The Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves are both 6 games ahead of the Cardinals in the division and WC standings, with 40 games left to play. Once again, the Cardinals are struggling against teams they should roll over like the Pittsburgh Pirates. There’s no urgency from the Cardinals. In both of the recent series against the Brewers, the Cardinals lost 2 of 3. Dave Duncan is not working his magic on Jake Westbrook, and even though Edwin Jackson recently got a win, he gives up way to many men on base. The Cardinals are on their way to not making the playoffs for the 4th time in 5 years, and have yet to win a playoff game since 2006. Tony LaRussa stuck with guys like Ryan Franklin (8.46 ERA, 1.84 WHIP) and Miguel Batista (1.56 WHIP) too long to start the season, and those losses are going to come back and be the difference in 2011.
I see fans now talking about 1964, and how the Cardinals made a late season surge to win it all. Well, if you have to look that far back, you’re in trouble. It’s nice to hold onto hope, but it’s better to face reality. The 1964 Phillies also didn’t have Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, K-Rod and John Axford. My point is simply that the Brewers have the pitching to stay out of slumps, and they have finally put it all together. They may cool off a bit, but can you really expect the Cardinals to take 5 of the 6 games left with them and beat up on bottom feeder teams left on their schedule? They haven’t shown the ability to do so all year. Also, Tony LaRussa teams have been crashing and burning in the final 2 months for the last 5 years.
Looking ahead to 2012, a big dark cloud hangs over the Cardinals, which is to pay or not to pay Albert Pujols. Pujols will turn 32 in January, and by now you all know my position, which I stated from day 1 on here, and that’s for the Cardinals to let him walk. My reason for this is the same as it was then. Pujols is going to decline, which he has been doing for 2 years now. He may be hitting the HR’s, but that’s about it. His OBP, OPS and WAR do not warrant a long term deal. I point to 2011 as an even stronger reason to let him walk away. With Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman both in the top 5 in every offensive category batting behind him, he is still struggling.
When the Cardinals invested big money in Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, it made sense in every way. They both played key defensive positions, and were the best all around players at those positions. If the Cardinals pay Pujols, they are going to have about 40-45% of their payroll tied up in LF and 1B. That’s not exactly building a team up the middle. If the Cardinals can’t win with Pujols making $16 million a year, how are they going to win with him making at least $10 million more?
The Cardinals may not have it figured out where they can fill all the pieces in 2012. It may take a year or two, but then again, maybe not. A lot of fans seem to worry about wasting the best years of Pujols. I am more concerned with the Cardinals wasting the best years of Adam Wainwright. Pitching wins championships, not overpriced, and declining first baseman. The Cardinals are first in the league in just about every offensive category as a team, yet there they sit, currently the 6th best team in the NL. On the other hand, the Cardinals are 9th in ERA, while the Phillies, Braves, Giants and Brewers are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th.
It’s important for the Cardinals to build a well balanced team in the future. The teams mentioned above have done that, they’ve just put more of an emphasis on their pitching staff. The Phillies have recently become the Yankees and Red Sox of the NL, so they can afford more luxuries than the other teams. Here are the team salaries for 2011. As you can see, of the teams ahead of the Cardinals in the standings, the Brewers, Braves and Diamondbacks all have lower salaries, while the Giants and the Cardinals are neck in neck when you include recent additions.
Maybe the message of LaRussa is getting stale, maybe not. But you have to place a lot of blame on the manager for some of the decisions the Cardinals have made, especially in 2011. First of all, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Lance Lynn were kept in the minors in favor of Batista, Brian Tallet, Bryan Augenstein. I won’t even mention having a pitch to contact closer (Ryan Franklin) here, or try to find a WS winner that’s ever had one.
Tony LaRussa also decided that Brendan Ryan was not the answer at short. In place of BR, the Cardinals went and got Ryan Theriot to play the position for a pitch to contact staff. For both UZR and UZR/150, Brendan Ryan ranks 3rd in the AL among shortstops. You can see the leaders here. Theriot ranks next to last among NL shortstops. Here are those leaders. For overall WAR, BR leads RT 2.5 to 0.4. Colby Rasmus was also ran out of town, and for some reason Jon Jay was once again put in an everyday role when he’s clearly a 4th OF at best. I think a good manager should be someone that can deal with multiple personalities, as long as they’re not Milton Bradley. Believing that neither Ryan or Rasmus fits that mold, I think it’s the manager that should look to bring “chemistry” to the clubhouse, especially when that manager is the highest paid manager in the game.