I keep telling myself that a win is a win. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if your team wins 20-0 or clings to a 6-5 victory, it all goes into the win column.
And technically that’s true.
But when your team almost loses in walk-off fashion for the 2nd day in a row against a last place team after being up 6-0 going into the 8th inning? It’s hard not to be concerned. Every team will have these moments here and there and obviously the Cardinals are no exception. But when you follow the team, it just feels like they are having these moments more than anybody.
The bullpen is becoming downright scary. I know it’s easy to say it’s not all their fault because there were a couple of defensive miscues in those last innings. But a good bullpen is supposed to hold the ship, even in despite of miscues. Remember in Game 7 of the NLCS when Scott Rolen made an error and the bases were loaded? Wainwright wiggled out of that jam in a tie game. That’s how good he was. And in a game with a 6 run lead, that should be more than enough wiggle room.
It shows you, though, that every run is valuable and you can never have enough. The two home runs, courtesy of Holliday and and Greene going deep, seemed like it would be enough. But as it turned out, it was important that we tacked on those four runs late in the game. The best part of that was that all of that happened with 2 outs. (And much of it also with 2 strikes.) I’ve said previously and I will continue to say that hitting with 2 outs is a major strength of this club. Hitting with 2 outs and hitting in late innings was something missing from the 2010 Cardinals and I’m glad to see that it’s different this year.
I looked up the stats just to see how much they’re doing this compared to other teams. As it turns out, the Cardinals are 1st in batting average, runs scored and RBIs and 2nd in slugging with RISP and 2 outs. Last year with RISP and 2 outs, they slugged .384 and hit .255. This year they are slugging .492 and hitting .336, a huge improvement. So while shaky defense and a shaky bullpen continues to give us Cardinal fans fits, there is a lot to be happy about.
And while they are hitting well with runners in scoring position and 2 outs, it doesn’t mean they are hitting well all the time. Sure, many of our guys are lighting it up and hitting over .300, but they are still grounding into an awful lot of double plays as a team. In fact, they lead the Majors in this awful stat. Of course a surprising reason for this is Albert Pujols, who accounts for over 25% of the teams GIDP. He leads the National League in that stat and has more than twice as many as any other Cardinal. But since he is tied for the 2nd in the NL in home runs and by the time it’s all said and done, will probably be top 5 in average and RBIs as well, it’s not so bad.
One other great thing I just realized. Matt Holliday finally “officially” leads the league in average. He’s always had the highest average of every day players in the NL, but since losing time to his appendectomy, he’s never had enough at-bats to qualify. He finally got enough at-bats and now with another 3-4 performance last night, is literally blowing everyone else out of the water. He’s hitting .429 and no one else is even close. Berkman who has been on his own tear is third with .385.
So there are definitely some positives for this club hitting-wise. And even with pitching, who thought Kyle Loshe would ever be this good? I thought he had a shot to be decent, but he is pitching incredibly. He’s tied for first in wins in the NL and is 2nd in ERA, with 1 shutout under his belt. That’s Waino territory, minus the strikeouts.
And I continue to be super impressed with Eduardo Sanchez. He gave up a couple of runs last night, his first of the season. But he has some flat out nasty stuff. He’s probably not ready yet, especially because of all the immense speculation that the closer role is drawing in St. Louis, but I hope this is our closer of the future. He doesn’t mess around, but goes right after hitters. They are only hitting .185 against him and he has a mere 1 walks against 14 strikeouts in only 8 innings pitched. And you can see why. The two guys he struck out last night looked like little leaguers against him. Again, it brought me back to the NLCS and the way that Wainwright would throw that big hook and nobody could touch it. I definitely like this guy.
But as a whole the bullpen has to get it together. Because now when we have a lead late in the game against a team, they are starting to think it’s possible. They think if they can just get past our starter, into our ‘pen, they have a chance to come back. You can’t have opposing teams thinking that. They have to look at scoring early or else, they will be shut down in the 7-8-9 innings.
Someone found my blog by googling, “How many times have the Cardinals lost in the 9th inning?” Let me help you out. In 12 save chances in the 9th, as as team, they have blown 7, which is the highest deficit in the NL.
Needing another series win,
I drove to Kansas City and watched the Royals play the Indians on a very, very chilly night of baseball. Felt like I should’ve been watching the Chiefs, as cold as it was. I rooted for the home team, but they eventually fell in extras thanks to some poor work out of the bullpen. But I got to see my first Major League game of the season. I’ll be going soon to Busch.
