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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Gut Check…

Last night was just flat out depressing. When I went to bed, the Cardinals had just lost to the Cubs 6 – 2 due to sloppy play that included an unnecessary error by Ludwick in right and a “what the hell happened” error by Kennedy at second. Carp left the game with the trainer, TLR vented his frustration about Carp’s injury by yanking Kennedy from the game (immediately after his error), and the ESPN Bottomline continued to scroll the fact that the Brewers had won in walk-off fashion to pull yet another game ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race. Could the night get any worse?

You know what? It turns out…No. For the first time in a long time, it seems like we caught a break.

When I woke up this morning and sat down to read the inevitable news of Carp’s deactivation for the remainder of the season, I was shocked to hear it may be A-okay after all. Turns out Carp’s triceps were barking and not his shoulder or his elbow. Okay, I know they reported that last night…but seriously…considering the Cardinals’ medical staff, who really bought into that? According to the most recent reports, Carp will go forward with his normal schedule and throw a bullpen session Tuesday.

Whew. All things considered, that’s the best news I’ve heard all season. And it’s consistent. Listen, we’ve continuously heard that coming back from Tommy John Surgery is not an exact science. Pitchers everywhere will tell you any number of nagging aches and pains will pop up during your comeback. Why? I don’t really know, but I would guess it’s because you haven’t pitched competitively for over a year. Your body doesn’t just bounce back from that kind of layoff, even if you have been building arm strength. Your muscles are unused to the workload…not just the surgically repaired areas, but the entire body. Carp could just as easily have developed back pain from lack of pitching as he could have triceps pain. It’s just part of the rebuilding process. Thankfully, Carp was smart enough to call Yadi out as soon as it appeared he could do some damage. Had he not done that, the muscle could have gotten worse and torn something. Yep, I think we caught a break.

And then my depression turned to a tiny glimmer – a spark if you will – of hope for the season. What are we really looking at here? I know, I know…we’re 3 games behind the Brewers in the Wild Card race with less than 2 months to go. But what does that really mean? Well, let’s find out. I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing the rest of the season in my own way. Let’s see how it unfolds.

Teams the Cards HAVE to Play:  Marlins (7 games), Diamond Backs (7 games), Cubs (6 games), and Brewers (2 games).

Teams the Cards GET to Play:  Reds (9 games), Pirates (5 games), Braves (3 games), and Astros (3 games).

Teams the Brewers HAVE to Play:  Cubs (6 games), Dodgers (3 games), Mets (3 games), Phillies (4 games), and Cardinals (2 games).

Teams the Brewers GET to Play:  Reds (6 games), Pirates (9 games), Astros (3 games), Nationals (1 game), and Padres (7 games).

Okay, okay…so…what does all that mean? Well, it means this: The Cardinals play 22 games against winning teams/contenders and 20 games against losing teams. The Brewers play 18 games against winning teams/contenders and 26 games against losing teams. Ugh…doesn’t sound so good from that perspective, does it? But let’s get into it further.

The Cardinals play 20 games at home and 22 games away. Of course, that doesn’t really matter much because the Cards’ home record of 33 – 28 and away record of 32 – 27 are virtually identical. The Brewers play 23 games at home and 21 games away. That may be a factor because the Brew Crew has a 35 – 23 record at home and a 32 – 28 record away. Clearly, the Brewers are a bit better at home (5 more losses and 3 less wins on the road)…meaning they could easily play just .500 ball or a bit worse over the rest of the season (from a home/away perspective). Why is that important? Because it’s one more reason why the Brewers are not likely to run away with the Wild Card. It makes them vulnerable.

Now, let’s get into a few pieces of information that may actually matter.

Days off – The Cards get 7 off while the Brewers get 5 off. This essentially means they play 2 more games than we do. On one hand, that gives the Brewers two more games to pull away from the Cards (effectively equalling 1 game difference if they win both). But, the more likely scenario is a split which is a wash OR dropping both of them (1 game in our favor). However, considering the grind of August/September baseball, I’m betting the biggest impact will be fatigue, especially considering the way the Brewers are riding their co-aces (Sheets and CC). They could easily lose both games AND have a carry-over affect that causes them to drop a couple more from burn-out. Remember our grueling schedule without a day off last year? It’s not quite as bad for the Brewers, but clearly fewer days off affect a team.

