Tag Archive | "Bullpen"

St. Louis Cardinals’ Bullpen Battle Takes Center Stage for Roster Decisions

The St. Louis Cardinals came to spring training with very few roster decisions to make.  Most of those decisions have been reached in the last few days.

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Kolten Wong appears to be the starting second baseman, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos will share time in center field, Joe Kelly will be the fifth starter, Carlos Martinez will serve as the eighth-inning reliever and Pat Neshek has seemingly made the club.  That leaves only one decision to be made: Which pitcher will join the bullpen as the seventh reliever?

The competition comes down to three young hopefuls: Jorge Rondon, Scott McGregor and Keith Butler.  Those three arms head into the final week of spring training hoping to win a spot on the roster of players heading north to Cincinnati for Opening Day.

Butler is the known commodity of the group, having pitched 20 innings over 16 games for the Cardinals in 2013.  His performance was far from dominant, walking 11 hitters while striking out 16, but it is enough to earn him consideration yet again.

His spring performance does not look that great either, having thrown just over eight innings and surrendering eight runs.  His five walks this spring may raise a flag concerning control.  His minor league stats from 2013 do not seem to suggest it is a long term problem, as he only walked 11 hitters over 41 innings.

Rondon is another in the long line of power arms the Cardinals seem to be able to produce from their farm system.  The difference with him is that he may not have full control over the lively stuff he pushes across the plate.  He has only walked three hitters this spring while striking out seven.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that Rondon has yet to surrender a run.  Rondon did pitch in Memphis last season and did well despite the control issues he faced.  In just under 68 innings, he walked 37 hitters while striking out 42.  He may need a little more time in the minors to prove he has his control settled before making the team.

Manager Mike Matheny shared his thoughts on Rondon with Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

With Rondon, you’re looking at stuff and someone who has improved.  We gave him a task of pounding the strike zone and simplifying his approach. He’s done well and seen some results.

The long shot of the group is McGregor, who is a non-roster invitee to camp.  His four innings over three games this spring have yielded three runs, two walks and a pair of strikeouts.  McGregor spent 2013 as a starter in the Cardinals’ minor leagues and is seemingly being looked at as a long relief option.

While he struggles for consistency as well as playing time, his placement on the team would also require a subsequent roster move to make room on the 40-man.

Rondon and McGregor may have taken advantage of the situation to get their names in the minds of those in charge.  Unfortunately, it may come down to experience and the product Matheny already knows.

The final relief position likely belongs to Butler unless something goes horribly wrong.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.

Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Timing Is Everything For Martinez, Kelly

Mike Matheny rounded out the only major “competition” that they had taking place in camp this year, by naming Joe Kelly the fifth starter going into the season and sending Carlos Martinez to the bullpen where he will resume the late inning work that solidified his place with the club last October. And despite Martinez’s clearly superior spring as a starter, it was ultimately the best move for the team.

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In many regards, it was never really a competition that was meant to favor Martinez, and that is not a bad thing. Martinez proved that he had grown as a pitcher, showing everything imaginable that could be asked of him to make the rotation if all things were created equal. Across four starts, he surrendered only three runs in 15 innings, including a one-run, 5.1 inning outing against the Twins last week. While his raw arm strength has never been in question, he proved that he can maintain it over extended innings with solid control and an expanded secondary arsenal to create outs. Basically, he proved that he can pitch, over just blow away batters in a short time span, has he did last October, when he struck out 11 in just over 12 innings pitched over three rounds.

Conversely, Kelly’s numbers have not been as impressive (7.71 ERA, six strikeouts to four walks in just over nine innings before yesterday’s 5+ innings of no-hit ball versus Houston), but it is not as much about outcome for him, as he has proven himself capable of holding a rotation spot in parts of the past two years. However, once Jaime Garcia went down with a continuation of the shoulder injury that has hampered him for nearly year it became more of a showcase chance for Martinez versus a chance to solidify his position for Kelly.

