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Holliday, far away to stay

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PHILADELPHIA - MAY 06:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks really goofy in these sunglasses.
PHILADELPHIA - MAY 06: Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks really goofy in these sunglasses.

Nature abhors a bad news vacuum. The Cardinals have seen minor improvement from Brendan Ryan, have not yet begun to worry about Skip Schumaker or Matt Holliday, and have found their rotation and bullpen to be considerably more sturdy than their March counterparts. So pending any structural disasters the bad news has come in its most amorphous fashion—terrible hitting with runners in scoring position. 

The Cardinals extracted a vaguely winnable line from Roy Halladay—ten baserunners in seven innings, not counting the errors that got them their first run—and found themselves without dingers, or even doubles, with which to drive them in. The getaway game lineup was awkward; it was unfortunate, for instance, to see Nick Stavinoha stepping to the plate when La Russa's Double Leadoff Man system paid off in its purest way and two baserunners were on with one out for the nominal meat of the order.

Maybe that's the best way of explaining yesterday's game, as against the two losses before it—it was frustrating but not very surprising. This is true of almost every team that's playing five starters out of eight, but it bears, I guess, personalization: Without Ryan Ludwick, Yadier Molina, and the production that was expected before the season from Brendan Ryan, this is a flawed lineup, especially with two of the Cardinals' more exciting bench options momentarily off the roster. Jason LaRue took care of his most pressing runner in scoring position, and is thereby exonerated, but Stavinoha's strikeouts with Tyler Greene and Jon Jay on the precipice were uncomfortable to watch. Lineup construction is stretched pretty thin as a topic of discussion, because it's one of the few managerial moves we can see every day, but it is difficult to sit through the rare instances when a misstep comes so obviously into play. 

But Matt Holliday will come in for the most criticism, and justifiably so. Going 1-4 will not always get a player run out of a gamethread on a rail, but it is crucially important to not go 1-4 with the wrong 1; a groundball single to lead off an inning, followed up with two strikeouts and a fielder's choice courtesy the backup catcher, is the wrong 1. 

Holliday's season to this point is underwhelming—his seasonal line looks a little like Ryan Ludwick's 2009, another adequate letdown—but he's also been playing underwhelming baseball in the most frustrating ways possible. If I had to give one reason why his middling OPS looked so bad that didn't involve substituting dollar signs for the letter S, it'd be this: He's a bandwagon jumper. A Red Sox-grade bandwagon jumper. He just found out about Lost the other day. His favorite Weezer song is Beverly Hills. In high school he only played Ken Griffey Jr's Winning Run as the Mariners.

 

As a group the Cardinals have hit for a .623 OPS in losses and an .847 OPS in wins. (That's actually stabler than last year's team, as wild as this one has seemed.) Matt Holliday, though... due in part to his torrid start coinciding with the team's torrid start, he's had a .941 OPS in wins and a .558 OPS in losses. Only Schumaker, Ryan, and Colby Rasmus have hit worse in losses; Schumaker and Ryan have hit badly all the time, and Rasmus has hit so well in wins that it hasn't been an issue. In all the roles for which he's been anointed—Protector of Albert Pujols, Second Pillar of the Team, Guy Who Must Be Pitched To—hitting well in losses is a job description. When no one else is hitting, he must. He hasn't.  

And like all bandwagon-hoppers, he can't even get on when he's supposed to; the one thing on which he inevitably goes his own way is getting a base hit. If people have done it before him it's no longer cool, and as a result his batting average with runners in scoring position is .135, almost 90 points below the team average. 

I don't believe any of this to be a lasting problem. For his career he's got an .879 OPS with runners in scoring position, and a .717 OPS in losses. There's nothing in his tenure as a public figure that suggests he wilts under pressure, although he does occasionally lose a ball in the lights under pressure. But when a slow start—April, at the end, resembled his Oakland tenure, and the changeover to May has coincided with his second-worst slump of the season—combines with these frustrating elements it makes for ugly baseball.