Cardinals Jekyll and Hyde Act Continues
It probably shocks no Cardinal fan that after sweeping the Reds IN CINCINNATI (in a year where the Cards have been pretty bad on the road and extremely good at home) they turn around and embark on their first four-game losing streak of the season that saw Carpenter and Wainwright both get beaten - at HOME.
On the bright side, they certainly didn't get shelled like has happened on occasion. The dark side? Once again a feckless offense is to blame. As stated in this space recently, the Cardinals have decided to be a team with a handful of super-salaried stars fortified with a whole bunch of cheap fill-ins.
Can the Cards AFFORD to have a shortstop and second baseman that can actually hit? Nope.
Are Jon Jay and Allen Craig legitimate major-leaguers? They haven't been the past four years but suddenly, this year they are? That seems fishy.
One of the biggest concerns many experts had with the Cards when the season began was a lack of depth and a lack of veteran experience and the team has been exposed in both categories. The only veterans they can afford to pick up are only those that have literally been thrown out with the trash. Guys like Randy Winn, Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan. Super-sub Felipe Lopez could have been very effective as a part time guy, but has been overwhelmed as a starter.
The number of guys on this team that are borderline major leaguers is staggering. Those I'd put in that category? Tell you what. It's easier to state those NOT in that category and we're talking position players (pitchers are a different animal). Strictly limited to position players, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, and...that's about it.
The Cards have literally only four everyday major league quality position players. That's barring injury, the Cards' lineup is only comprised of 50% quality bats (not counting the pitcher, of course). That's four legit bats out of eight in the lineup for those who are bad at math like me. And you can almost not count Molina as he is not in for his bat, but his defense. Certainly, that's been the case this year.
I mean, who is afraid of (deep breath)...Skip Schumaker or Brendan Ryan or Felipe Lopez or Jon Jay or Randy Winn or Nick Stavinoha or Aaron Miles or Allen Craig? Right. No one.
At our best, our offensive lineup is going to be 50% effective. That's an "F" in my book - and probably any book. And as I said before, this is the path John Mozeliak and the Cards have committed to for the next five+ years, assuming the contract Pujols will get this off-season.
For comparison sake, in 2004 the Cards had one automatic out in the lineup in Mike Matheny. This year, we have four or five every night.
Here's to hoping Jay and Craig morph in players they've never been before. Here's to hoping David Freese can stay healthy next year.
Here's to a LOT of hoping for next year.
And now, with a bitter taste in my mouth after a Brewers two-game sweep...
The Hard Nine
1. When Quality Starts Become "Quality" Losses - I hope our top three pitchers don't lose their sanity this year. According to Baseball-Reference.com's team neutral pitching stats this year Chris Carpenter should have 15 wins, Jaime Garcia 13, and (drum roll) Adam Wainwright 19 (instead of the 13, 10 and 17 they currently have). Each of their last starts were quality starts - and they all took the loss. Jake Westbrook is fast joining them. He is only 1-0 in three starts even though he's been plenty good in all of them.
2. Worst Contract in Club History - I was feeling nostalgic about the "good old days" when Kyle Lohse was actually a decent pitcher and something occurred to me: he has never been a decent pitcher. Ever.
In his best season in 2008 he was 15-6 but his team neutral pitching record that year says he should have been just 11-10. That means he got lucky (everyone is entitled once a decade, right?). But even without sabermetrics, he had absolutely no track record of success in his career. Really, 11-10 IS a good year for Lohse, which is sad, of course and a record of 15-6 was a mirage.
He's never - NEVER - allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in a season. His career batting average allowed against is .283 (and was a slightly better .272 in 2008). A pitcher that allows a .280 batting average doesn't seem like he would be worth $10 million a year.
And of course, Lohse is not worth it. Which is why he has the distinction of being the beneficiary of the worst contact in Cardinals history and Mozeliak has the distinction of giving it to him. Congrats to both. How fun it will be to see the Cards throw games away by giving the ball to Lohse every fifth day through 2012. Wait, I forgot - he'll probably be hurt half the time.
