2011 Revisited: The Name of the Game Is Pitching

We take a look at a weekend of games from 2011.  Remember when we had feast or famine offense, instead of mainly just famine?

The Name of the Game Is Pitching

Three different games, three interesting pitching lines.  Granted, one of them was interesting in the car-wreck sort of way, but it may have a lot of bearing on the 2011 Cardinals.

First up was Kyle Lohse on Friday.  Lohse has the potential to make or break this rotation, at least to some degree.  If he’s strong, he’s an overqualified fourth starter.  If he’s off, a rotation missing Adam Wainwright gets a whole lot weaker.  Strength prevailed on Friday, as he only gave up one run in three innings of play.  More importantly, his command was strong. Thirty strikes to only 11 balls in his outing and he struck out Brett Wallace with a changeup to end his outing.  He seems to be getting his full array of pitches back and if he can regularly control them, he should be closer to the 2008 version of Lohse than the subsequent ones, though to be fair he started 2009 off strong as well until the injuries started coming into play.

Some aren’t going to believe it until they see it, though, and it’s tough to argue with that mindset.  The team’s been burned on Lohse a couple of times and they’ve overpaid him during that stretch.  A team that has to watch their expenses like the Cardinals really needs to get their money’s worth out of Lohse this year.

Then it was Kyle McClellan‘s turn on Saturday.  I lauded Lance Lynn for coming out when the pressure was on and throwing a wonderful outing.  McClellan didn’t rest on his projected laurels, though.  He also went three innings, allowing no runs and just a couple of hits.  McClellan seems to really want to start and is making sure no one takes that slot away from him.  If Lynn, McClellan and Brandon Dickson continue to pitch like this, it could be a very fun spring.

The Cardinals only managed one run off of Houston after scoring 10 on them the day before.  It took Colby Rasmus reaching on a Wallace error and coming around on singles by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday to win this one.  Also interesting to note that all the starters went at least eight innings in this game (save McClellan, of course).  Seems a bit early in spring for that to be happening–would think there were still enough player that the team needed to evaluate for Pujols to get his third or fourth at-bat.  Still over three weeks left in the spring.

Sunday’s results weren’t nearly as good for the Cards, as they fell 7-2.  The biggest reason why was that Jason Motte allowed five runs in his inning of work.  Dathan, who came out of the bullpen to relieve a sick Bill Ivie last night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven, and I speculated that Motte was just working on some of his offspeed pitches, trying to get something else consistently working.  That doesn’t seem to be the case, as he was out there “just chucking.”

That’s really not what you want to hear about the guy that may take over the closing role at some point this year if Ryan Franklin struggles at all.  Motte’s had enough times in the past where he’s been lit up that he’s got to know he can’t just rely on smoking things past batters. I remember a quote I read a long time back, “These are major league hitters.  Eventually, they’d time bullets.”

Like to think this kind of outing was a wake-up call for Motte.  If nothing else, he’s gotten a value lesson on throwing rather than pitching.

The Cardinals only put up two against the Marlins a one run game the night before.  Very hard to get a feel for anything this early in the spring, of course, but you’d hate to think that the stop and start, feast and famine offensive threat was returning again this year.  That was one of the things Lance Berkman was supposed to help stop, keeping the lineup turning over.

Of course, he actually has to be in the ballgame.  He did play DH the last couple of days, which means he should have impacted the offense still, but he continues to be nursing different aches and pains.  Will these things work out as he gets back into actual playing shape?  I know he worked out a lot this offseason and got his weight down and everything, but there’s a difference between working out and actually playing.  Hopefully he’ll be back out in the outfield very soon.

If he’s not, maybe Tyler Greene will be.  Greene started in center yesterday against Florida and that has to only add to his chances of making the team.  This is a day after he made a nice play in the hole at short against Houston.  If he’s not the main utility guy come March 31, it’d be a huge shock.  Once he gets acclimated to the majors, he could be a pretty potent threat off the bench.

There was a public declaration early in the weekend that David Freese would start Sunday. It may not be surprising to you to know that he actually didn’t, because Saturday he fouled a ball off his foot in batting practice.  This would be a warning sign that things were descending into parody, into the “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” realm, but thankfully he’s in the lineup for today’s game against Minnesota.  Unless a bat slips out of someone’s hands and conks him in the back after he drinks JoBu’s rum.

