What is the difference between a good team and a team with a lot of wins? This might seem like an inane question, but it’s not. Perfect example: the Cardinals are a good team - #4 in NL FIP and xFIP, as well as wRC+. If being good meant winning games, they should be sitting on the first wild card berth pretty comfortably. But it doesn’t, because those stats measure contextless raw performance—the secret sauce is timing.
To illustrate this, take a team and say that team draws three walks and hits a home run in any given half-inning. You wouldn’t say that team performed any better if they came away with 4 runs than if they only got 1, 2, or 3. But let’s assume that this is the bottom of the ninth inning, and the other team has three runs. If the home run is last in the sequence, you’re heroes. If it is second-to-last, you’re going into extras. If it’s first or second, better not open twitter for a couple days. And God help you if you’re in the postseason when this sequence occurs.
A funny thing about timing is, we aggregate a lot of it over the course of a season, and it can do some very weird things. Aggregated timing created the 2013 RISP-fueled offensive juggernaut from a lineup with no true superstars (do not @ me). It made a good 2015 rotation into a historically effective unit with an insane strand rate. Timing etched a historically mediocre 2011 squad into Mount Archmore.
The ugly secret that nobody wants to admit to themselves about aggregated timing, though, is that it is just as likely to swing against you as it is to serve you. When the weirdness of baseball i making your team look like the second coming of the ‘27 Yankees, it feels good. But when it’s making them look like the ‘17 Giants, that’s something else entirely. (None of this is to say that skill has nothing to do with wins; skill gives you more good events to work with, increasing the odds that those good events will come in sequences that are more favorable than the other teams’ events, stretched into 162 neat little units every year.)
When we measure the volume of our good events, the Cardinals are among the best teams in the league. But those good events have not come with favorable, or even neutral, timing. All that said—I will die for my belief that the 2017 Cardinals are a good team. Or not, I mean, it’s not worth dying over. But the 2017 Cardinals are a good team, whatever happens in September.
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Tonight, the Cardinals look to continue beating up on the 53-83 Giants.(!!!) We are comfortably back in the Central (6 games), and 5.5 games behind the Rockies for the second wild card. Eternal heel and constant balker Johnny Cueto is coming off the DL to face his old nemesis, while Cardinals wunderkind Jack Flaherty is making his MLB debut if you hadn’t heard.
Flaherty acquitted himself well in his debut, but failed to be a polished MLB ace (which, why would he be? He is 21.). There was good and there was bad. His first inning featured strikeouts of Denard Span and Joe Panik sandwiching a flyout from Kelby Tomlinson. Look at this filthy sequence to Panik:
Just pounding the edges with fourseamers, then ringing him up on a slider 8 mph slower.
The second inning didn’t go quite so well for young Jack. First, Buster Posey dropped a single in on this piece of junk fourseamer, because he’s Buster I guess:
Then, Brandon Crawford hit a homer to the deepest part of AT&T Park, which is saying something. The pitch wasn’t terrible, but it definitely failed to slide and sat over the heart of the plate. Hunter Pence singled on this piece of junk slider:
Ryder Jones hit another single on a non-terrible fourseamer that caught a bit too much of the plate, pushing Pence to 3rd. Cueto fouled out bunting and I thought maybe he’ll get out of this with just the dinger! And then he hung a curve to Span, who obliged by singling Pence in. 3-0 Giants.
Intermission: Harrison Bader
Bader rocked Johnny Cueto in the top of the third, driving in Kolten Wong.
#Baderbomb @aybaybader #stlcards pic.twitter.com/tBXfggSmGq— gif suppan (@SimulacruMusial) September 2, 2017
Yes, that is a Ric Flair “WOOOOO” at the end there. I like Bader.
September 2, 2017
September 2, 2017
Flaherty, Part II
In the bottom of the third, Jack started getting a little shaky. He gave up a single, a double, and a triple to Posey, Crawford, and Pence, respectively, scoring Posey and Crawford. Each hit was on a pitch over the meat of the plate. Flaherty lacks 100 mph gas or filthy movement, so he can’t do that. After walking Jarrett Parker, he buckled down and struck out Jones and Cueto on 7 pitches.