And both of those ends were achieved, despite it being packaged as a race for a rotation spot. The reason being that the most useful place for Martinez to be is at the end of the bullpen, due to the overhaul of late-game options. Gone are Edward Mujica and John Axford, whom despite playing lesser roles than Martinez last fall, represented the only experienced options in either the eighth or ninth inning on the club. Likewise, Jason Motte will not be ready for Opening Day, which left a glaring need in the bridge to the ninth inning that only Martinez could adequately fill. As Trevor Rosenthal proved last year, taking a role outside of the rotation—even for a career starter—can create a major strength for the team, as it shortens the window to hang in with the Cardinals before the organization’s two liveliest arms take over for the final six outs.

On the other side of the coin, Kelly fits the bill best for the rotation. A versatile option with 35 career starts under his belt (including the postseason), he is just a few months removed from being an integral part of the rotation down the stretch last year and has proved his starting chops. Despite the strong showing from Martinez, it is a situation where “rocking the boat” is not necessary. Kelly is better than a fifth option for a great deal of other teams and is a matchup asset in the role, the same way that Martinez is in the bullpen currently.

As all things are, this will continue to be a fluid situation. The returns on each as the season progresses will indicate how each continues in the roles they have been assigned currently, as will the dominoes of potential comebacks from Motte and Garcia and how that could alter the staff’s pitching alignment.

But one thing that is for certain, the versatile Cardinal staff continues to find beneficial roles to actively use the surplus of pitching wealth that it has at its disposal. And if history is any indicator of what is to come, as it always is, having options is never a bad thing.

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Five storylines from Kansas City Royals camp

This has been an interesting spring for the Kansas City Royals. Some position battles have been settled, while others are still being hotly contested. Some players have sizzled in the Cactus League, while others have struggled. There is no shortage of news as Opening Day is inching closer and closer. Here are five storylines from Royals camp:

1) Yordano Ventura will crack starting rotation

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Ventura was in a battle for a spot in the Royals rotation this spring, with his main competition being Danny Duffy. Well it didn't end up being much of a battle in the end. Ventura has dazzled this spring forcing manager Ned Yost to name him as one of his five starters. After Ventura pitched six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Rangers on Monday there really wasn't a choice for Yost.

"We knew this was probably the way it was going to go," Yost said after Ventura pitched six innings of four-hit ball in a St. Patrick's Night, 6-0, greening of the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. "After tonight I think we've just seen enough. There's no reason not to announce this now." -Royals.com


Yost also told Royals.com that Ventura will slide into the third spot in the rotation behind James Shields and Jason Vargas, rather than as a fifth starter like many expected. This spring, Ventura has a 1.76 ERA over 15.1 innings and has held batters to a .185 average.

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Luke Hochevar out for the 2014 season, will have Tommy John surgery

In an otherwise quiet Royals spring training, the team announced Friday relief pitcher Luke Hochevar will have Tommy John surgery to fix ligament damage in his right elbow. A specific time and date for the surgery hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to happen in the next two weeks.

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The injury occurred during last Monday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Hochevar felt pain in his elbow on his next to last pitch and went to get a medical opinion in Los Angeles. The doctors gave him the option of rehabbing the elbow or Tommy John surgery. Hochevar and the Royals decided surgery was the best option.

Hochevar has a history of elbow problems. In 2010 he suffered a 20-40 percent tear in his ligament and rehabbed the elbow to continue pitching for another four years. But last Monday’s injury tore the ligament another 25 percent and made Tommy John surgery the only real option. Unfortunately for Hochevar, this happened after the Royals had their best season since 1989. With the Royals poised to be playoff contenders, Hochevar will not play an on-field role this season.

In the overall scope of the team and this season, Hochevar’s loss isn’t devastating. The Royals possess an already strong bullpen and Hochevar wasn’t considered as a starting rotation candidate. Wade Davis, a contender as a fifth starter, will take Hochevar’s spot in the bullpen.

The real devastation is to Hochevar. After several seasons as a starting pitcher where he didn’t live up to expectations as the overall number one pick in the 2006 Draft, Hochevar resuscitated his career as a reliever. Last season, Hochevar had a 1.92 ERA and two saves in 58 appearances, striking out 82 batters in 70.1 innings. In the final year of his contract, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. For a player in his final year of his contract before free agency, the surgery is an untimely blow.