Key Series – Both teams have proven they cannot consistently beat the Cubs…but the Cards have come closer to it than the Brew Crew. With both teams playing the Cubs 6 games each, I could easily see the Cards coming out of their small bears stretch 1 game better than the Brewers. But, in all reality, the Cubs are no longer the keystone team to beat for these teams. The Brewers big series? The Mets and Phillies. CC is the Brewers’ big horse, and their X-factor. But he’s a lefty…and the Phillies have been killing left-handed pitching all season. The Mets, on the other hand, are chasing the Brewers and the Cards for the Wild Card…and they possess one of the only pitchers in the league that could actually shut down the Brewers’ lineup…Johan Santana. On the flip side, the Cardinals’ key series has got to be the Florida Marlins. We face them a total of 7 games, and this team is for real. They are also chasing the Brew Crew and Cards for a shot at the Wild Card. We have to put them away early (starts today) and move on. A series win here could drop them far enough back to put them out of our concerns and boost this club mentally. And, guess what…Carp and Waino weren’t scheduled to face this team this week anyway.

Health – This is a simple one. The Cards are trending upward (hopefully) while the Brewers are trending downward. Ryan Braun’s back is acting up (he’ll miss at least one game tonight) and the Brewers are riding CC and Sheets all the way to the promise land. It wouldn’t surprise me if CC’s arm actually fell off while on the mound. And Sheets is hit or miss half the time anyway. The Cardinals on the other hand…assuming Carp really will be okay, they get him back and getting stronger every day. Waino is coming back in a week. And Ankiel will be back this week, if not today. Hell, we even get Barton back this week. Long story short, our pitchers are more rested and our outfield is healthy. And with Phelps, Rasmus, Brendan Ryan, and Stavinoha…we HAVE to have the edge on September call-ups…especially considering all but Rasmus have MLB experience this season.

Bottomline:  Okay, maybe all that is a bit too much to make sense of…so let me bottom line it for you. How can the Cards get to the post season? Well, it doesn’t have to be by heroic effort at all. The simplest method means four things need to happen.

1.  The Cards need to play well against Florida (boost to us and knocks them out).
2.  The Brewers need to drop the 2 extra games they will play.
3.  The Cards need to beat the Brewers in Busch both games this month.
4.  If the above 3 items happen, all we need to do is win 1 more of the remaining games than they do.

All of the above is entirely possible (especially the win for win/loss for loss plus 1 win scenario – seems like we’ve been keeping pace all season).  Making the post season will not take a heroic effort…we just need to calm down and play consistently. We don’t need to win every game, but we do have to settle down and play well. We can do that…but we’ve got to pull together now and start out strong against the Marlins. Drop this series with the Brewers facing sub-par teams this week, and we could easily end the season right here.

Have faith…and GO CARDS!!!

BIRD SEEDS

Was Carp Rushed Back?  With Carp’s injury last night, I’m sure it took all of ten seconds for TLR bashers to jump all over the organization and scream that they had rushed him back and re-injured his arm. But let’s be real here. Yesterday’s start was Carp’s fifth (counting his rehab starts) since coming back. The BEST case scenario regarding his rehab assignment was 4 starts…meaning his first MLB start would have been last night. And his previous 2 MLB starts? He threw far fewer pitches…FAR fewer…than he would have in a minor league rehab assignment in both starts. So don’t start yelling that more rehab starts could have helped avoid the triceps issue. It wasn’t an issue with his elbow or his shoulder…it’s the normal aches and pains expected with a comeback after a layoff of this long. The only way to avoid issues like that would be to shut him down completely and let him start out with a normal Spring Training next year…and I didn’t see anyone advocating that. Carp was handled correctly and with kid gloves – regardless of how this turns out.

Waino as Closer?  Bullshit. Last night’s start by Carp, and the subsequent meltdown of the bullpen in a close, critical game, further underscores the need to bring Adam back as a starter. Look…think of it this way…if Perez can do the job, Waino won’t be needed in the bullpen…right? But the problem we’ve been having is being in actual save situations late in the game so Perez CAN prove himself. Think about that for a moment. Waino wouldn’t have made an impact in ANY of the recent games…but he could have made an impact as a starter going 7 innings. And the only way to get him to the 7 inning strength level is to abort the closer rehab pitch count NOW and get him going for the rotation. It needs to happen people. If Waino is the closer, this team has no shot. If we wait until Carp has another muscle issue and is shut down, Waino won’t have time to rebuild his arm enough to impact this team.

Adam Kennedy’s Mental State  After being yanked by TLR last night, Adam looked devastated. Did TLR make the wrong decision? Did he mentally destroy his best defensive option at second base? Not to mention the way Adam has been hitting recently. It’s no secret Adam and TLR have had their issues over his playing time, but last night did not help. Bottom line – this team is better with a hot hitting Kennedy at second base. Hopefully, TLR’s knee-jerk reaction last night didn’t permanently damage the relationship between the manager and player to the point where it becomes toxic in the club house.

B.S. = B.S.  Anyone notice the initials of BIRD SEEDS are B.S.? I didn’t intend it that way, but it strikes me as appropriate. My rants and ravings regarding Cardinals matters are, more often than not, my own polished form of bullshit. Ah well…seems to be working for me, so why stop now?

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