Go Crazy, Big Boy

UCB Roundtable: Day 5

As you probably know by now, the roundtable is the UCB’s February project.  As such, we’ve been asking each other Cardinals-related questions, and often some good discussion follows.  Sometimes nit-picking also follows.  Here’s how it unfolded on Friday, when it was my turn to pose a question for the group.

Dathan:
If you’d have told me that we’d be nit-picking each other about spelling of players’ names AFTER Marc Rzepczynski left the team, I’m not sure I’d have believed you.  We must all be tired of a long, cold winter and ready for some baseball!!

All kidding aside, I’ve got a question for the group about the starting rotation.  With the exception of Waino and possibly Lynn, this is a group of guys that won’t reach 200 innings this year.  Fortunately, much like we saw when Wacha stepped up as Miller sat down, there seem to be enough arms to share the workload over the course of 162 (and hopefully more).

But as we head into August and September, guys may be approaching their innings limit (publicly stated or not).  How would you handle this issue?

I’d be inclined to use Memphis as an incubator, and keep guys who I believe will help the club by starting stretched out down there, rather than often idle in the ‘pen up here.  Between all the young arms, if everyone stays healthy, there are different approaches that could work.  Would 22 run a six-man rotation out there?  Shut certain guys down early, and ‘next man up’ a fresh arm?

What say you?

Daniel Solzman (Redbird Rants)
I would not be surprised to see Joe Kelly used as a spot starter throughout the season and using someone from Memphis every now and then isn’t out of the picture either.

Come September, if the team has the division locked up, I’d be inclined to use spot starters throughout the month if it means saving Wacha for the postseason.  This will be his first full season at the major league level—granted he did split time between Memphis and STL last year—and there are very high expectations for Wacha.

There are more arms than spots to fill…

Christine Coleman (Aaron Miles’ Fastball)
What Daniel says is true, there are definitely more arms than spots to fill. But look at how the unpredictable — injuries — impact things even when the best laid plans are out there. Not that any of us ever want that to happen, but as Cards fans we know all too well how they unfortunately do.

Since there are more arms than rotation or even bullpen slots, using Memphis as an incubator like Dathan termed it definitely makes sense. It’s worked out well before, with those who are at Memphis getting the chance to start regularly and be available as needed. I can’t see Matheny going with a six-man rotation, although that would certainly be intriguing.

Mark Tomasik (RetroSimba)
Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller all are capable of pitching 200 innings in 2014. Joe Kelly, Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez provide the safety net to move into the rotation and eat up the innings not used by Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, or if Wainwright, Lynn or Miller falters.

A couple of minor-league prospects, left-hander Tim Cooney (26 starts in 2013) and Zach Petrick (13 starts in 2013), could be effective call-ups in the summer if needed.

Cardinals also have the trade chips _ Jon Jay, or prospects Mike O’Neill and James Ramsey _ to deal for a veteran starter if the sky is falling.

Corey Rudd (StL Sports Minute)
I wonder if Shelby Miller can make it to 200 innings this year. He really only missed one start last season (Crawford liner off elbow to lead off game) and still fell well short. I know they pulled him early a few times and were careful, but at over 4 pitches per batter faced, he will need to become more efficient to get to the 200 inning mark.

I think the Memphis shuffle will be alive and well in 2014 and used early and often too.

Let’s remember that this will not only help the big clubs young starters, but also the teams carousel of young relievers, who they need to be careful not to overwork.

I may be in the minority here, but I want to see Seth Maness in the Memphis rotation to start the season as extra insurance and to display his potential flexibility as a possible trade chip as well.

I would handicap it a 50% chance Marco Gonzales gets a start or two in STL late in the season as well.

Ben Chambers (The View From Here)
I have to agree with most of the comments that have already been said. Matheny already said that he didn’t want to do a 6 man rotation, but I think that he may use the long reliever (or a call up – then immediate send back down) for a spot start for Wacha.

The reason that I specifically point out Wacha is that I think he’s the only guy who will be on an “innings limit” whether publicly or privately. I think Wainwright will be the only pitcher to get to 200 innings this year for the Cardinals. Lynn is a workhorse, but I don’t think he’ll stay in the rotation, because of either a trade or a meltdown mid-season. Miller has a chance to get to 200, but I won’t believe it until I see it. Plus, based on the number of innings that he got last year, I think they won’t be too worried about his arm. Garcia should be ok, and he’s been able to eat a lot of innings when healthy, but is he going to stay healthy?

I say all that to say: I think that Wacha is the only one that needs his innings monitored. If they can take away 1 start a month, possibly 2, by using spot starters, and then do like what they did with Miller at the All-Star Break last year (I think Miller had 12 days without a start, if I remember right), then they will have him available for the October run that we all hope the Cardinals will make.

Dan Buffa (Sports Rants)
The rotation is a place of monstrous ridiculous depth that still has this Cards addict pinching his arm today.  We have around 8-9 guys in our system who can probably deliver a quality start this season.

I believe Waino and Lance “I am as good as Homer Bailey but don’t make 12 million yet” Lynn are a lock for 200 innings this year.  Also, don’t forget about Shelby Miller hitting the 200 inning plateau in 2014.  He matured wonderfully last season and will come into camp in amazing shape and ready to pitch. He needs to solidify a third pitch but he has a fastball that was confusing and overpowering hitters in September.  I like his chances.

From there, you have the raw armed Wacha and the fragile limb of Garcia.  Both can give you maybe 160-175 innings if they don’t self destruct.  The good thing for them is you have the secret weapon in Joe Kelly sitting for a 6th man role. Say what you want about his sabermetrics(one day those numbers may catch up to Jelly but what if they don’t) but Kelly has produced rescue missions two years in a row. He is your go to spot starter.

