I hate to break the news to everybody else in Cardinal Nation, but the chances of the Cardinals reaching the playoffs increased from just above 1.0% to a whopping 4.3% after a 3 game sweep of the Brewers. With only 24 games left on their schedule, the Brewers have a magic number of 18 to clinch the division. That may sound like a lot, but the reality is that the Brewers can stumble home 9-15 while the Cardinals stomp home 16-9, and the Brewers will still take the NL Central. Reality does indeed bite.
This doesn’t mean that the rest of the season isn’t worth watching, though. The Cardinals can still put a pretty good scare into the Brewers, and they can make the wild card race interesting at the same time. Just for grins and giggles, let’s say that the Redbirds find a way to make up 1 game on the Brewers over this weekend and cut the deficit to 6 1/2 games. It would be asking a lot of the Cardinals to sweep the Brewers again, but a 2-1 series win next week would be imperative. Cutting the lead down to 5 1/2 with 19 to play for the Cardinals would make things awfully interesting within the division, and the wild card race could tighten up a lot with the Braves coming into town.
If you aren’t already on Twitter, go sign up. Right now. I’ll wait……
Go search for tweets that include the hashtag “#stlcards” at some point during a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. That’s all you need to do to learn everything you could possibly need to know about how to manage a baseball team, operate a stadium, run a baseball franchise, play baseball at the highest level, build a potato gun, and assemble your very own electric car using a washing machine and some duct tape. Seriously, I’m not kidding about any of that except for maybe the last item (everybody knows you need the dryer and some coffee as well). You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by using the Google to get to the interwebz sometimes, especially when you Twitters yourself silly. For example:
- You’ll learn that many fans bemoan the lack of offense from a team that is 5th in MLB in runs scored, 5th in batting average, 3rd in OBP, and 5th in slugging percentage. Reality distortion fields are real.
- You’ll learn that the Cardinals have had lousy starting pitching, even though the staff is 15th in MLB in ERA (3.86), 22nd in quality starts (68), 16th in WHIP (1.32), and 23rd in batting average against (.262). Those indicators don’t scream “spectacular”, but they aren’t “lousy”, either. More like “slightly below average”.
- Fans are split on whether or not Salas should be the closer. I’m not even sure why this would even be up for debate right now, because the Cardinals don’t have a better option at closer. Yes, Salas has blown 5 out of 28 save opportunities, but he’s finished 40 games and pitched 64 2/3 innings. That’s quite a bit for a guy who only pitched 30 2/3 innings in the big leagues last season, so fatigue may certainly be a factor. However, his hits per 9 innings, HR/9, walk rate, and strikeouts per 9 innings have all improved over last year. Right-handed hitters are only hitting .168 (.211 BAbip) against him, and he’s holding lefties to a .202 average (.235 BAbip). I’m just not sure how much more should be expected of a guy with less than 100 innings at the major league level.
- Also, Jon Jay is a “4th outfielder”, because some people say he is. I couldn’t disagree more. The 4th outfielder is really the player who is listed as the 4th outfielder on the team’s depth chart. For the Cardinals, it makes sense that it would be either Allen Craig or Skip Schumaker. In reality, it’s not relevant who is listed in that particular position, because it’s just a label. The way many people use it is to imply that the player is not worthy of being a starter. That’s why I’m intrigued by people insisting on applying it to Jon Jay. Go ahead and check some other teams in MLB for a “4th outfielder” who is hitting .294/.342/.415/.758. Most teams would probably be thrilled to have a guy like that as their 3rd outfielder right now and would consider it a luxury to have him listed 4th on their depth charts.
- TLR has lost his “genius” touch and needs to go. I don’t know about the “genius” thing, but I think it’s time for him to walk away from the game. From all outward appearances, he seems disinterested in putting in the work required to develop younger players, and that’s just one of the reasons why he tends to favor veterans. More so this year than any other, it seems that his philosophy regarding pitching high and tight has become a distinct disadvantage for his ballclub. When a manager’s personal bias or philosophy becomes a hindrance to the team, it’s time to rethink his overall value to the club. Since opposing hitters have little reason to fear extending themselves over the plate, they can more easily reach the borderline outside pitch. Pitchers then react by throwing that same pitch a bit more to the outside, so what was once a borderline pitch becomes more obviously a ball.
- The Cardinals need to be more aggressive on offense, defense, and kick returns. Like many fans, I’d really like to see the team become more aggressive, but that’s not necessarily how the team is built right now. The team doesn’t have a lot of skilled bunters, and there aren’t very many sprinters on the team, either. Sure, TLR can put on the hit-and-run more frequently, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the players will be able to execute properly, especially when you consider that they haven’t been doing a lot of hit-and-run ball this season.
- There is no end to the amount of second guessing, but not all second guessing good second guessing (including my own). A good example can be derived from last night’s game against the Brewers. TLR brought in Fernando Salas to face the 9-1-2 spots in the lineup in the bottom of the 8th inning, and my Twitter timeline blew up with people questioning the move. I thought it was much ado about nothing. Why? After the pinch hitter, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan were due up, and Ryan Braun was set to follow them. Despite having a 5 run lead, there was no reason to not to send out the best guy for the situation, and the choice was really between Motte and Salas. I’d bet that Motte could throw 3 fastballs past Craig Counsell, but I wouldn’t be so sure about throwing 6 past the combination of Hart and Morgan. Perhaps more importantly, the trio of Hart, Morgan, and Braun had exactly zero hits in 6 plate appearances against Salas prior to last night’s game. Of course, they only had 4 hits in 26 plate appearances against Motte, so it wasn’t like TLR could really go wrong either way…..or maybe he could. If Motte goes first and gets into trouble, it’s probably up to Salas to bail him out against the likes of Fielder and McGehee. If Salas goes first and gets into trouble, Motte gets Fielder and McGehee. I honestly prefer Motte over Salas when it comes to facing Fielder and McGehee, and we all know what happened when Salas did face the pair.
TIDBIT: If you want to know how to calculate a team’s “magic number”, here it is. Take the 2nd place team’s win total and add to it the number of games it has remaining. The Cardinals have won 73 games and have 25 games left, so the two numbers added together gives you 98. Then add 1 to that number and subtract the number of wins that the leading team has ( 98 + 1 – 81 = 18). If the Cardinals win out, they would finish with 98 wins, so the Brewers would have to win 18 games to close out the Cardinals.
MORE BITS OF TID: While it appears that Albert Pujols will likely reach the 100 runs scored mark and the 100 rbi mark, it will be much tougher to push his batting average to .300. If he averages 4 at-bats a game for the remaining 25 games, he will need to hit approximately .340 for the rest of the season to reach .300. Of course, if he goes 4/4 tonight, he would then only need to hit .313 the rest of the way to reach .300 for the season. I wouldn’t bet against the man.
FINAL BIT ‘O TID: It’s probably worth paying close attention to the Braves over the next week or so. They play both the Dodgers and the Phillies, and they face Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, and Roy Oswalt in doing so.
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