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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Bullpen Edition…

That was a fast week…but we’re finally back and ready for Cardinals baseball bloggin’. Yes, it did occur to me that the worst week for the Cardinals this season coincided with my week off from the blog…but we’re not callin’ jinx here (*ahem*…at least not now). Let’s get into it…

Isn’t it ironic that the Cards’ most visible challenge the last few weeks has been offensive injuries, aches, and pains…and yet it’s the Redbirds’ pitching that’s mired them in a pitiful losing streak? The bullpen has been atrocious, but their performance is almost understandable when considering the innings load being heaped on them by the Cards’ starters. It’s not a pretty picture. And it doesn’t exactly look like a pitching staff capable of throwing a team deep into the postseason. Mike Matheny sure has his work cut out for him.

Of course, Matheny doesn’t exactly get a free pass himself. His bullpen management is really where he’s showing his relative inexperience. While hesitant to “pull a Tony” and wear a path from the dugout to the mound, Mike’s “trust the players” approach isn’t getting the job done. If the serious bullpen issues – both management of and execution by – aren’t solved soon, this team can forget about defending their title in October.

(Note: I wrote the intro to this post before Waino’s outstanding outing…let’s hope that night off gives the ‘pen some much-needed rest and a chance to hit the reset button.)

Now…let’s get into the rest of it…

This is the Mitchell Boggs that too often shows up at some point in the season. At the start of the season, I was highly concerned about Matheny’s confidence in Boggs and his intermittent delivery. Consistency has been a problem for Mitchell – a big problem – and unfortunately for the Cardinals, consistency is a key requirement for the 8th inning setup role Mike has pigeon-holed Boggs into early on. And it’s not just inconsistency, really…it’s a particular brand of inconsistency. With many pitchers, you really don’t know what to expect night to night. They may come out and strike out the side on Tuesday and then allow four runs on two hits on Thursday. But with Boggs…that dude will throw like a shutdown closer for weeks…and then suddenly lose it. For the next several weeks he enters a funk that is simply irritating and indescribable. He seems to be lost in one of those funks now. Let’s hope his last successful outing the other night is more indicative of things to come.

I have no idea what’s going on with Salas. I’ve always maintained that Fernando Salas is entirely too hittable when he’s not 100% sharp, but his recent bout of wildness surprises me. During his tenure in St. Louis, Salas has always displayed aggressive control in and around the strike zone. So you can imagine my surprise when he walked in the winning run in California. Ugh. That one hurt. It seems it may be time for Salas to get some time off (hey, didn’t we sign some veteran dude named Linebrink?).

Speaking of the bullpen… A lot was written about Chris Carpenter’s lack of offseason rest after pitching deep into the 2011 postseason, but what about the rest of the pitching staff? With the ‘pen’s recent struggles – Scrabble, Boggs, Salas, K-Mac’s injury, and even Motte on occasion – is it time to wonder if the shortened offseason affected more than Carpenter? Is it possible the entire staff is feeling the effects of an abnormal winter?

It’s good to see the Cards pick up a couple of wins with David Freese getting a couple of days off. I can’t remember the last time I saw a key player get two days off just to rest his brain. It really says a lot about the level of pressure David places on himself since his breakout performance in the 2011 postseason. I have to believe it’s a good thing for him to see his team pull together and win without him – shouldn’t that mean he can relax a bit at the plate? Regardless, it would be a wonderful thing to see David Freese relax and just do what he knows he can do in the box…drive the ball to all parts of the field.

With Matt Carpenter’s possible oblique injury, it makes me wonder just who exactly the Cardinals would replace him with on the roster. Zack Cox isn’t ready (as his .208 average in AAA will attest), Pete Kozma isn’t hitting (and isn’t really a third baseman, anyway), and Mark Hamilton (or Matt Adams for that matter) can’t play 3B. So…who does that leave? Hmmm…could the Cardinals be persuaded to promote shortstop Ryan Jackson to fill an infield spot? Or would they prefer to overlook Hamilton’s .161 average and bring up a solid first baseman to alleviate some of the pressure rookie Matt Adams is about to feel? With Allen Craig out, suddenly the Cardinals are thin at the corner infield positions.

I really like the confidence Matt Adams plays with. As I watched him make the casual snag-and-spin throwing play to second base tonight, it made me realize just how smooth and comfortable Adams is in the big leagues. Sure, it would have been nice to see him slam one with the bases loaded and no outs, but it was satisfying to see him draw two walks the same day some were criticizing him for poor plate discipline. This kid is going to be fun to watch.

Congrats to Adam Wainwright on his complete game shutout. His reaction after the game was unforgettable, and a perfect example of why Cardinal Nation loves him so much. Waino is bueno.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for tonight. It’s late, I’m tired…and the Cardinals have a two-game winning streak going…

GO CARDS!!!

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