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riddle me this

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another game, another shelling . . . . .three in a row. whatever. you start the season with a bunch of question marks, and as the season goes along you get answers. we're approaching the halfway point of the season, and the cardinals have eliminated a number of question marks, mostly in satisfactory fashion -- and the ones that remain were already there three games ago. a brief review:

question 1: will eckstein kill the defense?
a major concern of mine in the offseason; i think we can all safely say the answer is no. he's no ozzie, no edgar, even no abraham nunez; but as advertised he seems to push himself to mask his liabilities out there. i can't think of a single loss where i thought eckstein's lack of range or subpar arm was a significant factor. the cards have pulled themselves up to 7th in defensive efficiency rating; they should continue to improve with rolen's return. and they remain near the top of the league in double plays. no worries.

question 2: did last year's rotation pitch way, way over its head?
doesn't look like it. suppan is having the same season this year as the last six, more or less; marquis is less consistent this year but the strides he made last season apparently were real, monday's meltdown notwithstanding. carp has raised his game from last year's high standard, and morris has become morris again -- a fact not changed but his struggles last night.

question 3: can mulder regain his "ace" form?
this is the one question that -- for me, anyway -- an answer; not the one we'd hoped for. i'll refer you to yeterday's posts (morning and afternoon), with one added thought: they're saying his mechanics have been off for two years, or about 65 starts. he has 17 starts between now and the playoffs to get it back. . . . . . okay, two add'l thoughts: we went through this with morris last year -- when he was on, he looked tantalizingly like the ace we needed him to be, but when he was off he was utterly defenseless. by october we hoped nothing more than that he could keep us close for six innings. same story, diff't year, diff't pitcher, and now a new question: can mulder staunch the bleeding and reliably give us 6 useful innings a start?

question 4: will the bullpen hold up sans calero and kline?
so far, a resounding yes. tavarez's 2004 season was no fluke; he's repeating his success. al reyes this year has been as good as (if not better than) calero was in 2004; brad thompson has been much, much better than eldred was last season. the left side remains a concern -- king has been shaky, and flores still has to establish that his 2005 performance is for real, not just some ephemeral 10-week hot streak. but we have not seen a collapse of 2003 proportions, nothing close to it.

question 5: will age and injuries capsize the lineup?
as big a concern as ever, particularly in the outfield. walker has started only 50 of 72 games and, when available, has showed his age; edmonds has missed 16 starts, sanders 18. and rolen's year so far has been marred by injury and subpar production. it remains to be seen whether all these guys will be healthy and productive when it matters most. yet for all that, the cards have held the league run-scoring lead for most of the first half . . . .

question 6: is yadi ready to replace matheney?
is yadi ready to replace who?

all the above, of course, remain subject to change pending further input. the cards have played a weak schedule -- only a third of their games have come against teams that, this morning, are above .500., and the cards are 11-13 in those games; they've cleaned up against the bottom feeders (34-14). the competition gets tougher in the 2d half of the season, and that will provide more information and either reinforce or weaken the answers above.

so moving forward, it seems to me their biggest questions are:

  • lineup age/injuries
  • lefty out of the pen
  • can mulder eat innings

one supposes jock is working on it . . . .