On to Cardinal baseball.
Today was a double header, which the Cards ended up splitting with the Nationals. You always want to win 2 obviously, but I’ll take the split and hopefully tomorrow we will take the series win as well. As the saying goes, if you can win every series, you’re doing pretty good.
It was even better combined with the Cubs splitting their double header and losses by the Reds and Brewers. These four teams are now tied for first atop the central division, all at .500.
Both games with the Nats and the Cards, the teams were two runs apart. In the first game of the doubleheader, Westbrook was far from sharp. But he also didn’t get a lot of help behind him. The problem with the Cardinal defense is that it is simply ‘adequate.’ Sometimes things that aren’t recorded as “errors” is still sub-par defense. A ball that Theriot only knocks down that a better shortstop would record an out on. Tyler Greene making a poor throw to 2nd, allowing them only to get 1 out instead of the double play. And then the obvious errors: the drop balls, the missed catches, etc. We knew from the beginning that the defense would not be the best it’s ever been. And that’s why the pitching and the hitting needs to be as sharp as possible.
Ankiel getting his first plate appearance in the first inning of the first game got a nice round of appreciation applause, which was great to see. Ankiel took out a half page ad in the paper thanking them for their support. Great move, Rick.
In the second game, Jaime Garcia was again plagued by poor defense, but managed to pitch good enough to nail the win, both for himself and the team. Also in the night game was the first save opportunity since LaRussa announced that Ryan Franklin would no longer be his pitcher of choice in save situations. Mitchell Boggs got the nod and locked in the save. And all of Cardinal Nation breathed a sigh of relief.
In both games, the Cardinals continue to rake. Everyone was getting hits, even guys like Punto and Descalso. And the big guys continue to do what they’ve been doing. 23 hits among the two games is certainly not too shabby.
Two for one baseball,
Albert Pujols – The most obvious and most talked about returner to the Cardinals lineup. Pujols represents the “no doubter” in the Cardinals lineup. Plays first and bats third. So automatic that even with all of LaRussa’s lineup tinkering, this isn’t likely to change. The only exception to that would be if LaRussa decided to flip flop him with Matt Holliday, if Holliday is slumping. Pujols is also one of the few guarantees in the lineup when it comes to production. Pujols slump lasts long and when he comes out of one, it’s usually with a bang. He’s also never been injury prone in his career. Some minor flare ups here and there, but nothing major. We all know it’s up in the air if Pujols is going to be a Cardinals in 2012 and beyond, so for now, just enjoy him while we got him.
Matt Holliday – This was the guy they shelled all the money into last year as a free agent, in order to form a solid team around Pujols. He serves as protection at the dish and a decent defender in left field. This is an all-star caliber player and when he’s hot, he’s HOT, but like many a Cardinal outfielder before him, he can be prone to a cold streak or two. His consistency in protecting Albert will be huge to the success of 2011 Cardinals.
Yadier Molina – Believe it or not, Yadi is now a griseled veteran with seven years under his belt. His season ended a couple weeks early last year due to injury and what else can you expect? He had already caught way more games than pretty much every other catcher in the league. Yadi’s a gamer, no doubt about it and the pitching staff has expressed their appreciation. They trust Yadi behind the plate and having a guy like that back there makes our pitchers that much better. They don’t pay him for his offense, but I’d like to see him bump it up a touch this year. On a completely other note, I’d also like to see him kick the crap out of Brandon Phillips. 🙂
Colby Rasmus – It’s hard to fully appreciate Colby when a guy like Jimmy Edmonds is retiring. But he’s also still very young and making a name for himself. He’s a good hitter and fielder, but I don’t believe he’s reached his potential yet. He needs to be a tad more patient at the plate and lower his strikeout rate. Part of the problem is probably his lack of focus. Last year, he made headlines for comments about “wanting a trade.” Hopefully, he can learn from a guy like Pujols when it comes to that sort of thing. There’s a time to talk and during the season is not it. Put your head down, shut up and play the game. If he can do that, he has the makings of being a big time player. If he can’t, just call him J.D. Drew and trade him already.
