Tag Archive | "Jaime Garcia"

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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Despite record, St. Louis Cardinals have excellent start to spring training

The St. Louis Cardinals won just twice in the opening week of their 2014 spring training exhibition schedule, but wins and losses matter little in spring training, and the Cardinals, with a 2-4-2 record, have excelled in the aspects of camp that truly matter.

Trevor Rosenthal - photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Trevor Rosenthal – photo from FoxSportsMidwest

Through seven games, the Cardinals players who know they’ll be with the big club on Opening Day have played well, with few exceptions, and those who drew mild concerns have already had a couple of positive moments to potentially give them a comfort level through the balance of March.

As with the regular season, the first week of the spring training schedule typically draws much more scrutiny than any other because people pay more attention since they are excited to have baseball back before the monotony of the season begins and games start to blend together in memory.

The Cardinals have survived with extremely few problems. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia’s shoulder injury flared up again in the opening week of camp in February, but otherwise the Cardinals have been injury-free with the exception of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched his first inning Saturday and held the Washington Nationals scoreless after he suffered a minor groin injury early in camp.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals have only players who are at or near the end of their rehab from more serious injuries.

Relief pitcher Jason Motte continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery to repair his injured right elbow in 2013, and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras made his much-anticipated first start of the spring Friday against the New York Mets in his return from right ankle surgery, and he promptly doubled on a ball to deep right-centerfield.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong also alleviated some fears about his offensive potential with a 3-for-4 day Friday in a 5-5 tie with the Mets.

The Cardinals vaunted young pitching staff has also made it through the first week with only minor road bumps.

Possible No. 5 starter Joe Kelly walked two Detroit Tigers hitters and allowed two runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday, but he also had two strikeouts and figures to be a stable pitcher for the Cardinals in 2014 no matter how they use him, whether as a starter or out of the bullpen.

Probable No. 4 starter Lance Lynn allowed five runs in 1.1 innings Friday in a split-squad game against the Miami Marlins, but any other Cardinals pitchers who allowed more than two runs total through the first week have been minor leaguers or non-roster invitees.

At this point, there is not much drama in Cardinals camp at all. All of the core players have performed well, especially Matt Holliday with his eight hits in nine at-bats, and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who hit two homeruns Tuesday against the Tigers.

Those types of performances gives Cardinals management to focus more on the players on the fringe of a spot on the 25-man roster and those who it expects to remain in the minor leagues for at least the 2014 season, if not more.

But that situation also gives those minor leaguers an opportunity to play earlier in games and they therefore get more innings against opposing players who are already established in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals have built an incredibly strong foundation that is now able to help the group of future Cardinals develop more quickly and maintain the level of excellence the organization has now sustained for four years.

It’s a cycle that builds upon itself, and the Cardinals currently have it as finely tuned as any team in the game.

They can’t get comfortable with what they’ve built, of course, but right now the only storms in Jupiter, Fla., come when the traditional mid-afternoon rain clouds pass over.

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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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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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Conversations With A Blogger: Mike Grabowski

The month of August is coming to a close which means the United Cardinal Bloggers have another assignment for their member blogs.  This month, the bloggers take time to get to know each other and share those thoughts with you.  It is everything you want to know about a blogger, even when you didn’t want to know us at all.

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Mike Grabowski is the guy you’ll read about here on i70baseball as he took some time to answer a few questions for me.

It is important to point out, first and foremost, that Mike is a successful salesperson in the Chicago area who has a girlfriend and does not live in his parent’s basement.  Take that, stereotypes!  It is also important to note that whether or not Mike actually lives in his parent’s basement or has a non-imaginary girlfriend is based strictly on him telling me otherwise and no fact-checking has been performed, I’m taking him at his word.

Mike writes for “Red Birds, Yellow Bat” which is part of the Cards Conclave.  He relies on sabermetrics to drive his discussions, though he doesn’t weigh his articles down with statistical analysis.  His style is easy to read, humorous and timely.  It’s nice to see him putting that English degree from University of Iowa to work in the lucrative world of blogging.

My singular qualification for being here is a short-lived blog entitled St. Louis Perfectos, where I once suggested the Cardinals provide Jaime Garcia sedatives before pitching on the road.  –Mike in his introduction for the Cards Conclave.

I asked Mike some questions.  Mike provided some answers.  Now we’ve come to share them with you:

Why blogging?

