It seems very odd to be talking about an extended period of losing by this team, but that's what we're doing. The Cards have now lost four of five, the first time they've done so since July 18-22. During that stretch, the Cardinals lost the second of a three-game set to the Diamondbacks, then were unceremoniously swept by the Astros. It was probably the low point of the season, the hour at which I think most of us believed we were seeing the beginning of the end.The end of that series with Houston also just happened to coincide with what has to be seen now as the turning point of the season: the acquisition of Matt Holliday. Holliday was dealt to the Cardinals on the 24th of July; the Cards dropped two of three to the Phillies in the first series with him in the fold, then didn't lose another series until the Braves just came to town.
Of course, the question is this: did the Cardinals start playing better because of Matt Holliday, or did Holliday simply come along at a remarkably fortuitous moment? Personally, I lean more toward the latter explanation, as this team has been largely carried by the starting rotation over the past month and a half, and I have a hard time rationalising how Matt Holliday had a positive impact on the pitching staff. But I am willing to listen to any suggestions.
Through the first 98 games of the season, the Cards' aggregate batting line was .254/.325/.409, good for a team OPS of .734. Since Holliday joined the team, the batting line has been .278/.345/.436, OPS of .781. Of course, not all of that improvement is due to Holliday himself, but rather to the overall changes made to the lineup around that time. Rick Ankiel's playing time has decreased, though not enough to keep him from racking up various types of golden headgear. Likewise Thursty Joe, Khalil Greene, and Tyler Greene. Take those four bats out of your lineup, and your numbers are bound to improve, and probably rather markedly. (For the record, I'm still very intrigued by Tyler Greene long-term, but also realistic about his chances of ever making enough contact to be a useful ML player.) Regardless of where you fall on the continuum of how much value John Mozeliak gained or lost in his various dealings this season (and I think my own feelings on the subject are pretty well known by now), there has certainly been a significant upgrade in the offensive talent level of the major league team from the beginning of the season until now.
Which, of course, brings me to my complaint. Ha! Didn't see that one coming, did you?
I know I've harped on it before, but I just can't leave it alone: this team is too talented to be as inconsistent on offense as they are. Once again last night, we saw a pitcher absolutely shut down the Cardinals, as much because of help given by the Cards' hitters as because of the pitcher's performance. Don't get me wrong; the Cards are currently a pretty good offensive team, scoring slightly over 4.8 runs per game since that Game 99 cutoff. But that number is pulled up a ton by some big crooked scores; the Cards have been shut out four times during that period. Ten times in those forty-eight games have the Cardinals scored two runs or less. Maybe I'm making too much out of this; I honestly don't know what the rate of scoring below a certain number for the average team is, but this squad certainly feels like feast or famine to me.
Remarkably, though, I have good news on that front to leave you with today. During last night's postgame powwow, Tony La Russa commented on the offensive approach of his team. I'm paraphrasing, strictly from memory, but he said something along the lines of, "Well, we like to be aggressive, but we took ourselves out of a lot of at-bats, helped out the pitcher too much. We like to be aggressive, but we were maybe over aggressive out there."
Do you have any idea how much good it does my heart to hear even that tiniest of admissions there may, in fact, be something about the club's approach that needs changing? Sure, it was one, maybe two sentences, but the words over aggressive came out of Tony's mouth, and that's enough for me. Maybe we'll see a bit more patience at the plate today. It may not help, as Josh Johnson is one of the really great young pitchers in the NL, but an improved process will lead to improved results somewhere along the line.
By the way, I'm getting rather tired of dealing with day games on Wednesdays. Seems like every time I turn around this year, there's an early game on my day to post, and I'm scrambling to get something put together. I certainly hope MLB decides to do a bit better job of scheduling games around me next season.
The Baron's Playlist for the 16th of September, 2009: Wade's Record Collection
In memory of someone who meant an awful lot to me an awful long time ago.
"I Am the Resurrection" - The Stone Roses
"Beatles and Stones" - The House of Love
"Molly's Lips" - The Vaselines
"Rain" - Blake Babies
"Fortune Cookie Prize" - Beat Happening
"Nearly Lost You" - Screaming Trees
"Black Gold" - Soul Asylum
Enjoy the game, everybody. I'll program an overflow for around 2:30.