Skip Schumaker – It’s still unclear what Skip’s going to be in the world of baseball. Infielder? Outfielder? Lifetime utility guy? Journeyman? Whatever it is, I have enjoyed his contributions to the Cardinal team. He always seems to be working hard at whatever role is thrown his way. And when he asked, he turned himself to a pretty good 2nd baseman. He also had a down year at the plate in 2010, hitting well below the .300 mark he had reached in his previous three seasons. With a plethora of utility type players on the lineup, it’s likely that Skip will see some time at a variety of positions and places in the lineup, but you have to think that he’s going to see a lot of time as the leadoff guy. But in LaRussa’s crazy world, nothing is guaranteed.
David Freese – Though he hasn’t spent much time as a Cardinal due to injury, I’m still including him in the returning players, as he was THE 3rd baseman for the first part of last year. The Cardinals are needing much longer from him this year. Reports have been that he is taking it easy during Spring Training so as not to re-injure anything. During his brief stint, however, he did show a lot of promise. He has the potential to be a great contributor this year and years to come, especially as we inevitably lose higher paid players.
Jon Jay / Daniel Descalso / Tyler Greene / Allen Craig – Four guys who saw various amounts of playing time last year at the Major League level. Where they fit this year remains to be determined. Right field that became a platoon on the departure of Ryan Ludwick last year is back to probably a one-man show upon the acquisition of Lance Berkman. It remains to be seen who is in St. Louis and who is elsewhere upon the arrival of Opening Day. At least a couple of these guys will find themselves filling utility roles and backups for starting guys. Greene was used quite a bit last year when Freese went down. And rumor has it that he might even see some time at center. But that shouldn’t be surprising. LaRussa has a tendency to want a team of guys that can play multiple positions to allow for creative lineups and subbing situations. My main hope is that Jay gets another hot streak going like he had last year and is a force off the bench.
On paper, the returning guys are pretty solid. But injuries and down seasons can certainly change things. This team is built around Pujols and Hollliday and I expect both of these guys to deliver what we’re used to seeing. If the other guys like Molina, Freese and Skip can up their game, it looks to be a good year for the Cardinals.
Next up will be the returning pitching staff.
Solid veteran lineup,
So, I mentioned in previous post (here) that it makes you wonder “what if” Roy Oswalt was a St. Louis Cardinal instead of a Philadelphia Phillie. Now, today, i read a story on MLB.com, that makes you wonder that same “what if” about Scott Rolen.
Now, I am a little more biased here. If you read my blog back in the day (like, say in 2006), you would know that as a Cardinal, Scott Rolen was my favorite player. Still, this MLB.com article backs up something that does not surprise me in the least.
The young, upstart Reds are .608 when their veteran, Scott Rolen, is in the lineup. When he’s not? They’re not even playing .500 ball. That is HUGE. It’s no secret that 3rd base has been a struggle for the Redbirds this year. At the beginning of the year we looked to have a great 3rd baseman in Rookie of the Year candidate, David Frese. Then we turned the position over to Tyler Greene. Then he got hurt. Then we suffered and screamed and yelled, as we saw guys who didn’t belong there flub play after play at the position. Yeah, I’m looking at you Felipe Lopez.
At least now we have an adequate player there in Pedro Feliz. He makes the routine plays. He’s good. But he’s no Scott Rolen. Rolen was literally a human vacuum cleaner at 3rd. He ate up everything that was hit to him and some things that weren’t. He was a big man, but he could dive for a ball on the line and jump up to throw him out faster than anybody. His arm was a cannon.
To have someone in that spot like Scott Rolen? It would be incredible. That says nothing about his bat. There have been some offense struggles this year. And I have no doubt that when Pujols or Holliday have struggled, Rolen would have been there to pick up the slack. Instead of Pujols, Edmonds & Rolen of ’06, we could have Pujols, Holliday & Rolen in ’10. But that never would have happened. It’s no secret that Rolen and LaRussa did not like each other very much. And now there’s the same sort of thing being said of LaRussa and Rasmus. Personally, I’m not much of a LaRussa fan and I wouldn’t be sad to see him leave after this year. But that’s for another blog.
In the end, I am sad. I am sad that we do not have Rolen on this team. We could use another veteran force. Yes, he’s a quiet guy, but that strong, silent type might be exactly what was needed to kick the Cardinal’s butts into gear. Rolen would never sluff off. He’s in it to play hard and to win. He hits a home run, puts his head down and runs the bases. That’s what I wish these young Cardinal guys had to look up to this year.
Another what if day,
A poster, by the name of, “fixisin” recently left comments that he (or she…..no idea without a name) was not pleased about the Cardinals recent two losses, especially the 3-2 loss to the Cubs. After we got the leadoff runner on 2nd, the next 3 Redbirds were Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez and Allen Craig. Miles never even got to 3rd. Here’s my take on the game if you would like to read it.
