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the cards' most telling performance yesterday occurred in albuquerque, where anthony reyes blew 'em away yet again: 6.2 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, and 9 strikeouts. he picked up the win and lowered his era to 2.77, or approximately half of jeff suppan's era after supps, pitching in milwaukee, became the latest cardinal starter to stink up the joint. in 9 starts this month, the cardinal rotation has posted a 7.04 era; since may 1 -- their last 34 starts -- well here, see for yourself:

ip h w so era whip
200.2 222 90 113 5.16 1.67

these numbers only include starts made by the five current members of the rotation; the two anthony reyes starts (may 20 and 30) and the brad thompson start (may 24) are excluded. lest you conclude that these numbers have merely been distorted by the aberrant (and ephemeral) june slump, think again: the starting staff (sans reyes and thompson) registered a 4.60 era for the entire month of may.

so, what jumps out at you right away from that pitching line? i see the walks --- 90 in 200 innings, or 4.0 per 9 innings. in 2005, the cardinal starters walked 2.5 men per 9; in 2004 they walked 2.7 per 9. and it gets worse than that: the starters have also hit 14 batters since may 1, or one every 14 innings; last year they plunked one guy ev'y 32 innings. forgive me for saying so, but this is what the ol' pitch-to-contact strategy almost inevitably devolves to. at some point the hitters learn to lay off your sinker instead of chasing it in the dirt; at some point those strikes on the corner become balls two inches outside. you fall behind in counts, start trying to make perfect pitches, and before you know it you've walked four guys in five innings. eventually you have to come to the hitters -- here it is, hit it -- and they clobber you. it is no coincidence that the high walks have been accompanied by a high slugging avg against --- the cardinal starters are at .453 this season, which ranks 13th among the 16 nat'l league rotations. not what you expect from a groundball-oriented staff.

reyes' stuff and ability to change speeds are good enough that he doesn't have to make a perfect pitch to get batters out. he can get a lot of the plate and still keep guys off balance. in last night's game, opposing hitters swung the bat six times in the 1st inning . . . . and missed five times. in the 2d they swung 6 times again, missed 3 times and fouled it off twice; only put 1 ball in play. taking the game as a whole, the other team swung at 47 reyes pitches: they missed 18 times, fouled it off 16 times, and only put it in play 13 times. when you only let opponent put the ball in play once for every four times they swing the bat, you ain't gonna give up many runs. ain't gonna walk too many guys, either -- you can come right after the hitters. here are reyes' stats since may 1; check out the walks:

ip h w so era whip
memphis 39.2 30 6 42 2.27 0.91
st louis 12 9 2 8 2.25 0.92
overall 51.2 39 8 50 2.26 0.91

i figure the kid can't possibly hurt the big-league rotation, and it's very likely he can help it. a lot.

how bad do they need him? as you mull that one, compare the cardinal starters' performance to that of the cincinnati starters. these are full-season totals, with all starts (including minor-league callups and "bullpen games") tallied:

ip h w so era whip bb/9 k/bb
cin 388 403 103 288 4.13 1.30 2.39 2.80
stl 371 388 133 205 4.42 1.40 3.23 1.50

the reds are walking a man a game less than the cards, and that's showing up in the run column -- an extra walk a game is worth about 0.4 of a run, if you believe tom tango (and you should). let's keep torturing ourselves; put the reds' starting corps side by side with the cards', with 2006 numbers listed below(w-l, era, whip):

STL CIN
carpenter
4-3, 2.83, 1.29
arroyo
8-2, 2.31, 1.10
mulder
5-4, 5.20, 1.43
harang
7-4, 3.72, 1.25
marquis
8-4, 4.88, 1.36
milton
4-3, 4.10, 1.12
suppan
5-4, 5.35, 1.55
claussen
3-7, 5.28, 1.48
ponson
4-1, 3.54, 1.49
ramirez
2-5, 3.91, 1.33

is it any wonder the cards are 2-6 against these guys?

alright, that's prob'y enough for one morning; indeed, i'm sure i have way overdone it. so let's heed the python boys' advice and look on the bright side: the cardinal rotation has underperformed for six weeks; edmonds has been hurt and/or ineffective all season; is'hausen can't throw a strike; and the cards rank dead last in the league in offensive production at two positions (left field and catcher). yet they're still playing .600 ball and lead the division by a game and a half. at some point the rotation will start pitching better -- faster if reyes is in it, but the rest of these guys are veterans and ought to be able to make some adjustments. the offense has already adjusted to life without albert, thanks mainly to jim edmonds -- he was slugging .379 at the time pujols went down but is slugging .591 in 7 games since the injury (must be wearing albert's batting glove or something). looks like i overestimated the risks of playing edmonds in his fragile condition; la russa made the right gamble.

another reason for optimism: pujols' injury has forced the cardinals to get aggressive about adding another bat, instead of sitting on another fat divisional lead and then finding themselves a bat shy come playoff time. they're supposedly closing in on a deal for craig wilson -- at the cost of wainwright, according to one rumor, but i don't believe that for a second; jocketty is not an idiot. if they land him it'll be for stu pomeranz or chris lambert (who nudged his stock up with a solid outing yesterday) or some other iteration(s) thereof. i don't know why chris duncan wouldn't have some appeal to the pirates; he's not as good a player as wilson but he is younger and still improving. plays the same positions, and would be under the team's control for another six years.

a separate rumor has the cardinals making a play for victor diaz -- 2d time this year we've heard the cardinals wanted this player, although both times from the same source. i liked the idea when it came up this spring, when the acquisition supposedly would have cost us marquis; like it even better now, when the cost is only a double-a pitcher of moderate promise. but diaz's value (such as he may possess) is of the long-term variety; i don't think he's much of an improvement in the short term. if they can pick him up, fine, but i'm not confident that he will add much value this season. they'd still need another hitter.

and if they're gonna take on a demoted outfielder, i'd rather have ryan church.

but they have options. albert will be back eventually, and in the interim perhaps the cardinals will get a little better balanced, develop some new assets so he doesn't have to carry the whole damn team when he returns.