In hindsight, perhaps Hochevar should have opted for Tommy John surgery back in 2010. He might have recovered enough to be a more effective starter and instead of being a part of the Royals bullpen, he would be one the team’s better starters. But at the time, he struggled as a starter and it’s likely Hochevar and the Royals decided that rehabbing the elbow was the better option. Looking at that now, it appears to be the wrong decision.

Hochevar faces an uncertain future. Instead of getting the chance of showing himself as a good bullpen pitcher before reaching free agency, he will have to sign for less years and money, wherever he ends up. It’s possible we’ve seen the Royals story of Luke Hochevar as a promising number one overall draft pick end with Tommy John surgery and an uncertain baseball future.

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Legend of the Fall: Beltran Continues His Quest

The heroics of Carlos Beltran in the month of October are nothing new. He ranks in the top 10 nearly every major postseason category that an individual can find himself in. However, in last night’s game one of the National League Championship Series, he had his signature effort as a Cardinal during the season’s final month. In the process he single-handedly carried the team to series-opening victory, as well as continued to make an increasingly convincing case for how his legacy will be rewarded.

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Beltran took the world on his shoulders, as his two-run third inning double started the offense, and remained the entire output until his RBI single ten innings later earned a grueling win to a grueling start to the NLCS. In a matchup that saw just three lead changes scattered across 13 pitchers for both sides, it was the two defining hits by Beltran that made the complete difference in the Cardinals 3-2 victory.

Yet, the moment of the game came in the top of the tenth inning, when Beltran showcased why the team leans on him so heavily at this point. After Jon Jay misplayed a Mark Ellis line drive into the right center field gap, which resulted in a one out triple, the club found itself in about as big of a bind as possible. After intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to reach Michael Young with a double play situation in play, Trevor Rosenthal found himself in a do or die scenario.

Young did exactly what he has supposed to do, which was put the ball in the air to the outfield. The ball he hit would have been Jay’s to take in any other scenario, but this was far from that; it was the game on the line. With this crossroads clear and evident, Beltran moved over from right to overrule his outfield mate, and uncorked the type of throw which helped make him a Gold Glove center fielder three times over, cutting down Ellis at home plate and giving the Cardinals another life.

Helping to make good on a dominant, seven scoreless inning collaboration from the Cardinal bullpen, poetically, the game came back around to Beltran came back to the plate again in the thirteenth inning and capped his legend securing evening. With two on and one out in the 13th, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly finally unleashed his closer Kenly Jansen, owner of one of the most dominant fastballs in the game. But Beltran worked the count in his favor so he could face that pitch on his terms, which resulted in him lining a base hit in right field, which brought in Daniel Descalso (who had a clutch flare hit to start the inning) and closed out a hard-fought win to start the series.

For Beltran, his reputation simply grows at the highest peak of the season again. It has been nine years since his record-setting eight home run October debut with the Houston Astros. In the time since, he has grown his career, seemingly lost his peak to injury and then rebuilt it in a new role. All along, he’s become a new player in the season’s final month, the type of postseason legend that is rightfully mentioned along the lines of Jeter, Jackson and Ruth.

There are a few things each name in that group has in common, and it is that their efforts evenly resulted in a World Series victory. Despite reaching the NLCS four times and reaching the seventh game of each appearance, he has yet to be able to breakthrough to game’s final level. The debate continues on whether Beltran is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but one thing that is a consensus is that the conversation starts, and finishes, with the efforts he turns in during this point in the season. And when it comes time for that discussion to ultimately be decided on, the game he began this season’s NLCS with will be remembered as a strong indicator of just how exceptional he truly has been. But where the season ends, and how much further he can fuel this particular Cardinal team, could ultimately be the decider.

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What’s The Move For Mujica?

One of the most debated elements to the late season, and now postseason, is the status of Edward Mujica. After an amazingly efficient start to the season, one that saw him rise from setup man to All-Star closer, he lost his way late in the second half. And now, the arm that was tasked with the majority of the most clutch moments of the year, is struggling to find relevance among the pitching staff.

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The downturn in Mujica’s productivity has been a debated subject with no clear reason offered yet. With ideas that have ranged from workload fatigue, to compensating for an injury that he does not want to be public knowledge with free agency pending, the reasoning is not quite clear.

