through 6 innings yesterday, i was thinking how predictable the cardinals have been this spring. nearly every game's the same: they pitch pretty good, they don't hit, they're jekyll/hyde in the field. if they scrape a few hits together and score first, they generally hang on to win; fall behind early and they lose. the sense of anticipation that usually animates a ballgame --- the knowledge that anything can happen --- just hasn't been there.
novelty returned in the 7th, and another mind-numbingly bad day for the st louis offense turned into compelling baseball. there was wilson's wholly unexpected homer, reversing the lead; then the triple play that wasn't, which put me in mind of this two-year-old-post about a crazy 26-year-old play at busch II. there followed some determined pitching from looper, in a situation that he should have found very familiar --- a late-inning jam in a tight game, the type of situation he'd likely be called into in his old role as a setup man. but i never saw him clench his jaw in such situations last year the way he did yesterday. the confrontation with daryle ward was something; he attacked, pitched with anger, and blew the dude away. if he'd exhibited that type of mind-set as a closer, he never would have been moved out of the role.
then the cedeno play in the 9th --- anybody ever seen that one before? ah, unpredictability; maybe it will be worth watching this team after all.
Bleed Cubbie Blue's al yellon and i sent each other 5 questions about our respective teams. head over to BCB for my answers to his questions, which were:
- What's wrong with Albert Pujols? I was astounded to see him hitting .190 coming into the series.
- The Cardinals got a starting pitcher, Ryan Franklin, and made him a setup man. Then they took a setup man, Braden Looper, and made him a starter. Why?
- Are you worried about the Cardinals' lack of depth in the rotation? What can they do if Reyes or Wainwright or Looper fail?
- Jim Edmonds. Done?
- Which Cardinal's early-season performance are you most excited about?
1. Lilly, Marquis, and Hill all have stellar ERAs; Lee, Ramirez, and Floyd are all pounding the ball; DeRosa is tied for 3d in the league in home runs. How on earth can you guys be in last place?
I think you have seen part of the reason for this after Friday's game -- the Cubs are not a fundamentally sound team, making baserunning errors all over the place. The one in the 9th inning on Friday may have cost them a game. About the other things, Lee may be "pounding the ball", but he has yet to homer, and DeRosa's hitting in the .230's despite having four home runs.
The problems with fundamentals must be addressed, and immediately. Frankly, I'd make a statement by sending Ronny Cedeno back to Iowa right now.
2. Has Piniella made any decisions so far that Dusty wouldn't have made? If not, is Lou making a difference in other ways?
Lou has shown at least a desire to shake things up when lineups or other things aren't going well -- Dusty would have just said, "Bad day, dude" and kept trotting out the same lineup that failed, day after day after day. He's tried players at different positions -- Matt Murton played right field a couple of times, something he hadn't done since Double-A ball, and he's used Ryan Theriot at leadoff with Alfonso Soriano out.
So far it hasn't made a lot of difference in wins, but I think it will. The team's getting the message that the old ways aren't good enough.
3. A 7.77 era for Zambrano through 4 starts --- what's wrong with him?
Nothing. Z was 0-2 with a 5.35 ERA last April, then went 3-1, 1.90 in May. The only worrisome thing to me is that, like last year, he's still walking too many people. Before 2005, we used to say that Z was on if he'd get a lot of ground balls early. Now I think he's trying to throw the ball past everyone, which he can do, but sometimes he doesn't have his good command, and thus misses the strike zone too much.
4. Which Cub's early-season performance are you most excited about?
No question about it, Rich Hill. I was way down on Hill during his first couple of callups, when he seemed confused and unsure of himself. Something happened to him last May when they sent him down, and when he came back in August he was suddenly the dominant guy at the major-league level that he had been in Triple-A.
Whatever it was, it has carried over to his first three starts of 2007 -- an 0.41 ERA and 8 hits allowed in 22 IP, with a 3-0 record. If he can keep this up there will be All-Star buzz about him very soon. Love his approach to the game, and that curveball can be unhittable if he spots it well.
5. Who's a better hitter --- Marquis or Zambrano?
Z has more power, but all things considered, Marquis is a better all-around hitter. Lou has already used him as a pinch-hitter twice, and once as a pinch-runner in the 14th inning of last Tuesday's loss, after he ran out of position players. Lou said that had the Cubs tied the game, Marquis would have gone in as the first baseman. That would have been interesting!
* * * * * * *Future Redbirds is on hiatus today, but whiteyball has a full farm system report.