Okay, so everyone just take a deep breath, and remember: the Cardinals are 14-7. That's fourteen wins, seven losses. A winning percentage of .667. On pace for a 108-54 record. Not so bad, right? So there. See how good that feels?
Alright, now that being said, son of a bitch that sucked.
As I see it, there were three main components to the Cardinals' ignominious defeat of last night. Number one, Kyle McClellan lost his curveball, big time. Now, to be fair, he probably should have gotten the strike out against Matt Diaz, but that bit of bad fortune is canceled out by the walking of Jeff Francoeur. I mean, let's face it, you want to walk Frenchie, you've got to mean that shit. This is, after all, a player whose highest walk rate for any season of his major league career is 6.0%.
Also, before I move on, I don't like the move of putting Chipper on in that inning. I think the pass of Jones was pretty obviously the old unintentional intentional, and I just don't like it. You don't put the go-ahead run on base on purpose. Sure, Chipper is a hell of a hitter, but the Cards pitched around him all night long. Blech.
Number two on our list of stuff that most definitely did suck last night: Khalil missing what probably should have been a routine grounder off the bat of Diaz. There was a bunch of discussion in last night's game thread about what sort of a jump Khalil got on the ball, and whether or not he should have been positioned, and all these other things, and this is how I see it: Khalil didn't get a good jump on the ball. He seemed to freeze momentarily when the ball left the bat, then got moving. It happens. That being said, I have a much bigger problem with the defensive alignment there than I do Khalil's poor read off the bat. La Russa himself has said it before, and I agree: physical errors are going to happen. Part of the game. But several times this year, there have been balls hit to what should be the shortstop position (and even once or twice to where the 2B should be standing), and the ball somehow finds empty green with Greene racing in from what looks like twenty or thirty feet away. You go back and watch the replay, and you realise that Khalil was playing waaaayyyy over in the hole between short and third. It isn't just once or twice that I've noticed this, but several times.
Apparently, the Cardinals were playing the no doubles defense last night, with Barden guarding the line, and Khalil over in the hole. That makes absolutely, positively, no sense whatsoever. Bases loaded, two outs, runners are going on contact. Full count, the runners are probably going with the pitch, come to think of it. A base hit scores two, so it isn't as if you can keep it a tie game so long as you avoid the extra base hit. There was absolutely no reason for the defense to be aligned the way it was. They opened up a huge hole right smack in the middle of the diamond, and lo and behold, the ball was hit right there. Late jump or not, if Greene is playing where a shortstop is normally positioned, that's a routine ground ball. I'm not sure exactly who handles the positioning of the infielders, whether it's Tony or one of the other coaches, but whoever it is should feel really, really bad this morning.
And third, rounding out our bitchfest, it's the big one, the real reason the Cardinals lost last night, gone from the charts but not from your hearts, it's the OFFENSE! Or, more specifically, the total failure of the offense to do anything positive against Jo-Jo F. Reyes (and you can figure out for yourself what the middle initial stands for), who is a nice starter, yes, but should not be shutting this team down.
Early on, it looked like the Cardinals were going to be okay against Reyes; even with all the strikeouts, they were at least working the count against him. Unfortunately, things went downhill. Here's the number of pitches Reyes threw by inning:
Notice a pattern there? After two innings, Reyes had thrown 46 pitches. Over the next five innings, he threw a grand total of, that's right, 46 pitches. Not so good, eh?
What happened was simple: the Cardinals started swinging at anything and everything that was anywhere near the strike zone. For instance, in the third inning, Rasmus, Pujols, and Ludwick were up to bat. Just the sort of inning you would expect some damage, right? Well, Rasmus took a ball, then swung at the next pitch, grounding out to first base. Albert at least saw five pitches; a ball, a called strike, a ball, and then he swung at the next two pitches, fouling one off and lining out to center on the fifth pitch of the plate appearance. A pretty good PA, really, and no less than what we would expect from Albert. Ludwick then came up, took two balls, and grounded out on the third offering. Just like that, the three most dangerous hitters in the Cards' lineup were down. Ten pitches. Rasmus, to date one of the most patient hitters in the game, only saw two offerings. Ludwick didn't see a strike; even the pitch he grounded out on was borderline at best.