Whew. I was worried.
3. Get Out Of Jail Free, Derek - I am happy for Derek Lee who has finally been granted his release from Cubs-Purgatory (though he could have left earlier for the Angels). He was traded to the Braves today and he should probably send the Cards a thank you gift for allowing him to hit four homers in three days off of us, which probably sealed the deal. But seriously, DLee has always been a real classy guy and I hope he can give the Bravos a jolt and help them hold the NL East lead over the Phillies. And maybe old friend Troy Glaus will feel more like a real ballplayer moving back over to 3rd base, which might wake up his long-dormant bat.
4. Year of the Pitcher? Try Year of the Wierd Injury - Kendry Morales of the Angels broke his leg running out a walk-off home run. Super Sophomore Mat Latos of the Padres landed on the DL holding back a sneeze. 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan of the Marlins tore up his knee giving a celebratory shaving cream pie in the face to teammate Wes Helms during his post-game interview. He's out for the year. And this week, the weirdest and saddest: Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod) of the Mets injured his finger punching his girlfriend's father in front of other players' family and kids and had season-ending surgery.
5. What If The Reds Were Even Better? - The Reds showed their commitment to build a quality pitching staff three years ago which led them to trade Josh Hamilton to the Rangers for talented starter Edison Volquez. Volquez had a stellar year in 2008 going 17-6 and was an All-Star. But this year he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for PEDs. But even beyond him, suddenly, the Reds seem to have plenty of pitching. Bronson Arroyo, we've talked about before. He's solid. Mike Leake is a great young talent with lots of upside. Jonny Cueto is a tough pitcher (and a pretty good kicker, too). Homer Bailey just came back from the minors and pitched a great game on Sunday tossing six shutout innings allowing just three hits and no walks.
Meanwhile, Hamilton has emerged as an AL MVP candidate this year. He's having an Albert Pujols-type year (.359 average, 26 homers, 80 RBIs). Drew Stubbs, Jonny Gomes, and Jay Bruce may all develop into everyday outfielders but for now they are all very inconsistent which has stunted Cincy's attack. If the Reds still had Hamilton, I'd wager they'd be the best team in the NL, period.
6. The Cards' Last Hope This Year - The Cardinals are about to embark on an epic road trip and their only hope is to continue the success they found in Cincinnati and since they apparently have lost their mojo at home maybe this is the best scenario. Can they somehow summon a grinding offense in San Francisco this week? Can they return the favor in Houston sweep the Astros? They do have a ton of games left with the Pirates at PNC Park where Pujols is a monster so that bodes well too. But, if they can't get it done on the road the rest of this season, they will finish second - or worse.
7. God Bless Us, Everyone - Christmas has come early for NL batters this year. Tiny Tim Lincecum of the Giants has been a lot less like Scrooge and been more generous with opponents. Hopefully that also means the door is finally open for Adam Wainwright to win a Cy Young Award. His ERA has ballooned to 3.62 and he's almost given up as many hits this year as all of last year (in 80 less innings). Adam should send him a fruit basket or something.
8. We're Having Twins - For the postseason! The Twins are proving me wrong in fending off the Chicago White Sox. They are first in the AL with a team batting average of .282 and fourth in ERA (3.88). The only thing that disturbs me about them is Carl Pavano. He's tied for the league lead in wins (15) and has been sharp all year, but especially recently. His ERA of 3.27 is fantastic (especially for the AL) and a full run lower than his career ERA of 4.31. That dude sure gets motivated for his next contact don't he? At least the Twins are the beneficiaries and his next team will be the chumps who sign him.
9. Going to Confession - Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants (along with every other baseball "expert" that dissed the Pads) needs to finally confess that the Padres are legit and headed to the postseason. Sanchez, if you didn't know, said the Giants would sweep the Padres in their most recent series. But a funny thing happened: the Padres swept THEM and the Giants are now 5 1/2 games out of first place. The Pads (now with one of my favorites, Ryan Ludwick) will be one of the "underdogs" I'll be rooting for. But anyone will tell you they are anything but.