Regression Toward the (That's Just) MeanMy, how 1st place predictions, 100-win hopes, and postseason dreams come crashing back to earth.
While other teams abuse the dredges of the NL Central, the Cards are squeezing sawdust from their bats and kicking balls all over the infield. The Pirates had to work very hard to hand a series win to the Redbirds last week and so far, the Astros have not been as accommodating. In nine away games coming into this series, the 'Stros had just one dinger, but our bullpen was the cure for that power outtage as we've given up 3 homers in two days - one in each game to the lovable Lance Berkman.
The plucky Reds sit just one game out of first, and seriously, what self-respecting Cardinal fan is pulling against Scott Rolen and Walt Jocketty over there? The Cardinals used to struggle with playing well against the better teams yet playing down to their lesser opponents level. Uh, can we call those the "Golden Years"? Today's Cards are barely hanging in there against bad teams and against better teams, they are completely shut down.
Recently, I took exception to one opposing fan saying the Cards choke "every year" they make the playoffs. Oh, contraire mon frere.
During the La Russa Era in St. Louis, the Cards have made it to the NLCS SIX TIMES in eight playoff appearances. That is no fluke. That is NOT "choking". But lets be blunt: Pujols' individual greatness has covered many, MANY holes in this team over the past 5 years and I'm afraid his best years are suddenly in the rear-view mirror.
When Pujols had consistent, supporting talent (The "MV3" is an obvious example), the Cardinals were a juggernaut. If he is truly entering a new stage where he is merely good, the Cards are much more vulnerable as they appear this year.
I think most Cardinal fans were terrified of the Holliday signing - I know I was. Historically, we have had much better success acquiring "damaged", "problem", or "under-achieving" players on the cheap who still had a lot of upside as opposed to signing big time free agents - Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Woody Williams, Gregg Jefferies, Mark Whiten are just a few examples of guys who all had career years wearing the Birds on the Bat.
What upside does Holliday bring? None, really. He's being paid 40-homer money but he won't even hit 30. He may not hit 20! Are you telling me that the Cards could not find a cheap OF to hit 20 home runs? (Hello, Garret Jones! Holliday and Jones both have 4 homers so far. Jones salary: $425,000). I mean, that plan worked with Ryan Ludwick, and he's still not very expensive for a 25-homer, above-average defensive outfielder with a Silver Slugger award on his resume.
At any rate, I think we all knew we were going to regret the Holliday contract. That was pretty much assumed (though no one thought it would be THIS SOON). What I'm really worried about is how crippling Albert Pujols' new contract will be for us. I do NOT want the Cardinals to become the Mets of the NL Central - a dysfunctional team with mega-paid, aging "superstars" aided by fringe prospects and "four A" players we must rely on to lug an everyday load who end up over their heads.
And speaking of "four-A" players who are over their head in the bigs, lets take a look at...
The Hard Nine1. Ryan's Hope(less?) - Brendan Ryan was the #2 defensive shortstop in the majors last year and if you followed the Cardinals at all, you heard how the team raved about his defense and saw plenty of spectacular plays made by him. But right now, someone needs to throw a life-preserver onto the field between 2nd and 3rd base because Ryan is drowning this year.
The kid had just 8 errors in 105 games at short last year. This year, he has 7 errors already in just 31 games. And then there is the little matter of his batting average dropping from .292 to .173. Moreover, (and this surprises me as I just look at his stats) he actually slugged .400 last year. His was not a "light" .292. Not with 19 doubles and 7 triples in only 390 at bats. Plenty of guys can bat .300 with a very weak .330 slugging percentage - think Luis Castillo or Aaron Miles. But no, Ryan was one of the most exciting players on the team - period - in 2009.
Tony La Russa clearly saw Ryan as our "Yadi" at shortstop - Gold Glove-caliber defense with a .300 bat. But really, Tony? After three-quarters of a full season? Talk about heavy expectations. But when a mid-market team forces their own hand regarding payroll by diving into free agent waters, they end up being forced to use cheap players who may not be ready for the big-time.