I understand the philosophy that sometimes you have to swing at the first good pitch you see, as it may be the only one you get, but I'm pretty sure that applies to pitchers a wee bit more dominant than Jo-Jo Reyes. Is it too much to ask that the Cards' hitters at least make the guy throw a strike or two before letting him off the hook?
Or how about the sixth inning? Once again, we have the same three hitters coming up: Rasmus, Pujols, and Ludwick. Rasmus swings at the first pitch, fouls it off, then swings at the second and grounds out to second. Albert sees four pitches, the first three balls nowhere near the zone, then flies out harmlessly to right field. Reyes obviously wasn't overly eager to give Albert anything hittable; yet you couldn't just stand there and take at least one effing pitch? Following that, with Reyes having thrown six pitches in the inning, Ludwick then comes up and promptly does Albert one better. He flies out to right as well, but it only takes him one pitch to fail. Take that, Mr. MVP!
Again, the heart of the Cards' order, the guys you count on to do the damage, and they go down in seven pitches. By my count, Reyes threw exactly two strikes that inning; the first pitch to Rasmus and the pitch Albert flew out on. The others were all either balls or borderline pitches that you certainly couldn't have been blamed for letting go by.
So was it just a bad night? Well, I certainly hope so, and for now, I choose to believe so. But I will admit to being more than a little bit concerned by the plate approach portion of the equation here. Concerned by the fact that it was so poor, yes, but also concerned a bit by something that La Russa had to say after the fact. In his postgame statements, Tony had the following regarding the offense:
"I didn't think we were as aggressive as we usually are on pitches that we had to hit. So you sit around on a one-run lead and put yourself in a position for that to happen. We didn't look like quite ourselves for whatever reason."
Now, there are two ways to interpret that. The first is that the Cardinals were off balance against Reyes all night, and they didn't take good swings on hittable pitches. That is very true. I'm hoping that's what was meant by it. But what I do worry about is that word aggressive. We all know that La Russa preaches aggressiveness in the batter's box, not in a crazed, let's-not-clog-the-bases Dusty Baker sort of way, but aggressiveness nonetheless. He wants his hitters to attack that first good pitch they see. What I worry about is somehow the message in this being that the team needed to go out there and attack more aggressively, that they were somehow too passive. Tony is absolutely right in saying that the Cards didn't look like what we've come to expect from them this season; the answer, though, isn't more aggressive at-bats, it's more patient at-bats. The Cardinals rank as highly as they do in so many offensive categories precisely because they have a tremendous on-base percentage as a team this year. Trying to be more aggressive at the plate isn't the answer, being more selective and swinging only at pitches you can actually do something with is.
Then again, it was probably just one bad night, and it's put me in a foul mood, looking for something to hang my frustrations on.
And speaking of frustrations, I have one that I want to get off my chest before I let all of you get back to your regularly scheduled lives. It relates to the catch that Ankiel made in center field last night. You all remember the situation, right? Ankiel is brought in, Rasmus slides over to left, and next thing you know, Swingin' Dick makes this great diving catch over in right center. Never mind whether or not the dive was necessary, or any of that stuff; what irks me is the attitude that, "See? That's why you put Ankiel in center!" Yes, he made a very nice play. No, that does not mean it was the correct move. You still put a player in center field who is worse defensively than the guy who was already there. One highlight catch doesn't change that.
Let's think of it this way: say that, one day, I was sitting in my kitchen, having some toast, and it suddenly occurred to me that I have never put my penis into a toaster. "I wonder what that's like?", I ask myself aloud. So, deciding that this is just something I have to do, I proceed to wander over to the toaster and just pop it right in there. Further curious, I then push down the lever. Well, of course, I then end up with horrific burns to my genitals.
