Thursday, May 30, 2013

Wacha, Wacha, Wow, Wow!

Another rookie, another stellar start....the Cardinals rookies are making it look too easy.

Tonight was the much anticipated debut of Michael Wacha and he didn't disappoint.

Pitching on 8 days rest, Wacha dominated the fading Kansas City Royals, holding them to just two hits and one run in 7 innings, while striking out 6.

But wait, it gets even better.

Wacha actually set down the first 13 batters he faced before Lorenzo Cain doubled in the 5th.  Cain scored one out later when Elliot Johnson singled.  However, Wacha settled back down after that, retiring the next 6 hitters he faced before being removed from the game.

Relying mostly on his fastball, which ranged from 92-97 mph, and his change, Wacha kept the Royals guessing all night, inducing 9 groundouts and only 4 flyouts.  He only threw 2 curveballs out of his 93 pitches.

It would have been nice to see him get the win, however, Mike Matheny decided to bring in Mitchell Boggs to close out the game, as Edward Mujica was unavailable, as he promptly gave up a homer to Jeff Francoeur to tie the game (was Trevor Rosenthal unavailable too?) and a walk.  Matheny then brought in Victor Marte to add more fuel to the fire and well let's just say I'm not too happy with Matheny's decisions (and neither is Wacha).

In any case, just a couple days after telling everyone to temper their expectations on Wacha, I am now jumping on the Wacha bandwagon full bore.  Yes, its just one start, however, it only took only one Shelby Miller start last season to get everyone excited about him.

I've got a feeling that Wacha is going to be just as special.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Michael Wacha gets the call for the Cardinals

After seemingly endless speculation over the last month, the Cardinals have finally decided to call up Michael Wacha to join their injury depleted starting rotation.  The Cardinals announced the move today.  Wacha will make his much anticipated debut on Thursday night in St. Louis against Jeremy Guthrie and the Kansas City Royals. 

Wacha has received a lot of hype this year, ever since his dominance during Spring Training, in which he allowed only one unearned run in 11.2 innings.  His stats so far at AAA Memphis have not been as spectacular, but a 4-0 record and 2.05 ERA is nothing to sniff at either.

However, before Cardinals fans (and fantasy players) everywhere rush to jump on the Wacha hype bandwagon, here are a few things to consider.

First, Wacha will have had 8 days off since his last start.  Thus, he will be a bit out of his routine and may also be a bit pumped up for his start.  Don't be surprised if he starts the game a little wild and gets knocked around a bit.  Even so, he will still get every opportunity to strut his stuff at the major league level (at least until Jake Westbook is healthy).

Second, despite his nice ERA at Memphis, Wacha has not been as dominant as he was last year or even during the spring, striking out only 34 hitters in 52.2 innings.  Perhaps he has been working on his breaking stuff while at Memphis, instead of relying on his bread-and-butter pitch, his changeup, to get hitters out.  But the low strikeout rate is still a cause for concern.

Finally, there have been many talented pitchers, including certain Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who struggled in their first season in the majors.  Its rare for pitchers to come up and dominate from the get go.  Sometimes they get off to a hot start, but the league soon catches up to them and they either adjust or get sent back down for more seasoning. 

So, while it is certainly exciting for all to see Wacha get the nod for Thursday, we should temper our expectations some and just enjoy the ride. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Injuries have Cardinals shifting focus from bullpen to rotation

After spending over a month trying to sort out their bullpen, the Cardinals now face new problems with a starting rotation that has been beset by injuries.

The bullpen issues stemmed from an season-ending injury to closer Jason Motte, which caused bullpen roles to shift--a shift that some, like Mitchell Boggs, were not ready for.   The Cardinals solved their problems by shifting Edward Mujica to closer and calling up Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness to shore up the back end of the pen.

Now, a rash of injuries to the Cardinals rotation has the Cardinals scrambling again.

First, Jake Westbrook went on the DL with an elbow injury.  Then Jaime Garcia was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.  As if that wasn't enough, Westbrook's replacement, John Gast, was removed from his last start with shoulder tightness.

