No, this hasn’t turned into a cooking blog, although that would be less stressful than trying to find anything positive to say about the St. Louis Cardinals recent performance. Instead, I take inspiration from a great cartoon that one of my Twitter friends passed along last night.
Yes, it is a cute cartoon. I certainly had a good laugh at the creativity and timeliness of it. But is it true ?
My inaugural post for I-70 Baseball was a look at the [in]famous collapse of the 1964 Phillies, but from the viewpoint of what the Cardinals did to catch them. You can read it here, and I would really appreciate any comments and suggestions about future posts. While there, make sure and read Justin Hulsey’s excellent piece on Why Tony La Russa Must Go. It’s nicely laid out, very methodical – good thinking. Couldn’t disagree more with the conclusions, but it is such a good piece that you really need to read it.
While researching all of the individual performances, a set of patterns started developing that may be the key to salvaging the remainder of the season. Here is what I learned, and more importantly, what I would do with that information.
Two Heads are Better than One
The 1964 Cardinals went 22-10 in their final 32 games. How did they do that ? Duh – they scored more runs than their opponents, silly.
If you look at the table in the i-70 Baseball article, one thing jumps right out at you: the batting averages of Curt Flood and Lou Brock. Once you have calmed down from that, look to the right and see their on base percentages. You would not believe me if I told you that the 3-4-5 hitters in a 22-10 sprint were only hitting about .280, but they did just that. The thing about hitting .280, it is so much more productive when there are guys on base, especially ones with wheels like Curt Flood and Lou Brock. Brock and Flood were on base 40% of the time. That set the table for a bunch of consistent .280 monsters to come along and feast. They didn’t score a couple of runs and try to hold on – they kept coming at you like the creatures from Alien. And like the sequels, it was pretty much the same thing, night after night.
What I learned from all of this is that a good offense can become a juggernaut when the leadoff men are on base. So, who are the two best OBP guys on the team ? Albert Pujols (.411) and Jon Jay (.379). I think Matthew Leach posted an optimized lineup for the Cardinals roster from a simulation program and it had Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday at the top of the order. It seemed silly in April. Not so silly now.
After what we learned in the Red Schoendienst era, it still amazes me that Jon Jay is not a fixture at the leadoff spot. He has the offensive potential of Lou Brock but the plate discipline of Curt Flood. He should be your leadoff man for the remainder of 2010, and as far as I’m concerned, as long as he is a Cardinal.
Bat Albert Pujols second. Is that any more controversial than batting the pitcher 8th ? At least there is a historical context for why you are doing this, other than placing your own signature on the lineup card. Yes, Albert is the perfect cleanup guy. He’s also the perfect leadoff guy, 2nd spot batter. Heck, he’s the perfect player for any spot in the lineup. He’d get more at bats in the number 2 spot plus pitchers would be more likely to pitch to him than they are now. Think of the damage he might do if a pitch actually came near the plate. Instead of falling in love with the idea of a 3 run homer (Earl Weaver), how about really getting excited about Albert hitting about .350 and driving in 150 runs or more.
There’s about as much chance of this happening as the Cardinals catching the Reds for the division title, so let’s look somewhere else for some answers. Matt Holliday is the next best on-base guy, so why not bat him second ? He’s pretty much the 2010 version of Larry Walker, and that’s what we did with him. Holliday’s had troubles with runners in scoring position all season long, so why not go with what’s working instead of trying to force what isn’t. My dogs don’t quack which is why I keep them out of the creek. Matt’s not quacking this season, so let’s leverage what he is doing, and that’s hitting.
Albert Pujols does not need protection, so why continue to force that issue too. There’s not a pitching rotation in the National League that is so afraid of Matt Holliday, that they would actually pitch to Albert Pujols. Maybe next year if big Matt jumps out to a .360 average and slugs .700, but not this year. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday need to be flipped in the batting order, and if it’s not in the 2-3 spot, then by all means, let’s bat Holliday third and Pujols cleanup. That still leaves a vacancy in the 2 hole, so the next best guy is Colby Rasmus. More on him later.
Let’s put all of this together into something that Tony La Russa might actually do. How about this for your batting order for the remainder of 2010 ?
|The Pitcher hitting 9th|
Before you go all gonzo on me for putting Skip Schumaker behind Albert Pujols, take a look at that 1964 lineup. The batter behind Ken Boyer was Dick Groat. Are you telling me that Dick Groat was a better hitter than Skip Schumaker ? Before you answer, let me point out that Skip hit .317 for the month of August. OK, now it’s your turn.
If the manager wants to tinker with matchups, then great. Feel free to move around Schumaker, Feliz and Ryan based on matchups, wind direction, color of the setting sun and whatever else goes into the decision making process. But leave 1-4 alone. After the September 1 callups, it might be interesting to see what Tyler Greene and maybe even Daniel Descalso can contribute for the remainder of the season.
Three is Better than Two
Unless it is how many runs the opponents score. This leads me to my second observation. The 1964 Cardinals had a spectacular rotation in the last month of the season. Their two-headed monster of Bob Gibson and Curt Simmons combined for a 14-2 record. Yes, Johnny Keane was using a four man rotation in that last month. He had shortened the rotation in August, but it is important to remember that many teams used a four man rotation in that era. In other words, he didn’t overreact and make any drastic change in September, and that was a big part of their success. Conversely, it was a shortened rotation that ultimately led to the Phillies collapse. Aesop says: don’t mess with the rotation when you will need to call on it again. And again. And again.
