Tied Up For The Last Stretch

You know how the announcers like to say “It’s a whole new ball game” when one team or the other ties up a game part of the way through?  In that vein, it’s a whole new pennant race.  It starts today and runs for the next 28, with only occasional breathers.  On your mark, get set…..

Saturday (7-1 loss)

The problem with facing the Pirates is that, if A.J. Burnett is actually on, they have two very strong pitchers at the top of their rotation.  The Cards seem either to be able to blow up Burnett or get completely shut down by him and Saturday was the latter, unfortunately.

Along those lines, can someone else explain to me why seeing the birds on the bat turns Russell Martin into Babe Ruth?  Look at these numbers:

Vs. St. Louis: 14-46 (.304), three doubles, six HR, 11 RBI
Vs. anyone else: 77-329 (.234), 17 doubles, seven HR, 40 RBI

Martin may have only gotten on hit in this game, but it was the back-breaker.  Our Goat, Lance Lynn, had allowed two runs in the second, both coming after two were out and the pitcher was up, but the Cards had immediately scratched back and cut that deficit in half.  All good, right?

Oh, no.  The hopes that the second had been the trademarked Lance Lynn Bad Inning were quickly dashed.  Lynn allowed that run back in the span of five pitches.  After a walk two were on for Martin, who sent a 2-1 fastball into the seats.  Lynn wasn’t done–he allowed another run after two were out–but the Cardinals surely were.

You do have to appreciate what the bullpen gave the club, even though it was quite unlikely throughout their time that it was going to mean anything.  Lynn was done after four but Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, new addition John Axford and Fernando Salas held the line the rest of the way, allowing only three hits between them.

The offense wasn’t doing much either, of course.  Burnett does seem to be able to do that at times against St. Louis, almost like every other time.  Last time they scored five against him, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that he was on this outing.  We’ll give the Hero to Allen Craig, who got two of the Cardinals’ six total hits.

There are some arguments that Lynn isn’t the liability that we feel that he is after these kind of games.  I saw mention from Future Redbirds Jeff about Lynn  having a 2.7 WAR last year and being over 3.0 by the end of this year.  That seems to be the FanGraphs WAR instead of the Baseball-Reference version.  B-R takes a dimmer view, marking him at 2.2 last year and just 1.0 this year.  Jeff also notes his K/BB rate is “almost three” though that might have been before the last game, because it’s at 2.49 now and 2.73 for his career.

Lynn’s not terrible, don’t get me wrong.  He’s got some potential and he’s able to have some good outings.  Bob Netherton, who if you don’t have Bob on your side as a Cardinal, you’ve really done something wrong, said in one of our BonFyres (and again, if you haven’t downloaded the app, DO SO! Some serious discussions go on in there. Friend me and we’ll get you invited into some) that looking over the lines, Lynn has had five great starts, three so-so-starts, and four clunkers since July 1.  So there is value there and potential.

Could Lynn continue to grow into it?  Are we expecting too much out of a guy that’s just in his second year of starting?

That’s possible, but I’d still suggest that John Mozeliak look into trading Lynn this offseason.  For one, I think Lynn still has some significant value.  Besides the potential, this is a guy that has won in the big leagues and had success that isn’t completely tied to the win total.  I could imagine that Lynn would be someone that could bring back a little more than the average player while still being someone the team could part with.

Secondly, I’m not sure how much Lynn is going to improve.  He’s thrown almost exactly the same amount of innings this year as he did all of last year, making the two lines fairly easy to compare.  (Granted, last year Lynn spent some time in the bullpen so it’s not apples to apples, but it’s close.)  Lynn’s hit total is about the same, but there are more earned runs, more walks (just one more now), fewer strikeouts.  His ERA+ dropped from league average last year to well below this year.  His WHIP is up but most of his other rates are pretty similar, save the K/BB and K/9.

Most fans know that Lynn was a bit overblown last year as well.  Even in an era where the win is being devalued, 18 is still an eye-opening number.  Yet from June 1 until the end of 2012, he had a 4.49 ERA and a .793 OPS while piling up 10 of those wins.  He had four games in that span where he gave up six runs or more and even found a way to win one of those.

It’s been more of the same this year.  Since June 1 of 2013, he’s got a 5.19 ERA with a .760 OPS and is 6-8.  Just like last year, he had at least one outing where the team picked him up, allowing seven to the Marlins while still picking up the W.

You see games like he threw against Cincinnati earlier in the month, where he went eight innings, allowed two runs and struck out 11, and you know he can do it.  Whether it’s a mental issue, a confidence thing, or just the inability to stop snowballs from rolling downhill, you wonder if he could fix it in a different environment.

Do I want Mozeliak to sell Lynn for a bucket of balls?  No, not at all.  If Lynn is still on the club in 2014 it’s not a failure of management.  There are some good reasons to keep him around, not least of which is an affordable price tag.  However, someone seems to have to be moved if players like Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are going to get into a rotation that should see the return of Jaime Garcia sometime next season.  Lynn would be my choice to clear out.

(Wow, that’s a lot of rambling and I’ve still not gotten to Sunday’s game.  This is what happens when I don’t have to go to work, folks.  No time limit and 9:30 is more conducive to long walks down strange paths than 5:30.)