Thus, the Cardinals are making changes on the fly again.

First, Michael Wacha, the Cardinals best pitching prospect still in the minors, was pulled from his start Monday and is probably option #1 to replace Gast in the rotation.  Nothing has been announced yet and, as Bernie Miklasz points out, there are still reasons why the Cardinals wouldn't call on Wacha, but it appears that he is likely replacement for Gast.

In addition, the Cardinals have sent Carlos Martinez down to AAA to stretch him out as a starter again.  With all the injuries to starting pitching, the Cardinals now need Martinez as a starter more than they do as a (little used) reliever.  While it probably won't take him long to ramp up, Martinez still has work to do on his secondary pitches before he can be considered for a starting role.

Finally, Victor Marte was recalled to fill Martinez' role in the pen.  Marte had a 4.91 ERA in 40.1 IP last year for the Cardinals, but considering that Martinez only pitched 9.1 innings in the 21 days he was up with the club, its unlikely that Marte will be used in high leverage situations.

So the Cards are shuffling the deck again and the fans are hoping that the magic continues.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

John Gast pulled after facing 6 hitters with shoulder injury (and other bad news). Is it Michael Wacha time now?

When it rains, it pours.

According to Jennifer Langosch, the Cardinals pitching staff took another hit tonight when John Gast had to leave the game, after facing just 6 hitters, due to shoulder tightness.

As if that wasn't enough, Jennifer Langosch also reported that Jake Westbrook will likely get a second opinion on his ailing shoulder next week, most likely with Dr. James Andrews.  That's never a good sign.

Finally, to top it off, Jennifer reported that the Cardinals are "backing off" Chris Carpenter's throwing program as he didn't feel as good after his last bullpen session. 

With Gast likely heading to the DL, Westbrook likely needing longer to rehab his elbow and Carpenter likely needing more time for his comeback, it appears that the Cardinals may have no other choice than to turn to Michael Wacha. 

If Gast's injury is short term in nature, the Cards may be able to make due with someone like Joe Kelly or Seth Maness filling in for a start or two.  But, if he is going to be out for an extended period of time, the Cardinals with need a more long-term solution and Wacha would be the logical choice.

The service time clock is obviously still a factor, but its not the only factor in these decisions.  When you're a team contending for a division title, you've got to put the players on the field that give you the best chance to win.

For now, all we can do is wait for a prognosis on Gast and see what happens next.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Where would Cardinals be without their rookie pitchers?

Beset by injuries, the Cardinals have had to turn to the farm system early and often this year.

Normally, when you're dealing with young and unproven players, the results are at best mixed.  However, so far the Cardinals rookies have come through.  The latest example being Tyler Lyons, who started for the Cardinals last night and hurled 7 innings while allowing only 1 run.

Although Matt Adams and Pete Kozma have helped the Cardinals offense, the biggest impact that the rookies have had is on the pitching staff.  So far this season, the Cardinals have utilized 6 rookie pitchers, including 3 starters and 3 relievers.

The rookie starters, led by Shelby Miller and recently joined by John Gast and Tyler Lyons, have gone 8-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 74 K's across 75 innings. 

The relievers, led by Trevor Rosenthal along with Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness, have posted a 2.83 ERA with 45 K's in 38 innings.

This gives the rookie pitchers an overall record of 11-3 and a 2.38 ERA in 113 innings. 

Not too shabby.

Better still, the Cardinals have yet to utilize their top pitching prospect, Michael Wacha, thereby keeping his service clock from ticking.

Its nice to be able to tap into your farm system and get quality results and it is a big part of the reason the Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central with a 30-16 record.

The Cards rookies may still take some lumps this year, as teams get a book on them, and when that happens, we'll see who can adjust and who cannot.  But, so far, I like what I have seen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bad news for Cardinals pitchers Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Fernando Salas. Eduardo Sanchez claimed on waivers

It was another rough couple days for Cardinals pitching.

