The Void

I once read a quote, which I can’t find right now, that went something like this:

“There are only two seasons, baseball season and the void.”

The void is now upon us, after Isringhausen made it interesting, as he usually does, but got the final out and preserved the victory, like he usually does. And with that final out, the 2007 season came to an end.

It’s not going to be a season fondly remembered by fans years from now, but it was baseball. One thing I’d forgotten until it was mentioned this weekend was just how good the pitching looked in spring training. The team ERA was around 3 or so, just amazing for the spring. Which proves that spring training stats aren’t worth the web page they are published on.

A season with so much promise ended on opening night, for all intents and purposes. When Carpenter had a rough outing and came up lame soon after, we should have realized what we were in for. Injuries with the Cardinals are never simple things, where the player is back soon and all is forgotten. Injuries with the Cardinals drag out, start to look better, then get worse. I personally don’t buy into the “Carpenter on the mound by late July” talk going around. If he’s there by September, like Mulder this year, I’ll call it a surprise.

Then the pitching fell apart, Hancock died, everyone that wore Cardinal red came down with some sort of injury, and through all of that, they hung in there.

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Down, But Never Out

We’ve discussed the TLR “hard 9” principle before, but last night might have been one of the greatest examples of that philosophy. If LaRussa does decide to hang it up or leave St. Louis after this year, I hope either the next manager (whether it be Oquendo, who seems to be groomed for it, or not) or the players (like Pujols) remember this philosophy and keep it around. Because it sure makes for exciting baseball.

I wasn’t able to watch much of the game, being away from home, but turned on the static-filled radio on my way home, trying to piece together what the score was and what was happening. When I finally heard that Philly had been up 12-0 and it was now 12-10, it got me more excited about a game than I’ve been in a while. (Losing streaks will do that to you.) Then it was 12-11 with Pujols at the plate. You knew he wasn’t going to get anything to hit, though they did challenge him more than I expected in that situation.

I got home in time to see Ludwick’s drive to the outfield. Watching it, I really thought it was going to be down and the game was going to be at least tied. Rowand made a nice catch, and you figured that was the end of that. Momentum gone, big bats gone, etc.

When Izzy gave up one in the ninth, you really didn’t think there’d be much more than three outs in the bottom, but again, credit the team. One out (those were some pretty tough pitches to Ankiel) and you get the go-ahead run to the plate before a pop out and a strike out. Still, that was a more “satisfying” loss than you’d expect down 12-0 in the sixth. You expect to come to the message boards and read a lot of doom and gloom, but after one like that, at least you respect the team and I think, if there was anything to be fired up about, a game like that could turn around a team.

In the rest of the NL Central, Chicago rallied–again–and beat the Reds, keeping their one-game edge on Milwaukee. I don’t know about you, but when I see a team continually winning late to keep their lead, it makes me think that it’s meant to be. I hate seeing the Cubs in the playoffs, but I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen.

Cardinals and Phillies tangle again today. Wainwright goes for the Cards, Hamels for the Phillies so there shouldn’t be any replay of last night’s high scoring game. You’d expect a 2-1 type game tonight, so it could be fun to watch.

EDIT: OK, that’s what the P-D’s site said this morning, but apparently it’s Hamels vs. Wellemeyer.  That doesn’t bode as well for a pitching duel, at least on the Cardinal end of things.  Stranger things have happened, of course, and with Hamels just coming off the DL, the Cards should get into the Philly bullpen fairly early, which is where you can do some damage, apparently.

All’s Wells Now?

Tough loss for the Cardinals last night, which, as my father has told me in the past, is why they play the games. On paper, the Cubs should have dominated, especially the pitching matchup. Carlos Zambrano came in with 12 wins, Kip Wells with 12 losses. The ERA spread between the two was over two runs. Yet Wells did all he could to win that game and just about pulled it off.

The Kipster seems to be a different pitcher since his temporary reassignment to the bullpen. I know I said I wouldn’t be doing this terribly often (or very well), but let’s crunch some numbers:

Before the bullpen: 14 games, 76.2 innings pitched, 84 hits, 59 earned runs, 12 home runs, 42 walks, 57 strikeouts, 6.93 ERA, 1.64 WHIP

Bullpen and after: 7 games, 25 innings pitched, 22 hits, 6 earned runs, 0 home runs, 8 walks, 19 strikeouts, 2.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

If you take out that disastrous Philadelphia start right after the All-Star Break, it’s even more stunning, as Kip has a 0.75 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. So that bullpen session apparently clicked for Wells. But what’s been the difference?

Before doing this stat compilation, my guess was that he wasn’t dilly-dallying around, but going right after the hitters, trusting his stuff to move enough to create problems for the hitters. That’s not borne out by the pitches per batter data, though. Before the switch, Wells was at 3.71 pitchers per batter faced. Afterwards, it’s 3.91.

What is the reasoning behind that? You’d think that as P/BF went up, the results would get worse. My guess is that his stuff is creating problems for the hitters, so they are taking more pitches instead of hacking at the first strike they see and putting it into play with not-so-pleasant results.

