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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Weren’t We Supposed to have a Surplus?

The Cardinals started the season on an amazing run. Sure, they were leaving men on base at a record pace (we don’t really know the record, but we just like to make grandiose and unfounded statements like this), and sure, the offense, billed as one akin to an American League ball-boppin’ lineup, wasn’t exactly lightin’ teams up…but the pitching was better than expected. Much better. In fact, the Cardinals starting rotation was among the best in baseball. And it was only going to get better.

Signed in the off-season, Matt Clement was this year’s rotation sleeper. Coming off shoulder surgery and a long absence from the mound, Clement was expected to be ready for the first week of the season. When Spring Training began, however, it was clear he needed a bit more time to strengthen his well-rested throwing arm. No problem. He went to extended Spring Training and the team moved on. Currently: Reports have Clement throwing well below his necessary/former velocity and Johnny Mo seems to be growing impatient. It is now doubtful Clement will ever pitch as a Cardinal.

Joel Piniero signed a two-year, $13 million dollar contract last year and was set to hold down a middle to back of the rotation spot for the Cardinals for the next two years. He developed a shoulder issue in Spring Training that sent him to extended Spring Training as well. Again, the team moved on. Upon his return, Joel has been less than stellar. Currently: Joel is scheduled to skip his next start and may very well end up on the DL. His injury? Well, if it were up to me, I would call brain cramp…the guy has reportedly been having problems maintaining his concentration level through the middle innings. At this point, he has to be the odd man out if ANYONE ever gets off the DL and returns to our rotation.

Mark Mulder, after his second shoulder surgery last season, was expected to make it back to the rotation by the first week of June at the latest. After experiencing “discomfort” in his repaired shoulder, his rehab assignment was mercifully halted (the triple A clubs were lighting the guy up). Currently: He is now sitting for a 2 week rest-your-arm assignment while he awaits yet his second rehab attempt this season alone. It is now becoming doubtful he will ever pitch this season.

Brad Thompson has somehow fallen out of favor with TLR and Dave Duncan. After pitching…well…pretty much the same as he’s always pitched during Duncan’s love affair with the temperamental right-hander…Thompson was sent down to Triple A and Dl’ed with elbow problems. Currently: I have heard reports that he is rehabbing the elbow, but all indications suggest Thompson will never appear in a Cardinals uniform again. Why? My best guess is this: Thompson had the luxury of making it to the Big League club while our farm system was depleted. A pretty average pitcher at best, Thompson received an opportunity not because he was the best, but because the Cardinals’ minor league system was significantly lacking a “best” pitching prospect. That is no longer the case. With multiple young arms ready to go at Triple A, Thompson has simply lost his spot on the depth chart. He would do well to end up in a trade.

Chris Carpenter MIGHT be the one bright spot to all of this. Reports suggest he is progressing nicely, despite a supposed “not even a hiccup” hiccup. He is expected back sometime around mid-July. We’ll see.

So…where does this leave us? Todd Wellemeyer. Thank God for Todd Wellemeyer. The guy has somehow managed to put up ace-like numbers and post the best win-loss record on the team. His ERA rivals Wainwright’s, and his strikeout/walk ratio continues to impress (for a bargain basement pickup). Dave Duncan has harnessed the “live arm” of this Kentucky Colonel, and it is paying off. Other than that? Well…we have Waino. Looper is steadily earning the team’s trust (despite last night’s crazy-leg performance). And Lohse is on more often than not (he has clearly benefited from Dunc’s strategy-heavy approach on the mound). After that…who?

Piniero looks to be temporarily replaced by Mike Parisi in the starting rotation due to a groin strain (he was shagging balls in the outfield – nice). It’s either him, or Anthony Reyes…and it doesn’t seem likely that TLR and Dunc are in a position to trust Reyes (but you never know). Either way, it makes me wonder. With the way Piniero has been getting knocked around the field (even on outs), will he be able to earn his rotation spot back after his DL stint? Parisi has looked good early on and clearly has the look and feel of a starter. McClellan is considered a possible candidate for a future rotation spot in the organization. Is it possible that Joel Piniero could have just shagged his way out of a rotation spot? If anyone comes in and pitches effectively during Joel’s absence, how do you hand the spot back to him after the way he was serving it up through several starts?

All in all, Joel’s fate is not my main concern. Our yet to materialize pitching surplus we were all so excited about is, however. We are gradually backing our way into a pitching crunch. With Thompson, Carpenter, Mulder, Clement, and possibly Piniero, we have an entire Major League pitching rotation on the DL…and very little hope of more than one returning effectively.

