. Wong still isn't really hitting, Diaz is hurt. Carpenter hasn't quite found his stride since returning from his oblique injury (and Matheny's batting him third instead of leadoff), but he's still the best hitter on the team and sporting and OBP over .400. Holliday's numbers were sinking before the injury, while Grichuk seems to have reverted to his old, all-or-nothing offensive approach. But hell, it got his OPS+ up to 95, so maybe that's how he has to be. Piscotty's numbers have fallen off, but are still solid.

As far as the bench, although that designation is pretty meaningless with the injuries and positional shuffle, Moss is the big bat, although Gyorko has been highly productive as well. Overall, his stat line isn't much different from Adams - even the same OBP - but Gyorko does have about an extra 30 points of slugging. Hazelbaker is doing better in a more limited role, and Pham, despite striking out at a Grichukian pace, has an OBP over .350, and an isolated power of over .250. It's nuts to me he's 14th on the team in plate appearances, considering there's only three guys (Carpenter, Moss, Diaz) I'd say have been definitively better hitters this season. I know, injuries, positional need, but still. On the bad news side, Diaz being out has apparently overexposed Greg Garcia, whose numbers have cratered, and Peralta still isn't really hitting (OBP of .282, OPS+ of 84, same as Garcia).

On the pitching side, the team is 7th in runs allowed, 10th in strikeouts, and 4th in walks. Seems the years of fireballing strikeout pitchers is over, we're back to the Duncan era of mediocre groundball pitchers. FIP insists Wainwright, Leake, and Wacha have all been unlucky. Waino especially so, since his FIP is over a run better than his ERA. But you know, it's been saying that most of the year, and things haven't really improved, so I have my doubts. FIP doesn't really account for the kind of contact being allowed, it just insists all non-HR contact is beyond the pitchers control, and thus not their fault, essentially. But if you're giving up a shitload of line drives, that's different than a bunch of squib grounders that find holes. I don't know which Waino is doing, but I suspect the former. I'm positive that was Wacha's problem. On the other side of the coin, Martinez has been a half-run lucky, and Garcia is basically exactly where he's supposed to be. Unfortunately, that's in a spot where he's basically league-average. Other than Martinez, there isn't a one of the five I'd have any confidence in for a do-or-die game. And even Martinez is fully capable of imploding.

Back in the bullpen, Rosenthal is still out, and now Maness and Lyons have joined him. The latter with knee problems, the former with Tommy John surgery, which is a bummer. Siegrist is having success despite having an ERA almost two runs better than his FIP. I guess the FIP is because of his HR rate (1.5 per 9 innings). His walk rate doesn't seem that bad. Broxton is garbage, and while Matheny seems to have recognized it enough not to leave him out there when floundering, I'm not sure he's realized he shouldn't use him in key spots in the first place. Bowman is continuing to hold down the fort as the second-most reliable reliever, behind the Final Boss himself, Oh. Oh has done pretty well as a closer, a few hiccups aside. His ERA is 1.82, and his FIP is 1.92, so he's basically as good as he looks. walks about one guy every 4 innings, gives up a homer about every 20 innings, pretty solid all around.

They've brought Jerome Williams up to eat innings, essentially. I wouldn't say he's done it particularly well, but he's mostly pitching when things are out of hand anyway, so whatever. Duke has been effective in the grand total of 8 innings he's pitched since arriving. Alex Reyes was called up and put in the 'pen, where he's demonstrated some overpowering stuff (thus 9 Ks in 7 innings), and some control issues (3 walks). Basically what everyone knew was the case already. Luke Weaver was put in Wacha's spot in the rotation, and hasn't wowed anyone so far, but for a guy who had made basically one start above AA, he's probably doing about as well as one could hope for under the circumstances.


Monday, August 01, 2016

Trade Deadline Dullness

The Cardinals' only deadline deal was to acquire Zach Duke for Charlie Tilson from the White Sox. Tilson probably isn't an enormous loss, there were questions about whether his bat would play at the major league level, and while he has speed and defense chops to play centerfield, it wasn't to any sort of extraordinary degree. I saw him described as Peter Bourjos, but not as good, and we all saw how well things went for Bourjos in StL.

As for Duke, he probably slots into the Randy Choate LOOGY role. He's made over 50 appearances this year, but thrown fewer than 40 innings. One more good lefty out of the bullpen, though it's still contingent on Matheny knowing how to use his bullpen properly.

Not an exciting move, mostly the typical midseason move for the Cardinals. Burn a middling prospect acquiring a middle reliever. Whoo. To be fair, I can see what Mozeliak's reasoning is. The Cardinals' run differential says they should be much better than they are, because they've fucked up so many one-run games this year. And a major culprit in that has been the bullpen (or Rosenthal, specifically). The rotation seems OK (Matheny's idiotic decision to start Garcia on short rest when he had three other options available aside), the offense has remained productive despite injuries, the defense is. . . not atrocious. Shore up the 'pen, and maybe the close game luck swings the other way.

Plus, it's hard to see where you make a major upgrade. The Cards have average to above-average players at most every position, in some cases multiple players like that. So you can't simply get an average player and make a huge upgrade. You have to get someone really damn good, and then you have to clear out the logjam of other players for that position. With Carpenter, Moss, and Peralta all on their way back, just look at the options available:

First base - Adams, Moss, Carpenter, Holliday, Piscotty
Second base - Carpenter, Wong, Gyorko, Garcia
Third - Peralta, Carpenter, Gyorko, Garcia
Shortstop - Diaz (though now he's hurt possibly), peralta, Garcia
Centerfield - Pham, Grichuk, Hazelbaker, Wong (still think that's a stupid move)
Left and Right Field - Piscotty, Holliday, Moss, any of those CFers I listed

And the overall difference in production between a lot of these guys is pretty minimal. But you'd have to move some of them, just to clear space, along with some of the top prospects, to get anyone good enough to make a real difference.

My feeling this season has been for them to just make the playoffs and be healthy when they do, then hope for luck in matchups or other teams' health. I guess they should just keep rolling with that, then see where to go in the offseason.