This team feels dead in the water to me right now. Actually, I'll pull out my cousin the EMT's blackly humorous acronym: this team at the moment feels DRT to me. In case you were wondering, DRT is used to designate those are a step (or two), worse than DOA. Dead Right There. Not sure if other paramedics use it or if it's just this particular one, but it seems rather apt to me.
Sure, it's a down stretch. Every team goes through them. But at the risk of sounding decidedly unscientific in my writing this morning, this team just doesn't look like any kind of contender to me, and they haven't for quite some time.
Since play resumed following the All-Star break, the Cardinals are 1-3, and they've scored a grand total of 11 runs. Of course, the offense hasn't really been the problem for most of the season, but they certainly aren't doing a whole lot of helping out here the last couple games.What I want to know is what happened to that vaunted team chemistry we all heard so much about. That nebulous quality that, like a Final Fantasy Guardian Force (only without actual magic, sadly), would raise up this group of ordinary adventurers into a championship quality baseball team though the mysterious power of friendship. Where did this chemistry thing go? We have a stale ballclub on the slow train to Endsville for the past month, and the only improvement I see from a year ago is that this club at least had the decency to start swooning earlier in the season so as not to shock us when they fall apart completely in September.
The Cardinals' record for 2011 currently stands at 50-46, good for a winning percentage of .521; their Pythagorean record is the same. One year ago, on the morning of the 20th of July, 2010, the Cards were 52-41, a half game in first place, with a winning percentage of .559. Their Pythagorean win percentage was even better, at .590, second best in the National League.
I will freely admit that team did not have to suffer through some of the same slings and arrows as this one; injuries have played a rather large part in the story of the 2011 club. Still, when I hear some personality on the radio talking about how this team's chemistry has played such a huge role in them staying in the race (I will not name the individual responsible for my current black mood, but they work during the day on one of the two major sports stations in town), I just want to scream. Then I do, and the people driving next to me shoot panicked glances toward me as they dial 91 on their cell phones and wait to see if the other 1 will be necessary.
What really irritates me about this team is the fact most of the problems were things we absolutely knew were going to be issues going in. Much of the offseason was spent grousing about the team moving Brendan Ryan in favour of Ryan Theriot, whose chief attraction seemed to be the fact he was not, so far as we know, Brendan Ryan. So it was out with the genius defender and in with the gritty team guy. Ryan Theriot's OPS is currently down to .673, and his WAR for the season stands at 0.2. Brendan Ryan's .612 OPS looks atrocious, but yet he's still been worth 1.5 WAR already to the Mariners. I like the potential of Maikel Cleto as much as anyone, but the fact is the Cardinals made the team appreciably worse, paid more to do it, and then talked about how clubhouse harmony would rule the day.
Lance Berkman has been the team's MVP so far this season, but it's because of his .995 OPS, not his infectious smile. (Not that I don't appreciate seeing the Puma smile; I do. But it's not the reason he's been so valuable to this ballclub.) Miguel Batista was brought in for veteran leadership, and cost the Cardinals untold numbers of games before finally receiving his walking papers.
The Cardinals boast one of the worst middle infields in all of baseball, with a cumulative WAR of 0.6 between the two principal starters. We knew it was a terrible combination coming in, they've been even worse than most of us expected, and yet both are routinely lionized for the intangible qualities they bring to the table. At least Theriot gets blasted for his defense, I suppose.
The pitching has been barely better than a disaster, which may not be entirely surprising considering the loss of the staff ace, but isn't the pitching coach supposed to have magic powers? Why has Kyle Lohse turned right back into the same pumpkin he was, even without poor health excusing him? It was nice having what looked like 2008 Lohse back for awhile, but then something happened and he went right back to being the real Kyle Lohse, and not all the Tony La Russa disguises in the world is going to make that more palatable.
So what's my point? Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'm just grouchy because watching Carlos Beltran smack the Cardinals around is so very 2004. But I think my point is something like this: all offseason we heard about how the upgrades in the clubhouse were going to carry over on to the field and make this a better team. Yet here we sit, with a worse record than a year ago at the same time and all the same deficiencies a blog full of average joes (and janes, come to think of it), could see coming all the way back in January.
Then again, maybe I'm looking at this all wrong. This is a team that's managed to hang in contention despite key parts of the team missing big chunks of time, albeit one barely over the break even point. A better division, and this club would be buried.
So can we finally stop hearing about the chemistry of this club and how much of an impact it's had? We have, by all accounts, an amazingly harmonious clubhouse, and the team is still mediocre. This team isn't composed of Care Bears, and the power of love will only get you so far. This team needs better players, not chemistry upgrades.
The Baron's Playlist for the 20th of July, 2011
"Since I Don't Have You" - the Skyliners
"Stardust" - the Skyliners
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - Little Anthony and the Imperials
"Tears on My Pillow" - Little Anthony and the Imperials
"Blue Angel" - Roy Orbison
"Pretty One" - Roy Orbison
"Three Colours 2" - Sunset Rubdown
"Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!" - Sunset Rubdown