Let me also throw in one more cause for concern regarding our rotation. Wellemeyer is looking to pitch his first full season as a Major League starting pitcher. Looper is consistently throwing 100 pitches per start, every fifth day, for the first time in his career. Lohse has already been experiencing some discomfort in his throwing arm after an unusual Spring Training regimen. Even Waino, going into start after start with the burden of “saving the bullpen,” is going to see quite a bit of wear on a well-burdened arm. So, the question is…who is going to get injured first, and how will Johnny Mo address such a situation?

Will he continue with Parisi? Will he look for a veteran pitcher to eat innings and give the team a shot to win? Or, will he finally pull the trigger on the youth movement and dip into the plethora of talent in Memphis?

Mind you, I’m not in favor of accelerating the development of our young arms…gambling our future just for one season is not a good gamble at all…but the possibility of seeing Garcia in the bigs this year does intrigue me.

One more thought on our pitching situation and then we’ll move on to Bird Seeds…if Parisi DOES take Joel’s scheduled start…does that mean we will call up a pitcher to take his spot in the bullpen? Hmmmm…if so, is it possible we could get a look at Jason Motte??? The kid’s inability to throw a pitch other than his fastball with any effectiveness concerns me…but it would be exciting…wouldn’t it?

Okay…enough for this week. The Cardinals look to rebound against the Houston Astros after a disheartening loss at home last night. Game is on at 7:15 pm our time.

GO CARDS!!!

BIRD SEEDS

Colby Rasmus says, “My name’s not Mendoza!!!”  Rasmus, the team’s number one prospect in Triple A, may finally be figuring some things out. Coming into today’s game, Rasmus was hitting around .318 in his last six games with a homerun, 3 RBIs, 6 walks, and 6 runs scored. This recent improvement has elevated his average to a whopping .195, finally threatening to break through the Mendoza line. However, Joe Mather is still whooping his a$$…

Barton Hits First Home Run!!!  Brian Barton knocked his first home run of his young career last night. His awkward, out in front swing sent a line drive carrying into the visitor’s bullpen. Of course, a St. Louis police officer unknowingly tossed the ball to a fan in the stands, so Barton may never get the ball. And I guess it would be too much to ask for the fan to show a little class and return the ball to Barton…I would be shocked…

I Like My Yadi with a Side of “K”   After starting the season as the hardest man in the NL to strikeout, Yadier Molina has been slowly returning to form with a strikeout in each of his last three games played. Thank God!!! This could actually be a good sign. Yadi has always been known for his defensive prowess, but this year has been a bit different. This year, Molina may very well reach a career high for errors and a career low for base runners thrown out. One has to wonder if his focus and overall game approach has changed a bit as he attempts to improve his performance at the plate. Could it be affecting his defense? I don’t know, but I do know this…Yadi’s contact-hitting approach at the plate is costing this team in RBIs. Yadi is second on the team in grounding into double plays. With nearly 30 fewer at bats than Skip Schumaker (9 GDPs), Yadi has only 1 less GDP (8). At the six or seven spot in the order, we don’t need a contact hitter – especially one with his “speed” – we need an aggressive swinging RBI man. Oh, and by the way…during this 3 game “K” trend, Yadi was finally able to complete his patented pick-off play at first last night. Like I said, a Yadi that strikes out is a-okay with me…

Albert Pujols Says, “What About Me?”  All I hear is Berkman, Berkman, Berkman…and, yeah…the guy is a stud this year…and I like Berkman…but let’s not forget El Hombre. Pujols has been quietly heating it up lately. From May 2nd through May 13th (11 games), Pujols hit app. .307 with 10 walks, 3 HRs, and 6 RBIs. From May 14th to present (12 games), he’s hitting app. .412 with 3 walks, 4 HRs, and 8 RBIs.  Let’s review…his walks have been more than cut in half and his average has increased by more than 100 points. It looks as if pitchers may be challenging the Cardinals slugger a bit more than usual…but a quick glance at the difference in RBI totals suggests they are only doing it in a bases empty situation…hmmm…

A Disturbing Trend  During the ’08 season, our one claim to offensive fame thus far has been our OBP. Cardinals hitters have been getting on base more than any other NL team. However, after noticing a lack of walks and an increase in strikeouts the last few games, I decided to do a bit of digging. This season, the Cardinals are ranked 2nd in overall OBP with .363 and 240 walks. The last 7 days tell a different story. In the last 7 days, the Cardinals ranked 12th in OBP with .304 and 16 walks. Could other teams be figuring us out, a bit? With every announcer in baseball pointing out our high walk totals and OBP as well as our unusually high number of runners left on base, has it finally occurred to pitchers to simply throw strikes to our young hitters? That could certainly account for Pujols’ increase in numbers (see above)…but it doesn’t make me feel all warm inside…quite the opposite, in fact. It makes me wonder, can this team win without the high OBP numbers? If recent stats are any indication, it looks like we’re going to get the chance to find out.

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