It seems like the Cardinals have experienced a precipitous decline from "in contention" to "also ran" over the last 2 weeks or so. Even when the team was frustrating, it was frustrating because they were still in the thick of things or at least conceivably in the race. The disillusionment with that notion seemed to settle on Cardinal fans (and VEB) in quick fashion.
That all goes to make little affectations like Aaron Miles at second or Mike MacDougal pitching in relief less of a short term frustration and more of a long term fear. My favorite late night fear is Matt Pagnozzi. I'm generally not a fan of litmus tests for anything other than high school chemistry, but I'm relatively certain that a Pagnozzi start is an automatic fail for Tony La Russa. There's not of lot of guys you need to get time right now but of the few that are available to you, Pagnozzi is simply not one of them.
One of the positive narratives this year that has been overwhelmed by the team's crappy performances, has been the bullpen. I'm doubtful that the team will make the right decision next year and trade/release guys like Blake Hawksworth or Mike MacDougal for more talented prospects (Eduardo Sanchez, namely) but even those players are only borderline bad. Blake Hawksworth's gotten taken out of the yard far to much this season and continues to be unable to strike anyone out despite a faster fastball than he's had since like 3 shoulder surgeries ago. MacDougal hasn't been as bad as his ERA but he's wild and completely unreliable.
Even with the "poor" performers, it's hard to complain to much and there would seem to be, acknowledging that relievers are highly volatile in year-to-year performance, several very big positives to take away from 2009. Fernando Salas has pitched 26 innings in the majors this year and they've largely been good innings. This is a huge step toward removing the dreaded rookie tag and, while, his command hasn't been quite what he's shown previously, he's looked like a legitimate middle relief arm.
Jason Motte improved both his strikeout rate and walk rate in 2010 relative to 2009. He's maintained a 95mph fastball and seems to have found a functional cut fastball mostly ditching the useless slider that has gotten him in so much trouble in the past. (I'm not sure the curveball classifications on fangraphs aren't some sliders in there too.) Even with the late season DL time, he'll still get to 50 IP and he's shown the kind of back end stuff that makes you confident he can be a late inning reliever.
Perhaps the player who took the biggest step forward in the pen was Mitchell Boggs. His fastball was actually a bit faster than Motte this year (0.2 mph) and his peripherals aren't terrific but Boggs has gone from being a fringy starter to someone who shows a lot more potential in the pen. The qualm with Boggs, as it often was in the minors, seems to be the question of why his results (a K rate < 7 per 9 IP) don't quite match his above average stuff. I don't have an answer for that but when Boggs has looked good, he's looked VERY good.
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We're apt to pick at La Russa for playing guys like Miles or Pagnozzi over more talented players but it's at least worth remembering that the Cardinals aren't the only team this happens on. If you follow RJ Anderson on twitter, you'll learn about the Stallionaires and get some frustrating tweets regarding the refusal to platoon SS Jason Bartlett and (earlier in the season) Dioner Navarro getting ABs over Jahn Jaso.
While I'm absolutely fine with the Cubs shooting themselves in the proverbial foot, I've seen twitter disgust, which is to say 140 characters painfully etched into the Library of Congress, over games where Geovany Soto was benched for less talented players via Colin Wyers.
As much as it hurts, just remember that you aren't unique. You aren't some special snowflake whose pain is unknowable by others. You are, in fact, normal. When your mother said you were special, she lied . . . at least in this instance. Heck, Craig Counsell, at age 40, has gotten over 200 plate appearances while posting a .286 wOBA. Somewhere a non-Cardinal fan is gnashing their teeth over a lineup decision today.
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As I was perusing Fangraphs, I noticed that Matt Holliday is having a crazy awesome season. If everything were to end today, he'd be about half a win shy of his highest WAR total of his career. A good bit of this is predicated on his defensive UZR rating -- though both UZR and +/- agree he's been quite good -- so take this with a grain of salt. He's had a second half OPS that's 66 points higher than his first half OPS. For his career he's hit 73 points better in the second half so this isn't unexpected but it's still a huge positive to see him play so well in the first year of his contract.
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Felipe Lopez picked the right time to get kicked to the curb. In retrospect, it seems safe to assume that the times he looked disengaged on the field, he actually WAS disengaged from the game. Albeit at one point he was playing exceptionally well, things didn't work out over the course of the season and the team released him.
Post-release, he's gotten off relatively unscathed in these parts from what I can tell. Considering how frustrating he's been to watch at times I find that perplexing. I also think it's note worthy that his behavior had gotten so bad the the organization simply cut him -- something they rarely do. I also have to wonder how this all fits in to the narrative of La Russa being able to get everything out of his role players. Is this the TLR equivalent of Dave Duncan's Kip Wells? How does Felipe Lopez get rationalized into that storyline or is he simply dismissed as a irredeemable case?
In any event, the astute offseason signing for GM John Mozeliak ended in a rather unceremonious fashion. Much as September will fade in the coming weeks as an unpleasant and unexpected ending to the Cardinals 2010 season. There will be talk of all the faults of the club during the offseason, and they are easy to come by, but there are some positive takeaways from an uninspired 2010 campaign.
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Game time is 1:20pm. Have a great Sunday!