Sunday, May 13, 2007

Clipped Wings

It is shaping up for a bad year for the birds. The defending champion Cardinals and aspiring Blue Jays are both wrought with injuries, bad off-season decisions and under achievement. It is only May, but its time to close the door on these teams for 2007.

The Cards were not the best team in baseball, or the NL, last season. The team hit its stride at the right time, and had a handful of players all play over their head at the same time. A few clutch hits here and big pitching performances there, and wholla, World Champs. Not sure if they rested on their laurels, or thought they were better than they really were, but St. Louis made some risky decisions in the off-season. They counted on Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper to move from the pen to the rotation, expected a rookie with a few decent postseason starts, in Anthony Reyes, to step up, and brought in Kip Wells, while letting Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Jeff Weaver all walk. Well, Marquis is having a renaissance and is second in the NL in ERA, Suppan has continued his playoff success with the Brewers, and Wells, Reyes, and Wainwright all sport ERAs over five. Yes, letting Weaver walk looks smart, and Looper has emerged as the staff ace, but the failures far outweigh the successes. Oh yeah, they counted on Mark Mulder coming back. Do not hold your breath.

Bashing the pitching staff is not fair without mentioning Chris Carpenter. A bad season takes some bad luck, and losing the best pitcher in the NL qualifies as bad luck. Carpenter is likely out for the season, and there is a chance he will never be the same after having major arm surgery for the second time. Everyone lauded the Cards for that hometown-discounted contract Carpenter signed, now, all of a sudden, it looks like another bad front office. This injury really exposed the pitching woes, and lack of starting depth, outlined above.

It is hard to win with bad pitching when the team cannot score runs. Last in baseball in Runs Scored, last in home runs, and bottom five in almost every other major offensive category. Pujols is struggling at .250 and six homers, but you expect him to emerge at some point. However, the rest of the lineup I am not sure about. Rolen and Edmonds are both old, have battled injuries, and may be breaking down, while Eckstein, Kennedy, and Wilson are not great hitters to begin with. No team is going to win games when everyone in the heart of the lineup is hovering around the Mendoza line and has shown no evidence of power. When the two leading hitters on the team are starting pitchers, Wainwright and Reyes, you know there is a major problem. The problem is worse when those starters have not pitched well.

The division is weak, the league is weak, but this team is flat out bad. Without Carpenter, or any help for Pujols, they may not finish last, but will battle for a spot in the middle of the pack in the Central, barring a miracle.

The Blue Jays plight is a bit different. They have not had the same recent success, but had high expectations after opening the purse the past two off seasons. Two months ago everyone said they were ready to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox, I was skeptical but no arguing the team was solid on paper. Now, assuming the Yanks do turn things around, everyone is talking about Toronto preparing for 2008 and battling Tampa for last in the division.

More so than St. Louis, the Jays biggest problem is injuries. BJ Ryan is done for the year, Roy Halladay is out for 4-6 weeks, Troy Glaus has been in and out of the lineup all season, Gustavo Chacin is out now, and their biggest off-season pitching acquisition, John Thomson, has yet to toe the rubber this season. Ryan, Halladay, and Glaus, all appeared to play hurt before sitting down, which did not help the team. The Yankees and A’s can complain about being decimated by injuries, but how can any team survive losing their ace starter, closer, cleanup hitter, and two other starting pitchers. That is absurdly bad luck. Competing with NY and Boston takes some luck due to the payroll disparity, with these injuries, preparing for 2008 is not a bad idea.

They are hitting decent, middle of the league in the major categories, but the big guns, Wells, Thomas, and particularly Overbay, have underperformed thus far. They have not been terrible, but nobody has stepped up to carry the team, and that is what Toronto needed with all the pitching problems. The pitching has been a disaster. With Ryan out the bullpen has collapsed. Jason Frasor failed in the closer role, AJ Burnett continues to be Jekyll and Hyde, going from shutting out the Yankees to being torched by Cleveland, and the rest of the starters have struggled. I do no think Toronto planned to count on Tomo Ohka or Victor Zambrano, a former Met favorite (read sarcasm), and they have shown why they should not be counted on, while Josh Towers and Gustavo Cachin have each been unable to make the next step up.

This team needs to revisit the rebuilding plan. JP Ricciardi is on the hot seat with 2007 shaping up as another losing season, and his lying about the BJ Ryan injury on the front pages. He should shop some of the older vets he signed, Thomas and Glaus, to playoff contenders around the trade deadline and look for pitching reinforcements and youth. I wish Halladay could stay healthy one year. He is a great pitcher with terrible injury luck.

Toronto fans have experienced it often, St. Louis fans not as much, but it is going to be a long summer for these teams. I hope the weather is nice.


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