Friday, October 29, 2004

Cards fans are slightly delusional

As one would expect, my first post to this site will concern the Red Sox. And so will my second, and probably my third. After all, 34 years of waiting (not gonna say 86 because I haven’t been around that long, and that’s a silly argument anyway) provides a lot of material.

First, let me say that I am a Cardinals fan – I have been since getting married to a Cardinals fan nine years ago. I like the team, the tradition, most of the players and sometimes the manager.

But after the Red Sox sweep (hang on a sec, gotta let that sink in….OK), Cards fans were saying three things – 1) our pitching let us down; 2) our MV3 (as the local media has tagged Rolen, Edmonds and PooHoss) let us down; 3) it’s too bad people didn’t get a chance to see the real Cardinals.

There is no arguing with option 2 above – those three players certainly didn’t come through when needed, or even when not needed. I would argue (and will in a later post) that part of that a reflection of facing a) one of the best pitchers of this generation, at least for a stretch; and b) one of the best ‘big-game’ pitchers of the past five years.

However. It’s option No. 1 that kind of troubles me. The pitching didn’t let the Cardinals down – I would argue that the pitching performed about as well as expected, at least from a starters point of view.

Overall, the St. Louis Cardinals had a 3.75 ERA this year. But their starters came in at 4.08 in slightly fewer than 1,000 innings.

The best offense in the National League was, not surprisingly, the Cardinals. In terms of runs scored, the Giants were the best, but could manage no better than sixth overall in MLB. The Cards were seventh. The Phillies were ninth. All other teams in the top 10 were from the A.L.

Point being – the Cardinals pitchers didn’t face any offense this year even remotely as potent as the Boston Red Sox, which led the MAJORS with 949 runs, a .360 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage. Not led the AL, not led the group of teams with foul lines less than 315 feet – led the entire major leagues.

Now, of the two other NL teams in the top 10 overall in runs scored, the Cards played just six games against each – admittedly a small sample size. But against Philadelphia, the Cards were 3-3 with a 4.74 ERA.

Against the Giants, the Cards were 3-3 with a 4.17 ERA.

But, against the top two offensive teams in their own division, against whom the Cards played a total of 37 games (a much greater sample size), the Cards were 11-8 against Chicago with a 4.93 ERA, and were 8-10 against Houston, with a 4.33 ERA.

Houston was 14th in the majors with 803 runs, and 12th in both on-base (.342) and slugging (.436), while Chicago was 16th with 789 runs, 23rd in OBP at .328, but third in slugging at .458. The other teams in the Cards' division don’t even warrant a mention, placing no higher than 19th in any one category.

The simple answer would be to say yeah, but NL teams feature pitchers in the lineup, so of course their runs and averages will be lower.

That is only partially correct. While watching the Astros/Cards series, after Jeff Kent batted, it was all over for the Astros – with the black holes that are Vizcaino, Ausmus and whichever pitcher batting, pitchers knew they were facing a six-man lineup – sometimes even five, given the way Ensberg was hitting this year. None of those four guys do you have to pitch overtly carefully to.

Same goes for the Dodgers – with just two and a half hitters dangerous, pitchers could save some of their best stuff for later.

Look around the NL – the worst offenses can all be found there (Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincy, Pittsburgh, Montreal) and you can’t blame it all on the pitchers.

What it boils down to is that the Red Sox, this year, featured one of the most explosive offenses in recent years. There were no easy outs. No Vizcainos, No Robby Hammacks. The Cards hadn’t faced that all season, and responded accordingly.


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