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Midway Through Season: Treading Water

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Internet users take note! This is what a non-ASCII character high five looks like.
Internet users take note! This is what a non-ASCII character high five looks like.

As the mid-point of the season approaches, the Cardinals are working their way through another losing streak dropping both of their games against the Blue Jays thus far. With Jaime Garcia on the mound, a single inning, the 3rd, was the undoing of the Cardinals. Walks to two rather unimposing hitters (Carlos Villanueva, Yunel Escobar) would be followed by an error that would have ended the inning and a homerun that accounted for much of the damage.

Oddly enough, the error wasn't off of one of the normal culprits but rather Daniel Descalso who plays almost explicitly because of his defense.  Descalso, who at one point was portrayed in the metrics as an elite defender, is now a neutral defender per UZR and a negative with the glove per the +/- system. I'm not here to debate the value or sample size of defensive statistics. I could have just as easily written that Descalso hasn't looked as impressive with the glove for the last month. Regardless, the Cardinals, as injuries and poor roster management have currently constructed them, are not built to suffer errors. The team needs to be sound fundamentally to compete. That means making defensive plays, executing whatever (possibly foolish) offensive action - bunt, hit and run - that Tony wants, not getting picked off on the bases, etc.

The Cardinals will get David Freese back soon.  One can hope that Eduardo Sanchez won't be out for too long. Same for Albert Pujols whose time on the DL could be a blessing in disguise if he returns as the Albert of yesteryear.  Nick Punto is currently on rehab assignment in the minors. Allen Craig's knee may hold him out a bit longer but he should be back before Albert.  The team has cavalry on the way and it's important that they tread water until their back to full strength. There's some questionable roster management that continues (3 infielders - Descalso, Schumaker, Kozma - who essentially can't hit, Ryan Franklin) but the team is depleted right now and they simply need to weather it.

Given that we're at the midway point, I perused the posts I'd written this year to see what turned out to be the most wrong headed notion and the most prescient one.  The former was easy to find and it resurrects a name that we recently culled: Miguel Batista.  Rational or not, the inclusion of Miguel Batista turned out to be largely indefensible in hindsight. Not only did the club demote clearly better pitchers in order to hold onto Batista but they allowed him to blow a substantial number of games in the process. 

I'd like to think that I've learned from my mistakes and can now, with a clear conscience, say that it's time for Ryan Franklin to go. While Franklin isn't the same player that Batista was, it's clear that he's lost his role on the team. The club will not pitch him at home any longer. He made one home appearance in May and two home appearances in June.  The sample size of his statistics makes it a fool's errand to pursue any meaningful conclusions there though his stats are terrible. Franklin hasn't been able to retire batters this season in anything resembling a consistent fashion and the Cardinals continued use of baby gloves isn't beneficial to the team.

The point becomes more difficult when you realize that the Cardinals have essentially the same problem with their two lefties as well. Neither Trever Miller nor Brian Tallet have been shut down lefthanders at any point during this season. So how do you fix a bullpen that still has 3 of it's (currently 8) members as functionally useless members? The Cardinals are in a real bind. This one was not as predictable as the Miguel Batista disaster but that makes it no less serious. Given the volatile nature of relievers (both Tallet and Miller were effective last year), is it worth pursuing a replacement? Tom discussed this yesterday and provided some possibilities. It's a problem the Cardinals can't really avoid looking at for much longer though.

The most prescient thing I wrote in the last 3 months was about how freaking amazing Matt Holliday is and after his recent DL stint, that really hasn't changed. Since returning in June, Holliday has hit .300/.447/.667 good for a .470 wOBA.  That includes 3 dingers in 30 ABs.   Holliday is on track to come awfully close to his best season's performance in his career despite missing 25 games this season. He's walking more than he has at any other point in his career and continues to post absurdly high isolated power numbers. For a slow starter, Matt Holliday made the most of his limited April, May and June. It's downright frightening to think what he can do with a healthy second half given what the first half looked like.

While the Cardinals need his continued performance, they need Lance Berkman and Colby Rasmus to regain their strokes. Berkman has posted a tepid .347 wOBA in June and Rasmus an anemic .269 wOBA.  Whatever funk those two have fallen in, the club needs them to be the .370 wOBA players they were the month before. A robust offense -- which the Cardinals can stll claim with this cast of players -- would go a long way to soothing over the flaws of the bullpen and hiccups in the rotation.

Game time this afternoon is 1:15pm. McClellan versus an impressive lefthander, Ricky Romero. Hopefully the club can avoid the sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays.