In the midst of the hand-wringing about being swept at the hands of the Reds – and there is some hand-wringing going on – the Cardinals bullpen has returned to front page news.
I personally do not care that much about the Reds sweeping St Louis this weekend. It’s mid-May, the series was in Cincinnati, there is plenty of baseball left. Realistically if the Cardinals had not surrendered the 5-2 lead on Friday night we wouldn’t be nearly as concerned about what happened on Saturday and Sunday, because they would have simply lost 2 of 3. Things that should concern us right now are (1) when will Albert really break out, (2) why is Chris Carpenter getting lit up this season, and (3) when will the Cardinals management quit messing around with the bullpen.
Only Albert knows when that breakout will happen. Chris Carpenter will be the subject of a later post. Let’s talk about the bullpen.
After blowing the save on Friday night, Eduardo Sanchez has (reportedly) been replaced as the closer. Fernando Salas will be the next guy in the barrel. That makes him the fourth guy anointed as the ‘closer’ in the team’s first 41 games, and I don’t get it. I talked about this on “Gateway to Baseball Heaven” last night (the show starts 60 min into the file). The Cardinals took almost a month to remove Ryan Franklin as closer, yet since whenever the current guy blows a save he’s out immediately. Why?
In 2009 ago Rockies manager Jim Tracy, after taking over mid-season from Clint Hurdle, got a lot of credit for simplifying things in the Rockie locker room. He ended the platoon arrangement for a couple of positions that Hurdle had instituted, and with their roles defined the team took off. It’s true in any walk of life, namely, when someone has their role clearly defined so they knows what is expected of them, they perform better. St Louis has steadfastly refused to do that since April 17. I had absolutely no issue with the initial statements coming out of the Cardinals camp, about using matchups only to determine who would pitch in the 8th and 9th inning. I still think that’s the best approach to success in the game, because I’ve never understood why teams like to save their best reliever for the 9th, when the most dangerous hitters might hit in the seventh or eighth inning.
Anyway I had hope the Cardinals would actually do that. But they haven’t. What they have done is send a clear message to their bullpen corps – make a mistake and you’re out. No wonder guys are struggling now. To wit: Mitchell Boggs converted his first 3 save chances, then blew one on 26 April in Houston. He was removed, and since then his ERA is almost 7.00. Sanchez was nigh unhittable until inheriting the closer role. Since his first appearance on 27 April, his ERA is almost 6.00.
Now it’s Salas’ turn, with LaRussa playing Lord Vader from The Empire Strikes Back.
The solution is as simple as it is obvious. Enough with the auditions. Define these guys’ roles. Personally I’d like to see Boggs get another shot at the title, but that’s ultimately not my call. If Salas is to be the closer, make him the closer. When he blows a save (and he will), pat him on the back and send him back out there. Tell Sanchez he’s the 8th inning guy, restore Boggs to meaningful innings, put Franklin on the DL and call up someone else.
Define their roles, so there’s no more looking over the shoulder down there. Maybe then we’ll get some consistency out of what’s surprisingly been the Achilles heel of this team.