What else is different between the two stat lines? He’s not walking people, which again makes that increase in P/BF counterintuitive. Bad Kip was walking about a batter every two innings (.55/IP) and his K/BB ratio was only 1.36. Good Kip is walking one batter every three+ innings (.32/IP) and the K ratio is up to 2.38. (BTW, it’s .29/IP and 2.57 without that 4 runs,1 inning Phillies game.)

He has also improved his GB/FB ratio, which is big with this regime, as we all know. Before it was 1.64 GB/FB, which is still a good number, but since then it’s 1.95, so he’s really killing some worms.

All in all, it appears that Wells has really turned a corner. If this keeps up, the Cardinals should approach him about an extension soon. Next year’s rotation has few answers. Adam Wainwright will be in it, of course, and Mark Mulder should be back to take a slot. Mike Maroth could return, but that’s really going to depend on how he does down the stretch. Anthony Reyes has to be in the majors, but if LaRussa is returning, it very well may mean that Reyes has a different uniform on next year. Brad Thompson is earning a look for next year as well. The innings appear to be getting to Looper, and I’m not sure I’d want to see him starting games again next year.

No matter how you slice it, though, Carpenter’s loss leaves a hole in the rotation. This new-look Wells could be the guy to fill it.

Looking Ahead

At least the last couple of nights have been pretty good for the Cardinals. That power show in Philadelphia Sunday night was great to see! Even Adam Kennedy got into the act, then homered again last night down in Florida. If he can actually get his bat going, that’d almost be like a trade. However, a couple of good games after the All-Star Break does not a revitalization make, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him.

VEB yesterday and today has been taking a look at next year, as lboros has joined the “it’s not happening this year” crowd. Doesn’t mean we aren’t rooting for the team or hoping for the improbable, but it’s being rational and reasonable–a couple of things that don’t always fit into fandom.

Anyway, I didn’t realize just how tied up next year is. You look at the money already allocated to next year and the players that’ll be under contract, and it’s going to be difficult for the ’08 version of the Birds to have a much different look than the ’07 version. That doesn’t mean that ’08 will be as disappointing, of course. You should have Carpenter back all year and healthy (depending on what this latest setback is), as well as Mulder. If they can pitch at close to their top level, that’s a huge boost right there. Wainwright is going to continue to improve, most likely, and the experience of this year will help. The pitching staff, in general, should be better than it has been in 2007.

The offense is going to be interesting. I think we can determine that Chris Duncan really isn’t a fluke. He should be a solid producer for a few years to come. Albert had a terrible start to the year–you wouldn’t expect that to happen again. The real turning point is going to come from Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Both are getting up there in baseball years. Both have had injury problems in the past couple of years. Will they be able to get closer to their career norms in 2008? Or are they inexorably on the downhill slide? Rolen only has 4 home runs so far this year–a far cry from his normal 25 or so. Can he get back to a 15-20 HR pace next year? If so, that boost to the offense will help a lot.

It doesn’t look like there is going to be much change in the personnel, so we can only hope that there will be changes in the performance. There aren’t a lot of trading chips in the system. There’s some talent in the lower levels of the minors (AA and below), but they probably won’t be much help until 2009. It’s not likely teams will give up much to take on the expensive veterans that we have (Jason Isringhausen being the exception, and there’s a legitimate debate on whether the Cards should move him or not) , so it’s not going to be easy to get younger.

A lot of this is tied into whether Tony LaRussa and Walt Jocketty are back next year. The team makeup is going to be a lot different if Tony is in charge (a more veteran team) or someone who has a youth focus is in charge. It may be that a new GM and manager give away some vets to try to freshen up the place. I personally think both of them will likely be back next year. TLR might retire–this year has taken a lot out of him–but I think he’d want to take one more shot at making the team a contender. If there aren’t any issues with the players–and while there have been rumors of some, it does seem possible those rumors are overblown–I think he returns.

It’s been a long time (1999) since a team wearing the Cardinal colors has been effectively out of it this early in the season. And, I know, the Cards still have 20 games with Chicago and Milwaukee and can make hay with some solid wins. But this team can’t seem to put together a winning streak of more than 3 games. I can’t see them winning consistently enough against those teams to really get back into the race.

Stop the Insanity

So another day in Philadelphia, another big rout. Like they said on the telecast, combining a flyball contact pitcher with home run tendencies in that park against that offense, well, likelihood of you coming out unscathed is pretty low. At least Albert got another longball and Chris Duncan put up another highlight-worthy catch. He’s definitely made good strides toward being an average outfielder, something LaRussa said he’d be able to do with practice.

What really raised my hackels (whatever they may be), however, were the comments by Mark Grace from the Fox studio about the Cardinals. Grace said that the Cardinals “deserved” their fate this year after not doing anything in the offseason coming off their championship.

This has to be the oldest and most tired argument for the year. We have people at the Clubhouse taking this position a lot as well. But in my book, it just doesn’t hold water.

Let’s look at who left. Jason Marquis. A pitcher so reviled in Cardinal Nation that they’d have stormed the stadium if they’d kept him. A pitcher that was left off most of the postseason rosters and didn’t throw a pitch in October. Marquis had shown he wasn’t going to listen to Dave Duncan and the Cards were better off letting him go. He’s starting to revert to form for the Cubs after a strong start, so we’ll see if he steadies himself or continues to self-distruct. But either way, it was time for him to go.