So, what do I do? Well, being in no shape to put on pants to drive myself to the hospital, I call the paramedics, and they show up in no time. Among the paramedics is a gorgeous young woman, who proceeds to begin ministering to my, er, injuries. Emboldened by the fact that we're already to about third base (Actually, I have no idea how the base system works on a man. Anyone know?), I relax, and am able not only to make witty, intelligent conversation, but I have absolutely no fear in asking this young woman out. Impressed by my wit, confidence, and the sheer amount of scar tissue I'm going to end up with- if you know what I mean- she accepts my invitation. We go out on a date, and then another, and another, and before you know it, we're happily married for twenty years.
Now, given the above scenario, there are two ways of looking at it. You could say, "Wow, Aaron. You really lucked out on that one! Just imagine, none of this great fortune would have happened if you hadn't decided to Chris Duncan that toaster! I mean, yeah, it was still dumb, and you lost almost all feeling in your genitals, but look at how great life is otherwise!" Or, you could say, "Wow, Aaron. You're brilliant! I wish I were smart enough to try and fuck a toaster!"
You see where I'm going with this?
Anyhow, enough of that. Bad game, one day, toaster sex bad, let it go. Onward to other things.
In self-flagellation news: Phil Hughes, one of my favourite obsessions, was dynamite for the Yankees last night. Is it too late to call the Yanks and see if they want Ankiel for Hughes? How about Ankiel and, say, Jon Jay and Allen Craig? Maybe throw in one of our legions of mediocre right-handed relievers? Sigh. Hughes is just the sort of young, potentially front-end pitcher that the Cardinals really, really need to get their hands on; sadly, I doubt that it's going to happen. You might have been able to pry him away while he was struggling; wait until he gets it going, and the Yankees are just going to hold on to him, insane ownership or not.
From the I Know You Don't Care But I'll Tell You Anyway Department: Manchester United and my boys, Arsenal, are going to be squaring off todayin a semi-final match. Honestly, I don't recall how the time zones work from England to here, but if you got excited when you read that last sentence, I'm sure you've probably already got your slide rule out as we speak.
In Styx Covers on Television news: I know there are a few people on this board who, like me, are Chuck fans, and I have to say, the version of Mr. Roboto that Jeffster performed on the season finale is, perhaps, the greatest thing I've ever seen. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here you go. There's a lot of stuff going on that you're not going to understand, at all, but it's totally worth it, just to hear the angelic sound of Styx finally getting their just desserts.
Also, if there are any NBC executives reading this- and I have no reason to believe that there are not- please please please bring back this show. It's really the only tie I still have to American television! Without Chuck, I may very well never again watch a show that isn't either baseball or in Japanese with subtitles.
From the Shamelessly Directing Traffic Elsewhere department: we've got a slideshow of the All Star Game news conferenceover at the RFT. My favourite is the one where it looks as if Albert is trying to decide whether or not Jay Nixon is worthy of life or not.
And finally, from the Just 'Cause I Want to Record Recommendation department, I bring you my three favourite new songs I'm listening to right this very minute.
"It's Not Fair", by Lily Allen- A ridiculously charming English lass, channeling her inner Ruth Wallis into what is almost certainly the best song about premature ejaculation ever written. Trust me, it's even better than it sounds.
"Other Towns and Cities", by Camera Obscura- Currently battling fiercely against Bon Iver's "Beach Baby" for the title of "Prettiest Song I've Heard So Far in 2009". The best thing? It's probably only the fourth or fifth best song on CO's new record.
"Lalita", by The Love Language- If the Arcarde Fire decided to cover Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life", it might sound just a tad like this. Then again, that's much too trite a recommendation for a song this fantastic. So hey, don't take my word for it. Go and judge for yourself.
Have a glorious day, everyone. And let's hope the Cards can wash that awful taste out of our collective mouths, no?