Tag Archive | "Shelby Miller"

Time To Cut Shelby Miller Some Slack

2014 has been a start of varied returns for Shelby Miller. The 23-year-old righty entered the season fresh off of a very debated—and seemingly premature—end to his rookie season, but set out to prove that it was behind him. However in recent weeks, the regularity of the quality of his returns has turned downwards in an untimely and detrimental fashion during the team’s continual pot hole of a first half. It has begun to create some questionable lines of perception on what Miller’s place is on the team, despite there being nothing that should be of any less concern for the team at this given point.

Shelby_Miller40

It is hard to arrive with high expectations in St. Louis. And there has been no pitcher since Rick Ankiel that arrived with more long-term buzz than Miller did. He was a gift in the draft to be available with the 17th pick, and he immediately set to work justifying why he was such a catch. As always in today’s prospect tracking culture, minor league success equality immediate Major League expectation. As he rose, his presence was demanded in St. Louis as early as 2011 and was at a fever pitch by 2012. Upon arrival, he delivered on promise pushing for a no-hitter in his first Major League start and then offering some quality innings in his first postseason.

Everything was primed for him to make the full-time jump to the Cardinal rotation in 2013, which he did with impressive result, albeit some rollercoaster stretches along the way. The final result was beyond solid: 17 wins, a top 10 ERA in the National League, a near Perfect Game and top three finish in the NL Rookie of the Year race.

However, this tells the high spots, but there were the frustrations of the lower moments as well. There were the constant struggles he had with pitch counts and command, which lead to 13 starts where he could not reach the sixth inning. There were the June and August slumps, where his ERA spiked up over 4.00 for the month.

Basically, there were times where the receipts did not match what the perceived return was, and then when it was compounded by him being mysteriously buried in the postseason bullpen, it created a new perception of Miller has a special case of a different kind: one that did not have the trust of his manager. Despite this conundrum (that even Miller himself confessed he does not completely understand), his place in the 2014 rotation was never in doubt. For everything that he struggled with, his talent and promise are too unique to deny….right?

Well, that was until May of this season, when once again he had a dip consistency. After roaring through the start of his season, including picking up victories in six out of seven of his starts from April 15th through May 17th, it seemed as if everything hit a screeching 180 degree turn and suddenly the perception of Miller had yet again been reversed as well. Where he had previously been the captain of the “Untouchables”: the guys that were completely untradeable and not to be discussed as so, even in the most informal of decision making circles (i.e. the stands at Busch Stadium and Twitter). Here is the former heir apparent to Adam Wainwright as the future of the Cardinal staff, and it was being asked (even by pros such as Bernie Miklasz and Derrick Goold) if he would even survive the return of a completely healthy bevy of options for the starting staff and if he could be potentially a candidate for more seasoning down in Memphis potentially?

Really? How it could it be possible that a pitcher in his sophomore campaign and a winner of 24 major league campaigns in under two professional years is seen this way? Well, the answer to that is simple: there is too much, too soon that has been expected of him and any periodic step outside of the direct path towards the hallowed ranks of Wainwright, Gibson, Carpenter and Dean causes both pause and ruin of hope for what he is expected to represent.

The reality of the situation is two-fold. Are there times where Miller’s struggles with work rate, control and perhaps a too bullheaded approach to working pitch counts in his favor? Absolutely. Should there be a more developed arsenal that features a regularly available compliment pitch to work off of his fastball? Sure, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or more importantly, him.

Hanging on these points to the point of dismissing the affirmative parts of his result is an exercise in practiced hysteria. At his age/experience level, he should not be expected to be regularly impressive or completely polished. Understanding Miller’s growing career arch requires spoonful of context to go along with the perception of his outcome.

There are several factors that go into understanding where he is, starting with company that is around him. The combination of the quick rise of Michael Wacha and his more regularly encouraging results, despite joining the system after Miller and seeing his star eclipse his. Wacha pitches with the polish that a college career provides, despite being a talent that is on a similar par as Miller’s and just under a year younger. There is also the far more extreme swings of outcome from Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia as well. The sweet and/or sour outings that they provide have created a culture of all or nothing in accessing Cardinal pitching.

Miller is not as prone to meltdowns as either of that duo; rather he is subject to the big moment, i.e. the home run. His reliance on his fastball and hit or miss availability of an off-speed pitch to balance against it has been a reason for why he has given up 30 home runs in his first 255 career innings. It is a concerning trend, but it is one that he will likely find a way to work through. He’s simply developed too much as a pitcher—in flashes—to not. Because he is 23-years old and won’t even hit 50 career starts until next month in his young career.