First, according to Jennifer Langosch, Jake Westbook had to cut his bullpen session short today after 20 pitches due to experiencing more discomfort in his elbow.  Its unclear as to how long this will set him back or what the next step will be. 

This follows up the news that Jaime Garcia is likely done for the season, as he will undergo shoulder surgery.  Combined with the news on Westbrook, the calls for Michael Wacha will only get louder. 

Second, Fernando Salas had to be placed on the DL yesterday, with what is described as right shoulder irritation.  This is a tough blow for an already shaky bullpen.  Salas was one of the bright spots so far this year, with a 3.86 ERA in 16.1 innings. 

Finally, Eduardo Sanchez was claimed off waivers by the Cubs.  Once considered one of the Cardinals top 10 prospects by Baseball America and a potential closer, Sanchez saved 5 games for the Cards in 2011 before elbow and control issues set him back.  He has since been leap-frogged by guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and others.

With the Cardinals needing to make room for tonight's starter, Tyler Lyons, on the 40-man roster, Sanchez was the odd man out.  I would have liked to see someone else go, especially given the Cards bullpen issues, however, the Cardinals have obviously lost patience with Sanchez. He should have more of an opportunity with the rebuilding Cubs going foward.

Overall, not a good day or so for the Cardinals.  Their pitching keeps taking hits and yet the team continues to find ways to adapt.  The Cards pitching depth is certainly being tested this year.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Should we be concerned about Mike Matheny's overuse of Trevor Rosenthal?

After a bumpy start to the season, Trevor Rosenthal has settled into his setup role nicely.  Since April 24th, he has allowed only 1 unearned run in 9.2 IP.  He has seen his ERA drop from a high of 5.00 on April 17th to the current low of 2.42.

However, despite his run of success, there is one thing that concerns me, Mike Matheny has been using Rosenthal A LOT.

Rosenthal has appeared in 23 of the Cardinals first 44 games, which puts him on pace for about 85 appearances for the year.  While it is not unheard of for a team to use a pitcher that much, its rare for a team to do that to someone under the age of 25.  Since 2000, only 4 pitchers under the age of 25 have appeared in more than 81 games in a season:  Oscar Villareal, Matt Capps, Jonathan Broxton and Joe Smith.

Oscar Villareal appeared in 86 games in his rookie season at the age of 21.  He reported a sore elbow the next spring and later developed rotator cuff issues and has not been the same pitcher since.

Matt Capps appeared in 85 games as a 22 year old rookie in 2006.  He then appeared in 76 games in 2007.  In 2008, he experienced shoulder bursitis and missed nearly two months.

Jonathan Broxton appeared in 83 games in 2007 at the age of 23.  He pitched in 70 and 73 games the next two seasons before finally showing signs of wear and tear in the 2010 season, when he posted a 4.04 ERA in 64 games.  Then, in 2011, he experienced elbow issues, which knocked him out for 5 months of the year.

Joe Smith was 24 when he pitched in 82 games in 2008.  He then missed a little more than a month in 2009 with a strained rotator cuff.

So, of the 4 pitchers I found under the age of 25 who pitched in more than 81 games, all 4 of them experienced arm injuries following that season.  Two of them experienced those injuries the next year and the other 2 experienced their injuries after continued overuse.

I admit this is a small sample size, but could this be the relief pitcher equivalent of the "Verducci Effect"?

For his part, Matheny is not concerned, saying "He’s one of the physically strongest guys we have. If we find it’s affecting him, we change course. He prepared to be a starter this year. He prepared for 200 innings. We’re not going to give him that.  But we’re going to give him an opportunity to help us win. And that’s what he’s been helping us do.”

Sure, Rosenthal prepared to be a starter this year, but there is a big difference between throwing 200 innings as a starter--when you are on a set routine, pitching every 5th day--and throwing 85+ innings, with no routine and sporadic rest. Rosenthal recently pitched in 3 straight games and 4 out of 5 days before getting yesterday off.