It’s a way for me to have some fun during the season and force myself to write a bit. It’s also nice to interact with the UCB members and have people to share the ups and downs of the season with.

Why the Cardinals?

Actually, when I decided to start a blog, I wanted to pick another team to write about or just focus on MLB in general. My feeling was that I’m too invested in the Cardinals and would just end up writing a bunch of post that made me sound like a crazed fan. Ultimately, I couldn’t deny my love of the Cardinals, so I just own my “Kozma has to go” posts.

Earliest baseball memory?

It’s probably not my earliest memory, but I remember the first time I saw Ozzie do the back flip in person. That type of thing will stick with you.

Favorite twitter account to follow?

I get a lot of enjoyment out of the feeds from various UCB members. My favorite non-Cardinal related Tweeter is Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron).

You can spend time with one Cardinal, any Cardinal at all, and talk baseball. Who and why?

Stan. That’s the only answer, right? If it can’t be Stan, then Mozeliak pumped full of truth serum. Not that I think he’s hiding anything, but I want him to reveal his 5 year plan.

What should fans expect when they read something with your name in the byline?

Most of the time I have no idea what to expect.

Favorite current Cardinal?

Yadi. Duh.

Give Mike a follow on Twitter @RealGrabowski

You can read Mike’s work at Cards Conclave weekly.  Also, make sure to drop by the official United Cardinal Bloggers website and check out all the interviews being conducted, including Dan Buffa’s discussion with me.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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St. Louis Cardinals will go as far as young players take them

The St. Louis Cardinals called up their latest, greatest prospect Friday when they brought second baseman Kolten Wong to the major leagues. That move, combined with another poor outing from 35-year-old starting pitching Jake Westbrook, signaled just how important the young Cardinals will be in the final six weeks of the 2013 regular season.

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Young players have been a vital part of the Cardinals success that had them in a wild-card position as of Friday. First-year players from Matt Adams to Carlos Martinez to Seth Maness to Michael Wacha to Kevin Siegrist and even Tyler Lyons have kept the Cardinals afloat during both good and bad times this season.

When Westbrook and fellow starter Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list in May, rookies Lyons and John Gast came up to fill their spots, and they performed admirably. Lyons won his first two starts before faltering in June. Gast also won his first two starts but injured his left shoulder in his third start and recently underwent surgery for repairs.

The Cardinals bullpen got off to a horrendous start with projected closer Jason Motte out for the season with an elbow injury, Mitchell Boggs struggling to a 12.66 earned-run average through May 2 as he tried to be the closer and lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski pitching only slightly better with a 7.88 ERA, although he was demoted to Triple-A Memphis at the end of April.

With the bullpen in disarray, Martinez, Maness, Siegrist, Keith Butler and Michael Blazek all came to the big leagues and provided stability. Some were terrific (Maness has allowed just 11 runs in 45.2 innings and Siegrist has allowed two in 23 innings pitched) but more importantly, none got torched. Blazek has the worst ERA of the group, at 8.13, but he held opponents scoreless in six of his first eight appearances.

Offensively, Adams has provided ample support at first base when right fielder Carlos Beltran needs a rest and regular first baseman Allen Craig has to play the outfield. Adams has hit nine home runs with a .277 batting average.

But all of those young players, and now others such as left-handed rookie reliever Sam Freeman who was called up Aug. 8, will have to keep playing at that same level, if not higher, if the Cardinals are going to maintain a playoff spot or more optimistically compete for the National League Central Division crown.

By and large, the Cardinals established veterans have been consistent throughout the season. Catcher Yadier Molina has been rock solid behind the plate and is among the league leaders with a .325 batting average. Second baseman Matt Carpenter isn’t far behind with a .315 average, Beltran leads the team with 20 home runs and left fielder Matt Holliday is hitting his typical .291 with 15 homers.

Those players will likely continue to produce as they have through the first three-quarters of the season. Third baseman David Freese and center fielder Jon Jay will still hit about .270 with rare flashes of power, and shortstop Pete Kozma will struggle to raise his average above .230.

So, that leaves any variables to young players such as Wong and the rookie pitchers. The Cardinals still have enough time to blast away from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the division race if the new major leaguers play superbly, or they could fall into another tight race just to make the playoffs if those same players falter in what’s left of August and September.