The moral of the story is that baseball by nature is a marathon, as is the careers of its players. While expectation for immediate returns have never been higher, remember this when watching Miller go through the motions (and even stretches of them): when Gibson was 23, he was stuck in the bullpen mostly and had a WHIP of 1.53. When Wainwright was 23, we carried an ERA of 13.50. Dizzy? He won 20 games, but lost 18 too. Carpenter? He gave up 18 home runs in 175 innings, a mark that nearly matches what Shelby did last year.

In the end, good things are worth waiting for and even though nobody likes a waiting room, the payout at the end can definitely be worth the time it takes to get there.

Posted in Cardinals, MLBComments (0)

Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

JoeKelly2

Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Shelby Miller Is Dazed, But Not Confused

On the outside looking in, it would seem that Shelby Miller would enter this spring with plenty of questions, and perhaps even a chip on his shoulder as well. That after his inexplicable absence from the Cardinal postseason run, even the most accomplished arm in the Cardinal offering enters his sophomore season on some questionable terms. Yet he has found peace of mind in a sole focus forward, and not on work left not started.

ShelbyMiller3

As could be expected, he does not have the answers about why he was left out of the mix save for one inning in the second game of the Division Series against the Pirates. However, he shared in the general expectation that, at some point, he would make an impact in the postseason. However, it was not to be, and that is a mystery that he still cannot get a grasp on.

“It’s kind of a toss-up to be honest. The best answer I can give you is that we had such a good thing going,” Miller speculated. “I could see myself pitching outside of Pittsburgh. I knew I could get held back against them with the struggles I had with them late in the season.”

Yet, after that initial appearance, there was nothing else to be heard from Miller in 2013. Many have speculated that he was injured or had hit a predetermined innings limit on the year, which has become common place for under-25 year old pitchers in today’s game.

However, Miller is quick to dispel that notion—as far as he knows.  There was no injury concern expressed to him from the club, and he had no setbacks himself. “Physically, I felt amazing. I didn’t feel any better or worse no than I did at any point in the season.”

Despite Game Six of the World Series being nearly three months removed, you can’t help but to still sense some frustration from Miller regarding how his rookie season ended. While he understands that the usually prevailing “hot hand” concept, combined with the depth of options, prevailed regarding the selections made for the October mound, it is also understandable why he would have a deserved sense of frustration as well. Coming off an excellent rookie debut, where he justified the long-standing hype around his arrival, and feeling strong enough to continue throwing at a high level in September (3-0, 2.76 ERA in 29.1 September innings), even a reduced role in a relief capacity would be expected—yet never materialized.

“Yeah, it was kind of weird. I was just down in the bullpen the whole time. The first time I got up was game six of the World Series. After getting in against Pittsburgh, I was just kind of a cheerleader and having great seats for the game.”

Regarding those not received answers, and if he wanted them now, “No, not really. The season just kind of ended and I put it in the past,” Miller offers up. “Obviously I was little upset that I didn’t pitch, but I just put it away. I just wanted to be ready for a big offseason and getting ready for the spring. I didn’t want to dwell on the past and not pitching in October. I’m not going to go up to anybody and even ask; I’m not worried about it anymore.”

“I’m just going to let it be a mystery, a mystery unsolved.”

Yet it is a mystery he is content to leave as is going ahead. He enters the spring in a newly place of personal affirmation and professional validation. He was married shortly after the season, and has the satisfaction of the body of work he was being able to issue being recognized with a third place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

It is the competition ahead that Miller has his sights on now, not that that he missed out on. About if he feels he’s lost his role as a starter, he says no, but “I know were going into camp battling with even more guys, but it’s about being prepared for the spring.”

Reaching 200 innings in 2014 is his personal goal, but getting to a point of irreplaceably for the Octobers to come is as well. As he returns to the field, his immediate past is something that he’s content with just leaving as is—for his personal progress.

Posted in Cardinals, MLBComments (0)

The Cardinal Caravan Is Headed To A Town Near You

While the Cardinals will host the annual Winter Warm Up event this weekend in downtown St. Louis, they will also take to the road for the first time this calendar year via the Cardinal Caravan. This is the annual event where players both current and past take to the road throughout the area and come see fans that may not be able to get to St. Louis for the season’s inaugural event.

P1010157-630x472

This year’s Caravan will feature stops in 18 cities across four days throughout Missouri and Illinois, and will feature a mix of prominent names of today and to come. The Cardinals will split into five different groups, each of which will spend time signing autographs (for children 15 and under), taking pictures and mingling with fans throughout each stop, along with prize drawings as well.

The first 400 children at each event will receive an autograph ticket, which is good for a signature from each player in attendance.

