the cardinals just lost 7 games straight, in most humiliating fashion, to the current NL Central leaders, the Pittsburgh Pirates. the cardinals went from having the best record in the majors to having a .585 record and being 2.5 games back in the division.
as the sun sets on July 2013, they are now 62-44.
on the other hand, on this date last year, we were in THIRD place, with a 55-48 record and a whopping SEVEN games out.
on this date in 2011, we were also 2.5 games out, with a 57-51 record. you may recall that year turned out pretty okay.
you have to go back to 2010 to find a date when we were on top of our division, and then only by half a game. (58-46, narrowly ahead of the reds). in 2009, we were in an eerily similar position, a half game ahead of our nearest competitor (the cubs) with a 57-49 record.
if you go back to 2006, we were at 58-46 and leading the division by three-and-a-half games. even in that revolting august and september, we won another 25 games and, eventually, the world series. 83 wins is probably not going to take the division this year, but don't lose faith yet.
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now, let's have a real talk about yadier molina.
the word from above is that he has a knee sprain. it's severity has not been announced, but he recently had an MRI which supposedly showed no structural damage, just inflammation. they drained some fluid from his knee and gave him a cortisone shot. early word is "optimistic" on molina's return after 15 days or soon thereafter.
i know there are people who are skeptical of the cardinals medical staff. i suspect that is more just skepticism about the nature of sports medicine and the inherent uncertainty of such prognoses, but . . . nevertheless.
i am skeptical about just how soon yadi will be behind the plate because it's a knee injury and he's a catcher. maybe carlos beltran, with the same injury, would be ready to go back on the field after 15 days. maybe he'd be 75% and he wouldn't run as hard. maybe he'd feel some twinges when he swung, but he'd mostly be okay.
unless they've changed the basic physics of catching, molina's knee will have to survive crouching bent for 15, 20, 30 pitches in an inning to return to actual catching duties. intuitively, that seems pretty stressful on the ordinary knee. i will place an uneducated guess that he's not back behind the plate full-time for at least a month, maybe more.
this stinks. but let us not overreact: it does not stink all that much. or at least, it stinks in a somewhat quantifiable way.
an ordinary ZiPS projection for the rest of the season for molina suggests he'll be worth about 2 wins above a replacement catcher. and that is numerically convenient, if not convenient in any other sense: both tony cruz and rob johnson look like replacement catchers.
"but," i hear you cry, "what about his intangibles, and his impossible to calculate defensive value?"
we don't know what that is, exactly. maybe it's another win over a fraction of a season? you'd have to think that yadier molina was regularly bringing historic value to the game to think that he would be worth more than 3 WAR over 55 games.
now, two or three wins above replacement is in fact a BIG DEAL, especially to a team in a division race. the point is not that it's no big deal. the point is that it's still just 2-3 wins (assuming he doesn't come back this season). it is countable and real.
it is cause for concern, but not panic. we don't need to forfeit the rest of the games, or resign ourselves to competing with the cubs and the brewers to stay out of last place. if we can put a number on it, we can deal with it.
in many ways, the most recent 7-game skid is at least as harmful as the molina injury. even so, we are still a very good team going through a freefall of indeterminate origin. it is unlikely that we suddenly forget how to pitch or throw the ball. it's just one of those things that happens all the time.
last year, we lost 8 of 10 games between may 24 and june 3, then another 8 of 10 games between september 5 and 15. in 2011, we lost seven straight starting june 10, swept by milwaukee and the nationals, then dropping our seventh game to the royals (the royals!). in 2010, we lost 8 of 9 from august 24 to september 1.
this happens. it generally doesn't presage anything awful. it just happens. it happens to good teams and bad teams. that's why we play 162 of these things.
so, check to make sure your towel is packed, and tune in this afternoon to see us play the pirates. i am hoping that we'll see this streak snapped.