Going into 2012, the biggest question mark for most fans and experts about the Cardinals was if they would have enough offense after the departure of Albert Pujols. After 60 games, the Cards sit at 31-29, and the offense has been the best in the NL and only behind the Rangers as the best in all of MLB. I think most us thought that they would be good enough to still be a top 5 offense, but what they’re doing even with the injuries is beyond impressive. GM John Mozeliak did a great job of spreading the money around that was not spent on AP. I’m not sure where the Cards would be without Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal. The bullpen blew some early games, and now the starting pitching is in serious trouble. The latest news on Jaime Garcia is not good to say the least, as he’s now out with a torn labrum, and about to get a third opinion from the famous Dr. James Andrews. At least this helps explain some of Garcia’s ineffectiveness in the last month.
At this point, we shouldn’t expect Garcia to pitch again in 2012, and if he does, we shouldn’t hold our breaths for effective outings. If the great doctor comes to the same conclusion (one in which the Cardinals medical staff originally misdiagnosed as a pinched shoulder, like they have so many other players), Garcia should go ahead with the surgery, and the Cards should shut him down until 2013.
Jake Westbrook, for some reason, refused to throw his sinker at the bottom of the strike zone last night. Of course I know he didn’t want to elevate it, but last night he had everything set up perfectly for him. The Indians had 8 LHH’s in the lineup, with only the pitcher hitting from the right side. Normally that wouldn’t be a good thing, but the umpire was giving Westbrook every opportunity to take advantage of the low and away strike. Every single time JW hit his spot low and away, he got a weak grounder or a called strike. For whatever reason, he didn’t continue to repeat his delivery and go back to where he was going to be effective, leaving balls up in the zone to get pounded. Since going 7 IP and allowing no ER’s against Arizona on May 8th, Westbrook has pitched 6 games in a row without going 7 IP, going 0-4 and the Cardinals going 0-6 in those 6 games. Here’s JW’s line from those games:
5/14 vs. CHC—5 IP, 12 hits, 4 ER
5/19 at LAD—6.1 IP, 6 hits, 3 ER
5/24 vs. PHI—3.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 ER
5/29 at ATL—5 IP, 5 hits, 5 ER
6/3 at NYM—5 IP, 9 hits, 5 ER
6/8 vs. CLE—6 IP, 8 hits, 3 ER
Westbrook isn’t getting the job done, enough said.
In the last 6 starts for Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals have gone 3-3, even though Lohse only got the one win out of it tonight. For the most part, he’s kept the Cards in games. I’m more inclined to cut KL a break because of the unusual surgery he had in 2010. A dead arm period is to be expected at some point this year because of it, and Mike Matheny is well aware of that possibility as he continually is keeping Lohse under 100 pitches. The game tonight was the first time Lohse went over 100 pitches all year, and was pulled at the first sign of trouble after 7.2 IP. As long as he stays healthy, I still think Lohse will get around 15 wins, and keep the Cards in most of his starts. Lohse seems to be the whipping boy for many Cards fans, but he more than gets the job done as a solid 4th starter. Lohse is 6-1 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 2012. He’s not the problem.
I’m anxious to see Joe Kelly and what he can do Sunday. As rated by Fangraphs.com, he’s our 11th best prospect, and he’s holding his own at AAA so far this year. He has a 2.86 ERA in 12 starts. You would think that it’s a problem in that in 72 innings (6 IP per start), his WHIP is 1.32. However, the PCL is a hitter’s league, and that 2.86 is 2nd best in all of the PCL. It’s hard to translate those numbers because of his stuff. Kelly has to hit and get corner calls similar to Westbrook. If he does struggle, let’s not forget that this is a pitcher that only has 23 starts above High-A ball (11 in AA, 12 in AAA). His ceiling isn’t as high as Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez or Trevor Rosenthal, but he was a 3rd round pick in 2009. I expect good things from the few times I’ve seen him pitch. He doesn’t give in, and keeps hitters off balance for the most part. Strikeouts are not his game, pitching to contact is though.
Adam Wainwright appears to be turning the corner for the better, but we need to remember that he’s still way ahead of where most pitchers are after TJS. He’s won 3 of his last 4 starts, but 2 of them were against San Diego and Houston. I’m a huge AW fan, but it still might be 2 steps forward, 1 step back for a while. His curveball is there in some innings, and then abandons him in others. That’s not normal for AW. It’s usually there for 8 out of 10 starts, and when he’s on, he’s on the whole game.
Lance Lynn continues to thrive, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect him to keep up his pace. I do think he wins 17 or 18 games, as he’s always been a starter until his time in the BP in 2011. His body is built for the grind, and his mound presence might be the his best attribute.
So, with all the question marks surrounding the Cards starters, and the ineffectiveness of the Cards bullpen, the question is what should the Cards do around the ASB? I think it rest on two things. One, how far the Reds pull ahead and the other is how many holes will need to be filled. The MLB Network was talking the other day about grumblings in the Cards organization about whether Chris Carpenter will pitch again this year. Carp has yet to even throw long toss, so it seems to be a stretch to count on him before August, or possibly at all in 2012.
If this year starts to get away from the Cards because of the pitching, I say so be it. I don’t think trying to patch up holes by trading away high ceiling prospects for short term solutions is necessary this year. I’m in no way saying that 2012 is lost. A lot depends on health, and how much worse can it get? I’m just saying that the Cards have too much promise for the future to throw it all away for one year. We can all live off of the high from 2011 for at least another year. The offense is in good shape for years to come, and the pitching will be as well as long as the Cards hold onto what they have coming in the minors.