I can understand why Matheny is using Rosenthal so much.  The Cardinals bullpen has been a mess and Rosenthal has been one of the few bright spots in the pen. Matheny wants to win and Rosenthal gives him the best chance of doing so.

However, Matheny needs someone else to step up and lessen the burden on Rosenthal before its too late.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cardinals play service time game with Michael Wacha. Tyler Lyons to start on Wednesday

Yes, even contenders are concerned about service time when it comes to their top prospects.  Its why players like Stephen Strasburg are kept in the minors until mid-June so that they do not qualify for Super Two status.

The Cardinals appear to be playing that game as well with Michael Wacha.

With an injury to Jaime Garcia, the Cards are calling upon little-known and not very highly regarded Tyler Lyons to make the start Wednesday in Garcia's place.

The thinking is that this will be a one-time deal, with Jake Westbrook expected to be ready to return by the end of May. 

However, as Bernie Miklasz points out, its a curious decision on the Cardinals part.  Lyons has a 4.47 ERA and the Cards will need to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for him, thereby exposing another player to waivers.

If you're going to go to all that trouble to get a player on your 40-man roster, why not do so for your best pitching prospect.

The Cardinals could have just gone with a start-by-committee approach, as I suggested yesterday.  But, that does impact the bullpen and the Cards have had enough problems with that, thank you very much.

So, with a pitcher needed for a spot start, the Cardinals go with Lyons instead of the more obvious choice, not, as Bernie suggests, based on merit, but solely based on delaying the service clock of Wacha.

The Cardinals will likely have to turn to Wacha at some point this year.  Westbrook may take longer to heal that originally thought or one of the other starters may suffer an injury.  But, apparently, for Wacha, that time is not now.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shoulder issues plague Jaime Garcia again. Will Michael Wacha get the call?

Perhaps the Cardinals could use Chris Carpenter in the rotation after all?

Just when you thought the Cardinals pitching staff was chugging along and nothing could stop them, they lose two pitchers in less than a week. 

Nearly a week after placing Jake Westbrook on the DL with elbow inflamation, Jaime Garcia was put on the DL today with a left shoulder impingment.  Mitchell Boggs was called up to replace him on the active roster.

This is the same injury that kept Garcia out for two months last year and the Cards fear it could be worse this time around, possibly requiring surgery.

John Gast is currently filling in for Westbrook in the rotation as Jake is expected to miss at least 3 starts. 

With Garcia joining him on the DL, speculation has already begun as to who will make his next start on Wednesday. 

Here are the leading candidates:

Joe Kelly

While Kelly filled in admirably last year while Garcia was on the DL, he has worked primarily in relief this season and would need to be stretched out.  So, if the Cards wanted to go with Kelly, they would still need someone else to make the start on Wednesday.

Seth Maness

Maness started the season in the rotation at AAA Memphis and has worked in long relief since being called up on April 29th.  He's not too far removed from starting to probably go 4 or 5 innings and he has certainly pitched well during his brief time in the majors.

Carlos Martinez

Like Maness, Martinez was called up on April 29th.  However, he has only worked no more than one inning at a time and would probably need to be stretched out again.  With the recent injuries, it seems more likely that he will be sent down to AAA to be stretched out as a starter again.

Michael Wacha

This is what probably every Cardinal fan is hoping for.  After dominating during spring training, Wacha has been excellent at AAA with a 4-0 record and 1.89 ERA.  Cardinals fans want to see what he can do against major league pitching and he just might get his chance.


Bascially, I think the Cards have two options for Wednesday, go with a "start-by-committee" approach with Kelly and Maness splitting the first 6 innings of the game or go with Wacha.

The start-by-committee approach is not the ideal solution, as it can tax the bullpen and it certainly isn't a long-term solution.  Wacha might be the best bet, as he should only be needed for 2-3 starts before Westbrook returns.

I think the Wacha will get the call and that Martinez will be sent down to AAA to be stretched out again and give the Cardinals more depth at starter.  Wacha's last start was on May 16th, so keep an eye on Memphis' May 21st game, as that would be his next scheduled start.  If he doesn't make that start, chances are he's getting the call.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chris Carpenter attempting another comback as starter. But who would he replace in the rotation?

