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They can't hit, but neither can they

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For once, at least, the Cardinals' problem wasn't leaving too many runners on base; it was not putting runners on base, and then not driving them in. It's not often I say this, but after a few games like that I miss the runners left on base. But take a look at these small, ill-gotten sample sizes: through the Cardinals' five series two-out-of-three streak they scored 75 runs while hitting .251/.330/.438, which the roughest version of Runs Created estimates at 78 runs. Even hitting .219/.276/.281 during the Giants series yields seven RC in 96 at-bats, instead of the three that they actually got. 

Well, no matter—until the basement-watching cabal finally passes legislation positing that the game really is played on paper we have to deal with offenses that underperform and overperform their perfect, beautiful robot counterparts. With the exception of Brendan Ryan, whose .250/.344/.357 line since the 20-inning game (and breaking the .100 BA Al Leiter line) is acceptable but no slump-buster, and Yadier Molina, whose .245 BABIP is even lower than his speed suggests it should be, there aren't yet any pieces of the offense that are worrying in isolation; all there is to do, aside from forfeiting games against left-handers who do not throw very hard, is wait for the pieces to interact better with each other. 

Luckily for the Cardinals, the Giants' hitting problems are more structural; only Pablo Sandoval is a sure bet to be a better hitter than his positional average, and the starting lineup as currently constructed is startlingly reliant on thirtysomethings with question marks. Mark DeRosa patching left, Bengie Molina holding a prospect's spot at catcher, Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria coming off underwhelming seasons—this is the kind of bad offense the Cardinals, in signing Matt Holliday, ensured they could never have again; if the team fails to hit between now and 2016, it'll be with young players who aren't ready. 

As for Brad Penny—it's just fun to watch him pitch like this. Like Joel Pineiro he's home run lucky despite throwing everything inside the strike zone; unlike Joel Pineiro, he is one of the five hardest throwers in baseball. I'd like to see his strikeout rate a little higher as the season progresses, but the pieces are already there; he's getting more swinging strikes than his career averages, and he's certainly throwing enough strikes to begin with.

The difference, to this point, has as much to do with batters getting themselves out before two strikes are on the board as it does with getting fewer strikeouts when the time comes; the 15 strikeouts he has in 46 two-strike plate appearances is, at 33%, only barely lower than his career rate, but the 46 two-strike plate appearances in 109 plate appearances overall is six percent lower than he's seen in his career. With so few deep counts—he's allowed three balls in just 12 plate appearances—there aren't a lot of strikeout chances to go around. As his walk rate creeps up from Mathewson levels, so will the strikeouts. 

After the jump, another game of series-opening Five Questions, this time with Scott, aka mvhsbball, of Braves sister-blog Talking Chop. You'll find my answers to his questions here

1. Much has been made of Jason Heyward's great start and Melky Cabrera's terrible start. What do you think the Braves' outfield will look like in May?

As of May? I think it'll look pretty similar to how it has looked in the month of April. Heyward has been in RF since day 1 and will continue to be there. As for CF and LF, I think we'll continue to see the 3 man platoon of Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth out there. I don't really see the Braves making a deal for an Outfielder in the near future, but no one really saw the Nate McLouth trade coming either, did they?

2. Speaking of Melky Cabrera, what did you think about the Javier Vazquez deal?

The Vazquez deal was one that really threw non-Braves fans off, especially with Vazquez coming off a phenomenal season. Most fans think that Melky Cabrera was the big return for the Braves, but in reality it was the clearing of $12MM and stud prospect Arodys Vizcaino. The Braves used this money to essentially sign their closer, Billy Wagner, and set-up man, Takashi Saito, along with former Cardinal Troy Glaus. As for the trade itself, I wish we could've held onto Javy, but no one was willing to take Derek Lowe's nightmare of a contract and the Braves had to move a starting pitcher.

3. What do you think about Derek Lowe's chances of justifying his contract over the next three years?

Basically none. That contract (4yrs/60MM) is a nightmare and Lowe has already shown that he's a 37-year old who's quickly losing command of his pitches. I'd love it if the Braves could hand that fat contract off to another team, but really don't see it happening for at least another year.

4. What's the Braves' most worrying trend through April?

The offense and hitting in clutch situations. The Braves came into Monday's game with the lowest team average in baseball and don't really hit the longball either. There have been bright spots in the lineup like Martin Prado and Jason Heyward (with the exception of the past few games), but almost all of our hitters are hitting way below their career average. Another issue for the Braves' offense has been production from their leadoff hitters. As of yesterday, the leadoff hitters have hit .062. That's pretty bad.

5. Finally, are you tired of hearing about Jason Heyward yet? Because I wouldn't be.

This is a really good question. Do I get tired of hearing grown men on ESPN and MLB Network drool over our 20-year old rookie? Of course not. I could listen to it all day. But when I hear "experts" comparing Heyward to some of the greatest hitters in baseball history such as Hank Aaron and Ted Williams, I just shake my head. These are some of the greatest players in the 120 year history of Major League Baseball and they're comparing them to Heyward after three exciting weeks? That's just silly. Could Heyward turn into one of the best hitters in baseball? You bet. He has the work ethic, desire and skills to become a truly incredible player. But to hear comparisons to legends like Aaron and Williams is a bit much.