St. Louis Cardinals: Contender or Pretender?

Joel KochSenior Analyst IJuly 24, 2008

Before I start, I really want to remind everyone that I am a diehard Cardinal fan and will be until the day I die. More than likely, I'll choke to death, much like the bullpen has recently, but I digress.

OK, the date is July 25. The Cardinals now sit four games behind the suddenly surging Chicago Cubs and three games behind scorching hot Milwaukee Brewers. I sit and ponder, why?

Could it be because the bullpen has gone from hiccups to choking? Is it because the offense plays like no pitcher can tame it, and then suddenly turns back into Clark Kent?

No...Well, yes...It’s those things, but it’s something larger. Something so large, people missed it, like Hilary Clinton’s campaign. No, no, this thing is the main reason why the Cardinals are creeping slowly towards mediocrity.

"What is it?" you may ask.

Their play against teams in first or second place (as of July 25, 2008)!

That’s right. That is what’s killing them. Why is this so important? When you get to the playoffs, you’re playing good teams, not bad ones. If you can’t beat contending teams in the regular season, how will you fare in the postseason?

(Side note: The New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox were the only teams counted in this finding. They are either first or second in their respective divisions now, not necessarily when the Cardinals played them.)

OK, so let’s get down to brass tacks here. The Cardinals are hitting .252 against contending teams and are 18-20 against them. The bigger numbers here are the runs. The Cardinals have scored 147 runs in their 38 games against contending teams (or 3.87 runs per game). They have allowed 181 runs (or 4.76 per game).

That’s almost a FULL run difference! Seriously, that isn’t bad, that’s terribad! Now, I didn’t figure who gave up the runs. So, unless you look at all the past box scores, you could say the pitching staff and the offense aren’t on the same page.

How are they doing against non-contending teams? Oh, not bad at all really. They have scored 340 runs (5.15 per game) and have allowed 281 runs (4.26 per game).

Yeah, not really good. To be the best, you have to score against the best, not just the bad. With today’s parity in baseball, it’s essential that you beat every team.

Let’s take a deeper look here.

The Cardinals are hitting .252 against contending teams (as said earlier), compared to .287 against the non-contenders. Yes, the sample sizes are much different. The Cardinals have played 38 games against contending teams compared to 66 against non-contending.

After finding all of this out, I wouldn't call the Cardinals contenders; however, I wouldn't call them pretenders either. I wouldn't call them pretending to contend, but contending to pretend.

What do the Cardinals need to do for the final two months of the season? Learn how to hit. They need to be able to score against everyone, not just the bad teams.

Now, a lot of people, myself included, have been pouncing on the Cardinals' bullpen as the main problem for this team. Tony La Russa continually puts the blame on the offense. Neither party is wrong because both sides could use improvement.

Here’s what I think the Cardinals should really consider—they should not only find a left-handed pitcher for the bullpen, but a right-handed one as well. Why? Kyle McClellan and Russ Springer can only be used so much.

They need a right-hander who can shut down the opponents with them. This way, they can ease the burden on Ryan Franklin and Jason Isringhausen.

Brad Thompson and Kelvin Jimenez have done a good job so far, but they really need a veteran to go out to the bullpen. Maybe saying a name will make it clear what I mean—a 2007 Troy Percival. Percival was a set-up man and a reliable right-hander for TLR. This bullpen needs that type of pitcher to add to the mix.

Several right-handers come to mind right away that could fit this mold. They are Tyler Yates, Chad Bradford, and Lance Cormier. It’s not a coincidence that these pitchers are Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. The Cardinals are looking at left-handers on both teams, and could expand the deal to bring in one of the mentioned right-handers.

Something else the Cardinals could use is a utility player who carries a bat. Marco Scutaro (if he can be moved) is really the only name that comes to mind. Scutaro can play left, right, third, short, and second. Plus, he can hit quite well. The only issue would be prying him away from the Toronto Blue Jays, which will be very tough.

OK, so let's recap here. The Cardinals need to step it up when they play contending teams because they stink against them. They need to continue their pounding of non-contending teams (their current record against non-contending teams is 39-27).

They also need to add a left-handed arm and a right-handed arm for the bullpen. They need to add a utility player for the bench as well so they can dump Cesar Izturis.

Yeah, I think that just about covers it. I hope you enjoy and I hope to hear your thoughts.

A little side note: if anyone would like to see the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I made to figure up all the Cardinals stats against contending and non-contending teams, drop me a line with your email and I’ll be more than happy to email it to you.