Back in December, I wrote a long-winded eulogy for Jim Edmonds when his ties were cut with the Cardinals upon being shipped to San Diego. I wanted to remember his loping, upper-cut swing, his shoestring or scaling-the-wall catches, his notoriously lackadaisical appearance on the field, his So. Cal. bleached tips, his uncanny ability to clobber the high fastball and that glorious, walk-off home run he hit off Dan Miceli to keep the Cardinals alive in the 2004 NLCS.
I never published that eulogy. And now, I’m glad I didn’t, because Jim Edmonds isn’t going quietly into the night. Instead, he’s playing for the arch-rival Cubs. Whether Edmonds, who once admitted to treading lightly on Wrigley’s warning track thanks to its vine-covered brick walls, has any gas left in the tank or not is beside the point. He’ll be wearing the C on his chest, and that’s uncomfortable for Redbirds fans. The man who said on many occasions that he wanted to end his career in St. Louis will now likely cap his career in Chicago. That’s tough to stomach.
Edmonds went one-for-four in his Cubs debut yesterday, stranding seven men on base. His batting average now sits at .181 and his OPS is just south of god-awful at .498. Edmonds is going to receive the playing time that could have gone to a talented youngster, Felix Pie, who was optioned to Triple-A to make room for the veteran. Pee-ay hasn’t hit much better than Edmonds this season, but at age 23 he is the future, not Edmonds. The Cubs have a stacked lineup, and when they are getting far above-average offensive production from their catcher and shortstop (and occasionally their pitcher), the team can afford to have a weaker hitter manning center. Pie doesn’t stand to learn much more in the minors; in one-plus seasons at Triple-A he has slugged 24 home runs and hit well north of .300. So as frustrating as youthful inexperience can sometimes be, his demotion doesn’t make much sense.
The irony of the acquisition is that the Cardinals dealt Jimmy Ballgame and his ever-declining skill set to the Padres to make room for a plethora of youth in the outfield, including their own stud center field prospect, Colby Rasmus. The Cubs then acquired Edmonds to block their own youth movement. Stupid personnel decisions aside, the Cubs can probably afford to roll the dice on Edmonds. I can see why they wanted him: In 505 career plate appearances against Chicago, Edmonds has hit 32 home runs, the most he’s hit against any one team. Still, one question remains: Will Big Z be able to resist plunking Edmonds during BP?
IN OTHER NEWS . . .
The Cardinals are in the midst of a suck fest, having lost seven of their past nine games. Three of those losses can be directly attributed to Jason Isringhausen, who all of a sudden looks worse than his injured 2006 self. (And I didn’t think that was possible.) But we can’t blame Izzy for everything.
While the team’s offense has been stranding runners and puttering along at a slightly worse-than-season-average clip, the team’s pitching staff has begun a serious regression. All those close games the Cardinals were winning in April are now ending up losses. Over this nine-game stretch, the team’s ERA is 5.56, nearly two runs worse than its mark in all prior games. The signs of decline have been there: During April the team posted a 3.41 ERA; over the first week of May the ERA ballooned to 4.58. So as the offense has been slipping a bit, the pitching is quickly becoming atrocious.
The fault doesn’t lie solely with Isringhausen, who has actually contributed two scoreless frames in an attempt to balance out his other three appalling appearances. Ronald Thomas Villone Jr.’s ERA has blown up too, from 0.63 at the start of this stretch of games to 4.76 after yesterday’s debacle. Even the starting pitchers have begun to falter, with Adam Wainwright putting forth his poorest performance of the season (but just his second non-quality start). I never thought I’d say this, but where would we be without Todd Wellemeyer? We can bemoan the absence of Chris Carpenter all we want, but Welle has been doing a damn fine impersonation of a power pitcher so far this season: Opposing hitters are reaching base just 28 percent of the time against him, and he’s striking out nearly a batter an inning.
So are the team’s recent troubles a passing bout or a sign of the times? I’d wager a bet that we’re not as bad as we currently look, but that we’re also not as good as we were in April. What that means is we’re probably going to remain competitive among the first tier in the N.L. Central, but we aren’t likely to hang with the Cubs much longer. They have one of the league’s best offenses, which is not a fluke, and one of the league’s best pitching staffs, too. Then again, they also have Jim Edmonds. So, maybe Lou Piniella and company will find a way to botch this whole thing by September after all.
Thanks to some fine pitching by the simulated version of Bob Forsch, the 1986 Cardinals have advanced to the World Series to face the Yankees. In case you haven’t been following The Sporting News’ simulation of the ’86 season, Deadspin founder, Redbird enthusiast and Mattoon native Will Leitch has skippered the Cardinals to the Fall Classic.