Molina, Beltran and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright might be some of the well-known faces of the organization, but it will likely be the newcomers who determine how long the Cardinals’ 2013 season lasts.

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Difficult Start To Second Half Could Help St. Louis Cardinals In October

The St. Louis Cardinals have unquestionably played their worst baseball of the season the past three weeks, going 4-11 against the four best teams in the National League, but that rough stretch could be a large dose of the medicine the team needs to be ready for the playoffs.

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Despite the awful finish to July and start to August, the Cardinals still entered play Saturday in the first wild-card spot and 6.5 games from falling out of a playoff position. Therefore, they have little reason to stress over making the playoffs, but a little frustration could add an edge any team needs to succeed in the postseason.

Sure, the Cardinals had their fair share of injuries during the first half of the season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter never recovered from his arm injury, closer Jason Motte underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, Jaime Garcia had season-ending shoulder surgery in May and Jake Westbrook missed significant time while on the disabled list, but none of those problems were big enough to keep St. Louis from jumping out to the best record in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals cruised to a 57-36 record in the first half while primarily playing teams that are not going to come anywhere close to making the playoffs. Their combined 28-11 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants largely accounts for why the team was more than 20 games above .500 by the All-Star Break.

They began the second half of the season 5-1 in six games against the lowly Padres and Philadelphia Phillies, who were each 11 games under .500 heading into play Saturday, but then they went out to play the good teams in the National League.

And they got smoked.

The Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers would fill out the postseason bracket along with the Cardinals if the season ended anytime soon, and those teams won 11 of 15 games against St. Louis.

Of course, catcher Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a sprained right knee less than a week into that stretch and that has certainly affected the offense considering he was second in the league with a .330 batting average when he got hurt.

Yet, the Cardinals’ problems have been bigger than just Molina’s absence. The team has hit .260 since the All-Star break, which is 16 points lower than it hit before the break.

The pitching staff’s earned-run average has ballooned from 3.40 to 3.98 in the second half as the team struggles to mix and match starters to fill in gaps left by an intense schedule and more injury problems such as Shelby Miller’s sore elbow that could cause him to miss a start after he took a line drive directly off it on the second pitch of his outing Wednesday against the Dodgers.

But more than anything, the team needs to relearn how to win, particular against good teams it will likely face in the playoffs.

Remember, the 2013 Cardinals are a young team. They have a second baseman (Matt Carpenter) and shortstop (Pete Kozma), who are in their first seasons at those positions at the major-league level, and they have used 11 rookie pitchers. All but four of those 13 players were on the postseason roster in 2012 and many had never spent a day in the big leagues until earlier this season.

Also, every team, good or bad, goes through a rough patch in their season. The 2006 World Series championship Cardinals team lost eight games in a row in late June, and the 2011 world championship team lost seven in a row in early June, along with a 3-8 stretch in mid-August before it caught fire through the rest of the season.

The 2013 team had not had a losing streak of more than three games in a row at any point before the seven-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The team had battled around injuries, but it had yet to develop the resilience that only a stretch of losing baseball can provide.

Plus, the team now knows the level of play required to compete with the best teams in the league.

It certainly isn’t fun for Cardinals fans to watch their team struggle, but the recent run of losses seemingly night after night could help the team develop the mental and emotional toughness it will need to make a run at the 2013 World Series championship.

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St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist having success as if he’s Yasiel Puig

Away from all of the excitement and attention directed toward Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, the St. Louis Cardinals have a rookie who has arguably had an even better start to his career.

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Cardinals left-handed relief pitcher Kevin Siegrist appeared in his 13th career Major League Baseball game Friday against the Chicago Cubs and finally became like every other pitcher in the game, one that has allowed at least one run.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro homered off of him in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Cardinals’ lead from 3-1 to 3-2, but Siegrist recovered in typical Siegrist fashion: He struck out the next three hitters.

Siegrist, now with a 0.69 earned-run average, has been simply dominant in his brief career. He has struck out 20 hitters while walking just three and giving up three hits in 13 innings. He also became the first Cardinals player since 1900 to not allow a run in his first 12 appearances.

Viewed through the narrow lens of the 2013 season, Siegrist’s performance as a big-leaguer came at nearly the perfect time for the Cardinals. The team called the 23-year-old up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds on June 6 in exchange for Maikel Cleto, who had 2.1 horrid innings when he gave up five runs in his only appearance of the season the night before against eh Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Cardinals pitching staff was in strong need of a boost at that point in the season. Yes, the team was 18 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball, but the pitching staff was in the midst of major changes.