What is however is that the club has moved in a different direction regarding the ninth inning, where as it has been officially stated by Mike Matheny that the ninth inning will be handled by “committee”, it has been a committee of one thus far, consisting only of Trevor Rosenthal thus far. The move to Rosenthal, who has spent the majority of the season as setup man for Mujica looks to be permanent, as Matheny has struggled to find time to safely deploy his former closer. After seven days off the mound to rest, he returned to the hill for the final weekend of the regular season, in what was clearly a “dipping a toe in the pool” type of test to see what was there. But the results were far from encouraging, where in a third of an inning on Saturday, where he faced four batters; he surrendered three hits, including a home run and a long double to centerfield, before giving way to Randy Choate and ultimately Seth Maness, who closed out the victory.

This leaves the decision on what to do with Mujica in a precarious position. It is clear he is not the arm he was a few months ago, and the decline looks to have already fell over the cliff. His fastball has slowed some, and thus is not making his out pitch in his changeup nearly as effective. Also there is a loss off location, which is causing for the extreme rise in contact on him, with batters getting hits in 18 of 35 at-bats, good for a .541 average against during September. As a result, this saw him surrender as many runs in September as he did April-August, combined.

This loss in effectiveness certainly moves him away from the zero margin of error that is needed in an October bullpen. But the better question is what to do with him in regards to a role in the bullpen, overall. It is the personal relations portion that makes it difficult, as it has to do with keeping with the usual path of least resistance of Matheny. A norm in his approach has been a faith in his personnel despite downtrodden stretches, and dumping Mujica works against what has been established there. Mujica is not only a vital personally within the team’s dynamic, but has rightfully earned the right to continue to accompany the team. It would send a questionable message to the chemistry of the team to exclude him after what he has accomplished, regardless of recent struggles, with no clear injury declared.

With the expanded bullpen that one less starter brings, there will be quality arms to throw any bonus innings that may approach, thus also limiting the impact his continued struggles could have. But at the same time, there is no wasted role in October, and one spot being called on could be the difference between living and flaming out. If that player can’t be Mujica, and he bumps a Carlos Martinez or Sam Freeman, it could bite badly in the end.

Perhaps the answer that is easiest is to reset his role with the team, via lessening the leverage of the situations he is deployed in for the time being. He arrived in St. Louis with a similarly questionable role, and then excelled in the sixth and seventh innings as a bridge to the end of the games. Perhaps a return to an earlier role such as this is the best option for putting him to use as needed. While the presence of Maness, Kevin Siegrist and John Axford now lessens the load he would be tasked with, perhaps the return to what was first familiar is the first key to finding the spark that Chief so often lifted the team at in its most essential moments, at the most critical part of the year.

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The Top Seven Cardinal Coming Attractions

Youth has been served this season for the Cardinals, as the prophecy of their top ranked minor league system was fulfilled. From near perfect games and no-hitters to home runs and shutdown bullpen efforts, the fortune of the club has been decided in large part by its least experienced components.

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While some comings are more heralded than others, many aren’t that difficult to see coming. The depth of the Cardinal system has left even more talents that have a chance to make a breakthrough impact next season. The rules for determining these players is simple: it is not a look at the “top” prospects for the team currently exclusively, but rather players that will be rookie-eligible in 2014, that are within reasonable reach to push through to the Majors next spring.

 

1. Oscar Taveras: The most obvious choice is perhaps baseball’s best talent to not see the Majors yet. While injuries kept his season from making his debut this season, the 21-year-old outfielder still put forward an exciting .306 mark at the plate. While the roster is packed with both veterans and youngsters alike, Taveras will receive a chance to give the club every reason possible to keep him with the team in some capacity. His talent is such that it has put the status of Carlos Beltran’s future with the team in doubt, who has been an All-Star in both of his St. Louis seasons thus far. While the popular idea is that he can contribute in center field, he is a right fielder all the way in skill set, but has the type of bat that plays wherever room can be made for it…and his glove can be tolerated.

