Sometimes the other pitcher is just really, really good

Nothing to be done—it's not often a game that seems so lopsided at the start, featuring a slumping team and a lopsided pitching matchup et cetera, actually ends up so lopsided. Brad Thompson seems like the ideal underdog in this kind of thing; he's not much but he's rarely beaten into the ground, and even in tonight's game he, uh, minimized the damage, to the extent of his abilities. Too many singles, an enormous home run, but just one walk; in another configuration that might not be four runs. 

But the Cardinals would still lose. I hate to mention the no-hitter, but Lincecum's having a just-about-perfect season so far. His ESPN season projection: 35 starts, 246 innings, 285 strikeouts, 60 walks, nine home runs. That's right: style guide rules dictate that I spell out the number of home runs he allows in 246 innings. That's a good omen, unless he's stepping in against your team's stunned lineup. 

I don't profess to know who we'll still be talking about 20 years from now, certainly not when it comes to pitchers, but Lincecum looks the part. He's wholly unique as a character, from his little league mound presence to his wild Gashouse Gang delivery, but statistically he's a perennial—tons of strikeouts, no walks, no home runs. You can't ask for anything more than that. Like I said: I don't want to jinx it, but for the last year and a half he's pitched like a poor man's Pedro Martinez. Nothing this team could do about that. 

After the jump: Mark DeRosa energizes the team, Clayton Mortensen has a bad day, and in a very special episode Joe Thurston reveals that he suffers from baselexia, and has been hiding it all along because he didn't think the gang would understand (even though they really do!) 

DeRosa's leaping catch, sandwiched between standing ovations two and three on his first night in curtain call country, requires me to invoke the exceptions-proving-the-rule clause of sportswriter stubbornness. That beautiful play aside, he's currently 0-7 in two unattractive Cardinals losses since the team fed Chris Perez into the Miklasz Care-o-meter. Of course this means nothing, and of course nobody thinks it does. Which is a fine way to start writing about a subject. 

Anyway, it seems like we're very open, as a rule, to glossing over early failings to help an Energizing Trade narrative along; if the Cardinals struggle for another two weeks and then take off we'll still happily credit it to DeRosa's account, is all I'm saying. It's a good thing that we do, too, because otherwise season recaps would be considerably less interesting. 

Our last Energizing Trade is almost too recent for me to recap—it's Jeff Weaver, riding in to save the day by not pitching all that well and then finally pitching pretty well in the playoffs. It was a different trade than this one, to be sure; it could be lauded because it was low risk, converting two good months from toolsy Terry Evans into a starting pitcher, and derided because it was low reward. But it was made with the same idea in mind, the new blood at a rough spot kick-starting a moribund team. Here's Some Blog on the occasion of the trade:

it does not strain the imagination to suggest that weaver might come in here, make 16 starts, turn in 9 or 10 quality starts and win 7 games. none of the cardinals' competitors in the division is likely to add a better pitcher than that; in what currently looms as a tight three- or four-way race for the division, weaver has a chance to make a real difference.

and then on August 3, after Weaves and the Cardinals got blitzed 16-8 by the Phils, midway through one of their famous multi-game losing streak:

i've seen all i need to of weaver; the experiment failed. he was worth a look, but these early blowouts sap morale, and the cards appear to have reached the limit of theirs. weaver's next turn comes monday in cincinnati, the first game of an important series; the cardinals simply can't afford to send him out there.

common sense dictates that his slot should go to wainwright, but it remains la russa's policy to run other, less competent pitchers out there.

(That last sentence is irrelevant, but I left it in because it's classic lboros x-acto knife prose. My rendition of that thought would require three sentences, eleven em-dashes, and a day-late qualification of my earlier position.)

As we know, here in the future, the Cardinals sent Weaver back out there, and he had his best start of the season, striking out seven in six innings to run the team's modest winning streak to three games. Then they got blown out 10-3. (That just was not a team that could Get Started—it was tuned for frustration, a lot like this one.)