Intermission: Yadier Molina
Yadi hit an honest-to-goodness triple in the top of the fourth, with only one out. (Yaaay!) On the very next pitch, Steve Piscotty hit a comeback grounder to Cueto, and Yadi broke for home then got caught with his pants around his ankles. (Booo!) Yadi ran 3⁄4 of the way down the baseline, then took a sharp left turn. His new course was through the infield grass in the general direction of right field, and he clearly hoped to be free of this very public torture. Meanwhile, Piscotty was hustling to second. Tomlinson didn’t jack around chasing Yadi, instead opting to make an absolutely perfect throw to nab Piscotty at the last possible instant. So, runner on 3rd, 1 out, was snuffed out with a TOOTBLAN double play.
Flaherty faced the top of the Giants order in the fourth, and he was pretty devastating again. Look at this trio of fourseamers to strike out Tomlinson:
Followed by this battle with Panik:
That is basically all you can ask from a command/repertoire guy. Curveball, Fourseamer, Slider, Fourseamer, Slider, Fourseamer for a groundout.
WELCOME TO THE BIGS, JACK! Flaherty was pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the fifth. He struck out 6 and walked 1 across his four innings of work.
The Rest of the Story
Remember my timing thing? Well, the game looked pretty bleak as Flaherty exited, because the Cardinals were saving their good events for later. John Gant locked down the fifth and worked his way out of a bases loaded jam to escape the sixth without injury. He looks pretty good, really:
John Gant fastballs. pic.twitter.com/4Pat2JJ2zU— gif suppan (@SimulacruMusial) September 2, 2017
Piscotty hit a triple off of the top corner of the wall in triples alley, which stayed a triple following umpire dinger review. He scored on a 4-3 groundout by hero Greg Garcia. Randal Grichuk hit his third no-doubter in three games (two of those were in AT&T!), Jose Martinez singled, and Molten Kolten walked, but Kyle Crick came in for Hunter Strickland and quashed the rally by inducing a popout from Bader and a strikeout from DeJong. 5-4 Cardinals.
Piscotty hit a two-out single in the eighth, followed by a heroic triple from Greg Garcia. Tyler Lyons mowed Gorkys Hernandez and Ryder Jones down with the filthiest of filth, and induced a flyout from Nick Hundley. 5-5 Cardinals.
The stage was set for a dramatic 9th-inning confrontation.
Instead, the Cardinals shelled the Giants’ only good reliever, Sam Dyson, for 4 runs, and another Giants reliever, Albert Suarez, for 2 more. It went like this:
- Dexter Fowler triple (love the gold shoes Dex)
- Molten Kolten single, Fowler scores
- Harry Bader single
- DeJong double, Wong and Bader score
- Matt Carpenter sac bunt, DeJong to 3rd
Suarez takes over
- Piscotty gets that dinger he was wanting earlier, driving in DeJong.
Sam Tuivailala came in to close out the new-made laugher. He gave up a run after a tough-luck flare single by Tomlinson and a Posey double, but put the Giants away without further incident.
Cardinals win, 11-6.
We hit like 10 triples and a few dingers too. Our average age is like 5 now. Mike Leake looked like Clayton Kershaw in his Mariners debut. Colorado lost and Chicago won, so we gained a game in the wild card standings. Our bullpen looks good. Flaherty looks like he could be very good. We could still go on a tear and sneak into the wild card game, but I’m just taking September one game at a time. This turned out to be a fun one, even if I ultimately had to finish it in the morning because watching west coast games from the east coast really, really stinks. Sorry about that.
Tune in today as Lance Lynn and the boys go for the sweep against... Chris Stratton(?) and the other boys. 3:00 Central. Sorry again for the lateness. By way of apology, here is a poll:
How good is Jack Flaherty going to be?
This poll is closed
#5 Starter/Long Reliever