2. Carlos Martinez: Maybe the greatest enigma in the Cardinal pitching picture is Martinez, but not for any questions about his readiness. Rather, it is about where to fit him in the roster as soon as possible. With a starting rotation that could have no less than three completely open spots, and the likes of Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, John Gast, Jaime Garcia, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist vying for it, Martinez still could be the best option of that entire group, and that is saying something. Yet, with his plus fastball and developing arsenal, he could easily bring to back of the pen yet another presence like what Rosenthal has done this year.

3. Kolten Wong: Wong hasn’t torn the cover off of the ball in his initial appearance with the Cardinals this year, but then again, neither did Matt Carpenter. But what he has made clear is that he can bring the team speed like it has from no other, as well as an instant improvement defensively. While his exact place is yet to be seen, due to the presence of Carpenter and Freese, Wong should be considered a favorite to not see minors again when camp breaks next spring, one way or another.

4. Greg Garcia: Wong’s college and both Triple and Double A teammate up the middle in Garcia could be the next option in the ongoing auditions at shortstop. After hitting .271 and showing improved range, he could get a chance to figure into the big picture for no other reason than playing the right place at the right time.

5. Stephen Piscotty: Versatility could be his friend, but hitting .295 over his first two professional seasons while playing three different positions is encouraging as well. The 22-year-old was drafted as a third baseman out of Stanford in the first round of 2012 as a compensation pick, but has built up a .362 on-base percentage and learned the ropes as a corner outfielder in a hurry. With the likely move to Memphis coming in 2014, he could be a candidate to be a nice utility option in the model of a 2010 Allen Craig or 2012 Matt Carpenter going ahead.

6. Boone Whiting: One of the most consistent arms in the Cardinal system since joining in 2010 as a 18th round pick, Whiting could be on the verge of seeing his chance to breakthrough. In 21 starts this summer, he posted a 4.09 ERA and struck out 99 in 105 innings. He could emerge as a dark horse candidate to fill into the long-reliever role that plagued the team at times this year, as well as be the Tyler Lyons spot start type.

7. Marco Gonzales: The team’s first round pick this year was on a short leash after a college season that saw him throw over 120 innings, as well as play in the field as well, but next summer could see him fully unleashed. The lefty got better as he moved up this year, posting a 1.62 ERA across four starts after moving up to Palm Beach, striking out 23 in 23 innings. It would be a stretch, but if he rapidly succeeds as expected once put into a rotation next year, the string of fast-rising former college hurlers (Wacha, Maness) could continue for the organization.

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The Royals hang on in playoff hunt

When a team like the Royals are in a Wild Card chase, every game is like a playoff game. And when they play six games against two teams ahead of them in the division, it’s important to win those games. In last Friday’s game against the A. L. Central leading Detroit Tigers, the Royals didn’t play well and lost 6-3. They rebounded in Saturday’s game and won 1-0, evening the series. In Sunday’s series finale, the Royals were tied 2-2 through seven and a half innings. Manager Ned Yost made the decision to have Jeremy Guthrie pitch the bottom half of the eighth, who at the time kept the Royals in the game.  But it was a costly decision, with Guthrie giving up a home run to Alex Avila, handing the Royals a 3-2 loss. In a crucial series, the  Royals lost two out of three games to the Tigers. It was a series the Royals really needed to win, but they didn’t.

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Next up, the Cleveland Indians. With their two losses to Detroit, the Royals needed to sweep the Indians to move up in the Wild Card standings. And after their 7-1 victory Monday night, a sweep looked possible. Royals top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura was on the hill for Tuesday’s game and for six innings, Ventura kept the Indians to one run, striking out three and walking two before handing a 3-1 lead the the Royals reliable bullpen.

But the bullpen wasn’t reliable that night. A shaky outing from Kelvin Herrera tied the game at 3-3 and Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar each gave up a run, giving the Royals a 5-3 loss. In a 162 game season, one loss isn’t a big deal. But in a tight Wild Card race, a loss could mean missing the playoffs. Had the Royals won, they would be two games back of the second wild card spot with 11 games to go. Instead, they ended up 3.5 games back. It was a game the Royals needed to win, but they didn’t.

But if there’s a theme for the 2013 Royals, it’s resiliency. With their playoff chances on the line, the Royals came back Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory. While the win keeps their playoff hopes alive, the Royals still have three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card chase, and they’re 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. With ten games remaining and an 80-72 record, time and games are running out. But the next three games at Kauffman Stadium are against the struggling Texas Rangers, one of the Wild Card hopefuls. From there, the Royals finish the season on the road against the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox.