I would hate to see the team that has taken their 27th ranked farm system in 2010 to 5th in 2012 and trade a bulk of it away for desperation moves when they potentially have a good stock of cost controlled players for years to come. I say let the youngsters develop and surround them with good to great players like Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Beltran, Furcal, Carpenter, Wainwright, etc. That way the Cards have solid, respected veterans for the young guns to learn from and they keep a pipeline that will produce a winner more often than not.
On the other side of the argument, if the Reds refuse to run away with the NLC, and the Brewers continue to play below their ability, one or two moves might make sense. I would mention the Pirates, but just like last year, their offense is not going to keep them in the race. Pitching wins, but their offense outside of Andrew McCutchen is horrible. The stats say they’re going to lose a lot of close games at some point, just like in 2011.
I’m still not sold on Jason Motte being the closer until he gets back to throwing and being effective with his cutter, which he just refuses to throw at this point while he throws fastballs one after the other. During his last save prior to tonight, he threw 22 fastballs in a row. I just don’t see that as a strategy that will hold up over the long haul. Tonight’s game was an exception as Motte threw 5 cutters out of the 18 pitches, but none of them were swing and miss, and he didn’t fool anyone with them. Hitters are sitting dead red, and that’s too much comfort for MLB quality hitters.
I think the bullpen roles are going to prove to be clearer in the next month, with Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs and Motte finishing up games. I’d like to see Sanchez and Motte flipped, as Sanchez has better swing and miss stuff with more pitches, but I also understand Matheny not wanting to kill Motte’s confidence, at least at this point. I won’t root against Motte by any means, I just don’t think he can have sustained success with one pitch.
IMO, Motte was right on the verge of losing his job as closer, but then he had a couple of good games which I think gave Matheny pause. If he can’t get the job done with 1 run leads, then he’s not a closer. Until this past Monday, Motte had not recorded a save with a one run lead in 3 chances, lost another 2 games he let slip away that were tied, and then he reeled off two 4 out saves in 3 games.
One thing I’ve continued to bitch about that I hope Matheny changes is his use of Marc Rzepczynski vs. RHH’s. I always hear Dan and Al on the broadcast talking about how the Cards feel like Scrabble could start, but I guess they haven’t looked back at his days with Toronto when he did start, and why they turned him into a LOOGY. His 5.06 ERA is strictly do to the fact that he cannot retire righties. His splits are becoming a tremendous problem, with RHH’s hitting .297 with an OPS of .918 against him. He’s doing fine against lefties, as they only have a mark of a .196 average and a .549 OPS. Matheny can’t afford to take the chance anymore with games on the line in the late innings. It’s time to call him what he is, a left-handed specialist, nothing more.
If the struggles continue for Westbrook, the question will have to be raised about how much the veteran starter misses Dave Duncan. I’ll hold off on that for now, but it’s worth thinking about since Westbrook is Duncan’s dream pitcher with his GB/FB ratio.
The Cardinals have been hit hard with injuries this year. Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig, C. Carpenter and now Garcia. Matt Holliday was scratched from tonight’s game with a sore back. Also, the Cards released Scott Linebrink yesterday without him ever throwing a pitch for the Cards. Throw in J.C. Romero, and there’s a couple of mistakes by Mo that shouldn’t have happened with all the warning signs. Romero hasn’t pitched well since being busted for steroids, and Linebrink had a WHIP of 1.51 over the last 3 years. That’s not a jab at Mo, as I think overall he’s done a great job of building a winner for now and in the future. All GM’s make a few mistakes. I think the Linebrink signing had a purpose, which was to put a veteran in the BP for all the young guys to lean on in tough times, which actually might have worked if he would have been healthy.
So, Sunday might just be the biggest game for the 2012 Cardinals to date. If Kelly can give the Cards a little lightning in a bottle and handle the pressure of being rushed to the show, pitch well out of the gate and for a few months, the team might find a way to add a few pieces without giving up too much. If Kelly fails, there’s nowhere else for the Cards to turn, unless they want to take the chance to hamper the growth of Miller or Rosenthal, or trade them to go for 12 in ’12.
The extra wild card is going to leave less trade partners, and the only realistic solution I see is for the Cards to make a play for Oakland’s starter Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy will only be dealt for a collection of high upside players, and the Cards probably don’t want to take the chance to deal with the A’s GM Billy Beane and potentially lose the next Dan Haren to him again. Cardinal scouts have been spotted in Oakland, San Diego, Seattle and Toronto in the last month, but it’s hard to say who all they’re looking at.
Besides McCarthy, the only options out there are going to be Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza. The Cubs are going to ask for the moon for both of them, which is the first problem. The next is Theo Epstein not wanting to make a bad impression with the Cub fans in his first year that will in any way help the Cards, even though the Cubs are at least 3-4 years away from being a factor the in the race for even a wildcard berth. He’s not the GM, but you can be sure he’s calling all the shots in Chicago. Because of the extra wild card, more top tier teams will have to be willing to hand over more to the weaker teams, as the addition of the extra wild card will indeed make it a seller’s market. Another problem with Duncan being gone is the Cardinals can’t count on getting a Woody Williams, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, etc. and having the silent assassin find their strengths, work his magic turn them around.
So, Cardinal fans, get ready to watch the fate of the season over the next few starts for Kelly if all else remains equal. I don’t mean that Kelly is our last or only chance to make or break this team, not at all. However, his performance or nonperformance is going to make the Cards next moves or lack of moves interesting. His performance is going to put the Cardinals in a tough position if he’s ineffective. Not starting the clock on Rosenthal or Miller would be a big plus for the future. I hate to come off as so melodramatic, but I’m not sure there’s another way to put it at this point.