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toast, probably

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well, that game could hardly have turned out worse. i’ll get around to carpenter in a second, but first a quick look back on the wrigley series. it ultimately turned on just a couple of defensive plays for each side. the cubs made two excellent ones to win friday’s game --- soriano’s throw home to nail mather, and de rosa’s barehanded grab on the bunt by skip schumaker --- and the cardinals made two bads ones to lose last night’s game. our side pitched their asses off throughout, stifling a juggernaut offense for all but one inning, and the cardinal bats made pretty good contact all weekend; it wouldn’t have taken much at all for them to have swept the series, for what little that’s worth. it wouldn’t have taken much for them to have won 3 of 4 vs the brewers last month either. but this team has played with a thin margin for error all year --- too thin, lately, to hold up against good teams. they only won 1 of the most recent 7 games vs their two division rivals --- the only 1 in which they scored more than 3 runs.

we now await word on the severity of carpenter’s owie. i did some quick google research on triceps strains and learned john lackey sustained this injury during spring training this year and missed 8 weeks. came back with no ill effects, but still . . . . 8 weeks. on the other hand, ben sheets had a triceps strain in april of this year and only missed 1 start; he, too, came back without any drop in performance.

even if it’s just a mild strain and only costs carp a start or two, i hope the injury forces some reconsideration of wainwright’s role. carpenter has been on the shelf for 16 months; as awesome as he has looked, he still may not be (probably isn’t) quite ready to strap on the harness and haul the team through a playoff race. the cardinals owe him $45 million over the next 3 years; there’s nothing more important to this franchise then getting him in shape to throw effectively for those 3 years. they can survive if colby rasmus bombs or ryan ludwick proves a one-year fluke; they can survive if jaime garcia, mitch boggs, jess todd and clay mortensen all stink up the joint. but they’re toast if they spend $15m a year on a workhorse who can’t work. so they have to err way on the side of caution with carp, whether that means shutting him down for two starts, two weeks, or two months (ie, the rest of this year). and insofar as they can’t and shouldn’t count on him to anchor the rotation and deliver innings, that leaves only one other guy for the job: wainwright.

but wait: does this even matter? isn’t the season pretty much over now? i guess a lot of people think so; the schedule’s against us, the bullpen’s still a crapshoot, the team just can’t seem to stay healthy or score runs against good pitching staffs . . . . . and now carpenter’s hurt again and the rotation is as unstable as ever. screw it, we’re toast ---- right? well yeah, we’re probably toast; we’ve been probably toast since april. but probably isn’t the same as definitely. the cards are still within 3 games of a playoff spot, and there are 42 games left. a 3-game deficit can evaporate, against all reason, in a week; there are 7 weeks to go. 6 of stl’s next 9 games are against direct competitors for the wild-card, and our team will show up for those games (as i always tell myself in situations like these) and try to win them. it still seems worth my while to pay attention.

ask me again in 9 games. . . . .

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esteemed VEB old-timer sjoshi wrote me a note the other day with an interesting bit of trivia about felipe lopez:

I was doing some research on a slow workday to try and figure out who the last starting Cardinals middle infielder with both a 20 home run and 20 steal season on his resume (note: not necessarily a 20-20 season). I didn't go back all the way, but I'm not sure it's ever happened. Far as I can tell, there are three Cardinal middle infielders with 20-hr seasons on their resume: Rogers Hornsby, Daryl Spencer and Alvin Dark. None of them ever stole more than 17 bases in a season --- Hornsby did that several times. Of course, Felipe Lopez has both a 20-hr and 20-steal season on his resume. Just goes to show what kind of talent this guy has, and how valuable he could be if they can get him turned around.

i did a little add-on research and came up with two more names. david bell played primarily 2b (started 65 games there) for st louis between 1995 and 1997, then later had two 20-hr seasons for seattle and san francisco (the second such year came after bell had shifted to 3b). as an aside, i had completely forgotten that bell was the starting 3b for the 116-win seattle mariners in 2001. he batted .260 / .303 / .415; how the hell’d they win 116 games with that player taking 500+ plate appearances at 3b? i’d sooner believe that they lost 116 . . . . ok, back on topic. the other st. louis middle infielder who hit 20 hr at least once in his career was eddie bressoud, who slugged 20 for the red sox in 1963 and won a championship ring with El Birdos in 1967 as the backup shortstop. talk about ballpark illusions --- bressoud hit 14 of his 20 hr that year in fenway park, where he had a .913 ops; in his road games in 1963, his ops was .628.

anyway, that’s it ---- in its entire history, the franchise has had only 5 middle infielders who posted a 20-homer season at least once in their careers. and only one of those guys posted 20 while playing MI for the cardinals: hornsby. am i the only person who didn’t know this? using baseball-reference’s incredible Play Index, i learned that there have only been 227 20-homer seasons by a middle infielder in all of baseball history, and a disproportionate share of them were logged by hornsby, ernie banks, alex rodriguez, cal ripken, jeff kent, ryne sandberg, et al. the number of individual MIs who have ever posted a 20-homer season is probably less than 100. even so, i’m mildly amazed that only one of those guys achieved the feat for the cards.

felipe lopez ain’t likely to do it either, but sjoshi’s hopeful outlook on the acquisition did cause me to take a closer look at the guy’s career. i was initially, and still am, unenthusiastic about the acquisition, but if i’m fair i have to admit this guy ain’t wilson delgado as a hitter. he does have talent --- was even a first-round draft pick 10 years ago, the 8th player chosen overall --- and he does have some secondary offensive skills; a little bit of power, draws a few walks, has good speed. he also is only 28 years old --- not a dead-end player chronologically. he may have reached a dead end talentwise, but that remains to be seen . . . . i’m certainly not suggesting he is the remedy to this team’s ailments, but sjoshi has led me to soften my critique; i’m not quite as down on lopez as i was at first. the cards are desperate for a middle infielder who can hit, and (as the above exercise shows) you don’t find guys like that lying around. they’re fairly rare commodities. the team couldn’t find a true solution affordably on the trade market (brian roberts probably wasn’t available unless rasmus was part of the deal), so they picked up a scrap from the free-talent heap and are hoping to get lucky. maybe he’ll turn out the way scott spiezio did, revive a left-for-dead career and become a good utility player. probably not, but you never know; it won’t cost anything to find out. there’s really not even any opportunity cost; it’s not as if brendan ryan was doing much with his roster spot. i’ve been an advocate of the kid, and i still love his glove, but he was always a marginal hitting prospect and his isolated power this year is .044. . . . . brian barden would have been a better choice to take ryan’s spot, but he’s over in china with the olympic team. d’angelo jimenez, anyone?

if we’re looking for things to criticize the front office and manager for, felipe lopez doesn’t rank near the top of my list. he’s in line behind mark mulder, anthony reyes, randy flores, joel pineiro, the insistence on using failed relievers in the late innings . . . . . and whatever criticisms i might make, they are still outweighed by my praise for the new regime. since taking over last october they have cleared a ton of dead weight away from the roster and established some promising new growth. still a lot of room for improvement, but i see more things to feel good about than i thought i would when the season began.