Jeff Suppan. I liked Suppan in St. Louis. He was a good #3 type pitcher who did have a tendency to come up big in pressure situations. He did a lot of good things for the Cardinals, and if they’d been outbid on him for a one or two year deal, that’s one thing. But Milwaukee gave him a lot of money for four years. By the end of that contract, he’s much more likely to be dragging them down than pushing them toward the top. It was a great move for this year on the Brewers part, though he has also struggled lately, but it was just too much for too long.

Jeff Weaver. Everyone remembers his post-season heroics, but remember that he struggled so much that the Angels gave him away and he really didn’t turn it on until the last month or so for the Cardinals either. I thought that he would do well to stay with Duncan here another year, and the Cardinals did offer him a more stable two-year deal. But he went to where the money was, and it looked like a big mistake early in the year when he had a 13+ ERA. He’s had some good outings lately, which is nice to see, but basically the Cards weren’t going to overpay for the chance that he’d keep his October form and he wanted to be paid, no matter his comments about “being wanted” in Seattle. If the stories of LaRussa and others calling him in the offseason were true, there was plenty of love being thrown his way from the Cardinal side of things.

Then let’s look at what the Cards tried to do. They really put all their chips in on Jason Schmidt. A mid-size market can’t afford to do too much, so they prioritized and went hard after Schmidt. They apparently came in second, mainly because he didn’t want to leave the West Coast. If they had landed him, and he’d been on the DL like he has this year, would we be giving management credit for doing something, even though the record likely would be even worse than it is now?

They did some scrap-heap searching, this is true. The Cardinals are on a budget, which teams in their financial situation have to be. Ownership has shown in the past that they will step up–witness the extensions for Pujols, the contracts for Rolen and Edmonds, heck, even the extension for Carpenter in the offseason, two years before they had to worry about it–but they aren’t just going to spend to spend.

In two years, if they have saved the money and make a run at someone like Johan Santana, we might be very glad that 2007 was the year that it was. But let’s end this “they didn’t do anything” rhetoric–it just doesn’t hold water.

Piercing the Bubble

The best thing about the All-Star Break, in some regards, is that it gives fans a chance to sit back, look over things, and decide that maybe things aren’t that bad. When you go four days without a chance for a crushing loss, things start to look better than maybe they should.

There was a good bit of optimism building in at least some corners of Cardinal Nation. We looked at the fact that Chris Carpenter would be back in a few days, that David Eckstein would be activated Friday and that Jim Edmonds didn’t seem to be far behind and thought perhaps the cavalry was coming after all. 7.5 games back is tough to make up, but the Brewers did strike a lot of people as playing over their heads and, well, Cardinal Nation always has trouble taking the Cubs seriously. No one was calling Busch Stadium and asking about playoff tickets, but the odds seemed a little better than the 3% Baseball Prospectus was giving them based on simulations.

However, when the games left the papers, the internet sites, the blogs and returned to the grassy fields of reality, our gonfolan bubble was pricked faster than you could say “starting pitcher, Kip Wells.” With the improvement that Wells had shown in the bullpen, some fans, and I’d probably include myself in that number, were cautiously optimistic that he had learned something and would at least acquit himself decently being put back into the rotation.

That thought lasted all of about two batters. By the end of the first inning, the Phillies had seven hits, five runs, Wells had made an error and basically the evening was over. Whether the same could be said about the second half might still be in question, but you’ll find a lot fewer people on the “We can do it!” bandwagon this night.

Basically the only highlight this evening was the ending of Albert Pujols’s homerless streak, one that had stretched to a career high 22 games and 77 at-bats. Pujols has been swinging the bat fairly well, just not getting it over the fence. As one commenter at VEB put it, “How cool is it that when Pujols is going bad he’s Tony Gwynn instead of Ted Williams?” After all the talk a few years ago when Bobby Abreu lost his power after the Home Run Derby, it’d be nice to think that AP participating this year would have the opposite affect and get him jump started. We’ll see in the next few days, I guess.

And then, to make matters worse, we have this headline: “Carpenter Experiences Setback in Rehab.” Not at all what you want to hear, especially when it is accompanied by the words “swelling” and “stiffness”. The surgery was supposed to take care of that problem, so having it flare up again is ominous, in my decidedly non-medical opinion. At the best, it looks like it’ll be August before we see him in St. Louis, and my gut feeling is he’s done for the year. I don’t know if it’ll take another surgery or what, but he’s still not right, and the Cards really need him to be right for 2008.

So what it all comes down to that everything is not quite all right. And, most likely, it’s not going to be for a while.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals try again to hang historic loss #10,000 on the Phillies. In the past, they’ve been pretty good with milestones–ask Roger Clemens–so maybe at least before the Cardinals pack up for Florida they’ll be able to win one. Fairly new Cardinal Mike Maroth takes the mound in an afternoon game that’ll be televised on Fox. Though if it’s not any better than tonight, they may have the FCC on them for vulgar and indecent programming during family viewing times.