Carlos Martinez will start in the pen as a strikeout pitcher or 2 inning guy even though he still has the pitching arsenal and attitude to start in this league.  You can’t start him at Memphis to keep his arm stretched out but I can see him making a spot start or even entering the rotation at some point in 2014.

From there you have the aforementioned rookies at Memphis that include Tyler Lyons and John Gast, a pair of lefties who turned heads in 2013.  There are your nine arms that don’t even include Tim Cooney and Zach Petrick, who were stated in The Tomasik’s response.

My method is this.  Roll with your opening 5 and keep Kelly and Martinez in versatile roles with the lefty duo waiting on the farm. The Cards have loads of depth in the rotation and may use it to fuel their playoff run again in 2014. As we know too well, things always go wrong in a 162 game season.

John Nagel (CardinalsFarm)
I dont think there is anyway a 6-man rotation will be used. Leo Mazzone is on local radio here in Atlanta and he always talks about how pitchers and pitching coaches hate it.

Like many of the others have said, I-55 will be the Cardinal Expressway again this year. Their starting staff could compete with many MLB teams. Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast (if healthy), Boone Whiting, and Tim Cooney.

Mark Sherrard (Cardinals Fan In Cubs Land)
Here’s how I see it playing out.If the Cardinals need an extra starter in the first half of the season, then either Tyler Lyons or Joe Kelly will step in.But the one to watch is Carlos Martinez. I think that the Cardinals will use Martinez a lot like they did Wacha last year.

First, he will start the season in the pen until Jason Motte is healthy.  This serves two purposes, it keeps Martinez’ innings down and it gives Matheny a nice 8th inning option.

Once Motte is healthy, he will take over the 8th inning role and Martinez will be sent down to be stretched out as a starter (and to work on his changeup).  Then, when Wacha has reached his innings limit, Martinez will get the call to start down the stretch and in the postseason, if necessary (the Cards will have Wainwright, Garcia, Miller and Lynn as well), while Wacha becomes the forgotten man (much like Shelby Miller in 2013).

Cardinals fans may not like this approach, but since it worked so well in 2013 with Wacha, I think the Cardinals brass will follow the same approach in 2014 with Martinez (and 2015 with Tim Cooney and 2016 with Marco Gonzalez, etc…).

Matthew Philip (Fungoes)
Oh, you know I love it when you give me a perfect opportunity to resurrect my 10-man rotation idea!

But more realistically, I think that Matheny can apply some of the same principles of that plan. That is, he can save some innings on the starters by keeping them on a five-man rotation but not requiring guys to go very deep in games (e.g., five innings). The quality of innings will be better, and by giving middle relievers extended outings (two to three innings), he can keep some of those good arms in starter shape.

Daniel Solzman
6 or 7 man would be ideal in September when rosters expand!

Kevin Reynolds (STL Cards ‘N Stuff)

I think the idea that no one can go 200 innings is a bit extreme, but I get your point. Assuming Garcia makes the rotation, there’s no way he’s allowed to toss 200+ innings on a repaired shoulder after sitting out most of last season. For a different reason, Wacha is going to also be protected from innings overload. The club will monitor him like the future ace he is — protect his innings load and high intensity pitch count while looking to just cobble together a full year at one level, something he hasn’t done since his days at Texas A&M (and his last college year doesn’t count ’cause he went to the minors at the end of the year). At some point, the world has to slow down for Wacha.

I think the one goal for Miller may very well be to get him to that “innings eater” designation, targeting perhaps 180 – 200 innings or so. He got his “protection year” out of the way at the end of last season. It’s time for him to make the jump. You can’t protect these guys forever. That said, Wainwright logged so many innings last season, he may also get protected a bit just due to sheer workload on that arm over the last 365 days. But make no mistake — the club and Waino fully expect a typical 200 inning season from Adam. Anything less is a failure.

That leaves Lance Lynn as the one, solitary pitcher who absolutely needs to throw 200 innings to prove his worth. Lynn, right or wrong, is on the bubble for a long-term spot in the rotation considering all the talent coming up behind him. He’s shown he can pitch well and dominate at times, and he’s shown he can be an innings eater of a sort…but he needs to show the club can stop worrying about him in August and September. Throwing 200+ innings and maintaining consistency throughout is a great way to do that. A 3/4 caliber starter the organization can produce, arguably, right now. A 3/4 starter that can throw at that level for 200+ innings? That may take a few years.

And why did I give that run down? To show that while the club has one, two, or three guys that could be horses, there’s too many “ifs” and “should bes” to not have backup plans come August/September, especially if the club wants to give Wacha a breather in July/August to keep him fresh for October (knock on wood). That means pitchers like Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly, and Tyler Lyons. Here’s how I see it playing out:

If the club needs a guy — injury, aches, etc. — in May or June (or before), I think Joe Kelly gets the nod for as long as he can hold down the spot. If the rotation makes it intact through June and into July, then I could see guys like Lyons getting some spot starts to give the starters an intentional break here and there through August and into September. The problem there…it’s not like we have a lot of expendable position players to send up and down to create room. It would have to be some magical bullpen/Memphis work. But I could see the Cardinals finding a way to skip each starter twice during the month of August and into September over time, then give them the end of September to ramp it back up. Of course, this is subject to whatever is currently taking place in the division/playoff race.

But if the Cardinals have a starter go down in August…it’s C-Mart time. I think Matheny and Mozeliak would love to see Carlos Martinez prepare as a starter in August/September/October if needed. If someone like Garcia, Lynn, etc. goes down at the end of the season, Martinez could be this year’s Michael Wacha — not in the rotation at the beginning of the year, but rescuing it and dominating in September and October.

Go Cards!!!