Current Cardinals scheduled to be a part of each Caravan are Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Kolten Wong, Seth Maness, Shane Robinson, Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist. The minor leaguers currently slated to join the trip include top prospect Oscar Taveras, Minor League Pitcher of the Year Zach Petrick, Greg Garcia, Keith Butler, Stephen Piscotty, Jermaine Curtis, Eric Fornataro and new acquisition Randal Grichuk.

Among the Cardinal alumni to join the event are hitting coach John Mabry, former All-Stars Ryan Franklin and Andy Benes, as well as Danny Cox, Cal Eldred, Tom Lawless, Alan Benes, John Costello, Kerry Robinson and Jason Simontacchi. Al Hrabosky, Mike Claiborne, Tom Ackerman, John Rooney, Ricky Horton and Dan McLaughlin will represent the play-by-play members that will serve as emcees for each event.

For more info on what pairs are headed where and when, as well as what you need to do to be a part of your local Cardinal Caravan, head to Cardinals.com for more details.

Posted in Cardinals, I-70 Special Reports, MLBComments (0)

In Game 4, Mark One Down For Matheny

While wins go to the team and are created by the players, there are games where a manager can set a scene so precisely; they deserve a share of the victory as well. And Mike Matheny deserves credit for setting the scene for the Game 4 victory.

Matheny_Wacha

It is easy for everybody to look good when a game is delivered like what Michael Wacha authored on the mound. Saying he made the most of his first postseason game would be a gross understatement, as he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and ran his total of no-hit innings in his last two starts up to 15.1. But unlike his first brush with perfection, this was not at home against a team that had just been eliminated from the postseason as the Nationals were. Rather, this was a game on the road in front of a crazed, 20-year postseason starved city of Pittsburgh that were urging their team on to close out the Cardinals in front of them.

But instead of feeling the pressure, Wacha fed on it and pitched the Cardinals back to another day in their season, having home field favor and into the hands of Adam Wainwright. Yet coming in, there was no shortage of second guessers on Wacha even taking the ball in the situation. It was seen as going against the grain, with his lack of starting experience and Shelby Miller being available as well, perhaps Wacha was not the guy.

But Matheny saw what he needed to in the 22 year old pitcher, from both a match up perspective, but more importantly, a makeup standpoint. It was that composure that won out in the end, and it has to be enhanced by the confidence that Matheny has shown in not only him, but the team in general. After his stuggles at the end of Game 4, the manager went to another of his rookie sensations in Carlos Martinez and let him know he was sticking with him in those same situations. Martinez responded by running up a big strikeout to end the eighth inning, quell a Pittsburgh uprising and deliver the game to Trevor Rosenthal with the slim lead intact.

The key to grooming a young pitching staff with the type of talent the Cardinals have isn’t just find room to utilize them. But inspiring them to be natural and trust in their talent to become the players they can be is the real task. In that lane, Matheny has already won the race for the season, as he has put much of the singular success of the season in the hands of his rookie arms. When there were grumblings to add a more experienced arm or to make safer (aka more experienced) moves on the mound, Matheny has stayed the path of letting talent win out, and has empowered them to not only be great prospects, but to be a part of carrying the Cardinals themselves.

Nothing more could inspire confidence than the victories in the situations that have faced the team down the stretch. Whether is giving Seth Maness the chance to be the double play magnet he is, sticking with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly throughout their peaks and valleys or turning Rosenthal into a fearless relief machine, Matheny’s confidence has grown these 22, 23 and 24 year old group of players beyond just their age.

The kids (in years at least) are alright.

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, MLBComments (1)

In Pirates, Cardinals Face Path of Proven Resistance

There is no doubt about the task that lies ahead for the Cardinals in starting their playoff push with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The margin of a difference between the two teams was rarely much further apart than three games at any point in the season, and for much of it, it felt as if the Pirates owned the Cardinals head-to-head. The numbers are what the numbers are, and while the playoffs do reset the standings, they do not reset the match up; a series which has turned 10-9 in Pittsburgh’s favor thus far.

Mike-Matheny2

However, the Cardinals have had their usual late season swerve since much of the damage that was done to them by Pittsburgh. They were an NL-best 19-8 in September, which included a three-game sweep over Pittsburgh in St. Louis early in the month. Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals have played at their best the later the season has drawn, with a 42-27 mark in the months of September and October, including the postseason. Experience is their ally, and could be their greatest asset over the next (at max) five games.

Despite this, it would be fair to say that the general sentiment that the Pirates could be the arrow in the Cardinals Achilles is fair. They hold two pitchers that have been dominant against the St. Louis lineup all year. Nobody has had more success versus the Cardinals than Francisco Liriano, who in three starts is undefeated and carries a ridiculous 0.75 ERA and .127 average against. He is in line for the Game 3 start on Sunday in Pittsburgh, where they Pirates have won seven of ten games against the Cardinals this year. Another asset on their side takes to the mound today, in AJ Burnett, who also has three wins to only one loss on the year in the matchup, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh against the team early in the year.