In case you haven't heard by now, Chris Carpenter is attempting to make another comeback from the shoulder issues that have plague him the last two years. 

Initially it was reported that the Cardinals were hoping that Carpenter could join the bullpen at some point this season.  However, recent reports indicate that he is conditioning himself to be a starter.

While its great to see him making a comeback and I wish him all the best, I have a hard time finding a spot for him in a starting rotation that is currently the best in baseball with a 2.38 ERA.  But if the Cardinals do decide to insert Carpenter back into the rotation, who might he replace?

Here are the possibilities:

Jake Westbrook

Despite a 1.62 ERA, Westbrook has been the least dominant starter on the team, with just 4.4 K/9 for the season.  He has also allowed 4.2 BB/9.  His saving grace is that he induces a ton of groundball outs, with a 2.30 GO/AO ratio. 

Westbrook is currently on the DL with an elbow injury, but it is not considered serious.  However, if he has any setbacks, Carpenter could eventually step in for him.

Lance Lynn

Lynn has adjusted well to his new weight.  He has allowed just 33 hits in 50 innings while striking out 54.  It remains to be seen how he holds up over the course of the long season, as the main reason the Cards wanted him to lose the weight was because he struggled in the second half last year. 

If he struggles again during the second half of this year, then I could see Carpenter taking over his rotation spot, with Lynn moving to the bullpen.

Jaime Garcia

Again, there is nothing about the way Garcia is currently pitching that would make one think he should be removed from the starting rotation.  He has a 2.88 ERA and a 38/14 K/BB ratio.  He also has been inducing groundouts at a higher rate than Westbrook, with a 2.86 GO/AO ratio.

However, after a shoulder injury knocked him out during the middle of last year, there are concerns that the shoulder issues could return.  Carpenter would be a logical replacement for him if that should happen.


Obviously, there are a lot of "ifs" in the above scenarios, but nothing that currently suggests that any of the above starters should be removed from the rotation.  Even if one of the above scenarios did occur, would the Cardinals take a chance on Carpenter, when his shoulder has not shown the ability to hold up under starting conditions? 

I don't think so.  The more likely scenario is that the Cards will use Carpenter out of the pen, and even then they will treat him with kid gloves (e.g. no back-to-back appearances, no more than one inning at a time).  If a need for a starter arises, John Gast or Michael Wacha would likely get the call.

So, while it would be nice to see Carpenter return as a starter, as he has proven in the past to be a big game pitcher, I just don't see him cracking the current rotation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Who will be sent down when Mitchell Boggs returns for the Cardinals?

From all appearances, Mitchell Boggs' stay in the minors will not be a long one.  Sent down on May 3rd to work on his mechanics (and get his confidence back), Boggs seems to be doing just that.  So far he has pitched 5 innings without allowing a run.

Thus, it probably won't be long before the Cardinals call on him again.  He's just too good of a pitcher to leave in the minors.

But, when he's called back up, who will the Cardinals send down?

Here are 3 most likely possibilities:

Joe Kelly

Kelly has struggled so far this year, posting a 7.11 ERA in 12.2 innings.  Part of the problem may be that he doesn't appear to have a clearly defined role.  After starting the season as the long man in the pen, he was rarely used, in part due to the success of the Cardinals starters.  Mike Matheny has tried him in other spots, but his use has been sporadic.

In addition, after starting the spring as a candidate for the 5th starter spot, it appears that he was not considered to fill in while Jake Westbrook is on the shelf. 

Perhaps the Cards could send him back to AAA to stretch him out in case Westbrook's injury takes longer to heal and/or John Gast can't fill the gap (although he seemed pretty good last night).

Carlos Martinez

After visa issues delayed the start of his season, Martinez made just 3 starts for AA Springfield before he was called up to help shore up the Cardinals pen.  Despite one rough outing, in which he gave up 3 runs in 0.2 innings, Martinez has looked pretty good. 