Ben Chambers
I firmly believe that Waino will get to 200. I am just not confident that anyone else will. I’m not sure why any of them need to, to be honest. The average pitcher will get 30-33 starts in a healthy season. Waino got 34 last year, but he was only 1 of only 4 that did, and most sat around 32.

If a pitcher goes 6 innings in every start, and they get 32 (which is what I would expect from a pitcher), then they will get 192 innings. If you assume that they get a couple of deep starts and a couple of early exits, then that will probably even itself out. I don’t think it’s a bad deal to get a solid 6 innings from a starter and then expect the bullpen to get the other 3.

Let’s just look at Lynn vs. Kelly because that’s the typical argument, and I have the numbers handy.

A lot of the talk about Lynn is that he is an innings eater and that works in his favor, but in Kelly’s starts, he averaged only 1 batter less per start than Lynn did in his starts. Would you rather have a guy with an ERA of 2.28 out there for 5.8 innings (Kelly’s average innings/start) over a guy with an ERA of 3.97 for 6.1 innings (Lynn’s average innings/start).

What I’m really getting at is that I would rather have quality over quantity. When a guy going 191 innings (what Kelly would have made with Lynn’s number of starts: 33) and do it with a significantly lower ERA than a guy going 200 innings, I pick the guy going 191. With that in mind, how important is it for a guy to hit 200 innings if there is a guy who can go 10 less and do it much better?

Joe Schwarz (Viva El Birdos)
Like most people have said, Wacha will likely get the Shelby treatment. I would like to see CMart get the Wacha treatment and be fresh for the stretch run in the rotation if necessary. Lyons, Gast, and maybe some sleepers will likely see spot starts along the way.

Lastly, I don’t think there will really be a battle between Lynn and Kelly for that last spot like some people think. Lynn has been a healthy horse in his two seasons as a starter, and nothing about his mechanics points to that changing in the near future (knocks on wood). Garcia has not. Jaime has to prove himself more than Lynn does at this point, so I honestly see Garcia and Wacha near the back of the rotation this season. When Jaime is healthy, he’s nails (at home, not so much on the road), but I want him to prove that he can stay healthy and prove he has returned to form first. Thus, I think the battle for that last spot in the rotation actually consists of Kelly and Garcia (and CMart down the road). Not Lynn.

It will be fun to watch. That’s for sure!

Daniel Shoptaw (C70 At The Bat)
Nothing I can add that’d be groundbreaking.  No way they go six man rotation, but they’ll look for opportunities to spot start.  (I better get to see Tyler Lyons sport that big 70 on the field again this year.)  Wainwright might get his innings reduced in September, if the Cards (knock on wood) lock things up early (or are comfortably ahead).  Letting him skip a turn a couple of times through the rotation, especially with the expanded rosters, seems like a reasonable idea.

I’m leery of having Carlos Martinez in the bullpen, because I’m thinking if they don’t start letting him get innings under his belt soon, he’s not going to be a starter.  Ben at VEB had a nice piece that shows that C-Mart hasn’t averaged 100 innings yet in his four year career.  While I understand protecting those arms, eventually you’ve got to get them up to starter levels if you want them to be a starter.  I’d rather see him getting some innings in Memphis than being the one-inning relief guy this year, because I think he could easily go the Rosenthal route and be there for a long period of time.

It’s a great problem to have, but baseball does tend to find its balance.  What looks like depth now can be tested later on.  Hopefully we don’t find that out!

Ben Chambers
It’s not about the people and more about the numbers. Let’s say a starter has 32 starts in one season. Would you rather have a pitcher go 192 innings with an ERA of 3.00 or 202 and 2/3 innings with an ERA of 4.26?

The first guy (192 innings, 3.00 ERA) would average 6 innings a start, and give up an average 2 runs per game. The second guy (202 2/3 innings, 4.26 ERA) would average 6 1/3 innings per game and give up an average 3 runs per game. Which would you rather have?

I’d personally take the guy with less innings over the guy who pitched 200+. Let the ‘pen take the 1 extra batter each start. The guy with the lower ERA gives the team a better chance to win.

Dathan

Not disagreeing, Ben.  I think we’d all prefer “Player A”, but pitching fewer innings doesn’t assure, or even suggest that a lower ERA is to follow.  Same holds true for more IP & a higher ERA.  Mitchell Boggs & Doc Halladay (circa ’09) can attest.

Ben Chambers
I agree. There is no direct correlation, but my point is just that I’d rather take quality innings over hitting 200 innings. If someone can do both (have quality innings and get to 200), I’ll take that, easily!

But that’s why I’m not impressed with Lynn’s 200 innings. He had the highest ERA of the starters last year who pitched more than a couple starts and weren’t named Westbrook. Lynn needs to put in quality innings more than he needs to put in a lot of innings, in my opinion at least.

John Nagel
I think the problem is that you are assuming 2013 Joe Kelly will be 2014 Joe Kelly and we don’t know that.

What we do know is Kelly was pretty lucky last year (I know how you feel about FIP but it is a great measure) and bullpens love innings eaters and Lynn is one of those.

Ben Chambers
I understand that. And Lynn’s 2014 numbers won’t be his 2013 numbers, but for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that Lynn gets about 200 innings and his career ERA of 3.82 in 2014. I would much rather have any guy who can come in and get 10-15 less innings and an ERA of 3.00 or better.

Do I think Kelly can get that? Possibly. I agree that his 2013 numbers will be hard to duplicate, but I think he could have an ERA around 3 for a season. But I’d rather have any pitcher who can put in 185-190 innings with an ERA around 3 out there. I’d take any of the young arms if they could hit that many innings, but they can’t. I think Carlos Martinez or Marco Gonzalez in a year. Seth Maness or Kevin Siegrist if they get back into a starting role (although I don’t see that happening).