Right-handed starter Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 12 with elbow inflammation, and left-handed starter Jaime Garcia succumbed to shoulder inflammation the next day. Then, left-handed replacement starter John Gast went on the DL with a shoulder strain two weeks later.

In the meantime, the Cardinals called up seven rookie pitchers, including Siegrist.

By and large, those pitchers did a fine job. Left-handed starter Tyler Lyons got rocked a few times before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors, but Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek and Michael Wacha each made positive contributions to the team.

But none more than Siegrist, who could’ve made a case he should have been an all-star if the fans had voted Puig into the game as the Final Vote winner.

The Dodgers called 22-year-old Puig up to the big leagues just five days before Siegrist, and Puig set the baseball world aflame with dramatic plays in the field and at the plate, which caused a large segment of the baseball community to say Puig should be an all-star even though he has only been in the league for six weeks.

Well, so has Siegrist. Puig has a .397 batting average with eight homeruns and 19 runs batted in during his brief career, but Siegrist has arguably played even better.

It is difficult to compare the two players because they play different parts of the game. Puig played in 37 games from June 3 through Friday while Siegrist appeared in 13, but each has surpassed even the greatest expectations for a rookie at their respective positions.

Had the National League Final Vote included middle relievers, as the American League Final Vote did, Siegrist would’ve had a strong case to be a candidate.

Nonetheless, he figures to be a vital part of the Cardinals bullpen in the second half of the season.

The Cardinals haven’t used left-handed specialist Randy Choate much at all (he’s pitched just six more innings that Siegrist although he’s been on the active roster since Opening Day), and they sent left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues April 29 for ineffectiveness.

That decision left a gaping hole in the bullpen that Siegrist has filled as well as possible, although he has done much of his work in anonymity up to this point.

The pressure will increase when he ends up in a tight situation late in a ballgame against the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds in the pennant race, but right now he should be the Cardinals go-to reliever when they need to shut down an opponent’s rally even though he received absolutely zero consideration as a potential all-star candidate.

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St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation in natural lull, unless Jake Westbrook is hurt

The St. Louis Cardinals established the best record in Major League Baseball for much of the first half of the season because of their starting pitching rotation.

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They’ve lost that designation and the lead in the National League Central Division for much the same reason.

The Cardinals starters collectively posted a remarkable 2.62 earned-run average through May 25, but that was almost certain not to last.

The rotation’s ERA in June is near 5.00, and it has just 10 quality starts as the team went 11-13 in a recent 24-game stretch to fall two games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates at the beginning of the week.

Adam Wainwright had five of those quality starts and has kept the staff from completely crumbling with his 1.96 ERA in his last five starts.

Lance Lynn has been decent. He earned a win in three of his five starts in June and the team won four of those five, but his ERA also rose from 2.76 to 3.52 as Lynn allowed four or more runs three times.

Shelby Miller has gone through typical rookie struggles. After he began the season 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA, he’s gone 1-3 since and his ERA is up to 2.79.

Several pitchers have shuffled in and out of the fifth spot in the six weeks since Jaime Garcia underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Joe Kelly now holds the spot and will take his first regular turn Saturday, but he was good in a spot start June 5 against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he allowed one run in 5.2 innings, although the Cardinals ultimately lost 10-3.

Those four pitchers figure to be stable forces for the Cardinals in the second half of the season, so that leaves Jake Westbrook as a major factor how the rotation looks moving forward.

Westbrook was great at the beginning of the season. He threw six or more innings of shutout baseball in three of his four starts in April and had a 1.62 ERA on May 8. But he then spent more than a month on the disabled list with discomfort in his throwing elbow and has been inconsistent since his return.

He made his first post-disabled list start June 14 against the Miami Marlins and gave up three runs and eight hits in five innings. He was stellar in his next start June 19 against the Chicago Cubs, giving up no earned runs through seven innings, but he’s allowed 10 runs in 10 innings combined in his last two starts.

The worst was his last start Sunday against the Oakland A’s. They touched Westbrook for six runs and 10 hits in four innings. Westbrook also didn’t help himself by walking two hitters and often had the look of a pitcher who was not confident he had the ability to get the hitters out. He often threw his hands in the air or hunched on his knees when the A’s put the ball in play.

