Reporter: ”Coach, what do you think about your team’s execution?”
Coach John McKay: “I’m all for it.”
The Cardinals should definitely be looking ahead, but there are several valuable lessons worth taking away from last night. They are much the same lessons that have been giving the guys fits all season long, and it is never too late to take a crash course.
- Giving away free outs is rarely a good idea. Whether Ryan Theriot getting gunned down by 30 feet was a missed sign or simply a horrible idea gone terribly wrong we’ll probably never know. It was either a dumb decision by a guy who was 4/9 in the stolen base department, or it was yet another missive lost in translation. Based on the reactions by both Jay and Theriot, I’m going with the former. Bad idea. Worse timing. Head meet desk. Lesson? Run when you have an obvious advantage.
- Knowing is half the battle. The Astros made little secret of what their plan was against Cardinal hitters, especially in key situations (like with men on base). It was apparent that nobody sent the message to Allen Craig, David Freese, Jon Jay, Albert Pujols, and Daniel Descalso. Certainly the problem wasn’t lack of scouting, because Wandy Rodriguez should have his own section in the Cardinal library by now after making something like his 20th start against the team. Knowing the book on Wandy and the Astros plan apparently wasn’t enough, though. Even with inconsistent work behind the plate, he wasn’t going to put many pitches on the outer half for the likes of Jay. Running the ball up and in to Freese is something everybody else knows to do now, and countering that with substituting Daniel “Dead-Pull” Descalso didn’t solve anything, either. Lesson. There are no batting splits that favor Descalso over Freese, and Freese has more power. Even if Freese struggles with pitches inside, baseball is about making adjustments and hitting mistakes. A mistake made to Freese can be a game changer.
- In a hurry, try running into more outs. Yadi showed us all exactly how to do that. I’m not picking on just Yadi, though. The Cardinals have been doing this all season, and it’s hurt them ALL SEASON. Baserunning mistakes are not simple mistakes. They are often compound mistakes involving more than 1 bad decision and errors in judgment made by more than 1 person. It’s great that Oquendo likes to be aggressive, but he doesn’t always have his players on the same page, and he doesn’t exactly have the personnel for attacking home plate from 1st base on long singles all the time, either. If you are the runner on 2nd with less than 2 outs, you need a reason to go to 3rd. It’s that simple.
- Caught unawares. Dotel’s inability to field last night was one thing. He tried, and both plays were tough. Fine. His “surprise face” and subsequent reaction to the bunt were a completely different thing. I’m not sure how a pitcher on a TLR team can be in that position and not have “bunt” in the back of his mind. More importantly, the entire Cardinals team was completely caught off-guard. How does that happen? It was the perfect spot for a safety squeeze, and it didn’t have to be executed all that well to make it work. The wheel play wasn’t on, the pitcher wasn’t prepared to pounce on the ball, and the pitch wasn’t particularly difficult to bunt. Ugh.
- Patience, grasshopper. Houston’s bullpen isn’t particularly good. Statistically, it’s actually close to horrific. So, that means that it’s a good idea to swing at a lot of first pitches, right? No, but some Cardinals hitters have been doing that all season, so why stop now? Head, this is desk yet again.
- Hitting .300 means not a darn thing to me. I couldn’t give a tinker’s darn whether or not Albert Pujols hits .300 this season. It’s nothing personal against Albert, either. I’m just all about the playoffs. I expect him to hit the ball really far and really hard, and the rbi will come. In terms of average, I hope his BAbip suffers due to all the balls leaving the yard. Yeah, take that “BAbip”, you little patsy.
- There is no such thing as a good time for a bad idea. If you are going to double steal with Pujols and Holliday, then that’s fine. That’s a little unconventional. It defies the numbers a bit. Then don’t shorten up in other situations. Stay the course. Keep the crazy pedal to the floor. Don’t wimp out. Free Tyler Greene and give him the green light to steal everything that isn’t tied down, moving, or organic in nature. Challenge Towles to throw out Chambers 3-4 times a game. Make the other team make plays.
- Don’t try and defy physics. It’s the age old debate of diving versus running through the base at 1st base. I’m not an expert in bio-mechanics, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once, so I’m going to babble on a bit with my opinion. Diving may seem like a good idea. Pizza buffets may seem like a good idea as well, but I can assure you that they usually are not. Force = mass x acceleration. While a player is running, he is almost continuously applying more and more force in the direction of travel in order to continue accelerating in the direction of travel. The very instant that force is no longer applied, the amount of acceleration changes, and the person begins to slow down or “decelerate”. In other words, the person is still moving forward, but the person is not moving forward as quickly as he was when he was running. When a player dives to 1st base, the dive actually takes place during the period of deceleration. The primarily vertical runner must rotate to a position in which the chest is approximately parallel with the ground, and the arms must extend outward to the base. To provide the sensation of “diving”, the runner’s body must necessarily contract somewhat around the torso as the body folds together in preparation for the dive which takes place in multiple parts. The bottom portion of the body no longer takes a regular runner stride and actually may require 1 or more heavier (more time-consuming) steps as the player positions his feet for launching his body. The top portion of the body has rotated approximately 15-30 degrees (or more) in order to create a compacting effect with the core muscles prior to beginning the dive. In preparing to dive a significant amount of time and speed are lost when compared to simply running through the bag. The fact that the target is at ground level makes absolutely no difference, because said target can be touched with any part of the runner’s body. To put it more simply, I once ran both the 60m and 100m races competitively. If while running a race a runner broke form, he immediately slowed down. Since we had no way of taking advantage of curved space, and lacked the negative energy required to pass successfully through a wormhole, I’m thinking that the fastest way to pass the distance required was to reach max speed and try to stay there. I believe the same to basically be true of the run to 1st base. End of words.
I wrote all this to simply reinforce the notion that the Cardinals are still making simple mistakes that can be corrected. Those simple mistakes might be the difference between winning and losing the last 2 games of the season. Trust me when I tell you that many, many fans notice these little things when they are missed. We also are the first to celebrate them when they are done the right way as well.
It’s probably no exaggeration to state that today’s games are the most significant of the season for the Cardinals and the Braves. A win by the Braves today would put incredible pressure on the Cardinals and guarantee the Braves at least a spot in the play-in game. While the Cardinals may still get some help from the Phillies today, tomorrow may very well be a different story. It’s fair to expect them to play out the string, but it would also be reasonable to expect them to start setting their playoff rotation as well. That would mean Cole Hamels would not be making his scheduled start tomorrow, and that’s just smart baseball by the Phillies.
No matter, though. They have done more than played their role in all of this madness. It’s really still up to the Cardinals to do what they need to do. Just win, baby.
TIDBIT: Somebody needs a PR department. In 217 plate appearances with the Cardinals, Rafael Furcal has 16 rbi. In just 210 plate appearances this season, Allen Craig has 35 rbi.
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