Kelly is the only option right now that I think could hit 185 innings, and that’s why I advocate for him, however, I would in reality take any of those guys if they could put up a solid 185 with an ERA of 3, because although the bullpen would have to take 15 more innings in a year, the team will win more games when the other team scores less runs.

Kevin Reynolds
The reality is that a “200 innings guy” helps the bullpen, even if that just means 1 batter per game, that’s one batter/one pitcher appearance/etc the pen doesn’t have to cover per game. Think about how gassed certain guys have been throughout the season. One less appearance per game week after week makes a difference. It keeps your best pen arms fresher longer which gives the team that much more of a chance to win. In addition, how many times have we said Matheny left a pitcher in 1 batter too long because of the damage he did? Often, the ability to hang in there and keep your team in the game one more hitter or one more inning is reflected in the 200 innings stat. And it’s rarely just 1 more hitter per game – that’s just spreading the numbers mathematically – it’s usually 2 more innings in 6 starts or 3 more hitters in 15 starts. Other days, they may get pulled early or at an average innings point for multiple reasons – big lead, just don’t have it, etc.

200 innings itself is just a number, but what it means and indicates at the individual game level and as a cascade effect for a gassed bullpen trying to go all season long is huge. And we’ve seen why every season.And that doesn’t even address the matchup effect having to go to your pen 1 hitter or more too early can have on your lefties/setup guy/closer/pen roles/etc.

Dan Buffa (as news…and Jamie’s shoulder…broke)
Down goes Jaime. Up goes Carlos Martinez???

Kevin Reynolds
By the way…comparing Martinez and, say, Wacha to guys like Lynn, Kelly, or even Garcia when talking 200 innings is apples and oranges. You’re talking about a group of guys not yet physically or mentally prepared to go 200 innings but likely will be in the near future versus a group that doesn’t appear likely to stay in enough games long enough to log 200 innings even at their peak. It’s a question of ability versus readiness. Lynn needs to show this year that he has the ability or else someone else who has it will pass him on the roster soon.

Corey Rudd
The Jaime injury is not a blow to the rotation. It is a blow to the bullpen. Theoretically CMart or Kelly will take his spot, leaving the pen looking like this..

Rosenthal
Kelly or CMart
Motte (when he is ready)
Maness
Choate
Siegrist
Neshak

Who fills the hole until Motte is fully ready to go, which may be awhile considering he is not firing 100 percent yet? Do we really want to overuse and rely on Neshak?

Will they use Freeman and make Siegrist the 8th inning guy? Butler, who looks very average?  Or, do they find another veteran, which would be my preference.

Going back to the innings debate, do you really want this bully exposed to 3 or more innings 4 out of 5 nights?

I certainly don’t…

Of course, Jaime could claw his way back, but I have my doubts after another set back.

Kelly and CMart may be the favorites to take this spot in the rotation, but don’t discount Lyons as an option so it can keep the bullpen strong as well

Dan Buffa
Caging Martinez with this rotation opening would be stupid. Let the young mustang ride. See what he’s got because now is the time.

Siegrist is good against lefties and righties and can serve in Martinez’s fireman position. Unleash Freeman’s raw arm to lefties. Neshek can get time when there are no lefties coming up because they shred him.

When Motte returns all won’t be well until the wolf proves himself effective.

Joe Kelly is your long man when needed until Wacha tries to throw a baseball with a boulder of expectations on his shoulder and crumbles. Ha I kid!!

It wouldn’t be spring training without an injury to the rotation. Game on ladies and gents.

Ben Chambers
Having Martinez start the year in the rotation would mean that he’d be done by the end of July. The guy hasn’t pitched more than 104 innings in a season. Going back to the original question that was posted, he’d need his innings monitored. If the Cardinals want to maximize a rotation and keep everyone available in October to pitch, then I think they should start with Kelly and Wacha with Martinez getting a few of Wacha’s starts. Then, around the All-Star Break, (if nobody else gets hurt) you swap Kelly and Martinez, making Kelly the long man and taking a couple of Wacha’s starts, and Martinez in the rotation for the last 2 months. That’ll keep everyone able to pitch in October and not have to shut them down like a certain someone last year.

Dan Buffa
Why throw Martinez to sharks closer to a pennant chase? Test him early and have Kelly as your safety valve. Or use Kelly as a 6th arm. He takes every third start to keep Martinez healthy. You have to see what Carlos has got. Untested and full of talent.

Dathan
I see.  Yes, totally agree.  Fortunately the Cards are in a spot with so many arms that such a luxury exists.  With an over abundance of pitching, quality innings are way more desirable.  If we were short-staffed, or had a horrible bullpen bridge to the closer, we might be placing a higher value on starters going deeper into game.  And now that 54 is out of the way, the picture has become just slightly clearer.

Daniel Shoptaw
And I’ll put on the rose-colored glasses: Garcia’s not yet been ruled out for the season.  If things aren’t as dire as some of the reporting would seem to indicate–not on the side of probability, I grant you, but possible–this might actually allow for some of those inning issues to work out.  For example, Martinez could start if Garcia’s just out a month, then go to Memphis for starting on an more elongated schedule, then return later in the year.

John Nagel
If thats the timeline, I like that idea. If its the season, I am leaning towards Lyons. Martinez and Kelly may be needed to stabilize the pen.

Corey Rudd
Glad somebody else is worried about the pen John. How soon we forget how awful the pen was to start 2013. Without Mujica stepping up, this may not have been a playoff team and with the injury to Garcia, Mozeliak and Matheny might be wise to use Lyons to keep the pen intact.

I think Carlos Martinez will be a dynamite starter. I also think Rosy could be an all-star caliber starter. But let’s be honest for ourselves, what role for each of them gives this team the best chance to win in 2014?