Perhaps his elbow is hurting again. If that’s the case, the Cardinals could be in for a second half that looks very similar to the past six weeks. The team mixed and matched minor-league pitchers to fill in the holes left by Garcia and Westbrook when they were on the disabled list and had mixed results.

John Gast and Tyler Lyons were terrific in each of their first two starts, but Gast got hurt and Lyons had several bad outings that culminated with a start that lasted 1.2 innings June 21 as he gave up four runs in a 6-4 loss to the Texas Rangers.

Michael Wacha also pitched very well in his first career start May 30 against the Kansas City Royals when he allowed one run and two hits in seven innings, but he was inconsistent in his next two starts, and the team sent him back down to pitch for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.

Unfortunately, no matter how talented young pitchers are, they also carry with them the inconsistencies caused by a lack of major-league experience. They could all turn out to be great big-league pitchers, but they are still trying to find their way in 2013.

The Cardinals offense has continued to pound the ball throughout, hitting a National League-leading .282 since June 4, but the team could remain stuck in neutral if Westbrook doesn’t pitch in the second half of the season as the consistent groundball-inducing machine he’s been since the Cardinals acquired him July 31 from the Cleveland Indians in a three-team trade that also sent outfielder Ryan Ludwick to the San Diego Padres.

That’s a lot of pressure on a No. 4 starter, but Westbrook could hold an unusually large key to the Cardinals’ success in the 2013 National League Central Division race.

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St. Louis Cardinals need to give Shelby Miller a break

The second half of the Major League Baseball season is still a week away, but St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller is throwing as if the calendar is about to turn to September, not July.

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Miller had the worst outing of his brief career Friday when he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics, which continued a downward trend that suggests Miller could use a few extra days off as the regular season reaches its midpoint.

Miller had a sensational start to the season. He won five of his first seven starts, including a one-hit, complete-game shutout in a 3-0 win May 10 over the Colorado Rockies. He followed that with a five consecutive quality starts to establish a 7-3 record with a 1.91 earned-run average that earned him a prominent spot on the Major League Baseball pitching leaderboards.

Then reality started to set in. The weather warmed up as Miller crossed the 80-inning plateau in early June, he has given up four or more runs in fewer than six innings in three of his last four starts and his ERA has risen to 2.79, which has him tied for the 17th best ERA in baseball with the man who beat the Cardinals on Friday, Bartolo Colon.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals are still one solid pitcher short of living close to Easy Street in terms of how to work their starting rotation. The team could’ve given Miller some additional off days in the past two weeks if left-handed starter Jaime Garcia hadn’t had to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in May.

With four off days between June 24 and July 8, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny could’ve set the rotation in a way that would’ve had Miller start maybe twice during that stretch. However, Matheny has had to use that strategy with the No. 5 spot in the rotation after lefty starter Tyler Lyons faltered and dropped back to pitch for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds June 22 after four straight poor starts in June.

Right-hander Joe Kelly replaced Lyons in that role, but he won’t make his first replacement start until July 6 because off all the off days. If Garcia hadn’t gotten hurt, the Cardinals could’ve put Miller in Kelly’s spot and given him some much-needed rest before the All-Star Break that begins July 15.

But that’s life in Major League Baseball. Part of the challenge for teams is how to navigate a six-month, 162-game schedule when players get hurt.

Thankfully, the schedule continues to offer the Cardinals a chance to lighten Miller’s workload before the All-Star Break. With off days the next two Mondays, Miller will likely make just two more starts before the break, and then he’ll have the four days of the break to rest, as well, assuming he doesn’t make the All-Star Team for the National League.

He probably would’ve been named an All-Star if they game had been played in mid-June instead of mid-July, but his numbers have dropped enough now that others will likely get the call ahead of him.

That’s OK. He needs the break, and the Cardinals dearly need him to be good in the second half of the season in what is shaping up to be one heck of a battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds.

The Cardinals had 11 scheduled off days in the first half of the season but will only get five after the All-Star Break, so Miller and all of the Cardinals young pitchers will likely be pushed to the limit down the stretch in the heat of the pennant race.

With that intense schedule ahead, it is vital for the Cardinals to get their young players rest while they can, or the team’s incredibly fast start could become a distance memory if the Pirates and Reds end up as the NL Central Division playoff representatives.

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