In the middle of the 10 game road trip, the Cardinals absolutely lit it up. On the front and back end, however, winnable games ended with a thud. Because of that thud, the Cardinals have to re-evaluate their end of the game pitchers.
Ryan Franklin has had a tough 2011. Save the 5 April save against Pittsburgh, he has allowed at least a run in every outing, surrendered the lead four times, and been saddled with the loss twice. In every instance, he came in trying to protect a one-run lead and in each, he failed to do so. That’s the harsh truth.
The harsher truth is, at 38 years old his best years closing are probably behind him. Save Mariano Rivera, every big-time closer becomes less effective as he gets older. Even the great Trevor Hoffman finally broke down and became eminently hittable the last 2-3 years of his career. Franklin has been the man for 3+ years, and saved 83 games as a Cardinal. Maybe his time has come.
That said, I must point out that he was done no favors Sunday by his manager. Tony LaRussa first showed no confidence in his closer by having Trever Miller start the ninth against Andre Ethier. Franklin was rested, having not pitched since Thursday 14 April. Then, with the tying run on second, LaRussa brought his struggling closer in to face the NL’s hottest hitter not named Lance Berkman. Matt Kemp, who already had 3 hits in the game, had also homered off Franklin in that Thursday outing. Having Miller walk Kemp made sense in that situation, even though it would have put the winning run on first with no outs in the ninth. Having Franklin walk Kemp would have raised an eyebrow, but still would have made sense given what Kemp is currently doing with the bat.
Asking Franklin to get Kemp was a tough assignment today. Franklin didn’t get it done.
After the game there were the expected calls for Franklin’s head, and clamoring for either Mitchell Boggs or Eduardo Sanchez to take over as the closer. After LaRussa’s press conference, it was also leaked via Twitter that he and Dave Duncan were going to get together to discuss the closer situation. Both Boggs and Sanchez are currently blowing hitters away. Boggs is the more seasoned reliever, Sanchez is probably the closer of the future.
No matter what the Brain Trust decides to do, they cannot continue to let Franklin flounder in the ninth inning. It is a gut punch both to the team (who sees their 8 innings of effort wasted), and to Franklin (who will beat himself up for not helping the team). Whether it’s a DL stint, a removal of Franklin for a couple of weeks until he gets his head on straight, or something else, they need to do something.
When this team was not scoring runs the focus was on the offense, and rightly so. As this road trip proved the offense will be fine; they may not put up 8 runs a game from now until the end of the season, but they are going to score and score in bunches. Now the focus should be on the pitching. Cardinal starters are throwing the ball well enough, with lingering concerns about Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook. Cardinal relievers not named Franklin have been lights out since opening day.
St Louis could be 12-4 if they had held every late lead they’ve had this season. They’re not; they’re 8-8. There’s no use dwelling on what’s happened because we can’t change it. All the team can do is move forward, and in order to move forward late game lead protection must be fixed.