Birds prepare to migrate south (in the standings)

Another day, another rant. I haven't written about the Cardinals in a while. And the reason is simple: they haven't been an inspiring team as of late, as evidenced by their recent sweep at the hands of Listmaker's Big Apple darlings, the Mets. Of course, I saw that one coming from a mile away. With the pitchers we are running out there on a nightly basis, it's a miracle that we win more than 1 out of every 5 games. Outside of Chris Carpenter and his 3.05 ERA, we don't have a single starter in our current rotation with an ERA under 5.00: Suppan, 5.03; Weaver, 5.74; Marquis, 5.77; and Mulder, 6.77 (!). Reyes, who we recently sent back down to AAA to allow space for Mulder to suck ass as he "rehabs", had a 4.73 mark (with a 1.31 WHIP) upon being sent down. In his first start in AAA -- finally outside of the harmful influence of pitching coach Dave Duncan -- he threw six shutout innings and struck out 9. Poor kid just needs a chance to be himself.

The offense hasn't really been the problem, as we saw in the Mets series. Everyone is performing at or above career norms, with the exception of the injured Edmonds. Yes, we have a pathetic bench; sure we have little pop in the bottom third of the order; yes, our leadoff hitter is weak. But we've got the best hitter in baseball in the third-hole, and a mighty fine clean-up hitter behind him. The offense is producing at a good enough clip to keep us in most games, and that's about all you can expect. Could they improve in close-and-late situations? Yes. But is the offense the reason we stink this year; the reason our lead in the Central has evaporated as of today? No.

That fault lies on a pitching staff regressing to its norms. After banking on another awesome season from every member of the rotation -- including Carp, who was just nasty for 5/6 of last season -- every Cardinal pitcher has reverted to his norm, or something close to it. And the signs -- a quick glance at the peripherals, the poor K/9 especially -- were all there. Management fooled themselves if they thought otherwise. Izzy is toast. He's done. He can't accept that his cut fastball ain't cutting like he wants, and so he won't stop throwing it and get back to the basics, what made him a good closer in the first place: a 95mph fastball and a deadly curve. He doesn't even throw the curve with any frequency nowadays. Why not? Cause he's constantly behind in the count, due to a cutter he can't locate.

Izzy's problem is stubbornness, which is unfortunately ingrained in him on a daily basis by his pitching coach and manager -- possibly the two least flexible beings in baseball. I could spend an entire post speaking to the ways in which La Russa and Duncan have ruined their stud youngster, Anthony Reyes, by demanding that he pitch to their style versus the style that has garnered him success throughout his career. But I'll save you those details. The coaching staff's stubbornness is the stuff of legend among Cards fans this year. It's why they continue to trot out Izzy to close games, when anyone -- even Braden F'in Looper -- would be a better bet at this point. It's why they continue to give starts to Marquis and Mulder instead of allowing Wainwright or Reyes -- both obviously more capable pitchers -- to fill in at a time of dire need. It's their instinct to trust veterans over rookies that is killing us right now.

That stubbornness is going to cost us a trip to the playoffs. But they're not entirely to blame. The GM and ownership also should receive a healthy wag of the finger. Jocketty set us up for a dud of a season by failing to make any impact moves in the offseason. The lone impact moves for this season were: 1) a spring-training roster decision made by La Russa, allowing Wainwright a role in the bullpen (he quickly advanced from long-relief to set-up man on the strength of his stuff, and he now owns the pen's best ERA at 3.14); and 2) allowing Chris Duncan some PT around mid-season (he's since become our BEST hitter this side of Pujols). Imagine that: two youngsters coming up big. Huh. Go figure. We've essentially stockpiled a collection of DFA-worthy veteran scrubs this season: Aaron Miles, Deivi Cruz, So Taguchi, Larry Bigbie, Gary Bennett, Randy Flores, Sidney Ponson, Junior Spivey, Timo Perez, Jeff Weaver, Preston Wilson, Jose Vizcaino, and Jorge Sosa. Those last five names were all acquired around or since the trading deadline -- all of them DFA'ed by their former teams. Ponson, Perez, Cruz, and Spivey have all since been DFA'ed by the Cards. This was our attempt to improve our roster in the offseason.

Then there's the owners perceived greed this season. They opened a new ballpark, sold-out the entire season, created several new sources of revenue, and have refused to budge payroll up in a significant manner. They claim its not how much you spend, it's how you spend it, which is true. And look at how we've spent our money: on a long list of DFAs. Why? Jocketty claims it was a better decision to roll the dice on them rather than spend on proven talent. Of course, for him, proven talent means Juan Encarnacion. So I sorta get his drift. But I'm not buying into it.

Point being: Cards fans got a bum deal this year. We're not going to make the playoffs on the pace we're on now -- and even if we do, we'll probably be drop our first postseason series. Coming off of a trip to the World Series and a trip to the NLCS, that's simply not good enough. Sorry.

The result is that we may just turn into the Cubs: pack the park every year and watch a mediocre team take the field. I'd look into a new coaching staff first, and a new owner second. That won't happen, of course. But it doesn't mean it shouldn't.


Ozzie Smith said...

About Larussa - I told you so.

Mary said...

iffin i don't talk to you before then - Happy Birthday! Oldie McOlderson.