Sunday (7-2 win)

When you go into a city with a one game divisional lead, there are worse ways of leaving it tied for the top spot.  Sure, you’d rather have seen the Cards win two of three, but they have another chance against Pittsburgh at their own place next weekend, which may be their best chance to expand the lead.

Lots of people are up on the Joe Kelly bandwagon and it’s hard to say that they are wrong.  There are indications that Kelly is pitching above his head and things are going to catch up with him at some point.  Since he moved into the starting rotation, he’s 7-0 with a 2.16 ERA.  I don’t believe Kelly is a pitcher that’s going to have an ERA that low for long.  He’s had a BABIP of .269, which is fairly low as well (from what I know about BABIP ranges) and a strand rate of 60%.  Just for comparison sake, for the year Adam Wainwright as a BABIP of .317 and a strand rate of 67%.  Do we really think Kelly is a better pitcher than Wainwright?

That said, there’s no doubt that 1) he’s pitching quite well right now, 2) he’s getting great results and 3) he’s given the team a shot of confidence every time he goes out there.  If Lynn slumps his shoulders and gets people thinking “Here we go again” after a couple of hits, Kelly gets them fired up to get to the ballpark.  Will it last?  Who knows.  But baseball is full of stories about an unheralded pitcher coming out of nowhere to have an amazing summer and lead his team to the postseason.  They may never do much again, but that’s enough to get them into their team’s lore.

Even so, I have a tough time giving Kelly the Hero for this one, even though he pitched well.  When the Cards have a 3-0 lead before the first out and 5-0 before anyone is out in the third, it’s not the hardest day at the ballpark.  You’ve still got to make your pitches and there’s no doubt Pittsburgh could have rallied from that had Kelly not been on his game, but it doesn’t have the same impact as winning a 2-1 game does.

I’ll give to Shane Robinson, who filled in for Jon Jay admirably on Sunday, going two for three and drawing two walks.  Couple that with Matt Carpenter getting a couple of hits and there were plenty of baserunners for the heart of the lineup to drive in.  Matt Holliday and David Freese both had a couple of RBI, which was nice to see as well.

Goat in this one is tough when there are 12 hits, but then again, when Pete Kozma plays, there’s a strong chance he can be the one to pick.  Kozma went 0-4 yesterday, the only starter (including Kelly) without a hit.  Kozma now has not had a hit since August 11 against the Cubs.  He had a total of four hits in the entire month of August.  The story is that Kozma tripped the other day and actually failed to hit the ground.  It’s bad, folks, so bad that even a glove of Ozzie Smith‘s caliber (and Kozma’s not there) wouldn’t be enough to salvage his value.

We discussed this last night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, but the story that made the rounds on the radio yesterday afternoon was that Carlos Beltran had told Al Hrabosky that it was “painful” to watch Kozma right now and that Beltran had offered him some advice on how to improve, but that Kozma was “resistant” to change anything.

Now, we don’t know how much of this story has perhaps changed in the retelling or if Beltran chose the wrong word or what.  There could be layers to this that we don’t know.  That said, I think there are two things you can take away from this if this story is accurate.

1) Kozma has rocks in his head.  As Tara said last night on the show, Carlos Beltran is not some average joe that’s trying to help out.  This is a guy that has a legitimate Hall of Fame case.  He’s been around the league longer than Kozma’s been playing baseball (exaggeration, yes, but not by much).  This reminds me of that classic Friends line, when Chandler is trapped in an ATM vestibule with a model and berates himself: “If Jill Goodacre offers you gum, you take it.  If she offers you mangled animal carcass, you take it.”  It’s not like anything you are doing is working.  You are working your way into Ty Wigginton territory, a land we thought had been permanently closed after his banishment.  You take whatever lifeline you can get and do it gladly.

2) Kozma might not have a lot of standing in the clubhouse.  We hear time and time again how this is a close-knit group.  These are guys that like being with each other, hang out together, etc.  I’m not suggesting that’s not true, but you have to wonder if Kozma’s really a part of that.  Say Freese, who I believe we would agree is likely to be one of those guys in the midst of any group, was going through a slump and turned down help.  Would we hear about it?  Would Beltran have mentioned it even in passing?  I don’t know, but I’d expect not.

Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that shortstop is at the top of Mozeliak’s list for the offseason.  Starred, circled, and underlined twice.  It’s got to be done, because there’s no way you start a season with Kozma as your starter again.  There’s no sell job you can do to make that seem like a good idea.

It was confirmed yesterday that Michael Blazek was the player to be named later in the Axford deal as we mentioned Saturday night.  Blazek is a cost that is higher than I expected the Cardinals to pay, though Bob lays out reasons that it still is not a bad deal.  I fall into that camp as well, mainly because of what Bob says–you can’t keep them all and while Blazek has potential, right now the Cards needed someone a little more reliable, a little more experienced.  If, as I expect, St. Louis has an idea of tweaks to make to Axford (and the fact that he’ll play in a better pitcher’s park in Busch, meaning more of those fly balls will stay in the park), it’s not a bad deal.

