I've been reading a fine (though occasionally scold-ish) history of the 1920s recently, which is convenient because this road trip strikes me as the Cardinals' return-to-normalcy moment after a hazy, bizarre May. For the first two weeks, the Cardinals couldn't hit; for the next week they couldn't be hit. But starting with the shutout loss that opened the Brewers series, and, for a change, featured two aces throwing up zeroes, the Cardinals have approached the league average OPS with the bats and, while still on an impossibly hot pitching streak, moved back from MVP closer territory.
Yesterday was a perfect example; Wainwright wasn't quite sharp enough, Pujols pasted the ball without much benefit, and the Cardinals, while chasing Jonathan Sanchez early, weren't able to get any traction against the Giants' bullpen. It's not the brand of losing the Cardinals practiced in early May—it's plain, frustrating losing, the milquetoast companion to their 6-2 win the day before, in which neither team was nearly no-hit or suddenly unstoppable.
It hasn't been all that pretty—they've split the first two series, and remain in a dogfight for first place—but the sheer blandness of the last few games has been a comfort. And that's normalcy, as our man Harding defined it.
I don't think anybody's been excited about Nick Stavinoha since, say, May of 2006, when the thrashing he gave the Midwest League upon being signed in 2005 gave way to a man-among-younger-men performance in AA, but within the boundaries of possible Stavinoha enthusiasm I was excited to see him draw a walk on Sunday, perhaps even more excited than I was to see him drive in two runs. Counting that hard-fought free pass against Jonathan Sanchez, who has been known to inadvertently walk players on his own team, opposing bat boys and mascots, and himself, the Super Noha has now walked twice in 96 career at-bats, for a walk rate of 2.1%.
He'd be a tweener even without that handicap—the slow guy/.300 average/doubles power skill-set seems like the perfect formula for producing a AAAA hitter—but with it he becomes frustrating to watch even as a marginally successful fill-in/fifth outfielder/third catcher. Even John Gall, his glorious ancestor, has a career walk rate that approaches 10%, the magic number at which hitters become bearable to watch. But Stavinoha's command of the strike zone was bad when he was a flash in the prospect pan and has only gotten worse, even as he's shown himself a capable AAA bat.
I get the feeling that his stint in low-A is about what it would look like if you threw Jeff Francoeur into the Midwest League—not a lot of walks, but more, and an out-of-character home run binge. This would be an odd progression, a startling one, except from the moment he was drafted, as a 23-year-old, it seemed clear that he was too good for A-ball, and he was; he could wait for his pitch, and hit it for twice as high a home run rate as he's managed in the high minors. And he's been too good for low-A ever since. But like a lot of players—most of whom are already in the majors when this happens—he was basically the same player at 23 that he is at 27. And that player is less frustrating than playing Joe Thurston or Adam Kennedy in left field, but not a lot less frustrating.
Pet prospect update: Gary Daley, Pham-forbid my favorite Cardinals suspect, struck out 8 in 5.2 innings and walked 4, to bring his ERA down to 7.15. He's managed to reverse his 2008 nightmare and go... all the way back to where he was in 2007: tons of groundballs, tons of strikeouts, tons of walks. I don't know what he's like to watch, but he can't have a big fastball, because that kind of profile screams for a Blake King-ian relief conversion.
Meanwhile, if you've got a Trey Hearne-sized spot in your heart for a flawed, interesting internet prospect, consider Daley's teammate, slugging lefty(!) catcher(!) Charles Cutler. In his baseball-age 22 season, he's hitting .386/.435/.507, with a nice K:BB ratio near one. The Cardinals' 2008 fourteenth rounder, he had a quiet .300 average in short-season ball last year. If he's got any glove at all, he's got a fighting shot at being the high-average left-handed catching prospect who's blocked by Matt Pagnozzi in 2011.