Not fattening up with Big Mac

Stats for Cards' Pujols, Holliday haven't exploded

May 25, 2010|By Phil Rogers

What's wrong with the Cardinals?

Probably nothing, as they still are one of the strongest teams in the National League. But the lineup Matt Holliday supercharged in the second half of 2009 isn't performing at anything close to that level, bringing hitting coach Mark McGwire up for review.

The Cardinals were expected to run away with the National League Central but find themselves fighting off the Reds and playing at a relatively mortal pace. There have been no major injuries, yet the Cardinals entered the weekend 9-9 in May, having dropped three of four to the Phillies and six of nine in one stretch against the Astros, Pirates and Reds.

Albert Pujols & Co. were scoring only 4.1 runs per game entering the weekend. That's down from an average of 4.5 last season (and 4.7 in the same time period last season) and ranked 12th in the NL.

McGwire is beginning to be questioned.

"I believe in him,'' manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I believe in what he's teaching and how he's teaching it. I don't see any resistance to what he's teaching. It's just that our execution has been shaky.''

McGwire emphasizes hitters trusting their instincts and abilities. He seems to use video less than many modern coaches.

The Cardinals' lack of production traces largely to the middle of the order, as neither Pujols nor Holliday has had the impact they had when paired together at the end of 2009. Holliday is an interesting case, as he worked with McGwire on his own after the '08 season and got off to a slow start with the Athletics.

Some around baseball thought his problems early last season were as much a result of that work as his transition to the American League. He was better this April than in '09 but hasn't been close to the force he was. He entered the weekend hitting .300 but with only four home runs — none since April 19 — and 16 RBIs.

When he delivered a two-run double Thursday, it marked the first time this season he had driven in a run with anything but a single at Busch Stadium.

La Russa worries that Holliday is trying too hard to justify a contract that many around baseball feel is unjustifiable — seven years, $120 million.

"I think Matt's biggest problem is trying too hard, trying to force things,'' La Russa said.

Holliday and Pujols came out of the gate on fire, combining for seven home runs during the season-opening trip to Cincinnati and Milwaukee. But Pujols has been relatively quiet in May, contributing to the team's surprising vulnerability.

He entered the weekend hitting .323 with eight homers and 29 RBIs. His .988 OPS (on-base plus slugging) ranked ninth in the majors, between Alfonso Soriano and Ty Wigginton.

The Cardinals aren't getting much from their middle infielders. Brendan Ryan, a .292 hitter last season, batted .167 in his first 35 games. Skip Schumaker, a notable McGwire student who batted .303 with Hal McRae as his hitting coach a year ago, entered the weekend hitting .231.

The lack of success has to be killing McGwire, whom La Russa urged to get back in the game.

Going deep: Roy Halladay's managers protected him the last couple of years in Toronto as he threw 120-plus pitches only three times overall in 2008-09. But a faulty Phillies bullpen has prompted Charlie Manuel to leave him in for 121 and 132 pitches in his last two starts.

Halladay, 33, is a workout fiend who is known for his durability. But few modern pitchers can hold up to a steady dose of 120-plus pitches over a full season — Justin Verlander being the obvious exception — and Halladay landed on the DL with a strained groin two starts after a 133-pitch start in June. There had been 34 starts of 120-plus pitches entering the weekend, with Verlander and Ubaldo Jimenez making three apiece. Verlander has had 14 since the start of last season.

Counting the candidates: There's no true measure for scouting, but longtime employees of the Mariners, Braves, Cardinals, Rockies and Athletics should feel good about themselves. Those organizations signed or drafted more players on the All-Star ballot than any others, with the Mariners and Braves on top with 13 apiece.

The last word: "I don't know what this world is coming to.'' —Giants manager Bruce Bochy after he batted Tim Lincecum eighth Thursday night, trying to ignite a stalled lineup.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

progers@tribune.com

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