With ten games to go and 8.5 games back of the Tigers, the only chance for the Royals to make the playoffs is a Wild Card berth. To do that, they need to win seven or eight games and have key losses from other teams in the Wild Card hunt to make the playoffs. It’s a long shot, but it’s up to the Royals to win their games and make it happen.

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St. Louis Cardinals need Lance Lynn in starting rotation despite struggles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.

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But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.

Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.

He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.

Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.

That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.

They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.

Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.

The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.

So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.

It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.

He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.

But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.

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Sorting Out the Cardinal Pitching Scene

The upcoming week is a crucial time span for the Cardinals as a team, but the starting pitching staff, it is also a chance to earn their keep. With the postseason looming, the team must make a decision about who it will have comprise its starting rotation, a decision that has become a crowded scene in recent weeks. Yet it could hold the balance of the season in the candidates that come from it.

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While it is far from certain that the team has a place in the series round of the postseason yet, assessing how it stacks up for one is an important element to the next few weeks of the season. It could shape who gets starts when and how the club will line up arms headed into the last series’ of the year.

The organization has what could prove to be a tough decision in assessing who is in line for the starts, if not for what each candidate brings, but what they haven’t. Outside of just rounding out the rotation, it also impacts the bullpen and how moves into an already deep mix there. After the absolutes in Adam Wainwright and the now undeniable Joe Kelly, the trio of Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller each offer not only a different dynamic, but also a unique set of conditions headed into the last few weeks of the season. And the time is already underway to show and prove for each.

In the case of Miller, he would seem to be the biggest shoe in, and he may very well be. However, it is worth noting that he has struggled with his motion as a result of a bad back over his last few starts. Much can be tied to reaching a new career-high in innings pitched each time out, which is something the team could chose to manage over the next few weeks. His previous high was in 2011, when he threw 139 innings between the High-A and Double-A levels.

Yet, as he sits at 149 innings currently, his effort at repeating his mechanics and finishing innings has been noticeably tough for him. Despite a very good seven inning, three hit victory over Atlanta on August 24, in his 14 starts since June 17th, he has managed to complete six innings only four times and has seen his walk-to-strikeout ratio fall by over 1.00 in the second half. Regardless, the 12-game winner will be a part of a postseason rotation, but it would not seem to be a far-fetched idea that the team limits his innings if at all possible.

Then there is Lance Lynn, who has once again struggled through a second half that has ranged from average to completely unimpressive. After his second consecutive first half of double digit victories, he has only managed to post a 2-6 record post the All-Star Break, with an ERA over 5.00.

It was this same type of effort that cost Lynn his spot in the rotation last September, and there have not been many outings that have inspired much confidence in his ongoing role in the rotation recently. Despite the fact that he did turn his year around late last season once he came from the bullpen, the decision to not add an outside arm at the trade deadline had much weight on Lynn being able to add that experienced third arm in the rotation down the stretch. Yet now, reeling off four consecutive losses currently, his start on Wednesday against Milwaukee could very well be his most important of the season for his ongoing direction with the team this season.

Then there is the youngest of the group, as well as the hottest hand, in Michael Wacha. In his second trip joining the ranks of starting pitcher, he has been markedly better. His control has improved, as well as his pitch execution and assortment and due to this, his success has matched his potential. In his two starts in the past week, he has thrown 13 scoreless innings against the Reds and Pirates, yielding only five hits total. Add in the four innings he threw in relief of Wainwright versus Cincinnati on August 28th, where struck out seven while walking one, and he has been the most lights out of any St. Louis arm over the previous two weeks. He presents an unknown quantity to many teams, which is an added bonus.

Yet with that said, the bright lights of October are a different beast, and there is the matter of workload for Wacha as well. He has thrown a total of 131 2013 innings thus far, the most he has thrown in his pro and collegiate career, and eventually fatigue could factor into him as well. He has electric stuff, and the decision to best utilize him could see a return to the bullpen and employing him in the same late-inning capacity Trevor Rosenthal was so successful deployed in a year ago.

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