I think they need to find a veteran reliever.. Either in free agency or via trade.

Ben Chambers
I don’t feel like the ‘pen is too big of a worry, at least in my mind. Yes, the Cardinals will have to take a guy out of there to take Garcia’s spot. If Kelly goes in for Garcia, Lyons may take the long man spot, and I don’t know how good he’ll be there.

Other than that, I think that Freeman could take that spot, and I think he’ll do well. Butler doesn’t look great, but can step in for a little, and pitch low leverage spots. What about Lee Stoppelman or Eric Fornataro? Could they step in for a short time?

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Offseason journal: Day 91

Day 91: Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and various baseball-related hallucinations

It’s reached the point where I’m literally substituting baseball words & story lines into the lyrics of songs I hear playing on the radio.

“Only pick him off if he starts to go, only call a balk if he lifts his toe, only take a fastball when it’s 3-0. . . and it’s 3-0.”

The countdowns to “truck day” have begun, and only a few more days until the big football game is over (and we don’t have to hear the “word” PHYSICALITY until next football season the NFL draft).

 

I feel like Tyrone Biggums.  Absolutely jonesing for baseball right now.  We had a warm day in St. Louis a week or so ago, when temps approached 70 degrees.  I could almost smell the $2,400 beers, and taste the $500 “ultimate ballpark nachos”.  I was talking to a colleague at work yesterday, and was talking about how I was so ready to watch a game, I didn’t care if it was the Padres & Orioles squaring off.   And as the words “Padres and Orioles” came out of my mouth, a smile came across my face that six UFC fighters and four crowbars couldn’t remove.

I’m SO ready!

Driving around the county this afternoon, I glanced at the time, and realized that, at 7:06pm, it was dark outside.  I couldn’t help but think about how it wouldn’t be long and 7:06pm would be the start of a regular tradition, born anew.  My mind started to wander to the nights from April to September, when, after the Cards game, I need just a LITTLE more, so I’d watch the A’s or Mariners (I know, right?) on MLB.TV.  Or, if the schedule worked out just right, lie in bed and fall asleep watching the Dodgers on my iPad, listening to the legendary Vin Scully.  Thank God he’s coming back again this year.  Count your blessings, folks, after Harwell, Kalas, Buck, and others of that ilk, there aren’t many left!

But I say unto you this day, fear not, for the days of Old Man Winter are numbered.  That icy S.O.B. will soon have no choice but to give way to the sights & sounds of spring training…you know the ones:

  • The sounds of “pop!” in catchers mitts all across Florida and Arizona
  • Veterans on the brink of retirement telling us they’re “in the best shape of their life”
  • Managers talking about all the competition for spots on the roster, and how “nobody is guaranteed a roster spot”
  • Shaky iPhone videos of a pitcher throwing a few pitches (from 30 or 40 feet away)
  • And, of course, the interviews you can barely hear because of the wind blowing over the microphone the whole time

 

I.         Cant.         Wait.

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Offseason journal: Day 73

Day 73: One down, two to go.

Is it just me, or do you guys feel that?  I think it’s the slightest glimmer of hope starting to stir.

 

I always felt like there are three major milestones between the end of one baseball season, and the beginning of another.  Three hurdles that are benchmarks, telling us how far we’ve come and been able to survive since the end of the previous season, and, perhaps more importantly, how close we’re getting to the arrival of next year.  For me, the “big three” have been:

1) The Holiday season (one “L”)

2) The Superb*wl

3) March Madness

 

Getting through the holidays can be tough, ask anyone with in-laws.  But, for a hardcore baseball fan who sees the holiday season as “checkpoint 1 of 3″, it can be more difficult than for most getting through them.  Fortunately for Cardinals fans, the past few years have been relatively easy for us to get TO the holidays, given the club’s run into deep October in recent seasons.  Up next is the big football game, and from what I understand, the playoffs are either already underway, or start this weekend.  So, we’re getting closer to that.  Soon the only thing standing between us and “Here Comes The King” will be that basketball tournament.  In a related story, it’s also the most popular time of year for vasectomy procedures in the United States, if you didn’t know.  True story–many urology offices and urological surgeons will run “March Madness specials” where they’ll offer a pizza coupon or something with any procedure done during the March Madness timeframe.  Enough people must think, “Might as well have an excuse to not get up off the couch for two or three straight days”.

 

Enough of that.  The Cardinals Winter Warmup will be here soon (next weekend, in fact), and that usually comes right on time.  It’s been long enough since we’ve seen live baseball, that just about the time we think we can’t take another day, in swoops the #WWU to give us a baseball shot in the arm to get us through those last few weeks.  If you’ve never been, go.  It’s good for what ails you.

 

There’s less time between now and the beginning of the 2014 season than there is time between now and the end of the 2013 season.  Stay strong, fans, we’re gonna make it.

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Offseason journal: Day 42

Day 42: Winter, and the death of all signs of baseball

 

So much activity has taken place so far this offseason!  It’s the hottest hot stove I can remember, with a sizable news story or two (or more!) seemingly breaking each day.  From big free agent signings like the Cano deal to blockbuster trades like the one that included Prince Fielder to retirement of players like Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter, to the Hall of Fame announcements for Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox, it’s been busy!  Like I said, this is among the busier offseasons I can recall in recent years, especially when you consider that we’re just now getting the winter meetings underway.

But there’s nothing like live action baseball.  And I miss that a lot right now.

It’s great when players don a new team’s jersey at a press conference, or countdown shows depicting the greatest (everything from clutch doubles to bloopers) of the 2013 season air on our TV sets.  But, there’s just no substitute for live game action.