Applying that wisdom to the 2010 rotation, it will take three arms to replace Gibson and Simmons. OK, fine. Is anybody going to tell me that Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia are not capable of a 14-2 month ? Darn right they are. So where does that leave the rest of the rotation ? Keane had two other starters, Ray Sadecki and Roger Craig. Ray Sadecki was a young lefty who could just win a game. It wasn’t always pretty, but he rarely blew up. That sure sounds like Jake Westbrook, except for the lefty part. Now all we need to do is find the Roger Craig in the 2010 rotation. Since Craig went 1-3, does that really matter that much ? I know, Kyle Lohse is the most hated baseball player in St. Louis since Johnny Cueto, but is it any stretch to think Lohse could go 1-3 or better down the stretch ?
Ahh, but you bring up Jeff Suppan. That fits in the plan too. There were a couple of tough spots in the September ’64 schedule, in particular a 5 game series in Pittsburgh thanks to an earlier rainout, and in those cases, Keane went to Gordie Richardson, Mike Cuellar and Ron Taylor. They weren’t spectacular, but they got the job done. The three combined for a 1-2 record with one no-decision. I think Jeff Suppan can easily do that down the stretch.
The Tail Cannot Wag the Dog
The last piece of the puzzle is the bullpen. Keane’s bullpen was amazing, especially down the stretch. Bobby Humpreys, Gordie Richardson, Mike Cuellar, Ron Taylor and Barney Schultz were called on frequently to hold leads. More important, they were called to keep games from getting out of hand. There were a few blow ups – that 15-4 blowout against the Mets on October 3 was nearly the pennant killer, but they got the job done. The bullpen, including one unreal appearance from Bob Gibson, went 6-1. That’s right, they only blew the lead once, and the Cardinals managed a late inning rally SIX times in the last 32 games. That’s what the Reds are doing now, and what the Cardinals must do if they are to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
One last comment about Ryan Franklin. I’m a traditionalist – old school baseball through and through. I would much prefer a hard throwing tough as nails closer like Todd Worrell and Jason Isringhausen (in his prime). That’s not what we have, so there’s no use making a big deal over that. We have a couple of guys on the radar (Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Eduarto Sanchez) that give me hope that I’ll once again enjoy it when the closer enters the game, but what we have is Ryan Franklin. And he’s getting the job done. Let me repeat that – he’s getting the job done. If you don’t like Franklin as your closer, there are things from our history that are far worse. Barney Schultz in 1964 is one of them. Barney Schultz was a knuckleballer. As a closer. No, I’m not kidding – a knuckleballer for a closer. See – there are things far scarier than Ryan Franklin. Schultz floated that thing up there night after night. It must has seemed like a beachball after facing the likes of Bob Gibson and Curt Simmons for two hours. But he did it effectively when it counted most.
But there’s one more piece to this story that bares a scary parallel to 2010 – and my greatest fear. There was a young callup by the name of Gordie Richardson. The young right hander would go 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 1 save. Sound like anybody we know ? Yeah, I thought so. Fernando Salas. The difference between Johnny Keane and Tony La Russa, Keane wasn’t afraid to put the ball into the hands of these youngsters. If the 2010 Cardinals are going to start playing like contenders instead of pretenders, we will need to see much more of Fernando Salas and significantly less Mike MacDougal.
Climb Every Mountain
What are we really talking about ? What do the Cardinals have to do in order to make postseason ?
If the Reds keep up their current pace, they should win 95 games. For the Cardinals to match that, they must post a record of 25-8 in the remaining 33 games. That doesn’t seem very likely at the moment, but the numbers will come down if the Reds should start slumping in the final month. Possible, but not likely.
The best chance for the Cardinals now is to win the Wild Card. The Phillies are on pace to win 90 games. That means that the Cardinals need to finish 21-12 to earn that spot. This will also take some help from the Giants and those pesky Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals need to be three games better than the Giants and no worse than the Rockies. The main problem with this scenario is it requires the Phillies to slump. Given that they are in their own divisional race against the Atlanta Braves, they are more than motivated to play hard baseball down the stretch. It gets even more bleak when you factor in the impact of injuries earlier in the season for the Phils. It may take more than a Rush tune to get us to the dance.
But let’s say that we do get that help. It’s certainly more likely than the Phillies collapse of 1964. Is 21-12 possible for this team ? Absolutely. All it takes is winning every series for the remainder of the year. Nothing more, but certainly nothing else. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. It’s only 4 games better than their current pace. Given the three months of nauseatingly inconsistent .500 performance, is it really too much to expect this team to win 4 games more ? If not, then they should be embarrassed. They have two Cy Young contenders, the Rookie of the Year and a possible Triple Crown winner. Goodness, what could Johnny Keane or Red Schoendienst have done with that kind of lineup ? If they can’t win those 4 extra games then they should all be locked in a room and made to watch every one of the 162 games they played this year.
What’s with the Welsh Rarebit ?
Occasionally a pun or metaphor comes along that is too priceless to keep to yourself. This is one of those times, and I hope you laugh as hard as I did when it first hit me.
What’s the difference between Welsh Rarebit and Toast ? Cheese.
Perhaps therein lie the ultimate factor in how many more games we get to enjoy in 2010. It’s the cheese. More specifically, Colby, as in Rasmus. Before proceeding, you must read our friend Angela’s Cardinals Diamond Diaries piece on Colby Rasmus where she desperately tries to convince herself that Rasmus isn’t JD Drew. For the Cardinals to have any chance at the playoffs, the one player that needs to bring his A game is Colby Rasmus. The young man has an A game, to be sure. We need to see it consistently over the next 33 games, and then with a little help from our friends, we may be enjoying Cardinals baseball in the second week of October.