It was the bottom of the 11 th inning and left hander Garrett Jones was up to bat. The Cardinals relief pitcher went into his windup, then released the pitch. The crack of the bat was deafening as Jones swung and hit the ball hard, the ball soaring, soaring, out of the park. Cheers of joy rang out from the home crowd as Jones circled the bases, his teammates waiting to mob him. I woke up, sweat pouring…….. Wait, it was not a dream, I wasn’t sleeping. I was staring at my television and suddenly realized that I experienced this before, many times as a matter of fact, only the players were different. Different batter, different pitcher in a Cardinal uniform. Not deja vu, the feeling of having experienced something before, but actual knowledge and specific recall of experiencing it before. Experiencing it in the not so distant past, like, this season. Experiencing—The Highlight Zone. Yes, The Highlight Zone, that painful trip through the time and space of Sports Center and Baseball Tonight, where highlights of painful walkoff losses are shown and repeated ad nauseum with Steve Berthiaume as Rod Serling. The Highlight Zone, the bane of every Cardinal fan who has watched that winning run score in the bottom of whatever inning, over and over……………
After last night, the Cardinals now have suffered 11 walkoff losses this season. During the LaRussa Era the Cardinals have suffered double digit walkoff losses in 6 of the 16 seasons, counting this season. With more than a month left to play, it is conceivable that the 2008 high of 13 walkoff losses will be exceeded. Brian Walton did an excellent piece on The Cardinal Nation Blog on this subject, which included a list of walkoff losses by year and a breakdown of each 2011 walkoff loss as of July 24, 2011. It is interesting to note that while the list of pitchers who gave up the winning hit does contain the usual suspects of Ryan Franklin and Brian Tallet (no Miguel Batista), it also includes Jason Motte and Fernando Salas, two of the more consistent members of the Cardinals bullpen this season. We can now add Arthur Rhodes to that list.
One can argue endlessly about the cause for these walkoff losses. The pitching obviously played a big part. Tallet and Franklin, who combined for 4 of the 11 losses, are now gone. Motte and Salas, who combined for 5 of those losses this year, are still in the bullpen and are doing a decent job for the Cardinals. All 3 of Salas’ losses were the result of HRs, which suggests isolated bad pitches are to blame. One of Motte’s 2 losses was the result of a sacrifice fly. Placing the blame entirely on pitching is an oversimplification that must be avoided, however. The Cardinals have not had the most stellar defense this season. Over half of the walkoff losses were the result of a base hit bringing in the winning run, which means men on base ahead of that hit. Given that the Cardinals defense has had more holes than swiss cheese over the course of the season, errors more than likely contributed to some of those men on base.
So who or what is the boogie man here? That is for the individual Cardinal fan to decide. Inconsistent pitching, poor defense, poor managerial decisions, yes even offense in some cases may have been the deciding factor. The overarching question is how to stem the tide? Playing good, sound, fundamental baseball in all aspects of the game is always a recipe for success and I think no one can say that the Cardinals have consistently done that this season. Many thought the improvements made as a result of the Rasmus trade would be the cure for the Cardinals’woes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but so far I’m not seeing it. The addition of Rafeal Furcal has been a tremendous help in shoring up the middle infield, but that alone is not a panacea. Something is still missing and I am not going to speculate as to what it is, because frankly, my speculator is running on fumes right now. And I get into a whole lot of trouble with it anyway.
So Cardinal Nation, you sound off on what or who should get the Razzie Award for worst performance by a Cardinal this season. Yes, it’s a poll. Have at it.