the 2011 cardinals still have time to put themselves back in contention, but the road to doing so will be tough. while it's a bit soon to write any epitaphs for the team, we are 7.5 games back in both the division and the wild card, and on schedule to win 85-86 games which is . . . actually, kind of exactly where i thought we would be at the end of spring training.
where did we fall short?
well, the "all-offense, all the time plan" mostly worked, ryan theriot and corey patterson notwithstanding. we're fourth in the majors by team wOBA, behind the red sox, yankees, and rangers, and the best in the national league by wOBA. in some ways, that's especially remarkable in that our major offensive WAR maching has had an off year (relative pretty much only to himself), putting up a measly .382 wOBA. the difference was largely made up in getting top-notch years with the bat from matt holliday and lance berkman, and some surprise performances in injury-shortened and BABIP-aided seasons from allen craig (.407 wOBA/.362 BABIP) and david freese (.364 wOBA/.371 BABIP).
the "all-offense, all the time plan" has had a flipside, which has meant us losing more than 2 wins from poor defense, 6th worst in the majors. i don't mind when lance berkman gives up a win or so on defense, because he more than gives it back at the plate. ryan theriot's glove, on the other hand, is writing checks his bat can't cash.
in a more-than-a-little related item, the starting pitching was, to my mind, what ultimately has put us in the hole we are in now. we are 15th by starting pitcher WAR in the majors, with 9.4 wins above replacement. taking a look at individual performances, both jaime and carpenter are about where i would have put them before the season, in the 3-4 WAR range. kyle lohse has surprised a bit, with a nearly 2 win performance (although i'm pretty sure he amassed all that value in the first two months and has been more or less replacement value since then). jake westbrook has been a disappointment, hovering around replacement value, with kyle mcclellan in the same ballpark (except for the salary division). admittedly after only 4 starts, the edwin jackson trade looks like a "lose now" move, with jackson posting -0.3 wins in that time. jackson should improve, but it's hard to see him turning into the ace pitcher we would need to turn this around.
it's hard to escape the notion that if we had adam wainwright putting up a 4-5 win season instead of kyle mcclellan's 0.4-0.5 win season, that we'd be up around 6th in the majors in starting pitching, and likely in the middle of the race, or at least in striking distance.
whatever dave duncan's complaints about going deep into games (and the comments yesterday about the terrible defense the team had put behind our starters are completely fair), but we're 8th in the majors out of all teams in terms of starting pitching innings with 774 (which counts the single PA appearance of miguel b*t*st* as a "start"). that's almost a 6 & 1/3 inning average per game.
if anything, the staff should be commended, since the club has had a very steady rotation, with minimal time lost to injury among the five guys who started the season. that's an enormous test of endurance. carp's thrown 178 innings in 26 starts already (almost 7 innings per start); lohse 154 in 24 starts; garcia 159 in 26. throw in kyle mcclellan (104 innings in 17 starts), and you have four starters averaging more than six innings a game. jake westbrook has not been great with going deep (142 innings in 25 starts) but he's just not pitched well, period. sure, i'd love to see everybody go 7 innings, but that's just not a realistic expectation. i'm really not sure what duncan expected the starters to do.
the bullpen was involved in some heartbreakers, especially early on, and has been a weakness on balance. 6th worst in the majors, the club has gotten half a win out of the bullpen. more to the point, it's gotten 3.7 wins out of motte, salas, sanchez, rzepczynski, dotel, boggs, and lynn. it's gotten -2.7 wins out of franklin, b*t*st*, tallet, miller, and rhodes (who, after facing 6 batters, has yet to strike anyone out while wearing a cardinal uniform).
there's no question that the biggest single blows to the club have been the loss of adam wainwright, and the unusual slump of albert pujols. on the other hand, it's hard to escape a few "what ifs" about this season: what if the club had kept brendan ryan, who's been worth 2 wins more than ryan theriot? what if the club had recognized the talent in its young pitchers earlier and fielded its best bullpen, not its most experienced? the club might have made up 3-4 wins right there.
the team doesn't have much control over whether something goes pop in adam's elbow, or whether albert's hamstring gets tweaked, or his hand gets smashed by an errant pitch. but the team has control over other, smaller moves that could have played an important role in keeping the team in contention.