bearing the cost

i’m getting really tired of writing about injuries.

under other circumstances i might get out the ol' calculator and try to estimate, down to the run, the cost of albert’s absence; that’s the exercise i ran through back in 2006 when he hit the dl. but i’m not gonna bother this time. as i learned in 2006, such estimates mean nothing when applied to a short sample of games. during albert’s 15-game absence that season, the cardinal offense inexplicably caught fire --- a team batting line of .304 / .354 / .467 and a scoring average of 5.7 runs a game, all figures well above their season averages. no reason for it, really; just good timing on the part of the other hitters. i wouldn’t bet on that happening again during 2008 --- even having watched them plate 10 last night --- but if it does, it wouldn’t be the strangest thing in the world. so far, june has been the cards’ best-hitting month of 2008 (7.1 runs a game through 10 games), and not because of albert --- he has only started 6 of the team’s 10 games this month, posting a .167 / .355 / 458 line. we have to expect pujols’ absence to catch up to them at some point --- if they don’t miss him, then why the hell are they paying him $16m a year? --- but the cost may only be a win or 2 over the term of his disablement. if that’s the cost, they can bear it.

i’m not particularly concerned about the offense anyway. to me, it’s still about run prevention. the cardinals are winning this year for 3 reasons: they play superior defense; they don’t issue walks; and they don't give up home runs. st louis ranks among the league’s top 3 teams in all those categories; they don't do anything else particularly well except hit singles and draw walks. but if they can continue to play D, throw strikes, and keep the ball in the yard while pujols is gone, they’ll probably hang in there in the standings. again, albert’s 2006 disablement is instructive: even though the cardinals kept scoring runs, they started losing games because his absence coincided with a collapse of the pitching staff, which in turn was occasioned by mark mulder’s injury. st louis posted a 5.09 era for the first 13 games of albert’s dl stint, and then yielded 33 runs during the last 2 games to push their non-albert era to 6.73; if anything remotely similar happens this year, the cards will likely fall out of contention. and we can’t rule out that possibility --- not with wainwright disabled. also, let’s not forget that pujols is a big part of the st louis defense; he’s one of the game’s most impactful glovemen at any position. they might miss his defense nearly as much as they miss his bat.

but the formula i offered on tuesday vis-vis wainwright’s absence --- try to stay within striking distance, then close strong when the team gets healthy --- still applies. i fully expect the cardinals to sink in the standings (duh) while their best starting pitcher and best hitter are on the shelf, but as long as the pitching doesn’t implode they probably won’t fall way off the pace. if albert misses 30 games and the team wins 13 of them, they’ll have plenty of time to turn things back around once he returns --- and 13 wins should be easy if they pitch and play defense. but if the pitching falters and they only win 9 or 10 out of the 30, it might be a different story.

the 1987 team offers another precedent that’s worth looking at. those cardinals lost jack clark to an oblique strain at the most critical point in the season --- september 10, with st louis clinging to a 1.5-game lead over the mets. clark was every bit the offensive centerpiece that albert pujols is --- he was the only cardinal with more than 12 homers that year, the only one with a slugging average higher than .434, and one of only 3 with an ops+ higher than 100. ozzie and pendleton had 105 and 103 ops+s, respectively; everybody else was below average with the bat. clark was truly the only dangerous hitter in that lineup; there was no ludwick, glaus, ankiel or duncan on hand to pick up the slack. after he went out the offense crumbled: st louis hit .217 / .281 / .307 over the last 24 games of the year and scored just 87 runs, or 3.6 per game (vs an average of 5.2 per game and a .271 / .349 / .390 line before clark got hurt). but the cardinals went 14-10 down the stretch and won the division anyway because they pitched. the staff era was 3.11 over the last 24 games (vs 4.06 in the first 138 games), and that includes two lickings on the last two days of the season, after the title was already clinched; remove those games (which were largely pitched by scrubs) and the staff had a 2.61 era over 22 games after clark left the lineup. st louis went 14-8 in those games even though they couldn’t score. they won 3 games by a 3-2 score, another by 3-1; they also swept a doubleheader against the expos despite scoring only 4 runs in the two games combined, winning 3-0 and 1-0. as always, it’s about the pitching.

from that standpoint, looper’s performance last night was extremely heartening. prior to that he had only thrown one quality start since april, and only 4 on the season. he is capable of running off a string of effective starts, and now would be the perfect time for him to exhibit that ability. the cards are also preparing to welcome isringhausen back to the staff, though (thankfully) not as the closer. i’m skeptical that he can contribute, but i’m rooting for the guy to prove me wrong. if he can start getting guys out, it’ll ease the load on the starting pitchers; not many teams can throw somebody like izzy or mcclellan or perez out there in the 6th inning.

nice to hear, by the way, that matt morris showed up at izzy’s first rehab start down in florida; way to go, matty mo.

mike parisi threw a complete-game 4-hitter in his first game back down at memphis, throwing 73 strikes in 103 pitches; maybe we haven’t seen the last of that guy. and jess todd followed isringhausen to the mound at springfield and dominated, throwing the last 7.1 innings of the game and allowing just 1 run (unearned) while getting 14 groundouts. he has been a professional player for less than a year but already is banging on the door of the big leagues, thanks in large part (as derrick goold writes at Bird Land) to the emergence of his cut fastball. in 70 innings this year he has allowed just 1 homer and is holding opposing batters to a .178 average. the guy just turned 22 years old, but the organization apparently is watching. . . . .

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