However, when Boggs comes back, the Cardinals may no longer need Martinez' power arm in the bullpen and could send him back to AA to continue his development as a starter.

Seth Maness

Maness has been pretty impressive since joining the Cards pen, throwing 4.1 shutout innings while allowing only one hit.  A control pitcher, he pitches to contact and has an impressive 10.0 GO/AO ratio (i.e. he's inducing a lot of groundouts).  He has even added two vulture wins to boot.

Maness appears to be filling the long reliever role that Kelly was suppose to fill. 

However, despite his success, the Cardinals could still return him to the minors to stretch him out as a starter in case another need arises.


My feeling is that the promotion of Martinez and Maness was only suppose to be a temporary thing until Boggs got his head on straight.  Thus, I predict that Martinez will be sent down once Boggs returns.  Martinez needs to continue to develop as a starter and keeping him in the majors this year will only delay that development.

Of course, the Cardinals will likely face this issue again when (or if) they feel Marc Rzepczynski is ready to return.  Based on their performances so far, I think the Cards would likely keep Maness over Kelly, as Seth has been the more effective pitcher.  But that could change by the time "Scrabble" is deemed ready.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Shelby Miller quickly becoming another ace for the Cardinals

Although I live in the Chicago area and rarely get to see the Cardinals play live, you do not have to watch a game to know when a pitcher utterly dominates a team, which is just what Shelby Miller did on Friday night.

Against a pretty good hitting Rockies team (2nd in the NL in runs scored), Miller gave up a leadoff hit in the first, then proceeded to retire the next 27 batters in a row (13 via strikeout).

Not to be outdone, Adam Wainwright followed up Miller's performance with 7.1 innings of no-hit ball on Saturday.

Not since the Dizzy and Daffy Dean halcyon days have we seen such dominant performances back-to-back by Cardinals pitchers.

Back in September of 1934, Dizzy Dean, pitching the first game of a double-header, had a no-hitter through 8.2 innings before giving up 3 hits.  His brother Paul "Daffy" Dean then proceeded to throw a no-hitter in the nightcap.

After the game, Dizzy quipped "If Paul had told me he was going to pitch a no-hitter, I would`ve pitched one, too."

Miller now has a 1.58 ERA on the season (237 ERA+).  He has struck out 51 batters in 45.2 IP (10.1 K/9), given up only 29 hits and walked just 11.  While Wainwright has a better K/BB ratio (55/4), Miller has him beat in ERA, whip and is tied with Waino with an overall record of 5-2.

I figured Miller would be good this year, but I couldn't have imagined him being this good.

Miller will likely take some lumps this year, as teams adjust to him.  But, since he's apparently been doing most of his damage using just his fastball and curve, he still has his change in reserve to use when that happens.

Overall, its been an impressive rookie season for Miller.  I just wish I could see it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Who will be the next top prospect to get the call for the Cardinals?

A little over a month into the season, the Cardinals have already had to call upon their deep minor league talent to help out at the major league level.  The Cards recently called up Carlos Martinez (#3 on the Cardinals prospect list, per Baseball America) and Seth Maness (#23) to help shore up their bullpen. 

Who of the Cardinals top prospects might we see next?  There are several options to consider.

John Gast

Gast has been dealing at AAA Memphis.  The former 6th round pick has allowed just one earned run in 34.2 IP.  He may not have the stuff of some of the Cardinals other top pitching prospects, but he seems to know how to make the best of what he's got.  Gast could get the call should one of the Cards starters go down with an injury.

Michael Wacha

After a dominating spring with the Cardinals, Wacha has continued to impress with a 1.82 ERA in 34.2 IP at AAA.  The Cards #6 prospect may not have as good of number as Gast, but he has a higher upside.  Like Gast, he could get the call if a starter is injured.

Oscar Tavares

Taveras is hitting .303/.351/.462 at AAA Memphis.  The Cards top prospect impressed during the spring, so much so that many thought he might break camp with the big club.  However, with the emergence of Matt Adams, the need for Taveras is not so great.