We’ve seen a little snow & ice in the St. Louis area over the past several days, and while it’s not been enough to really accumulate much, it has made some roads slick at times, especially (say it with me, locals) “bridges and overpasses”.  But the north winds bring more than just nasty weather.  The look and feel of a barren earth consumes you at every turn.  Trees are full of stark naked branches….not a leaf to be seen at all.  The portions of grass that are visible, between those patches of snow, aren’t a vibrant green so much as they’re more of a tan/beige color.

And there are no smells.

No smells of fresh-cut grass, or summer BBQs, not even the smell of burning piles of leaves in my neighborhood anymore.  Long gone are the smells of grilled foods, cotton candy, and cold beers at the ballpark.  The sounds of vendors, the buzz of the crowd, and even the roar of the occasional dreaded wave.  No, friends, there’s nothing but cold temperatures and a few hours of sunshine every couple of weeks, to break up weeks-at-a-time stretches of overcast weather and cloud cover.

The hot stove’s great, don’t get me wrong.  It’s good for keeping a feel of baseball somewhat intact.  But in other ways, man, baseball couldn’t feel any further away right now.

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Offseason journal: Day 34

Day 34:  More than a month in, things are moving at a brisk pace

 

Well, it’s been over a month now, and I’m still getting settled in to this “new normal”.  Fortunately, there’s really not been much of a shortage for baseball-related news.  There were the awards, and though often things will slow down (sometimes to a grinding halt) after that, they really haven’t slowed that much over the past couple of weeks.  Terms like “lively” or even “busy” come to mind when you consider:

  • HOF Ballot announcement
  • Freese/Salas traded to LAA for Bourjos/Grichuck
  • Schumaker to CIN
  • KC sold George Kottaras to CHC
  • DET sent Fister to WAS for a trio
  • Cards sign Jhonny Peralta
  • Jose Molina signed with TB
  • Jim Johnson to OAK for Weeks & PTBNL

And perhaps among the more surprising moves so far this offseason:

  • COL signed LaTroy Hawkins

Oh, well, at least he’s in the NL.

 

So, it really has been closer to feast than famine lately…and we’re still a few days away from seeing which players will be tendered/non-tendered.  Winter meetings haven’t yet started, and the A-Rod circus is (thankfully) getting a lot less attention than it otherwise might be, if things weren’t quite so busy.  Dude.  I’m not sure how much of it I could take if the daily headlines were about minutia like A-Rod storming out of a meeting, then going on the air to spout off for a few minutes.

With only eleven weeks until spring training starts up again, I’m somewhat encouraged about not withering away and dying due to a lack of baseball this offseason.  In fact, though tempted, I still haven’t had to break out games to watch to keep my sanity.  Although before much longer, it may reach the point where I can watch a game leisurely rather than like some crack addict, glued to every pitch without blinking.

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Offseason Journal: Day 22

Day 22:  Feast or famine

 

The Cards called a 2pm presser today to announce a 3-year extension for manager, Mike Matheny.  GM John Mozeliak also announced the formal retirement of the man who puts the BMF in BAMF, Chris Carpenter.  There were other lesser stories as well, including announcements about Oscar Tavares being named to the 40-man roster, and our old friend, Jeff Luhnow picking up Ryan Jackson.

Later in the evening, word came down that the Tigers and Rangers had pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal sending Ian Kinsler to Detroit in exchange for Prince Fielder, some money, and many many grilled cheese sandwiches.

This is all great, don’t get me wrong.

But take a minute and think about those commercials on TV, where they ask you to donate money.  You know, the ones where “less than a dollar a day” would keep flies out of kids’ eyes or something.  Let’s say you’ve got a starving child on your hands, who has been malnourished for 3 weeks.  Are you really doing that kid any favors if you drop a 7-course meal in their lap one afternoon?  No way.

After three weeks of starving or barely getting by on morsels here and there, there’s no way the kid could possibly consume that much food…all at once.  You wanna help that kid out?  Give him a 7-course meal, but spread that food out over several days, so he can take his time, consume it at a healthy pace, and reap the benefits of the nutritional factors in the food, without making himself sick by over-indulging only to watch the vast majority of the food spoil.

His stomach has shrunken over these last few weeks, and you can’t just go dropping bombs like a Matheny re-up, and an American League blockbuster in the same day you put Tavares on the 40-man, and lose Jackson in what is a growing long line of former Redbirds to Houston.  Take this much baseball news, and spread it out over the course of a week, why don’t ya?!  Either that, or start churning out big news like this on a regular friggin’ basis, or else all that food will go to waste, and that poor kid will never benefit from what you’re trying to do.  Sheesh!

Feed him these lavish meals more often, or ration the food out to make it last all offseason!   You know, metaphorically, I mean.

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Offseason Journal: Day 15

Day 15:  Putting the “F” in “Frost”

 

I woke up yesterday morning to frost.   Frost on the porch, frost on the lawn, frost on the mailbox, and the windshield.  Man, you can’t play ball in that stuff.  When I see white on the grass, it should represent fair or foul, not cold.

I think I heard my DVR calling my name earlier this evening.  This weekend, it might be time to break out one of the random games I recorded from this past season.  Part of the fun in recording games randomly, is that it’s often easy to forget the outcome or key moments of the game.  Some random weekend in May?  Sure.  A Tuesday night out of the blue during some west coast swing?  Yeah, why not?  These are some of the things I’ll go back and re-watch during the offseason sometimes, and they’re pretty good at keeping the entertainment factor near original levels.

I’ll have to proceed with caution, though, for a couple of reasons.

#1)  At least we’re in “awards season” right now, so there’s at least SOME new baseball-related news that I can expect each day.  This obviously won’t last forever, and once MVPs are announced, there’s often a lull.  GM meetings and winter meetings don’t mean what they used to, so the likelihood of daily action during these weeks is probably marginally better than any other day of the offseason at best…and maybe not even then, I’d have to check SABRfangraphs, or baseball prospectus to be sure.

