This post is penned by friend and die-hard Cardinals fan Rich Williams. When asked by us Cub fans over email what happened to St Louis this year, Rich wrote this very thoughtful and analytical piece on the Cardinals. What went right, what went wrong and the look to the future.
I asked his permission if I could re-post it here and he graciously yes. Thanks, Rich!
After watching Halladay pitch a no-hitter in his first ever post-season appearance, Texas pound the Rays, and the Yankees continued Torment of the Twins, I think we can all agree that both STL and the Cubs (maybe a little more with the Cubs) have a longgggggggggggg way to go. My pleasure will become in watch Dusty make stupid pitching choices on the way to a 3-and-out.
So, I can’t let Alex’s questions go by without some insights. I have to admit, this is the most complex Cardinal season I have ever tried to dissect. I think there are a few problems I can immediately identify:
1. LOW OBP by leadoff batters caused overall run totals to sag. Felipe Lopez was not the answer offensively or defensively to Schumaker sagging to his career means in both areas. Ditto Aaron Miles, although his BA was inexplicably decent for a part time player.
2. Inconsistent performance by 3-4 hitters in RISP situations. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a clutch hitter (ala Bill James), so the only explanation I can offer is both were pressing and expanding their strike zones because ……
3. Very LOW OPS in 5/6/7 slots after Freese went down, Rasmus went down, Ludwick was hurt then was traded, Allen Craig could not hit MLB pitching, etc. Molina struggled offensively all year and finally broke down when Larue got his head kicked in by Cueto.
4. Lack of depth, period for third base (feliz????) both at bat and on the field.
5. Not getting Jake Westbrook enough innings after spending so much to get him
6. Bad chemistry in the club house with enough blame to go around. Felipe became the scapegoat, but the problems between the players and Tony eventually extended to Albert, Holliday and Carpenter. Losing Ludwick was a major contributor to negative clubhouse atmosphere just when they needed it most.
7. A curious inability to beat tail-ender teams like the Cubs while piling up an impressive record against above-.500 and contending teams.
8. Below average defensive performance compared to previous years in general, particularly against lesser teams.
The Cardinals season got decided in the six weeks following the sweep of the Reds immediately after the All-Star Break. All the problems above seemed to descend in a vengeance. Problems in finding a 4th and 5th starter (Lohse and Suppan) aggravated these issues by consistently putting a team behind 4-5 runs early when they could not score. This in turn burned down what had been one of the most effective bullpens in the NL culminating the outrageous game in Denver where the Rockies came back in the bottom of the 9th trailing 9-3 to win 12-9 on a walk-off 3-run homer. September found them so far behind and still struggling to score runs that even the Cincy mini-collapse only narrowed the ending gap to 5 games. Getting swept by Cubs (who finished 11 games in back of them) in STL was pretty much the end of the line.
1. A lead-off hitter that improves on these stats:
BA (rank) … OBP (rank) … SLG (rank)
245 (12th) … .309 (13th) … .350 (13th)
2. An everyday 2nd baseman with league average OPS at least. (Trade)
3. An everyday third basement with league average OPS at least. (Freese, Descalso, Greene are likely contenders)
4. Overall depth at infield positions as opposed to outfield positions. This is where a lot of younger players from Memphis who came on late will contend (Greene, Descalso).
5. An everyday right fielder with minimum league average OPS, if not a little more.
6. Sign Pujols to an extension.
7. Resign Westbrook.
NB: Brendan Ryan remains an way above league average fielding shortstop that the pitching staff trusts and insists is in the game most of the time. His offense can remain a semi-black hole as long as his defense comes back in 2011 instead of his 2010 where he got injured early. The Skip Schumacker experiment at 2b is over and he will either return to outfield duty of get traded as a throw-in somewhere.
Good things in 2010:
1. Young players making strides: Jaime Garcia, John Jay, Tyler Greene, Colby Rasmus, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan.
2. Starting pitching and bullpen.
3. Pythagorean for RS/RA projected a better record (92 wins) even with problems above. See defensive issues, problems against lesser teams, consistency in run scoring.
4. 86 win season matching 2006 club. Reds simply beat them despite playing sub-.500 ball against winning teams by cleaning up on tail-enders (but only by 5 games=91 wins). Reds outscored Cardinals gave up far fewer runs and dominated the heads up series 12-6.
Where to improve:
Improve on these 2010 numbers across the board:
RUNS 736 14th Overall
ON BASE PERCENTAGE .332 13th Overall
SLUGGING PCT .402 16th Overall
Improve on following 2010 numbers
QUALITY STARTS 94 6th Overall (Find 4th and 5th starters who are healthy and go six innings)
1.30 10th Overall (Ditto)
.256 16th Overall (Ditto)
Cardinals are way ahead of the Cubs in fielding a contending team, but need to fill some obvious gaps to stay competitive. The Reds will likely come down to earth in terms of RS/RA but will look to improve as well. Offseason will be worth watching for both. Cubs need to clear deadweight payroll, Cardinals will try to deal with limited payroll flexibility given they have locked in Holliday, Lohse and Carpenter and look to lock in Albert.
And what will Tony Larussa do?