The fringe guy drowns in responsibility, the team drowns in salary commitment, the "star" signee drowns in expectations, and the fans drown watching it all. **GASP** I need some air!
2. CSPAN is Boring on the Big Screen, too - My wife and I went on an actual date recently and we saw Iron Man 2. The movie didn't score well with critics, but that's not the point, is it. I'm an old-school Marvel fanboy. We love sober Robert Downey and he's beyond perfect in the role of ego- (and ecc) centric magnate Tony Stark. An early scene in the film with Stark testifying before a congressional committee to refuse handing over the Iron Man suit to the government was dramatic, humorous, terrific - but you "watch" it on CSPAN and I kept wanting to CHANGE THE CHANNEL.
3. Braunie - Ryan Braun of the Brewers has been on fire all year and he's doing a fairly good Pujols impersonation batting .359 with six homers and 28 RBI. Andre Ethier of the Dodgers is not putting anyone to sleep in L.A. The dude is batting .385 with 11 homers and 37 RBI. 37 RBI in 32 games, ya'll.
4. Good, not Great - While some guys are terrorizing pitchers, others are simply terrible. While Holliday has been letting us down on a nightly basis, other big-name thumpers are cold as well. Ryan Howard (.333 OBP, .464 SLG), Mark Teixeira (.203 AVG, .391 SLG) and Prince Fielder (.254 AVG, .385 SLG) are all still trying to figure things out. Maybe they actually want to get some rest during the All-Star break this year.
5. Hab-itual Winners - My current NHL Hero, "Halak", and the Montreal Canadiens bounced the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins from the playoffs last night. Like their series against the Capitals, the Habs were down 3 games to 2 and won the last two contests, taking each series in the final and seventh game, on the road. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he was "stunned" that he was called for a penalty just 10 seconds into the game. I thought he was talking about the fact his mustache grew in by the second round of the playoffs instead of in the finals like last year.
6. Wait, Maybe the Phillies ARE Classless - After the Cards-Phillies series, we found out that the Phillies front office petitioned the official scorer to change Ryan Ludwick's triple off of Jason Werth's glove to an error, which they did. The Cardinals folks felt that was rather bush-league of the Phillies to do so.
Now we have the Phillies bullpen coach getting caught with binoculars in the bullpen staring in on the Rockies catcher last night? The Phillies coaches said they wouldn't be so obvious if they were actually stealing the Rockies catcher's signs. Maybe he was just bird-watching, eh? It's too bad they weren't playing the Cardinals at the time - he could have given that excuse and not be lying.
7. It's Always Hateful in Philadelphia - I sense a theme here.
"With an hour to wait before the Flyers continued their quest to rebound from an 0-3 series hole, fans were given a glimpse of the first period of the Penguins-Canadiens. They roared with delight when Montreal took an early 1-0 lead against the team that knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs each of the past two years."
Can't we all just get along? Let's break a cheese steak sandwich together and give each other "ups" in the unemployment line. Come on, guys.
8. I Told You So, Even Though I Didn't! - I have to point out that when Jason Werth was coming back from major surgery in 2006, I remember admiring his talent when he was with the Dodgers and wishing the Cards had taken a chance on him in 2007. In 2006 and 2007 we endured a host of flawed outfielders: So Taguchi, Juan Encarnacion, John Rodriquez, Preston Wilson, Chris Duncan, and Rick Ankiel to name a few. I'm not saying how the fates might have turned out had we signed Werth, but for the club to put hopes in Rick Ankiel, of all people, and not sign a five-tool outfielder on the cheap says something to me.
9. Call Me the Breeze - Why is THN longer than usual today? Mostly because the Cardinals are letting me down. But partly because I found out my office is closing here in Huntsville, Alabama and I'm being laid off in 60 days if I don't move to Utah. So, if anyone has need of a software support team supervisor, please let me know! (Unless, you're in Utah...)