Weaver didn't get the team going; one guy doesn't turn a mediocre team into one capable of meteoric winning streaks. But they went 8-7 when he started, and he replaced Sidney Ponson, who had not appeared in a game the Cardinals won since the end of May at that point. Weaver didn't pitch long enough to make quality starts, but even what he did, improbably as he did it, was enough to make that real difference. The Cardinals won the division by a game and a half. 

Weaver and DeRosa and everybody this side of Will Clark can't make a team win eight in a row for the Gipper, or get everyone into shape with a well-placed montage. But if they play better than the mess they replace, and the division's close enough, they can certainly take the credit for it. I won't blame them. 

#

Does someone want to explain this at-bat to Gameday? 

SPD BRK PFX PITCH RESULT
89 7" 12" Fastball Called Strike
86 8" 5" Changeup Swinging Strike
87 7" 7" Changeup Ball
87 7" 4" Changeup Foul
91 7" 11" Fastball Stop doing that!

Juan Uribe homers (2) on a fly ball to left field.

There's Mortensen's problem, right there: 89 mile an hour fastball, 86 mile an hour changeup(?), consecutive pitches. To make things worse, 49 of his 50 pitches were classified as either fastball (ranging from 89 to 93) or changeup (ranging from 82 to 86). Some—maybe even most—of those pitches were probably sliders, but few of them did much of what Dizzy Dean would call sludding, and when they weren't the change of speeds wasn't enough to throw anybody off the scent. (His two strikeouts were against Pablo Sandoval, who will swing at anything and in that at-bat did, and Andres Torres, who swung at two of the worst consecutive pitches I have ever seen a non-pitcher wave at.)

I'm not about to judge a guy on one outing, but he's 24 right now, and the idea when the Cardinals reached for him back in 2007 was that he was only a few years away from shoring up the bottom of the rotation on the cheap. Back then I whined about the bizarre tactic of intentionally drafting back-of-the-rotation guys, who usually seem to show up, uninvited, on their own accord, and I'm still worried about the efficacy of that idea when I see Mortensen now. Now's the time the Cardinals were preparing for when they drafted him; hopefully he's ready for it. 

#

Bill James Online's main draw is getting to read The Man Himself write incisively and accurately about all things baseball once or twice a week, but it has a sideline in exotic statistics, and one of them attempts to quantify how many bases a player adds or subtracts from the team till by virtue of his baserunning. It passes the first rule of statistical thumb: the players who you would expect to be really good at it are really good at it. 

Scott Rolen, for example—here we take off our hats for a moment of solemn reverence—he's really good at it. This year he's taken twelve extra bases and made just two extra outs. In 2004, when he was at the height of his powers, he took nineteen and was only caught once, for a grand total of 26 bases the average runner wouldn't be expected to have. 

Joe Thurston, for example—he's really not good at it. He's a daring, speedy baserunner; he's taken eight extra bases so far, and gone from second to home four times out of six chances. He Makes Things Happen, and if he had just kept his head down and done that he would still be assembling a cult utility-infield following. But he's already made five outs that the average baserunner wouldn't be expected to make. The final analysis rates him, already, at -6; Bill James Online sadly does not allow anti-leaderboards, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of anybody who weighs less than 270 pounds who would already be in that range. 

It would be exciting if his outs came in the course of, well, Making Things Happen, but the weird thing is that just the opposite is true; they come on some of the most mundane plays imaginable, plays in which baserunning risk is the last thing on anybody's mind, up to and including the team playing defense.

His last gaffe was probably not game-altering—let's not humor ourselves, Joe Nathan was coming in—and it was almost excusable, coming as it did after LaRue and Oquendo had a sign mixup. But it just wasn't a situation in which you expect a major league baseball player to even be threatened, and that is what makes it so unspeakably frustrating to see it playing out over and over. I've just never seen anything like it. 

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