One of the most difficult things to do when becoming your peer group's Sabermetric Type is giving over what you know to be too many things to luck and unknowable reasons. The Cardinals are not playing very well, and they look even worse than they're playing, because of the specific ways in which they're flailing.
But the longer it's been since my first Baseball Prospectus purchase, the calmer (or more fatalistic) I've gotten about the whole thing. Penny's 13 hits against just eight outs on balls in play? There's not much to be done about that; he threw a lot of strikes, he got a lot of strikeouts, and while he's seemed a little too eager to pitch up in the zone of late the crushing blow was delivered on a low, mid-nineties sinker to a pitcher. If that's how it's going to be—well, then baseball's going to be really frustrating to watch for a while.
This series wasn't a total loss, though. Losing first place in May probably means less to the Cardinals than gaining it does to the Reds; it was probably a pleasant night at the Jocketty household. And if you are not convinced that the Cardinals' failure to go wire-to-wire does not mean the NL Central will be a Bronson Arroyan nightmare for the rest of the season, there was some good stuff to watch. Enough for bullet points!
- Three of the four offensive stalwarts in that clockwork April offense finally hit some home runs. (And Jason LaRue, for what that's worth.) The Cardinals slugged .429 in the series; that's enough to push them toward the NL's depressed league average of .405, after a May slide that had sent them within one point of the Eckstein line. Unfortunately, the power arrived just in time for the surprisingly high on-base percentage to eat and run—the Cardinals' nine walks in the series were passable, but combined, here, with the same low batting average that plagued the relatively effective Three True Outcomes version of the lineup from mid-April.
- One of the middle infielders had a good series! This is up from zero. Skip Schumaker's .232 batting average is the highest it's been since since immediately following his 2-8 performance in the 20 inning game. May has been a truly ugly month for him; he's hitting .260 in it, but with just one double and four walks he's pruned every last sign of secondary skills from his set of tools. With that in mind, four hits with a double and a walk is good news; his OBP is finally over .300, and his slugging percentage is up to—up to—.290. With Felipe Lopez's imminent return seemingly already devoted, in part, to filling the shortstop part of the lineup card while Brendan Ryan's head is straightened, it's important that one middle infielder pulls out of his tailspin now.
- More Jaime Garcia. Garcia's now pitching well enough that even after xFIP normalizes his incredibly low home run rate it sits at 3.58. He looks great; the results are great; he allowed a home run and the world did not collapse around us. Pitchers have gotten off to excellent starts before and then struggled, and he's young enough that injuries and overuse are a major concern, but his performance in May, as his BABIP climbs toward normal levels, has been extremely impressive. The most pressing Garcia-related problem is good news—if Kyle Lohse fails to soak up fourth starter innings, the Cardinals will have a difficult time keeping Garcia on a rookie-coming-off-elbow-surgery's workload. So long as the words "Jaime Rules" are not used outside of this blog, I think they can figure it out.
- I'm not going to suggest that Brad Penny's strikeout to walk ratio means he had to have pitched well yesterday, but I will say that his strikeout to walk ratio for the season is now 3.7, 1.5 higher than his career average, and that a pitcher with said strikeout to walk ratio is not going to pitch badly over the course of an entire season. As sour as some of his recent performances have turned out, his pitching in the first two months of 2010 has to be considered a major Dave Duncan success.
Good news for this week's brief stint against Washington: player salary rules have prevented the Nationals from starting their best pitcher until June. (Dear Major League Baseball: please consider changing the rules in such a way that gaming a rookie's salary is not such a mid-market imperative.) Bad news(?): Craig Stammen, who they'll be starting instead, is a soft-tossing control-oriented right-hander who's been hammered by the rest of the National League.
The Nationals aren't as good as their early run has made them out to be—the pitching is not as good as it looks, which isn't very good anyway, and Ivan Rodriguez is hitting .350, which probably isn't permanent. But they've got some real hitters, and Adam Dunn is finally at a position where he does not appear to be soaking up most of his offensive value on defense. And eventually they'll be able to pretend Stephen Strasburg is finally ready for the Major Leagues!