Ryan Franklin turned 38 this weekend and, despite his earlier thoughts about retiring at the end of this year, he’s not slowing down.  I don’t think Franklin’s a Cardinal next year–a successful season probably puts him out of the budget-conscious team’s range, a less than successful one and they won’t want him back–but he’s been much more effective in the closer role than I ever thought.  I expected a big letdown last year and it really never game.  Plus, if you aren’t following him on Twitter, you really should.  He’s good about at least responding to just about any Tweet directed at him.

Chris Carpenter threw off a mound this weekend, missing his start on Sunday due to that hamstring injury.  He is still feeling it right now and couldn’t go full bore in his bullpen session, but it apparently is getting better.  I don’t know if he’ll miss another start or not, but if so that might be more of an opportunity for the staff to see Lynn or Dickson.

Interesting story about Allen Craig working on getting the inside pitch.  He worked with Mark McGwire this offseason and so far, the spring results are positive.  I think Craig is one of the more intriguing possibilities for this team this year, what with being able to move around some or be a pinch hitter with pop.  We’ll see if he can keep this going through the spring and then into the season.

The first cuts of the spring were made, and Zack Cox and Shelby Miller were sent out.  This isn’t a big surprise, being that neither of them were going to make the team, but I thought it was interesting in Miller’s case because he stuck around so long in spring last year, getting 3-4 outings.  This year, he threw two scoreless innings, while Cox had a very good game in Berkman’s stead last week.  We could see them again–it’s not that far from major league camp if they need someone to fill in on a split-squad game or so–but a little bit of the luster leaves camp with them.

Before I get into today’s Cardinal Approval Ratings, a quick link.  Chris Jaffe has written another interesting article with a Cardinal tie-in.  This time, it’s about managerial milestones that are coming up in 2011.  Obviously, when those words are bandied about, Tony La Russa tends to make the list.

OK, approval ratings.  As those that voted (this year, 62 different entries, though not all voted for every person) know, this year they are broken up into three groups: Players, Management, and Media.  Every day between now and when I get them done (sometime next week), I’ll reveal the voting on one of each of the groups.  I want to note that a couple of the voters used descriptions instead of numbers for their vote.  I have translated those into numeric values using my best judgement.

Today’s player is Chris Carpenter.  Last year, Carp rated the third highest among polled players, coming in at 93.6%.  He then went out and had a slightly-less-than-standard Carpenter year, but stayed healthy for the whole season.

This year, Carpenter scores a 86.9% from all 62 voters.  I personally ranked him pretty high (94), but I would expect that there was a little recognition that he wasn’t the Cy Young guy he was in the past.  At least one commenter was not impressed with his personality, saying that Carpenter “comes across arrogant, whiny, hot-headed and entitled.”  One man’s arrogant is another man’s focused, so your mileage may vary.

The first management subject is the principal owner, Bill DeWitt Jr.  The man that signs the checks always stands out in the fanbase’s mind, and yet five people did not rate him in the poll.  Last year, he received an 83% mark, but after a year where the team didn’t make the playoffs and then were embroiled in Pujols negotiations that were unfulfilled, that marked slid to 71%, a three-year low.  (Fair disclosure: I put him down at 91.  You’ll find I’m a fairly easy grader.)  Comments included that he’s “consistently failed to field a competitive team” (which I strongly disagree with) and he “will score higher when he signs Pujols.”

Our media member for the day is Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold.  Derrick’s never been rated in these polls before, but he’s regularly posting on his Bird Land blog as well as writing stories and interacting on Twitter.  I’m guessing media members are a little more interesting to us bloggers than some other fans, since there were only 47 ratings on him.  Those that did rate him, though, had a generally positive impression, as he tallied a 87.8% mark.  Interesting how people are perceived, though.  One commenter said that he “willing to tell Cards fans what they don’t want to hear,” while another indicated he was unwilling to step on any toes.  (BTW, my score for him: 90.)

A couple of Playing Peppers in the hopper for today, so be sure to check back on those!

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