Kolten Wong

Considered the Cardinals second baseman of the future, Wong is hitting .292/.314/.408 for Memphis.  The Cardinals #5 prospect should get a look at some point this season, but for now it appears that the Cards are content with their offensive/defensive platoon of Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso.


Overall, its rare that a starting rotation for a team remains intact for the whole year.  Usually a pitcher will suffer some kind of injury, whether it be a hamstring strain, oblique strain or even just a blister.  Thus, if I were a betting man, I would think the one of either John Gast or Michael Wacha will be the first to get the call and if I had to pick one of the two, I think Wacha would be the first to get the call.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Could Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez be the Cardinals long-term solution at closer?

Jason Motte's injury this spring left the Cardinals scrambling to find a replacement at closer.  Edward Mujica has filled in admirably so far, but he is set to become a free agent after this season and, with Motte likely starting next year on the DL, the Cards will likely face the same closer issues next year.

The question then is who will become the Cardinals next great closer?  The guy that Mike Matheny can hand the ball to in the 9th inning for the next several years and not have to worry (or at least not too much). 

Based on the evidence so far, it seems likely that either Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez will take over the closer role, either by the end of this year or via a spring training battle next year.

Rosenthal would seem to be the logical choice to take over as closer.  Despite spending most of his minor league career as a starter, the Cardinals used him as a reliever down the stretch last season.  In addition, after stating that he would compete for the 5th starter role in the spring, the Cards barely gave him a chance before moving him back to the pen.

Thus, it appears that the Cardinals have already made up their minds that Rosenthal is best used as a reliever.  His high 90's fastball, hard curveball and solid change give him three weapons to use late in games and, after struggling early in the season, he appears to have hit his stride.

As for Carlos Martinez, he too spent all of his time in the minors as a starter.  However, when the Cards needed to shore up their bullpen recently, they bypassed AAA options such as Victor Marte and Eric Fornataro and chose Martinez from AA.  After missing the start of the season due to visa issues, Martinez had only pitched 11.2 IP prior to his callup.  If the Cardinals were content with developing him as a starter, they would have left him at AA.

What's even more telling for both Martinez and Rosenthal is that the Cards are going to need another starter next year.  Jake Westbrook is set to become a free agent after this year and its unlikely that the team will offer him an extension. 

However, with Michael Wacha pitching well at AAA and the emergence of John Gast as a legitimate top 10 prospect for the Cards, the team must feel confident that one of those two can take over for Westbrook next year, giving them the luxury of developing Rosenthal and Martinez as relievers.

Normally I do not like when a team takes a pitcher who could develop into a frontline starter and convert him into a reliever, but with the Cardinals pitching depth, the team appears to be trying to find spots for all their young guns.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cardinals continue bullpen overhaul: Mitchell Boggs optioned, Carlos Martinez called up

After yesterday's outing in which he gave up two walks without retiring a batter, the Cardinals had seen enough of Mitchell Boggs and demoted him to AAA to sort out his issues.

To take his place, the Cardinals called up another one of their flame throwing prospects, Carlos Martinez, from AA Springfield.  Martinez, who had the start of his season delayed by visa issues, has only pitched 11.2 innings this season, posting a 2.31 ERA. 

Martinez, who can reach 100 mph with his fastball, will be following Trevor Rosenthal's career path.  After working as a starter throughout his minor league career, he will get his first taste of the big leagues as a reliever. 

It appears that the plan is for Martinez to be the 7th inning guy for the Cards, bridging the gap between the starters and the Trevor Rosenthal/Edward Mujica finishing combo.  If he succeeds in that role, it will hopefully allow Mike Matheny to reduce the workload on Rosenthal, who is on pace to pitch in 92 games.

Martinez certainly has the stuff to succeed in the pen.  In their 2012 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America stated that Martinez has the "ingredients to become a frontline starter or a closer." 

