Redbird Down

Posted: September 3, 2010 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s rare that you get to see a building implode. It’s the complete destruction of a long-standing and durable figure that has secured its place in one position for some time. However, it isn’t a simple act. It takes many different actions and workers at once to set up the end result. The building must be cased for issues to make sure it goes down thoroughly, dynamite must be placed by workers, the building evacuated and finally, the trigger is pushed. In the end, the whole scene is leveled and whatever’s next is left to be rebuilt.

If you’ve watched the Cardinals since August 13 (I understand if that has become difficult), this process is eerily familiar to you. Since emerging from an intense series in Cincinnati with a three-game sweep and sole possession of the top spot in the National League Central, they have compiled a 4-13 record, which has landed them 7 games back in the division and on thin ice to even compete for a  Wild Card bid. This stretch has been symbolic of each problem that has plagued the team all year coming to a head at once. The Cards have been inconsistent since April and that has been a non-stop complaint. However, I’m not criticizing them for that anymore, because it no longer is true. They are consistent….at not rising to the occasion. It’s not the type of consistency I wanted, but at least they proved me wrong. It’s also clear how they’ve achieved this new-found “consistency”, and it’s spelled out as clear as the logo on their hats.

Support the foundation: They don’t score as a team; it’s as simple as that.

A lack of supporting help has even Holliday and Pujols unable to fix the Cardinals woes at the plate

The job of many has been placed on the very few. It started being called a slump, and then was pointed at slow starts by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, which would surely “fix” themselves and the entire offense. Half of that is true: Pujols and Holliday have turned it on and “fixed themselves”. Pujols was widely criticized for not being Superman right out the gate and Holliday was seen as not being worth the $17 million investment because he didn’t breakout the gate. However, the offense is not their problem at all, and a look at their half season splits shows that easily:

Albert Pujols in 2010: .313 average, 35 HR, 95 RBI. His numbers cannot be denied and the splits show his demise as being greatly exaggerated. He’s now leading the National League in home runs and RBI, and is a legit threat to win the batting title as well.

  • Pre-All Star Game: .308 Avg. 21 HR, 64 RBI,
  • Post-All Star Game: .335 Avg. 14 HR, 31 RBI

While Holliday struggled with runners in scoring position early in the season, he has been as consistent as you could ask for him to be and has been the punch that he brought over to be last July.

  • Pre-ASG: .300 avg. 16 HR, 51 RBI, .373 OBP
  • Post-ASG: .302 avg. 7 HR, 30 RBI, .363 OBP

In August, Albert was excellent, even by his 3-time MVP standards, finishing with monthly totals of .390/11 HR/23 RBI. The greater issue is that there is nothing else on the club that even approaches providing them with support. Trading Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook in an attempt to bolster the pitching rotation has left Holliday and Pujols as the only consistent threats to drive runs in. The middle infield is among the worst combinations in baseball at the plate, with Felipe Lopez sporting a .238 average, Skip Schumaker at .269 and Brendan Ryan actually raising his to .218. Nowhere is the lack of punch in the daily lineup more evident than in the leadoff spot, which is where a member of this trio usually mans. The leadoff batter in 2010 as a group has a .250 average and a .315 on-base percentage. Just put the surprising Jon Jay at the top of the lineup every day. His .329 average and .377 OBP, and gives the heart of the lineup something to increase the value of their strong output.

Garcia's strong rookie season has played a huge role in saving the injury depleted staff.

Midwest MASH Unit: Injuries are a part of the game, but huge parts of the Cardinal depth has been taken off the field completely nearly. Colby Rasmus missed most of 12 games in August from injury. He was counted on to step into Ludwick’s role as supporting run producer after he was dealt to San Diego, and his absence has been huge. With third baseman David Freese (60 games missed, .296 avg), already out the mix for the year with back-to-back injuries, the lineup lacks another run producing punch when Rasmus is gone.

The pitching rotation’s depth was hit early, losing Brad Penny for the season on May 21 (from a home run swing no less) and Kyle Lohse from May 22 to August 15. The return of Lohse however (2-6, 7.12 ERA), may be more curse than gift. The addition of Westbrook to the rotation has been somewhat steadying, but he rarely gets the run support he needs. Jaime Garcia maintaining his excellent rookie year has been a great benefit to giving the Cards a fighting chance to win on non Wainwright/Carpenter days. The stop-gap options, consisting primarily of Jeff Suppan, P.J. Walters, Adam Ottavino and Blake Hawksworth, have been rocky at best, horrifying at worst. Without the ability of the Big Two to win by seemingly sheer willpower, this discussion would be virtually pointless however, which is what the fourth and fifth pitchers have been mostly this season.

The Short and Winding Road: To say the Cardinals are an oddity this year may be underselling it. They just finished a road swing against the Pirates, Nationals and Astros, who will all have prime selection spots in the 2011 Draft, due to their combined 160-234 records. After managing to finish 2-7 versus these pillars of losing, they head into a month where they face each of the three division leading clubs once and their top rivals twice. While this would look like the absolute end of the road usually playing against such successful clubs, for the paradox of the Redbirds, this could be a blessing in disguise. They have a record of 19-12 versus the Reds, Braves, Padres and Cubs this season. Could they possibly actually beat who they are not supposed to, to overcome losing to everyone they are supposed beat easily? That can only become a reality if they can withstand the games in between against the Brewers, Rockies and Pirates, who don’t feature a team above 3rd place in their divisions, yet the Cards have a 12-12 record against this year. Strange times are ahead.

This may be the permanent feel of Cardinal Nation if they continue to be owned by the jokes of the NL.

And in the end…: A credit to Cardinal Nation is that it never gives up. They’ll be there to support this effort and lean on past late season revivals for hope, such as last season’s incredible 21-5 last season stretch, and the 2006 team’s “survive-and-thrive” job in route to a World Series Championship. While I’d like to believe in yesterday as anybody, the pattern of this incarnation of the team doesn’t show it. In 2006 did not have to fight from behind just to land the Wild Card spot. Currently, they are five games behind the Wild Card leading Phillies and 3.5 behind the Giants for second place in that race. In 2009, two huge factors worked in their factor. Number 1, they got a real and true boost from acquiring Matt Holliday, who hit for a .353 average, 13 HR, 55 RBI in 63 games for the club. Number 2, they were not chasing a team from behind playing the way the Reds are. The Cubs were their only competition, but they finished the year with only six more wins than Cincy has now. Even with Holliday’s tear, the team still only had a 14-15 record in September. The Cardinals have made their moves to try to inspire this club, and so far none of them have paid out. Sadly, what you see for the stretch drive this year is what you get. There’s no one to save the Cardinal effort, other than the current Cardinals.

The bottom line is that the team doesn’t finish well and hasn’t in years. With the compound problems on the roster and the inability to do anything the easy way, there may not be enough days left to count to wait on any “miracles at Busch” this year.

The implosion has started and it may be far too late to cut the fuse.

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