#2)  There are a finite number of games recorded on the DVR.  Part of my DNA includes a precious few places for addictive personality traits.  You can probably see where I’m going with this.  I’d hate to sit down on Saturday morning to watch one of the games I’ve recorded, only to kick off an unintentional baseball marathon where I don’t sleep until Wednesday from binging on baseball.

Out of sight out of mind?  No chance.  Absence is making the heart grow fonder.

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Offseason Journal: Day 12

Day 12: Dreamy Matheny

 

After the first full week without Major League Baseball games, I sort of felt a sense of accomplishment.  Partially, it felt like a negative thing (in terms of the whole “no baseball” situation), but there seemed to be a positive element as well, in an “I survived week one” kind of way.

A friend of mine came over on Friday evening, and ended up staying fairly late.  As usual, baseball was among our topics of discussion throughout the course of conversation, being revisited again and again over the hours we spent together.  As I headed to bed in the early morning hour of Saturday, I was not prepared for what awaited me during my slumber.

I am certain, and I mean certain that there are plenty of Cardinals fans who have had dreams that involved Mike Matheny.  I would assume the large majority of those dreams (of which, I’d further assume a large majority were dreamt by heterosexual females) were similar to each other in nature.  On Friday night/early Saturday morning, I had my first dream (that I can recall) that involved good ole number 22.  I assure you, this dream was not like any that other fans have had, particularly those, the nature of which I alluded to a moment ago.  For starters, and for some strange reason, the setting was at the old (second) Busch Stadium.

Matheny & I met up after the game, down in the service tunnel, sort of by the old gate 8, out in the bleachers/outfield/northeastern portion of the ballpark.  I guess he’d already given his postgame interview, because we walked and talked about the game (both the one he’d just finished managing, as well as “the game” in the more broad sense) for what was about 15 or 20 minutes in the dream.  I remember precious little about the content of the conversation itself, except that it ended as he was walking beyond an area that had been sectioned off, and I wasn’t credentialed to pass beyond that point.  He stopped before he was out of sight, thanked me, said it was nice chatting with me, and that he’d see me again tomorrow.

If only.

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Offseason Journal: Day 9

Day 9:  Trying not to go gently into that dark night

 

I do a lot of driving in my day job, and once a week I have a route that takes me to my more remote customers.  These days are usually good for roughly 8 hours of driving (doesn’t include time I’m actually working at the customer’s facility) and 500 miles between the time I leave the house, and the time I return.  It makes for long days, and today was that day.  When I got home this evening, it was dark outside–the end of Daylight Saving Time always takes me a little while to get used to.  At any rate, since it was dark when I pulled into the driveway, I could see into the living room.

The TV wasn’t on.

The game is almost always on when I pull into the driveway and it’s dark outside.

Almost always.

As if I needed another reminder, it was like, “Hey, Dathan!  Don’t forget, baseball season is over!”.  It felt like something between a swift kick to the crotch and salt in a proverbial wound.

One of the ways I pass the driving time on those long work days is by listening to baseball podcasts.  Often the ones I listen to are somewhat (but not hyper) time-sensitive, and I usually allow them to accumulate, and listen to a week’s worth at once, as I make this drive.  This is common for me to do during the season, but without actual baseball to fill the hole left behind by its absence, I might need to find a few more.  Any suggestions are welcome!  (And yes, I already subscribe to the UCB Radio Hour)

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Offseason Journal: Day 8

Day 8: Snuck a peek (and expanded re-peek) at some live ball action in the AFL.

 

I finally saw an inning or two of AFL ball last night, along with the trialing of expanded instant replay.  My heart skipped a beat and my eyes lit up when I saw Piscotty…if for no other reason, seeing the birds on the bat was like an oasis in the desert for my eyes.

I found myself reading about lowering the seams on balls used in the minors, and about newfangled science that causes metal bats to produce less “ping” and more “crack”.  These are the things I’m reading about to pass the time until the major award announcements are made.  (Speaking of, Yadi and the Cards continue to earn more hardware–silver sluggers to he and Carpenter today.)

Today wasn’t a bad day or anything. But I’m starting to wonder how long these tiny bits of “news” and stories about seams are going to be able to keep me going.

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Offseason journal

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

― A. Bartlett Giamatti

 

Here at GCBB, I’ve decided to keep an offseason journal of sorts.  The denial, withdrawal, bargaining, anger, more withdrawal, and whatever other steps are involved in transitioning from the end of the season into the offseason are familiar to most of us who are hardcore fans of the game we love.  I’ll be posting these “journal entries” in addition to my other postings, throughout the course of the offseason.  I expect they will be shorter and much more frequent than “regular” blog posts.

As a tribute to Tony LaRussa, who is up for HOF induction next July, these journal entries will be scheduled to post at 10 (CST) in the morning.  Hope you enjoy them!

 

 

Day 7:  Starting to realize the gravity of the situation.

 

It’s been a full week since I’ve seen a live baseball game on TV, though it feels like much, much longer than that.   I don’t want to start watching the random regular season games I DVR’ed over the summer just yet–I need to ration those to get me through the rest of the winter.

Sunday night was especially tough, as 7:00pm rolled around, and it really started to sink in–this is going to take some getting used to.

Yesterday, I scoured twitter for news about qualifying offers, and it helped me feel a little better when I found some.  Today, MLB’s Facebook page was posting about the upcoming awards for ROY, MOY, CY, and MVP.  This will hopefully be something I can hold on to for a few days, looking forward to these awards being announced.