While I was equally disgusted about the loss, he blamed it on Ryan Ludwick being traded to the San Diego Padres. I was sad to see Ludwick go, but I don’t know that this particular trade is to blame here. In fact, this was the first game since Ludwick was traded at the deadline (July 31st) that the Cardinals didn’t score 4 runs.
But I appreciate comments (I respond to every one) and I equally love stats, so I thought, hey, let’s look at the numbers and see what they say about the situation. Let me preface my findings though by saying that it’s still way too early to tell if the Ludwick / Westbrook trade is going to be to our advantage or not, but here are what the numbers say so far.
In 14 games with the Padres, Ryan Ludwick has batted .275, slugged .510 and driven in 8.
In that same span, Ludwick’s replacement in RF, Jon Jay, has hit .317, slugged .415 and driven in 4.
Jake Wesbrook, who we got in the deal for Luddy, has started 3 times for the Cardinals. In those 3 games, he has a 1-0 record, pitched 19 innings (average of 6 1/3 innings per game), a 3.32 ERA, walked only 2, while striking out 19.
Looking at all of this, Ludwick has decent numbers. It’s not MVP territory, but good solid numbers for a RF. At the moment, John Jay is outhitting him, (even with having an 0 for 3 yesterday), but as I said, it’s still early. There’s no way to know if Jay will cool off down the stretch run, while Ludwick, as a veteran with the experience, may continue to stay hot from time to time.
Westbrook has proven to be a good performer so far, but 3 games is a very small sample size. What will he be like down the stretch? Can he be that postseason wildcard that Jeff Weaver was for us in 2006?
As always, there are the intangibles that numbers don’t give you. Some in the Cardinal organization feel that Ludwick gone has taken the pressure of Colby Rasmus, now that he knows he will be starting every day instead of being platooned. Whether or not our favorite southern boy, Colby, is feeling more relaxed or not, in the 3 games following Ludwick’s departure west, he went 6 for 12. Ludwick is also known to be a very streaky hitter and the problem with that is there’s no way to tell right now whether that’s good or bad in considering the trade. Will he heat up at just the right time in the playoff push or slump a little bit in the upcoming month?
There’s also the salary considerations. Ryan Ludwick was going to be a free agent at the end of this year and likely to get traded anyway. He would be eligible for arbitration and going to be able to demand quite a bit more money. Something we are pretty tight on at the moment, considering the money we plunked down for Matt Holliday and the money you would HOPE they are ready to plunk down for Pujols, who is approaching the end of his contract, after the club option next year. So you really have to consider his benefit to the club this year and not what he would do next year.
And one of the greatest intangibles of all at this point…..we could potentially see the Padres and Ryan Ludwick in a post season game. If he hits a series winning home run against us, suddenly the trade isn’t looking so good.
So according to the numbers it’s working out for us so far, but my gut still says we should have gotten more for Ludwick. I know it was probably time for him to go since he’d be gone at the end of the season anyway and Westbrook has been solid thus far, but I wish we would have gotten more thrown in besides “cash considerations.” A decent 3rd baseman would have gone a long way to alleviate my concerns about the trade.
The game that started this discussion in the first place showed us that…..what we’re lacking is a quality 3rd baseman not a right fielder. Holliday, Rasmus and Jay are a very solid outfield. But there is not one decent 3rd baseman in the bunch. Felipe Lopez has been ok, but he’s not an ideal big league 3rd baseman by a long shot. Plus, if he slumps (as he has been) or needs a rest, who are his backups? Allen Craig? Aaron Miles? Come on. These are great bench players or for filling in at 2nd, but we need someone with an arm that can hit for average.
With David Freese and Tyler Greene out, a 3rd baseman has been a desperate need for the Cardinals and I don’t know how that’s going to improve. Freese is gone for the season and Greene’s return is unknown. And expanding the rosters in September is not likely to bring in the calvary.
I definitely was sad to see Ludwick go though. He seemed to be a great player and a great person in general. I was able to meet him once in a restaurant in Missouri after he had been signing autographs locally with some other Redbirds and he was really nice.
Thoughts? Are you still missing Ludwick or have you come to terms with the deal? Do you think Westbrook will be the starter we need or do you think we were fine with the Loshe / Suppan / Hawksworth combo?