I suggested on Twitter Saturday night that the departure of Blazek means that the Redbirds are more likely to keep Axford around past the season.  My thought process is that if they were just wanting to pay for a rental, they would have given up a lesser arm, but could swallow the higher price of Blazek because they planned to get more than just a month of use out of Axford.

Derrick Goold, in his inimitable way, pointed out that it probably doesn’t necessarily mean as much as we though, given what prices are on the market.  If you are going to listen to anyone, of course you listen to the expert, but my feeling is that the prices might have been that high, but I don’t know that the need was such that they had to pay prices of that regard if they didn’t want to.  Does Axford make the team better?  I believe he does.  Is he the difference between winning and losing?  That I don’t know.  If the front office believes he is, then sure, losing Blazek for a month is fine.  If they think he’s nice insurance but not a difference-maker, then they might have been more hesitant to deal a young arm like that if they weren’t planning on keeping Axford for more than a month.

Again, Axford could tank and it’s a moot point.  Goold’s point that Jason Motte and Edward Mujica will play a role given Axford’s salary is an excellent one as well.  Unless they can settle with Axford for less than what he got this year (which may or may not be doable), he might be too pricey especially if Mujica returns.  (Which is an entirely different conversation and I’ve run on too long as it is.)

Since we are now just about a half-hour until first pitch, let’s get these tables up, shall we?  Adam Wainwright goes against the Reds.  We know what happened last time out and if the Legend of Waino has any basis, he’ll come out firing today.  I don’t think we’ll see any of this early blowup stuff–if we do, there may be a lot of questions after the game.

Brandon Phillips 44 41 13 1 0 1 3 2 6 .317 .349 .415 .763 1 0 0 0
Jay Bruce 28 26 9 0 0 2 8 2 10 .346 .393 .577 .970 0 0 0 0
Joey Votto 26 23 3 1 0 0 1 3 5 .130 .231 .174 .405 0 0 0 0
Zack Cozart 18 17 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 .176 .176 .176 .353 1 0 0 0
Todd Frazier 15 13 2 1 0 1 2 1 3 .154 .267 .462 .728 0 0 1 1
Ryan Ludwick 14 12 4 2 0 1 4 1 2 .333 .385 .750 1.135 1 0 0 0
Ryan Hanigan 13 13 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .154 .154 .154 .308 0 0 0 0
Shin-Soo Choo 9 8 3 2 0 0 1 1 1 .375 .444 .625 1.069 0 0 0 0
Cesar Izturis 9 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Xavier Paul 8 8 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Devin Mesoraco 6 5 2 1 0 0 0 1 1 .400 .500 .600 1.100 0 0 1 0
Chris Heisey 5 5 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .400 .400 .400 .800 0 0 0 0
Mat Latos 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Zach Duke 4 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .667 .667 .667 1.333 1 0 0 0
Bronson Arroyo 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0
Mike Leake 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 2 0 0 0
Homer Bailey 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0
Manny Parra 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 1.000 2.000 1 0 0 0
Jack Hannahan 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Henry Rodriguez 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 216 197 48 8 0 5 23 11 38 .244 .287 .360 .647 7 0 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/2/2013.

Even with last time’s debacle, Wainwright still has good numbers against most of the Reds.  He may have to watch out for Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce and he won’t be in the most forgiving of environments, but I have a hunch that’s not going to matter much.

Mat Latos goes for Cincinnati.  Latos struggled early against the Cards last time but got into a groove.  Latos hasn’t had the best of luck with the Redbirds.

Jon Jay 30 27 11 2 0 0 1 2 5 .407 .467 .481 .948 0 0 0 1
Yadier Molina 29 29 12 3 0 1 5 0 5 .414 .414 .621 1.034 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 28 26 9 0 0 0 7 1 3 .346 .357 .346 .703 0 1 0 0
Carlos Beltran 24 21 7 1 0 3 4 3 2 .333 .417 .810 1.226 0 0 0 0
Allen Craig 22 21 6 2 0 1 5 0 3 .286 .286 .524 .810 1 0 0 0
David Freese 22 19 5 2 0 0 3 3 5 .263 .364 .368 .732 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 11 10 3 0 0 0 0 1 3 .300 .364 .300 .664 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 10 10 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .200 .200 .300 .500 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 10 9 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 .111 .200 .111 .311 0 0 1 0
Adam Wainwright 6 6 1 0 0 1 1 0 2 .167 .167 .667 .833 0 0 0 0
Joe Kelly 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Rob Johnson 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Lance Lynn 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Shane Robinson 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 199 185 57 11 0 6 26 11 34 .308 .348 .465 .813 1 1 1 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/2/2013.

Jon Jay and Yadier Molina are both in the lineup today and look to capitalize on some great history with Latos.  Interestingly, Beltran is sitting today, which seems strange given his success against Latos.  Whatever the case, let’s hope for a strong top of the first and a classic Wainwright performance.  Pittsburgh has headed up to Milwaukee (Charlie Morton versus someone named Tyler Thornburg) and you can’t count on the Brewers winning the series against the Bucs again.  Go get some wins, Cardinals!

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