As the Mets kickoff a quick three-game road trip in St. Louis versus the Cardinals tonight, I did a quick Q&A with Nick from Pitchers Hit Eighth:
Mike Nichols: Last season, the Cardinals and Mets lead the National League in blown saves, with 31 and 29 respectively. While the Mets addressed their bullpen needs in the offseason, the Cardinals did not. As such, the Mets bullpen leads the National League in ERA (1.89), while the Cards bullpen has blown four saves in their first 13 games. Do you think the Cardinals have the talent or ambition to make a major in-season trade for a reliever or will they continue to make Blaine Boyer-like acquisitions?
Nick from Pitchers Hit Eighth: Wow, on the attack about the bullpen right away, huh? To answer your question directly, I do think they have the talent. The Cardinal farm system has made significant leaps and bounds in recent years. That said, I don’t envision any trades that would result in a prospect for a rental. The organizational philosophy has clearly moved away from that model.
As for ambition, that all depends on how far the Cardinal offensive lineup will carry the team. The Cards obviously have hitting talent in the lineup, as evidenced by their early-season run-scoring binge. Whether their current pitching staff, including anyone in the organization, can carry the other portion of the load remains to be seen. Unless the Cardinals have a clear path to the playoffs by July 31, I’d be surprised to see a major move for a bullpen arm.
Finally, I do believe they will continue to make Blaine Boyer-like acquisitions. Or at least bring up the Blaine Boyer-like types that they already have in the organization. Much of the pitching staff construction in St Louis is, and has been, built around the presumption that if they give Dave Duncan five pitchers, he can make something useful out of two.
Mike Nichols: It’s no secret Tony La Russa has an unorthodox managing style, as evident by the title of your blog, but with Ryan Ludwick off to a hot start (.405/5/17), proving to this point he is not a one year wonder, is it a bit shocking to you that La Russa continues to stick to his plan of rotating the starting outfield, which includes sitting Ludwick?
Nick from Pitchers Hit Eighth: It wasn’t terribly shocking, particularly because of Tony’s eccentricities you’ve already mentioned. But thirteen games begins to creep into slump versus streak territory in Tony’s mind, and it’s clear he’s got outfielders on the opposite ends of that spectrum.
Ludwick supposedly asked TLR after the “now infamous” April 14th game in which he was called back for Brendan Ryan – “what does it take to be an every day player?” Then, being in the lineup for the next four games straight, Ludwick showed LaRussa what he thought it took.
Rick Ankiel is clearly struggling – whether it be focusing on his impending free agency (the Cards won’t even entertain resigning him, IMO), pitchers figuring him out, or his talent finally reaching plateau – and it’s something not lost on LaRussa, nor the Cardinal fan base. Don’t get me wrong, Cards fans love Ankiel, but wins are wins, and production is production. Rookie Colby Rasmus isn’t setting the world on fire with his bat, but at least the kid can take a walk. Not to mention (sorry Ankiel lovers) he’s a much better defender in center field.
Put together Ankiel’s struggles, Chris Duncan’s resurgence now that he’s healthy, and Ludwick’s performance insisting upon more playing time… I don’t think Tony will hesitate to write Ludwick into his lineup.
Besides, who else is going to hit behind Pujols?
Mike Nichols: Going into the season, were the Cardinals relying on Chris Carpenter to return to his Cy Young form and how much pressure does his current DL stint place on the rest of the starting rotation?
Nick from Pitchers Hit Eighth: I wouldn’t say that the Cards were expecting a Cy Young year out of Carpenter, but they had certainly planned on him being healthy and making 30 starts. His spring indicated no reason to think otherwise, and his first regular season start was a rousing success. The guy is just snake bitten. It’s not his arm this time at least, but an oblique while swinging? Really?
The Cards don’t have a real answer at 6th starter. It’s clearly not a spot they budgeted anything for, and the intent seemed to be that the AAA club would have to produce something, in the situation that it was necessary, and succeed. Now is the time for the organizational depth to step up – yet the on-field management seems intent on playing ‘what have you done for me lately.’
Carp will be back in eight weeks (supposedly). Until then, I think it’s imperative the Cards find someone who can regularly fill his slot in the rotation. Trying to get someone to make a spot start every fifth day will only cause more turmoil. They’ve gotten one break with the additional day off because of weather, but they’ll need a bunch more if they intend to try and skate through with only four pitchers until Carpenter returns.
Mike Nichols: Good stuff. Thanks, Nick.
I also answered a few Mets related questions for Nick, which you can read later today, by clicking here.