The concern here is that, like Rosenthal, Martinez could get pigeonholed into a relief role.  While not necessarily a bad thing, pitchers were their kind of stuff are generally more valuable if properly devloped as starters.

That said, this should be only a temporary role for Martinez, who could return to the minors to continue his development, once Boggs gets things sorted out.

In related bullpen news, it was announced today that Jason Motte will undergo Tommy John surgery next week.  Motte had been progressing with his throwing program before experiencing discomfort after throwing Friday.  I, for one, wish him a speedy recovery.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mike O'Neill is what "Moneyball" is all about.

If you want to see Moneyball in action, all you have to do is go to Springfield, MO and watch Mike O'Neill play.

By most scouts' standards, O'Neill would not be a prospect.  He stand only 5'9", has no power and little speed.  But what he does have is the uncanny ability to get on base.

Through 25 games this year, O'Neill is hitting .338 with a .490 OBP (tops in the Texas league). Lat year in 418 at bats, split between high A and AA, O'Neill hit .359 with a .458 OBP (tops in all of the minors). 

Quite frankly, O'Neill knows how to get on base.  If Kevin Youkilis is Moneyball's "Greek God of Walks", then O'Neill is his Irish counterpart.

In Moneyball, Billy Beane went against conventional scouting and sought out players with high OBP, as baseball as a whole generally undervalued these type of players.  It is why, during the 2002 draft, the A's picked lightly regarded and heavy set catcher Jeremy Brown with the 35th overall pick.  At 5'10", 228 lbs., Brown didn't have the look of a top prospect, but he did hit .320/.493/.566 in his final year of college.

While Brown showed good on base skills in college, O'Neill's college stats were pretty pedestrian by comparison.  In his career at USC, O'Neill hit .320 with a .407 OBP.  Not bad, but certainly not overly impressive, which is probably why he lasted until the 31st round of the 2010 draft. 

After a knee injury limited him to just 50 games in 2011, O'Neill had a breakout year in 2012.  However, despite his success, scouts still have their doubts.  Baseball America lists him as the Cardinals 28th best prospect with the upside of a 4th outfielder, saying he doesn't have the range to play center, the arm to play right or the power to play left. 

However, if he can carry over his mad on base skills to the majors, the Cardinals will have to find a place for him.  Or perhaps they can just use him in a trade with Oakland.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Starting rotation is carrying the Cardinals

Let's face it, where would the Cardinals be without their starting rotation?

Through today, the Cardinals starters have posted a 2.11 ERA, nearly a run lower than the next closest team, the Cincinnati Reds (3.07 ERA). 

This was more than enough to offset the worst bullpen in the league and give the Cards the top team ERA in the majors. 

This is a surprising turnaround from what was a bit of a concern during Spring Training.  After the loss of Chris Carpenter for the season, the Cards had a scare with Shelby Miller, who experienced shoulder tightness early in the Spring.  There were also concerns about how Jaime Garcia would fare after shoulder issues last year, as well as how Lance Lynn would adjust to his new weight.

Overall though, none of these issues have carried over into the regular season.  All 5 of the Cardinals starters have ERA's under 3.00, with Jake Westbrook leading the way with a 0.98 ERA, followed by Adam Wainwright (2.03), Shelby Miller (2.05), Jaime Garcia (2.50) and Lance Lynn (2.75). 

The starters have averaged 6 1/2 innings per start, including 2 complete game shutouts (one each by Westbrook and Wainwright) and have a combined 16-6 record (through today). 

You could not ask for a better performance from a starting rotation.

Of course, Cardinals fans everywhere grumble at the thought of what might of been.  Of the Cardinals 11 losses, 4 were games in which the Cards held the lead going into the 8th inning.

Win 2 of those 4 games and the Cardinals record jumps from 16-11 to 18-9, putting them 2.5 games up on the Pirates. 

The concern is that the Cardinals rotation is unlikely to keep this up.  At some point they are going to come back to earth a bit and hopefully by that time, the Cards will have their bullpen issues sorted out.