If the first week is any indication, we're in for a long season. So far the Cardinals have been a mess....Starting pitching is just poor enough to lose, the closer has blown 2 out of 3 save chances, the mega star has hit into more double plays than he has driven in runs and the other super star missed the week due to an appendectomy. Not a good way to start a season in which you're already missing your co-ace due to Tommy John surgery. Indeed, it could be an agonizingly long season for the Redbirds.
Hitting the panic button on April 9 is foolish. It goes without saying that there is much baseball left to play, and there is reason to believe that this is just a team finding its legs a bit in the early going. But the Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres proved to be just as tough a match-up as they were last year, and while the Pirates aren't headed for October baseball, they are not the doormat that they have been in year's past. Still, posting a 2-4 record against these teams wasn't what even the most pessimistic fans expected.
The West Coast swing will be critical. Losing to the defending champs in extra innings isn't so much of a worry, but the way that the Cardinals lost is. First there was another blown save by Franklin, and that was followed up by some shoddy defensive play. They committed 3 errors, but none more costly than Albert's drop of Brian Tallet's throw that would have completed an inning-ending double play. It isn't a good idea to give a team more than 3 outs in an inning, and the Giants took advantage when Aaron Rowand's two out single drove in the winning run. This could have been a game that signaled the start of a turnaround for the Cards -- they had battled to stay in a game and scored more than 3 runs for the first time this season. This was a win that had the potential to carry over to the next couple of games and help the Cardinals right the ship, but instead it was another frustrating loss by a team that really should be better than this. Matt Holliday is supposed to return this weekend, so hopefully he can shake the effects of abdominal surgery quickly and help put a little punch back in the lineup. It's early, folks....not time to hit the panic button just yet, but the fact that we're mentioning the panic button this early into the season isn't a good sign.
There have been some bright spots early on.....
- Cobly Rasmus - He's hitting .348 out of the two hole (and has an weighted average of .423). The walk rate is up and the strikeout rate is down. An even better sign? He's started every game this season and hit in the same spot in the lineup every game.
- Allen Craig - Called on to help fill in for Holliday, Craig may have earned himself more playing time. He can fill in for Berkman in right and spell either corner infield spot if needed. He's driven in as many as Albert (4) in 8 fewer plate appearances, and has stolen 2 bases on top of that. His only hitting .238 (weighted average is .275), and aside from a propensity to strike out, he's been a plus for the birds.
- Jaime Garcia - It's only one start, but striking out 9 while only walking 2 in a complete game shutout was a nice boost after the Cards had dropped their first two games of the season to the Padres. With his second start coming in spacious AT&T Park against a light hitting Giants offense, he might be able to post a second quality start. With Matt Cain starting for the Giants, getting a win will be difficult given the Cardinals' struggles on offense.
And some not-so-bright spots.....
- Pujols - Hitting into double plays, committing errors, leaving runners on base. These aren't things you think of when you mention Albert's name, but that's what we've seen so far. Pujols is truly one of the all time greats, so as with the whole team, it is far too early to worry. Not even the best player in the game is immune to a cold streak, so the turnaround is coming. But right now -- tough to watch.
- Ryan Franklin - Hardly a dominant closer on his best days, but two blown saves and an ERA of 6.00....not what you want from your closer. He's averaging 3 HR per 9 IP -- also a concern. It is very likely that LaRussa and Duncan are going to have to turn to another option if/when Franklin hits his annual late season slide -- if not long before.
- The Offense - 3rd lowest number of runs scored in the majors (behind the 1-6 Rays and the 3-3 Dodgers -- although the Dodgers were postponed on Friday and have played one game less). They've produced 4 runs exactly once in 7 games, and that was last night's loss to the Giants. They are striking out more than they are walking and have the 3rd worst batting average in the NL. Switch to weighted batting average and this is the worst hitting team in the NL. Losing Holliday certainly hasn't helped, because no one's pitching to Albert. But then again, he hasn't done much with the pitches he's been able to hit.
Today is a new day, and the Cardinals can turn things around by beating Cain and the Giants. After they leave the Bay area, the Cardinals face the D'backs, who split two games with the Rockies and dropped a series to the Cubs before handing the Reds their first loss of the year last night. Arizona has the type of pitching that can make mediocre hitters look good, so if the Cards can take the next two from the Giants and head to the desert with a little confidence, things might look a bit better in a week's time.
(Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com. Photo courtesy of stltoday.com.)