Pitching has been a strength for the Bucs, and it is an upper hand that will have to be overcome by the Cardinals, who are countering with a less certain staff, but some definite strengths as well. Adam Wainwright is setup to be the alpha and omega of the series, throwing game one and in line to toss the decisive game five as well. Yet, outside of their ace, the Cardinals are primed to leave nothing off the table in taking down their most persistent foe.

Having the league-leader in wins for the season taking to the mound is an obvious strength, but there it is what is to follow him that has been the most debated element, but could be a smokescreen to much bigger strategy. The decision to start Lance Lynn in game two was rightfully questioned by both fans and media alike. Lynn is the most mercurial of all the Cardinal arms, and despite pitching much better down the stretch, with the club winning three of his final five starts and him posting a 2.12 ERA two of the victories for himself. Yet, the Pirates have hit him well, to the tone of 30 hits in 27 innings and a 5.60 ERA. However, he still carries two victories against the club this season, which is second to only Joe Kelly’s three victories against Pittsburgh.

Yet, winning in swarms is the Cardinals approach this year offensively, and it appears Matheny is looking to spread this approach the mound as well early in the Division Series. He is going all in with his arms, as he has made the decision to put his now-proven arsenal of young arms on full availability out of the bullpen. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will both join the mix of Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal in the bullpen early in the series. With Kelly primed to start game three on Sunday in Pittsburgh, one will move to the rotation later, but both of the prized rookies will be available to go if needed before that crucial, but as of now if necessary, date.

This decision proves one thing clearly: the Cardinals are going all-in and sparing no part of its depth to do so. While the Pirates are the most formidable opponent the team could face, the Cardinals have reached the summit of entering as the National League’s best team over the past six months by holding nothing back. An approach they are appearing to be willing to go into overdrive to keep their year moving.

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, MLBComments (0)

Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

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.

LanceLynn

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.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

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.

Lance-Lynn-St-Louis-Cardinals

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.

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, MLBComments (0)

St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff roulette about to mercifully end

The St. Louis Cardinals made two more roster moves Thursday when they sent rookie right-handers Michael Wacha and Michael Blazek to Triple-A Memphis after each pitch the night prior, which continued a trend of incredible pitcher movement between Memphis and St. Louis this season.

Michael-Wacha

The Cardinals have used 23 different pitchers this season as injuries plagued the staff early in the season and ineffectiveness has crept in the past month or so, but the game of musical chairs is about to end, thank goodness.

Major League Baseball allows teams to expand their rosters from 25 players to 40 on Sept. 1, so manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak will be able to keep all of the young pitchers they have brought up at different points during the season.

Wacha and Blazek might be in the minors now, but their stay will most likely last just a couple of days, which should be a familiar role for them now. Of the 11 rookie pitchers the Cardinals have used, only Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist have stayed with the team full time since they were first called up, or in Miller’s and Ronsethal’s case, when they made the team out of spring training.

The Cardinals use of the minor leagues has been dizzying in 2013. Matheny and Mozeliak have taken full advantage of the rules that allow roster movement.

When the team needed an emergency starter, Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez stepped in to fill the spot. When they needed a reliever, pitchers such as Blazek, Keith Butler, Seth Maness and Sam Freeman had stints of various lengths in the bullpen.

Often, those pitchers would pitch for Memphis and St. Louis multiple times in the same week.

Still, Matheny and Mozeliak deserve credit for their wild use of the minor league roster to supplement the big-league club. It might have been extremely confusing to try to track the incredible amount of moves the team has made, but it has been perhaps the largest factor outside of catcher Yadier Molina that has kept the team in contention for a playoff spot as September approaches.

And now the Cardinals will have all of those options available throughout the remainder of the season.

Yet at the same time, they still have several important decisions to make.

Each team has to restrict its roster back to 25 players for the playoffs, but those decisions have to be made Sept. 1, as well.

Given how the Cardinals have used their bullpen throughout the season, Siegrist, Rosenthal and Maness are locks to be with the team in postseason. The pitchers on the bubble figure to be Wacha, Blazek and Martinez.

The team sent Butler and Fernando Salas to the minors in July and neither has been much of an option anytime the big club has recently made one of its myriad of moves. They will likely fill the final spots in the bullpen for the next month, but October will probably be a different story.

But at least postseason rosters cannot change unless a player needs to be replaced because of injury. Teams can change their rosters between rounds but not during them.

In any case, the Cardinals pitching staff could probably travel the world with all of the frequent flyer miles it has racked up on the team accounts this season.

Posted in Cardinals, MinorsComments (1)