The Pirates were the toast of the town in the first half of the season. A team on the way to breaking their decades long losing streak. They've faltered badly and find themselves poorly positioned to do that this season. At least we aren't the Pirates, right?
That seems like meager comfort the day after the Pirates put a seven to nothing hurt on the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter was not sharp and the offense, once again, took the day off. What my brain still can't quite wrap itself around is the fact that this team looks good on paper. With core players like Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia all playing well, even if not a their usual peaks, there's still a part of me that watches the games with surprise at the seeming ineptitude.
Speaking of core players, can you think of an impending offseason where there were more components whose fate was unknown?
Albert makes that statement hard to answer yes to simply because we've never been in this situation with him. There was never the possibility of him not being on the team. He has to be ruing his offseason decisions last year too. Pick out Albert's line from below:
Probably since you're familiar with the team and the season that Albert is having, you can peg him as Player B rather than Lance Berkman (A) or Matt Holliday (C). Given that his 2010 season ended with a .420 wOBA, it's hard to argue that Albert is in a better bargaining position now than he was a year ago.
That table also speaks to how critical Lance Berkman's resurgence has been to the team. I actually think a Berkman re-signing is a safer bet than an Albert re-signing given the state of our outfield. The Cardinals took a piece of the team that seemed a sure thing with an outfield rotation of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Colby Rasmus and turned it into a huge degree of uncertainty. The performance of the players (notably Jay and Rasmus) didn't help at all during 2011 but the club doesn't have much to fall back on in the high minors for outfield ready talent. Lance Berkman fits into the outfield well given the alternatives.
And while we're talking about player's have a resurgence, should we go ahead and pencil Skip Schumaker in for the 2012 lineup now? After a dismal start to the season, he's pulled his line up to near league average with some BABIP fun over the last two months and a very strong July where he hit .299/.420/.417. His full season line looks very similar to what he's done over the past several years now. He's an average hitter with below average defense.
I made the comment a few days ago that this team seems to lack vision for the long term. They traded away the player long-heralded as the center fielder of the future. The club went with a young bullpen only to backpedal and acquire guys like Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes. Aging players like Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal are now fixtures of the team at the end of the season.
Some of these are less clearly choices than others. Furcal was replacing a simply awful Ryan Theriot at shortstop. There's still a sense that the youth movement, as described by management several years ago (at the time of Jocketty's firing), has been slowly but steadily under assault from certain parts of the organization. As if they can make the mandate ineffectual by chipping away at pieces of it. Whether that's true or not, well, we may never know. This isn't a front office that I find predictable, however, in it's current incarnation. And with an offseason looming that will have many important questions that need answering, that makes me nervous for the future.