I’m sure I’ll survive the offseason.  It happens every year, and we all find a way to get through it somehow.  As a Cardinals fan, I suppose I should be glad that I’m only a week into the offseason, not 5 weeks into it, like some folks.

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Tonight, the visiting Red Sox will be hosted by Cardinal Nation at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  Both fan bases are among the top in all of baseball, perhaps making “home field advantage” more of a factor than it’s been in recent years.

With the next 3 games being played at Busch Stadium, the National League rules (also known as the actual rules of baseball) will apply in games 3, 4, and 5.  This has led to roughly 73,000,000 articles, radio shows, blog posts, national stories, and podcasts about David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.

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Usually, Mike Napoli plays first, and Ortiz plays DH.  Since there’s no DH in here in St. Louis (for now…thank God) John Farrell finds himself faced with a decision as to which of these players to start, and which to sit.  In a nutshell, there are a couple of views that are fairly predominant over some of the less popular ideas being tossed about.

  • “Start Napoli at first, and use Ortiz off the bench in a big situation late in the game” (Napoli’s bat over Ortiz’s)

Um, no.  All Ortiz does in October is come through big in the clutch.  Call me crazy, but if Farrell brought Ortiz in to pinch hit in the 7th inning of a game with the bases loaded, and the Cards had a one-run lead, I’d probably walk him.  I would, at the very least, consider walking in the tying run rather than pitching to Papi–he’s that dangerous at the plate.  On the bases, significantly less so, almost to the point of it being better for St. Louis for Ortiz to be on base than circling them while trotting.

  • “Just have Napoli catch instead of Saltamamanllanciccciia” (get both bats in the lineup)

Napoli used to catch, it’s true.  But he’s caught exactly zero games this year, and in my opinion, Peavy and Bucholz are going to need all the help they can get.  Having a guy who hasn’t handled a staff all year is an awful idea if your goal is to win baseball games.  Besides, he was originally going to get a long-term deal with the Sox, but since it took longer for him to pass the team’s physical than it takes for a Molina to go first-to-third due to hip issues, he didn’t get the longer deal.  Because of a bad hip.  You don’t want a guy catching who’s got a bum hip.

  • “Start Ortiz at first, and bring Napoli into the game later, if/when you need him” (Ortiz’s bat over Napoli’s)

This is the no-brainer.

 

But what nobody seems to be talking about is that instead of one or the other of these guys batting in these next three games, Red Sox pitchers will be batting.  To some, that might sound like the same thing, but I’d argue that the two situations are each half of the equation.  This is probably good for no fewer than 6 or 7 outs over the course of the next three days, and that’s a pretty conservative estimate.  Bunts, double-switches, sacrifices, and pinch-hits included, the Boston pitchers are likely to look pretty bad at the plate.  That’s not to say that Cardinals pitchers will hit .400 over the next three games, but any edge is a good edge to have…especially in the World Series.

Jake Peavy has had exactly three postseason plate appearances, all against the Cardinals, from his days in San Diego.  The last time Peavy took a postseason at bat was the NLDS in 2006.  He struck out.  He had two PAs against the Cards in the 2005 NLDS, and struck out both of those times as well.

Clay Buchholz has had four plate appearances EVER.  This seven-year veteran of major league baseball has spent every season of his big league career with the Red Sox, since coming up in 2007.  He had one plate appearance three years ago in 2010, and singled.  Last year he had 3 PAs with 0 hits and 1 strikeout, suggesting he may be able to at least get a sac bunt down if the situation calls for it.  Other than that, nothing.  No plate appearances in 2007, 2008, ’09, ’11, or this season…yet.

Jon Lester’s story is about the same–two career postseason plate appearances with a strikeout.  Both of those occurred in 2007 in the World Series against Matt Holliday at the Rockies.

So it’s been over half a decade since two of the three starters for the Red Sox over the next few days have stepped into a batter’s box.  Is that a huge advantage for the Cards?  Probably not.  How many postseason plate appearances have Joe Kelly or Michael Wacha had?  I know.

The difference is, “NL-style baseball” (excuse me while I puke) exposes pitchers to plate appearances and at-bats far more often.  Maybe it turns out that Farrell has to pull the trigger on a double-switch earlier than he’d like.  Maybe it turns out that he regrets not doing so.  In any event, he will probably have to at least think about it more than once during the course of these next three games.

THAT is what “we” traditionalists are really concerned with, media (and others).  “Who wants to see the pitcher bat?” is what you guys keep asking.  It’s not so much that we’re dying to see a pitcher bat, that it is we love the element of strategy that it adds to the game.  Now that IS a rant/blog post for another day!  But, back to the pitching thing in this series–it’s not a tremendous advantage, I’ll concede, but I’d submit to you that it certainly is one.

As long as you throw these guys fastballs.

I’ve always sort of thought that since pitchers aren’t usually very good hitters, and even good hitters usually need to be sitting on the heater to get around on it, you should give opposing pitchers a steady diet of gas.  When you slow it down, and pull the string or try to mix uncle Charlie into the sequence, I think it can lend itself to trouble.  That’s probably a post for another day, but the long & short my thinking is that, you’d rather put 92 or 93 mph (or in many St. Louis pitchers’ case 98, 99, or 100 mph) by a pitcher who hasn’t swung a bat in seven years than throw some cutesy 74 mph changeup in there.  He’s got a much better chance at hitting anything that’s 74 than anything that’s 92+.  Just sayin’.

As far as the outlook for these next games, as a Cardinals fan, I’m feeling pretty good.  In fact, I wouldn’t rule out the chances of the Cards stepping into the back of a pickup truck and heading down Market street before stepping on a plane again.  Hitting aside, I think the Cards have a clear pitching advantage from here on, making wrapping things up on Monday night a possibility.

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